A couple of weeks ago we began our series “A Return to Civility” and I mentioned how earlier this year I had speculated on what I saw as a loss of civility in our society. We’ve come to a place where we can no longer agree to disagree, and we’ve stopped treating one another with respect, at least with those we disagree with.

It seems that society as a whole has come to a place where we demand others need to be tolerant of our views, but we aren’t all that interested in being tolerant of their views.

And I wondered if we lost some of that civility when we lost a common morality.  That there was a time, that the majority of Canadians, participated in corporate worship of some kind.  It might not have been Christian, and it might not have happened on Sunday, but most Canadians were in a worship service on either Friday, Saturday or Sunday. They may not have had a relationship with the god they were worshipping, but they came together to worship their god, and we shared a common morality.

And the thing that we had in common was a sense of morality, a sense of what was right and what was wrong, and the one thing that we all seemed to agree on were a short list of laws, called the Ten Commandments.

This summer we are taking a journey through the Ten Commandments, which will take us ten messages. Funny how that works isn’t it?

Last week was fairly straightforward, not a lot of room for discussion, not much controversy. Most of us would consider ourselves monotheistic, that is we believe in one God, so the first commandment isn’t really tough, it says in Exodus 20:3 Do not worship any god except me. How can you argue with that?

If you were here at Gatehouse last week, Pastor Deborah challenged you about what you worship in your life, and you may have brought that up on the index card she provided for you and left it on the communion table, leaving it with God.

I spoke at Windgate, and I challenged people to be careful about putting anything else in the number one spot in their lives for a couple of reasons. The first is that if we put anything else in that spot, we will eventually be disappointed.

The second reason is that we worship that which is above us, and so whenever we promote something to that level in our life, our career, addictions, sex, family, or anything we are saying that it is superior to us.

Did you catch that, we worship what is superior to us.  We don’t worship what is beneath us, only what is above us. That’s what worship is. 

The Bible tells us that there is God, then there is man and that everything else is below us. And so, if nothing is above us but God then there is nothing to worship but God.

But that was last week when we spoke on the first commandment.

The second one may be a little tougher. Through the years there’s even been a major disagreement whether this commandment should stand on its own or be included with the first commandment.

If you have a Catholic or Lutheran background, you might have been wondering why I was spending two weeks on the first commandment and only a week on each of the other nine.

That is, because Catholics and Lutherans, number the commandments differently than most protestant churches.

Both the Catholic and Lutheran Churches, combine the first two commandments as one, worship no other Gods and don’t make idols. Then they split number 10 in two. So number 9 is don’t covet your neighbour’s property and number 10 is don’t covet your neighbour’s wife.

That’s the way the Catholics and Lutherans number the Commandments whereas we number them the right way, only kidding.

In trying to determine why the two groups differ, it didn’t take long to realize that it is much too complex to get into in this service.

Some Protestants, fairly or unfairly, and I’m not making any judgment calls here at all, some protestants feel that the Catholic church renumbered the commandments so they could continue the widespread use of religious imagery, statues and relics in their worship. Fairly or unfairly it’s your call. I don’t know how they explain the Lutheran thing.

But the second commandment does say some things about images and objects and relics and whether they should be used in worship.

What does it say? The second commandment reads this way. Exodus 20:4–5 “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.

God seems to be saying that people should under no circumstance craft anything with their hands and then bow down and worship it.

So, this begins with A Warning about False Idols

Now I’m sure that when you realized that I’d be speaking on the second commandment this week you must have thought, “Great, this is going to be an easy week for me because I have no problem with commandment number 2 or number 1 1/2 or however you want to number the thing,

I have never, ever made an idol in my life and don’t plan to start now, this message won’t apply to me at all.”

You might very well be clean on this one, but just to be sure, stick with me a little bit as we look at what God had in mind when he gave the second commandment.

We know what the “What is” of this commandment. That’s, don’t make or bow down to any graven images, but what about the why?

Well, if the first commandment had to do with keeping God in the right spot in our lives, the second commandment is the so we won’t reduce God.

Remember, the Israelites had just escaped from slavery in Egypt where they had been for four hundred years, and Egypt at that time had a plethora of gods, and in each case, they had a physical representation of what their gods looked like.

I’ve been to Egypt twice and in the evenings, we were speaking in Wesleyan Churches but during the day we did the touristy thing.  Egypt is still full of reminders of their worship.  Large images that were housed in enormous temples where people could go and see their gods

Because of that, it was tough for the Israelites to worship an invisible God. Others could point to idols and images and say, look this is my god here, where’s your god? And God knew that the temptation would be great to build or carve something that would represent God for them, and he said, “You’re not to do that”.

Before the ink was even dry on the Ten Commandments, metaphorically speaking, of course, we see the Israelites creating a golden calf as an idol to worship.

And I’m sure that the Israelites must have had the same question as people do today, Why not? What could possibly be wrong with having a tangible physical reminder of God?

It was wrong because God knew that man in his finite state would never be able to truly and fairly convey an infinite God for who and what he is.  The Baptist preacher, Alexander MacLaren wrote, “An image degrades God and damages men.”

And so, God commanded his people to not make idols or graven images, not of false gods, or of the one true God.

But it wasn’t enough for the Israelites to not make idols of false gods, they weren’t even to worship the true God through the representation or the focal point of a graven image. 

So, this was also A Warning about Reducing God

Has anyone here ever been to Niagara Falls? Pretty impressive, isn’t it? I mean with the Horseshoe Falls and the water rushing over it, and the spray and the mist and the roaring of the water.

Have you ever looked at pictures or seen the falls on TV and thought “I’d like to go over that in a barrel?” No? When I was a teenager, I thought that would be so cool.

When I was eighteen, I had the opportunity to actually see the Falls in person and as I stood there I thought “You’d have to be a complete fruitcake to go over that in a barrel.”

Now obviously there are some people here who have never been to Niagara Falls and have never witnessed the majesty and power that it conveys.

So, for you people who have been to the falls, it would be nice if you could take a piece of chewing gum and chew it for a while and then take your gum and a bottle of water and with your fingers craft a miniature Niagara Falls for those people who have never been there. You know so they could experience the splendour and majesty of the falls themselves, without ever having been there.

You say “Denn, that’s nuts, you can’t make a fair representation of Niagara Falls with a piece of gum and a bottle of water.” “It’d be easier to describe it with words than to do that. As a matter of fact, it would be better to have no image of the Falls than to try to portray them in such a limited way.”

Hold that thought.

Ok, then here’s another example, has anyone here ever heard Beethoven’s 5th Symphony?

Are there those here who wouldn’t know if they’ve ever heard Beethoven’s 5th Symphony?

Don’t raise your hands. They say it took Beethoven over two years to complete this work. And if you’ve heard it you would not forget it.  In Wikipedia it says, “It begins with a distinctive four-note “short-short-short-long” motif, often characterized as ‘fate knocking at the door.’”

I first became acquainted with it around 1976 when a pop version called “A Fifth of Beethoven” was a hit on the radio. But you know nothing can compare to a world-class orchestra playing this incredible piece of music.

And if you’ve never heard it then maybe I should get a person who has heard it to come up and play it for you on, on a whistle. You know a referee’s whistle, so you too can experience the majesty of Beethoven’s 5th. Those of you who know Beethoven’s 5th do you think you could do that for the rest of the folks who aren’t familiar with it?

You say “Denn, that’s nuts, you can’t make a fair representation of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony with a referee’s whistle.” “It’d be easier to describe it with words than to do that.”

As a matter of fact, it would be better to have no image of Beethoven’s 5th than to try to portray it in such a limited way.

People would be so conscious of doing a rotten job that they would rather have no image than a rotten image of Niagara Falls, and they would rather have no sound than a rotten sound of a whistle trying to display the majesty of Beethoven’s 5th.

They’d say, “Chewing gum and referee’s whistles are ridiculous tools with which to convey the majesty of Niagara or Beethoven’s 5th.’

And that is exactly what God was saying when he instituted the 2nd commandment. Any attempt at all to portray him using human means would be reductionary, I think I just made that word up, at the very least because we would never ever be able to portray God in all of his splendour and all of his majesty.

As a matter of fact, it would be better to have no image of God than to try to portray Him in such a limited way.

God is saying the very same thing to any human being who tries to convey who he is through a carving, a picture a painting or an image. No earthly substance should ever be used to try and represent God to anyone else.

The scope and majesty, the splendour and the character of God could never be captured by an image of any kind. And any attempt at that automatically reduces God to a human level.

I know that you are thinking, “OK Denn, I got the message, I promise that I won’t make any idols or images of God, after all, I flunked shop and never took a pottery class in my life, so cut me a little slack, ok?”

Fine, I will, but before we finish up let me just touch on two points, two warnings, that I think are implied in the second commandment. And I think they deal with most of us here, the first deals with our use of religious symbols and the second concerns our mental images of God.

It is my opinion that the second commandment would urge us to be very careful in the use of any religious symbols in our life together as a church.

I’ve sometimes been asked why we don’t have a crucifix at Cornerstone.

Good question, for a lot of people, maybe even some here the crucifix means a great deal. The portrayal of the crucified Christ, near death hanging on the cross is a powerful image. And for those of you who aren’t followers of Jesus Christ, you need to realize that the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross is the only means of any of us ever getting to heaven.

The cross and all that means and all that it symbolizes is very dear to me and very important to me, I would never want to say anything that would diminish the importance of the cross.

So, what could possibly be wrong with the crucifix? Well, the crucifix like any other image that we might use to portray God is reductionary.

It is one-dimensional and it doesn’t do Jesus Christ justice. It can’t portray everything that needs to be portrayed about Jesus and show him for all he was and all he is today.

When we look at the Jesus who is on the crucifix, we see the part of Jesus that was human. We see that part of Jesus who shared our weaknesses. We don’t see the powerful creator of the universe. We don’t see the power of the resurrected Christ who burst out of the tomb, as the conqueror of death and the grave.

It reminds us of his pain and suffering, which is important to be reminded of. But it fails to remind us of his power and majesty and joy. It speaks volumes about Good Friday but says nothing of Easter Sunday. It tells us nothing of him ruling and reigning today.

Earlier in the service we sang, “The Battle Belongs to the Lord.” Is that the image portrayed by the crucifix? That Jesus is the victor, and brings us victory?

Some of you entered this worship centre today with a heavy heart wondering “Does the battle really belong to the Lord? Is he able to help me today?”

And if you were to look at a limp, saviour hanging on the cross just moments before his death does that convey a Jesus who has won His battle, let alone yours?

You need to be reminded today that he is alive. We don’t pray today to an almost dead saviour we pray to a powerful living God. A life-changing, eternity-changing God.

Come on Denn; ease up on the crucifix, after all an image like that can’t portray everything . . .

Exactly. It can’t and it doesn’t. Any image of God the Father, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit will fail miserably in conveying the idea of the deity of Jesus to us.

And that’s why we don’t use religious symbols at Cornerstone, no crucifixes or candelabras or basins or beads or icons or statues.

Because if we were to have a cross portraying the death of Christ here then to be fair and to represent the fact that he has risen from the grave, triumphantly with power we’d have to have something like an empty tomb to represent that.

Because without his resurrection his death was in vain. Without the resurrection, Christianity is nothing but a cruel hoax, and Jesus was nothing but another misguided prophet with a messiah complex. So, we can’t have a cross without an empty tomb to remind us of his resurrected power.

But his death and resurrection aren’t the only things that we need to remember about Jesus. We can’t forget that he was born of a virgin. Which is significant because it tells us that he wasn’t an ordinary man, and he didn’t have an ordinary birth.

So, if we are going to portray all of Jesus, we should have something to remind us of the virgin birth, so maybe we could have a manger.

And then we’ll need something to signify the fact that he is the great shepherd. That is so important because it really helps define our relationship with Jesus as he cares for us and protects us. To keep that forefront in our minds we probably should have a large shepherd’s staff somewhere and that would remind us of his care for wayward sheep.

And what would Christianity be without his teaching? Without the Sermon on the Mount? Without The Lord’s Prayer and the Golden Rule?

So, maybe we need to have a giant scroll, maybe with some of his teachings listed on it. Just to remind us that he was a great teacher. And really, when people are insisting on having the Ten Commandments posted in public places, aren’t they just erecting idols and graven images?

And to be fair to Jesus, we should remember the time that he became upset with those who were selling animals in the temple and changing money there. And how Jesus took a whip and cleared out the temple, saying “This should be a house of prayer and you’ve turned it into a den of thieves.

If we want to truly illustrate who Christ was through the use of religious symbols in our church then we ought to include something like a whip. And so, what would we have on the platform? A cross, an empty tomb, the manger, a scroll, a shepherd’s staff and a whip.

By the time we get everything on the platform, we won’t have any room for the band and vocal team. And we still wouldn’t have been able to capture completely who Jesus is.

And that’s why the word of God is the only accurate portrayal of who God is. Do you see why the Second Commandment warns against using religious symbols?

That’s why God says, “Draw near to me and I’ll draw near to you, without any artificial images to stand in our way.”

But it’s not only the religious symbols that we have to be careful of.

This is also A Warning about our Mental Images of God

These are those Mental Images we have of who God is. You know what I mean, the images that we create in our minds of God. Because mental images can be every bit as reductionary as carved idols and graven images.

I don’t know how many people I’ve spoken with through the years who have a picture in their minds of God as some angry old ogre with a stick who is ready to whup us every time we mess up or make some little mistake.

That image makes it really difficult to accept God as a loving God who was willing to sacrifice everything for us. That image of God as a Policeman standing there saying, “Go ahead and make my day” is out of step with the various images of God portrayed in the bible, of the shepherd, the loving Father, and the faithful friend.

Another image that some people have of God, isn’t an angry judge, instead it’s of a harmless old man. You know a friendly old Grandfather who spoils us and would never deny heaven to us. We might do wrong, but he overlooks it. You hear people talk about him using terms like the man upstairs, or the big guy.

This view of God will lead more people to Hell than any other view, because as long as we view God as some benign old fool then we don’t have to deal with issues in our lives like the way we live, our morality, our marriages our parenting. You see God might be a loving Father but he’s also a Holy God and there are demands that he places on our life.

And so regardless of what our mental image of God is, it probably needs to be filled out a little bit by studying his word and completing the photo album of God. Seeing him as his word describes him and not just as we’ve chosen to see him in our minds.

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