The Finger of God Purses our Lips
How easy it is misuse the name of the Lord our God. He's not like the person who corrects you the instant you misuse their name. And stopping is not a matter of replacing "God" with "gosh" or "Jesus Christ' with Jiminy Christmas. When I was in 6th grade, my Lutheran school teacher had the class pick a consonant, a vowel, and a consonant to say instead of God's name. My class picked zob.' We were to say, "O my Zob." Even in 6th grade, I knew this wasn't keeping the 2nd Commandment, for though I said zob' I thought God. However, even if using euphemisms was a keeping of the 2nd Commandment, we're still not to the positive use of His name.
The point of the 2nd Commandment is not to close our mouths put to purse our lips, and it is the way of God to achieve the positive by starting with the negative. So, the 2nd Commandment begins with God shushing us. Through the Commandment God puts His fingers to our lips and says, "Shush, you shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God."
"Shush," don't carelessly use His holy name. The only line scripted for reality TV shows seems to be "O my God!" They have no shame in using the name of God that carelessly. None of us would tolerate our name being used as an exclamation. If people at our job, in our church, or even among our family used our name carelessly saying, "O my Paul!" or, "For Paul Harris' sake," we'd go crazy. Our head would constantly be turning back and forth as we said, "What? What?" When we use God's name that way we are either saying we don't think He hears us or we don't think He cares. We're wrong on both counts.
The same goes when we use God's name to swear in a false, uncertain, or silly things. Little children do this to parents. They call on them to testify to their friend that such and such happened. "Isn't that right Mom?" "Ain't I telling the truth Dad?" Again, even we sinners can't take much of this, yet we think the holy God should accept or at least tolerate our using His name to testify to the size of the fish we caught, to witness that we didn't eat the last doughnut, to certify that we will go on a diet after Christmas. "Shush," says our Lord, "don't misuse My Name."
Even more serious than using God's same carelessly or for silly oaths is putting it on what doesn't belong to Him. When we believe, teach, or confess something as a doctrine of God, we are putting His name on it. If God didn't really say it, we are lying or deceiving by His name. How mad you would be if I put your name on my car loan or even your name on a work day sign up. You wouldn't tolerate it. You would take me to court. Yet we think God doesn't care or shouldn't care when someone says, "Thus says the Lord," and He didn't really say it.
First the 2nd Commandment exposes our sins by putting the finger of God to our lips and shushing us. Second, He uses it to point us in the right direction. Think Scrooge here. The ghost of Christmas future points a long bony figure to the tombstone, so Scrooge can see his own name. Here the finger of God points you away from you and your name to God and His.
The name of God is a powerful thing not a play thing. It's like the title President of the United States." When the President is announced on the floor of the House Chamber what happens at the mention of his name? Everyone gets up instantly. Just the name President' does that, so it is, only more so, with the name of God. When Moses wants God to show Him His glory, God says He will do that by proclaiming His name.
The name of God is so powerful that it's too powerful for us to use directly. The Old Testament Church had a sense of this. They wouldn't even say the sacred 4 letters of God's name. At Mount Sinai they begged God not to speak to them directly but only through Moses. And God did and told them through Moses that they were to look for another like Moses who "shall speak in My name."
This is Jesus. In, with, and under Jesus, God's name is safely packaged for use by sinners. In Jesus, the name of God isn't a blinding light that sinners must turn away from but a burning bush that calls sinners closer. In Jesus, the name of God isn't a burning fire to consume them, but a warm fire that draws them. No man can see God and live, but in Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna didn't only see God they touched Him, handled Him, kissed Him.
The name of God is like the electric substation marked "High Voltage." It hums with such power that we're afraid to touch the fence. Jesus has all the power of God; all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Him says St. Paul. But in Jesus the name of God is safe and useable by sinners. Jesus is like the outlet in your house. The power of high voltage in a form you can use. The holy name of God can only convict us of sin, show us our unholiness. But Jesus puts the name of God on us in Holy Baptism. He forgives us in God's name by Holy Absolution. And through Holy Communion, we eat and drink His holy name. In these three, God's holy name comes to sinners softly, gently, put powerfully still.
The finger of God in the 2nd Commandment points us to Jesus for a safe use of His name. First He took on flesh and blood not to judge sinners but to take their sins, not to put sinners to death but to die in their place, not to chase sinners away from God, but to chase the devil away from sinners and to call them to God. Second when Jesus ascended He left the name of God for us in things we can safely use, touch, taste, smell, and see: water, words, bread and wine.
The finger of God in the 2nd Commandment purses our lips first by shushing them, then by pointing us to where God's name is for us, and finally by strumming our hearts. The song of faith doesn't come apart from God using His fingers to strum our hearts. Likewise, works of faith, like using God's name rightly, don't come apart from His fingers strumming our hearts. And how does God strum our hearts? By Jesus, the God with fingers. The Word made flesh speaks to our hearts. The blood of Jesus is sprinkled on us in Baptism cleansings our hearts. And Jesus gives us His Body and Blood to eat and drink to strengthen and preserve our hearts in true faith unto life everlasting.
Jesus speaks great and precious things to our hearts. "Let not your hearts be troubled," He says. "Come unto Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest." "Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you." With these words the chords of our hearts our plucked and prayer comes forth. If a king told you, "Ask of me whatever you want, and I will give it," those words would produce a request from your heart. How much more so the King of kings? Jesus says, "Whatever you ask in My name, this I will do." The God of all gives you an open invitation to use His name. It's not just your name on the prayer; it's his too. God the Father would have reason to turn a deaf ear to my prayers, but not to Jesus', His only beloved Son.
Think about all that is not right, all that is wrong, all that could be different in your life. Think about how helpless, how powerless, you are to effect change. Then think about God in Christ's promises to hear and answer. Those promises of His produce notes of prayer in times of trouble. How good it is to be able to cast burdens that are too heavy for you at the feet of the God whose feet were pierced for you.
The finger of God strums our hearts and prayer in Jesus' name is produced and so is praise. God through the fingers of a pastor sprinkled you with the waters of Holy Baptism marking you with His name. In Baptism, God took His finger and inscribed the sign of the cross both upon your forehead and your heart. You are His. Do you protect, watch over, provide for what has your name on it? Of course you do. How much more does the God who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent protect, provide, and watch over those bearing His name? Therefore, what God in Christ does in Baptism, strums praise out of our hearts.
I would guess most of you have been to Barton Springs. There is no way you can jump into that 68 degree water and not have a gasp escape from your lips. So it is with your Holy Baptism. There the name of God not only marks you but rebirths you freeing you from your sins, from the death that your fear, and from the devil who threatens you. You can't jump into your baptismal waters with all that they do and promise without a gasp of praise pursing your lips.
By strumming our hearts by His fingers at work in Word and Sacrament our Lord purses our lips and brings forth prayer, praise and thanks. The message of Christmas is "to us." "To us a child is Born; to us a Son is given." What does the angel tell the shepherds when Jesus is born? "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you." Such a great Gift given to us, to you, can't help but strum thanks out of our hearts.
God gives you His entire name in, with and under the Person of Jesus, and He gives Him to you, to us not only in Word and promises, but in Flesh and Blood. As the shepherds could physically go to Bethlehem and physically see their Lord and Savior in the manger, so this altar is your Lord's manger today. He comes here to you in Body and Blood no less than to the manger. He was there and is here for the same reason: for you, for your forgiveness, life and salvation.
A child who gets a present bigger or better than they imagined, can't keep his or her mouth closed. The great gift opens their mouth to say repeat thank yous. God's great gifts do the same: First God gives His Son to us; then His Son gives His life for us, and finally in Jesus' name we are given more than we ask or even think. And so our lips are pursed to pray, praise, and give thanks. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Vespers II (20071205); Second Commandment