Summary: God cares about how his name is used, both in words and in what we do and what we fail to do.
By Rev Bill Stewart
Back in the late 1990s everyone was talking about Y2K and wondering if their computer would still work on the 01/01/ 2000. The new millennium was all over the media. The Australian magazine even ran an article called "10 Commandments for the next Millennium" (7-8 March 1999). No longer was Moses like Charlton Heston with a long fluffy white beard in the 1950s movie The Ten Commandments. Now Moses looked more like David Beckham! Right across the front page was this new millennium metrosexual Moses with a goatee, standing on the top of a skyscraper with the Commandments written in HTML. "With their asses and oxen" the article began, "the Ten Commandments seem wildly out of date. Here are the Ten Amendments for the next millennium." Unfortunately the Ten Amendments sounded like they’d been written by David Beckham not God. Someone had certainly bent them like Beckham!
The First Commandment in the Bible says: "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3). The new first amendment says: Be serious.
The Second Commandment says: "You shall not make for yourself an idol" (Exodus 20:4). The second amendment says: Get real.
The Third Commandment says: "You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name" (Exodus 20:7). The third amendment says: Be humble.
The author of the Ten Amendments took it for granted that in the modern world we shouldn’t believe in universal rules. He also assumed that we make our own rules. "I have spoken" are the last words of his article. But the teaching of the Ten Commandments was valid in the past and is still valid in the present because, as we are trying to show in this sermon series, they deal with "The Ten Greatest Struggles of Your Life". And because only a sense of responsibility and accountability before God, which is informed by true knowledge of God, can empower us to fulfil our responsibilities to God and our fellow human beings.
But why is God so precious about his name? Doesn’t he need to lighten up a bit – get a sense of humour? "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me". Unfortunately God knows that misuse of God’s name does hurt me and it hurts others too. In the Bible misusing the name of the Lord means:
(1) Using the name of the Lord for something false or evil, or
(2) Using the name of the Lord with no heart, no purpose, no thankfulness.
I think we all know people who have rejected Jesus because of the church, and people who have not really rejected Jesus, but have certainly rejected the church! Some of you might remember this article in The Melbourne Anglican (October 2004) with the headline: "Jesus attracts but the church repels." The article was about the results of research by the Bible Society [in New South Wales] which found that "The Church is an almost insurmountable problem for most people". The research report concluded that "as soon as people think of Christianity, they think of Christian churches, they think of the practice of religion and the negative associations they have with churches and their hierarchies." According to the report, the two most significant "negative associations" people had with Christianity were:
(1) Perceptions of hypocritical behaviour on behalf of church leaders and people who stand for Christian beliefs;
(2) Involvement of churches in issues of paedophilia.
Many of you would also know that in the last couple of years a couple of atheist writers have sold a lot of books arguing that religion itself, whatever religion (although Christianity and Islam were their major targets), are actually dangerous and evil forces in society. The best known of these books is the The God Delusion by the biologist Richard Dawkins of Oxford University. Those of you who are into science probably know some of his books about biological evolution but if you’re like me and more into science fiction then you probably know him as the man who married Romana from Doctor Who! (That’s the second Romana, not the first, for all those Doctor Who freaks out there). Dawkins argued that religion is basically the root cause of most, if not all, the evil in the world, and if we all just became good atheists like him all our problems would be over. Of course, he made the point in a more sophisticated way than that but it was the gist of his argument. (What did Romana see in him?)
There’s not room in the sermon today to deal with those issues. But his ideas have, I believe, been very effectively criticised by Alister McGrath in his book The Dawkins Delusion. McGrath is also a professor at Oxford University and an expert in theology as well as biology. But one important point about Dawkins arguments is that while McGrath has sold a few thousand books, Dawkins had sold millions. It was Dawkins book not McGrath’s that has been displayed in a prominent position in every airport bookshop in Australia for the last year.