Simply click on the appropriate sermon series below. Within that series you will find individual sermons which you can review.


Put me first!
Series: The Ultimate Top 10
Leader: The Rev. Dr. William Norman
Scripture: Exodus 20:1-21
Date: Apr 19th, 2009
Listen: Click to listen
(to save a file simply right click the link and select 'Save Target As...' or 'Save Link As...')

Exodus 20:1-21 (New International Version)

The Ten Commandments
1 And God spoke all these words: 2 "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 "You shall have no other gods before [a] me. 4 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. 8 "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 12 "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. 13 "You shall not murder. 14 "You shall not commit adultery. 15 "You shall not steal. 16 "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. 17 "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." 18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die." 20 Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning." 21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.

Put me first!

One of these days I am going to run out of gas! I don’t mean me, exactly, I mean my car. Now I am going to run out of gas, also. I know that because I am now a grandfather and I wonder how it is that Chris and I had the energy to keep up with four children. A few hours with Carter and we are wiped.
But I am convinced I am going to run out of gasoline some day in the car. I have gone from more than forty years of driving a car with an offset console to one that has a centre console. In other words for all that time, the gas gage was in front of me; now the console is in the middle of the dashboard and the gas gage is on the right side. And the gage is actually a series of bars. In some cars a light or warning message comes on telling the driver it’s time to fill up. The only warning the Yaris gives is when the gage is down to one bar, it flashes off and on. I only see it when I specifically look slightly down and to the right. One of these days I’m sure my mind is going to be sufficiently distracted that I’ll miss the warning and run out of gas.
This is still better than the original Volkswagon Beetle. Friends of ours from Cobourg had one of these cars when they were first sold in Canada. There was no gas gage at all. Drivers were expected to keep track of how far they had gone since their last fill-up and get to the gas station in time. If they mis-calculated, the car had a reserve tank. The driver pulled a handle and the reserve tank gave you enough gas to hopefully get to the next gas station.
We laugh at this; some younger listeners can hardly imagine a car without all the bells and buzzers and messages that tell you when your seatbelt isn’t fastened, when you’re about to run out of washer fluid and when it’s time for the next oil change. And yet when God is gracious enough
to give us a set of boundaries to keep us driving down the right road, some of us have a fit about our freedom being restricted.
As an elementary school student I learned about the law of gravity. All I know about that law now is that it keeps me from floating all over the place devoid of any sense of stability or direction. God’s ultimate top 10, the Ten Commandments, is that sort of law. Today we begin our look at the guidance God gives us to keep us on track, to give us a life that is pleasing to him and ultimately spiritually satisfying for us. The beginning is this, says God, put me first!
Archeologists and biblical scholars tell us the format for our text can be seen in other writings of the time—specifically covenants entered into as part of treaties between two nations. If you have the Bible in the pews open to the text, or if you look at the text on the screen, you can see the elements of these covenant documents.
The one initiating the covenant identifies himself: I am the LORD your God. Now notice something in the text. The word LORD is in a print style identified as small caps. Whenever you see that word, LORD, this is the name of God given to Moses in Exodus 3. This is the name usually translated, I am who I am. This is the word I was introduced to in a new way in an introductory Hebrew class at Waterloo Lutheran University: the Jewish students in the class used a substitute for that word because observant Jews deem the name of God as too holy to be pronounced by human lips. Don’t be confused: you will also see the word lord in the Bible, but when you see the word LORD, this is the name of the God of all the universe. This God begins the covenant by telling us who he is.
Then he tells us what he has done. The one with the name LORD is the one who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. There is a huge amount of history that is being referred to in that statement. There is first of all the reminder the Jews are dealing with the God who has been a part of their history from the time of Abraham. Most of you will remember the
story and the reason why they were in Egypt. The family of Jacob, like many families, had a little trouble keeping peace between the brothers—the Bible doesn’t say this but I have always suspected a fist-fight was always on the verge of breaking out. This bunch takes one of the brothers, Joseph, who was dad’s favourite, sells him as a slave and tells their father he has been attacked and killed by some beast.
Joseph, however, is blessed by God and despite a series of dangers and detours rises to become Pharaoh’s right-hand-man. Which turns out to be a very good thing because he is put in charge of preparing the nation for a coming famine, which turns out to be an even better thing because Jacob and the rest of the family end up in Egypt where there is food and they are saved.
But the Egyptians, fearful that the Jews are becoming what we would call a security risk, enslave them. Not only that a decree is given that all the boys born are to be killed. One of those boys is hidden by his mother in a waterproof basket which she floats down the river to a place where he is discovered by none other than Pharaoh’s daughter. That boy is given the name Moses and he is the one, having been groomed as a prince of Egypt, whom the LORD chooses to be the leader of the rescue mission.
The LORD says to the people, you were about to be wiped out as a nation. Your sons were being murdered; your daughters were being kept for sexual slavery. You owe your very life to me. Now let me tell you what I expect. You shall have no other gods before me. To put it another way, the one who has revealed to you his name, the LORD, deserves and demands your undying loyalty.
To many people this first of the commandments appears excessive and unnecessary. However, let’s make sure we know what it is that God is asking of us and why.
A literal translation of the first commandment is this: you shall have no other gods before my face. There are two insights I want to offer to you that I believe help us see clearly what the LORD is asking of us and why. Most of us know the Ten
Commandments are recorded in Exodus. Some of us know they are also recorded in Deuteronomy, the book in which Moses recapitulates much of what has been said before—hence the name of the book, which means, second word. In the second telling of the commandments, Moses tells God’s people, The LORD spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the fire (Deuteronomy 5:4, emphasis added).
Isn’t that interesting? That’s not how we normally think of this encounter. We think of God at Sinai as being frightening and remote, covered with cloud and shrouded with mystery. God says I gave you the commandments as an act of intimacy. I was up-close and personal. If you put something between our faces, you limit the kind of relationship I desire. A few weeks ago I had one of my occasional bouts of conjunctivitis, normally called “pink-eye.” Not wanting either of the grandsons to be infected, I stayed away from them. It got between us. I couldn’t get my face as close to them as I like.
The LORD tells us not to have other gods because if we do we are sacrificing the face to face relationship that he intends through the gift of the commandments.
Here’s the second insight. Perhaps I could express it this way: don’t count on a boy to do a man’s job. James Diamond, a Jewish scholar from the University of Waterloo, puts it much more eloquently.
…they are other gods because they are other to their devotees, they cry out to them and the gods do not respond, it is as if they are an other who have never afforded them recognition. The determining factor that distinguishes false gods from the one true God is an ethical moment of encounter where the Other hears and empathizes and reacts to my needs (The Ten Commandments for Jews, Christians and Others, 13).
Friends, the LORD has known from the very beginning that left to our own devices we will attempt to discover if there isn’t another god who is worthy of our loyalty. The LORD, the one who has given humanity his name, who has rescued a people from a slavery that was about to crush
them, who has spoken his laws as an expression of face to face intimacy, knows that nothing else is up to the job of being the God who cares for us always. It is as if God tells us, you can put another god in my place, but the only result will be sorrow. Martin Buber, the brilliant Jewish philosopher, referred to this as an “eclipse of God.” This is not the LORD’S doing, but if we put something between our faces, then we hinder our relationship with the one who loves us.
How important this is always, but how important it is right now. I was speaking recently with someone who had been laid-off and was looking for new opportunities in this less than ideal economic climate. He said, there are no secure jobs; there are only secure people.
You and I have no idea what tomorrow is going to bring for us. The day I wrote this sermon the G20 Summit in London announced an additional one trillion dollars in economic assistance. The thought went through my mind—all they can do is fire up another shift at the mint, keep those presses humming. The world we have been part of for the past 50 years is changing. The LORD wants first place in your life because he is the only one who can bear up under the strain.