Take me seriously!
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Matthew 5:33-37 (New International Version)
33"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' 34But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
Take me seriously!
9 STICKS & STONES
Google, the world’s most used web search engine, has a number of services of which internet users can take advantage. One of those is g-mail, a web based e-mail server. I heard a report within the past two months that Google had added a feature to this service—for a brief period after a message has been sent, g-mail offers the opportunity to cancel the message. In other words, if at the instant you hit the send button, you have a sudden surge of regret, you can take that message back before it does any harm.
As children, some of us learned and used this playground liturgy, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me.” Which, of course, is a complete lie, and when we responded to a hurtful word in that way, it was probably ourselves we were trying to convince. The person who had hurled the insult was quite certain the words had done their work.
Words do have meaning. If they didn’t, there would be no need for that momentary opportunity to take back that e-mail as it sits briefly suspended between you and eventual regret. Many of us, myself included, would benefit from a similar delay on words we release from our mouths, only to wish within seconds that we could take them back and submit them to a verbal trash folder.
Our world is one in which day by day there is less and less care taken with words. I don’t know when and how it happened, but within the past dozen years the expression “omigod” has become part of the ordinary conversation of millions of adolescents and twenty-something’s. There was a time when, if such an expression were used, it was in response to a great shock or surprise. Now “omigod” greets such non-events as the purchase
of a new cell phone or the latest news about your friend’s on again, off again relationship.
We are living in a world, then, in which God’s name is being used more than ever before and in which people are more unaware than ever before, that they are dealing with holy things. God’s name is important to God and God has a rule about how that name should be used.
9 WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Years ago the rector of St. Peter’s Church in Cobourg told a story to a group of fellow pastors after a recent round of golf. One of the foursome greeted every bad shot with an angry outburst that included the name of Saviour. And there were plenty of bad shots. Finally, my friend had had enough. He simply said, “Hey, that’s my Lord you’re talking about and I’m almost certain you’re not on good enough terms with him to be using his name as often as you are.”
One of the things we all learned at our mothers’ knees is that curses were wrong because the Commandment #3 tells us not to take the Lord’s name in vain. While I always hesitate to contradict any mother, yours or mine, cursing, while certainly a sign of limited vocabulary, is often not what concerns God when it comes to his name.
The reason I say this is because God tells us in the Bible how he wants his name to be used and I think the direction in which this commandment pushes us is for us to use the name of God in the same way God does. Let’s look at a story that illustrates what I’m talking about. The details are found in the first book of Samuel.
Here’s a quick synopsis of how we get to this spot in the story: Joshua leads Israel into the promised land and for the next number of generations this collection of 12 tribes is led by leaders who are called judges, for example Gideon, Samson and Deborah. During the time that Samuel is the judge of Israel, the people begin to clamour for a king to lead them, so that they will be like the other nations. The Bible’s interpretation of this is not that Israel has rejected
Samuel as judge but that they have rejected God as their king.
But they insist, and God leads Samuel to anoint Saul as Israel’s first king, while at the same time their insistence on having a king is regarded as evil. In the end the people recognize what they have done. All the people said to Samuel, “Pray to the LORD your God for your servants, so that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins the evil of demanding a king for ourselves.”
Samuel then tells the people not to be afraid. Look closely at the reason he gives. “For the LORD will not cast away his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself” (1 Samuel 12:19, 22). What God does, he does for the sake of his great name. In other words, when God revealed his name to Moses—I am who I am—he invited his people into a partnership of making that name known and making that name an object of praise.
For example, let’s have a look at Psalm 113. It begins by calling on God’s people to praise the name of the LORD. Then it continues: Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time on and forevermore. From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised.
Then almost as if the psalmist is expecting to be asked why such praise is to be given, he explains: Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? The psalmist is asserting the uniqueness of God. Why does “I am” deserve our praise? Who in heaven or on earth is like our God? The answer is, there is no one and nothing like the LORD.
The poet of Psalm 113 goes on to a further description of our God. He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!
One commentator refers to this divine characteristic as God’s reliable presence. “With plunging suddenness the God who is high above all things is also at the side of the poor and needy, raising them up from dust and ashes. We get an
almost dizzying sense of God in motion, stooping, reaching down, bending low, not merely to the earth, but to the lowest of earth. Here, too, as at the burning bush, God declares God’s uniqueness by coming to the side of endangered human beings” (The Ten Commandments for Jews, Christians and Others, 53).
To talk of God, then, is to talk not of someone or some thing that we can either hide from or set off on the mantle of the downstairs, out-of-the-way fireplace. All talk of God takes place in the presence of God. And when God’s name in used it needs to be used not as a curse against a drive that lands in the sand trap to the left, and also not as a blessing for a favourite project of ours in which the LORD has never expressed even a passing interest.
9 BLESSING BY NAME
It seems to me that what God is saying to us in this commandment is something like this—take care with how you use my name, because mostly you’re going to get it wrong.
Let me explain by having us look at Numbers 6, at some words which I think all of us will know even if we don’t know they’re from Numbers 6.
The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
Without looking does anyone know what the next line is? So shall they put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them (Numbers 6:24–27). The name of God made known to God’s people is a divine act of love, mercy, compassion and grace. This is serious business. We must take care with the use of God’s name because it is of the eternal purpose of God that blessing be poured out upon the family of humanity and in our sinful state, we too easily assume that blessing for ourselves all the while denying it to others.
There is one last thing. In that great hymn of praise to Jesus which Paul quotes in Philippians 2, we are told that because Jesus was obedient, therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in
heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The name of the LORD is put on God’s people to bless them and to make them into a people who by their lives and their worship will give glory to God. Jesus is given the name Lord so that the people who are called by the name Christian can be shaped into a community that gives glory to God. Take care how you use God’s name. God is using that name to do nothing less than change the world. That’s serious business.