Sermon for Sept. 21, 2014

Have you ever noticed how often people take the name of the Lord in vain?  It happens constantly.  There is even an abbreviation for doing so in emails and text messages.  OMG.  For those of you who, like me, aren't very literate in that new lingo, I investigated and found out that OMG stands for Oh, My God.  Kids nowadays say Oh My God like we used to say gee whillikers, or Oh Golly, or Geez, or Criminy, or gosh darn....well you get the idea.  All of these are variations of ways to say Jesus or God without actually saying them.  Our language is full of these not-quite-swear words.  Of course, we've always included the more direct use of the Lord's name when cursing. 

Damn it has become darn it.  We shorten some phrases up to disguise them.  The phrase "damn it" drops the name of God, but the implication is still there.  Who else but God can damn anyone?  The fact is, though, that this just displays our ignorance of God's nature, because in fact, God never damns us.  Nobody else can damn us, either.  We damn ourselves, and we do it by violating not only the commandment not to take the Lord's name in vain, but also all the other Ten Commandments.

Now, if you're like me and most of the population, you believe that you do not violate the Ten Commandments.  The truth is that we do violate them and we do so without thinking about what we are doing, because we don't take them seriously enough and we don't understand what they really mean, in their inner spiritual and heavenly senses.    

Swedenborg writes that the Ten Commandments are the most important thing in God's Word.  Why does he say that?  He says that because the Ten Commandments establish the covenant between God and us and they are the testimony to what that covenant contains. 

In the inner meaning of the scriptures a covenant means a partnership, a contract, and a testimony means something that confirms and witnesses to an agreement. 

That the Ten Commandments are unique and uniquely important to us is shown in the way they were received from God by the Israelite nation.  This event is surrounded in mystery and miracle.  It was not an ordinary, everyday occurrence. 

When Moses went up on Mt. Sinai, no one was allowed to go with him.  Even Aaron, the chief priest, was prohibited.  A fence was placed around the mountain to prevent anyone from straying onto the mountain because if they did they would die.  The tablets were written in stone, that is, permanently.  They were a permanent contract between God and people.  That contract continues today. 

The Ten Commandments are written on two tablets, which represent the two sides of the contract.   One side describes God's part in the contract, the other describes ours. 

Our side of the contract contains things that are present in every civilization.  Everyone knows that murder is not acceptable.  Everyone knows we should not commit adultery, steal, not bear false witness, or covet what is our neighbor's. 

These things are part of every nation's laws. They are common knowledge.  With or without laws, they are universally recognized as morally correct.  Why then the need to include them in the Word of God as the Ten Commandments?  The reason is that God wants us to know that these are not just civic laws or moral laws, they are sacred laws, laws established by God himself. 

The penalty for failing to abide by these laws isn't limited to the justice system of the community in which we live.  Indeed, some of these laws are broken so regularly in our communities today that the application of punishments of a civil nature have been tossed aside. 

For the most part, not only taking the name of God in vain, but idolatry and adultery and coveting have become acceptable behaviors legally.  Stealing goes on in the form of usury, or false representation in contracts like mortgages and other tricky methods of investment and so forth that get around the law and make it legal. 

Morally, these practices are frowned upon, but seldom effectively punished other than by the emotional pain it can cause, or the murder it sometimes leads to.  Coveting others' belongings has risen almost to the level of a pastime with some people, a way of life with others, and as a society we seem to accept that as inevitable.  We even envy some people's ability to pull these things off.   We seldom notice that we are coveting when we do it. 

But to God these are unacceptable behaviors.  And within their external, literal meaning, these Commandments carry deeper levels of meaning that make them even more restrictive than they appear to be.  The real covenant, the real partnership with the Lord that is created by our adherence to these divine laws, is present in their internal meaning. 

The first four Commandments tell us what the Lord will do if we follow the remaining six.  In the Book of Revelation he tells us, "Behold, I am standing at the door and knocking.  If any hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and dine with them and they with me." 

This is written in the Book of Revelation, the book that foretells the coming of the New Jerusalem.  To be able to open the door and let the Lord enter we must follow the Ten Commandments that comprise the covenant and create the partnership between us.  There is no other way. 

The Lord also told us that he is the door.  We must enter by him and not by trying to climb up by some other way.  There are no exceptions to the Ten Commandments.  If we are to open the door to the Lord and become the New Jerusalem, we must accept the conditions of the covenant as they appear in these laws of God. 

So what do they tell us?  The first commandment says, "There is to be no other God before my face."  This is Swedenborg's translation.  We are more familiar with the translation that says, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."  In its earthly, literal meaning this means that we must not worship idols or other people.  It is an admonishment against the worship of anything we hold dearer than God.  It can be money, reputation, power, or it can be saints or even Mother Mary.

In its spiritual sense the First Commandment means that we are to worship no other God than the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is Jehovah of the Old Testament and he came into the world to reveal himself to us and bring about redemption.   

There is a third level of meaning even deeper than the spiritual level.  In that meaning we can understand that the Lord God is infinite, immeasurable, and eternal. 

He is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, or always everywhere with unlimited wisdom and power.  He is love itself and wisdom itself, which means that he is goodness itself and truth itself.  Because of this, he is life itself.  He is the only life there is.  We exist because his life is poured into us.  All things come from him and without him we would simply not exist.  So we owe the Lord everything.

The Second Commandment is that we are not to take the name of the Lord in vain, because he will not hold guiltless someone who takes his name in vain.  Swedenborg writes of this commandment that "in its earthly meaning, which is the literal meaning, taking the name of Jehovah God in vain includes abusing his name in various types of talking, especially lies and deceptions, swearing and oath-taking for no reason or to avoid blame, and using his name with evil intent, which is cursing, or in sorcery and magic spells." 

This seems to let those who use God's name as a somewhat meaningless exclamation off the hook.  The habitual "Oh, My God" is perhaps not what the commandment refers to, if it is used simply as an exclamation of surprise or emphasis.  But I would venture to say that its use in this frivolous manner diminishes in us our feeling of worship toward God, and we should avoid such phrases in our speech. 

By the same token, taking an oath or swearing by God's name in an inauguration or some taking of vows is not a violation of the Second Commandment unless it is done insincerely.  Then it falls into the category of using God's name to deceive others. 

On the spiritual level the Lord's name carries with it everything that saves us.  It represents to us everything about the Lord and our partnership with him that makes it possible for us to have eternal life. 

On the heavenly level we discover why the use of the Lord's name in vain condemns us.  It is ultimately a rejection of God.  If we reject God, we cannot form a partnership with him and without being joined to the Lord we cannot exist in heaven. Taking his name in vain trivializes that partnership and excludes us from it.  If we become confirmed in our trivialization of God and our relationship with him, we are lost. 

The Third Commandment is to keep the Sabbath Day holy.  We are to do this because the Sabbath represents the Lord.  It represents in its literal meaning the six days that the Lord battled evil and the seventh day when he rested after his victory over evil.

In its spiritual sense the Sabbath represents our reformation and regeneration, because these parallel the way in which the Lord confronted evil and glorified himself in his Divine Humanity.  In the highest, heavenly sense it represents our connection to the Lord after we are regenerated.  Life in heaven is without conflict, peaceful, and joyful. 

The Fourth Commandment is to honor your father and your mother.  In its literal sense it means to honor and obey our parents, to be devoted to them and to be thankful to them for what they do for us and give to us. 

In the spiritual sense, father and mother refer to the Lord and the church.  This is because in the heavenly sense Father is the Lord and we are to love, honor and obey him as our true father and creator.  The New Jerusalem that is established in heaven and is coming into being on the earth is our true mother and family. 

The literal meanings of the fifth through the tenth commandments are apparent to us and I won't delineate them here.  And rather than discuss each of the spiritual and heavenly meanings of the fifth through the tenth commandments, which none of us is likely to remember when I've finished, I want to give an example of how each of these has an internal meaning and an inner meaning, as well as their obvious literal meaning. 

There is one Commandment, the sixth, about which the Lord mentioned one of its spiritual meanings specifically.  He said that if we look at someone with lust in our hearts we have already committed adultery.  We can see in this that there are deeper meanings to all the Commandments, and these are discussed by Swedenborg at length and in detail.  

The Sixth Commandment is against committing adultery.  Again it goes further in the spiritual sense than the physical act of adultery.  Any intention, whether carried out or not, is already adultery in a person's heart, as the Lord said.  We are not to lust.  That says it all.  Lust of any kind consumes us in evil cravings that destroy us by turning us away from God. 

In the spiritual sense adultery refers to contaminating the good things of the Word and falsifying its truths.  Note that this is not about our actions in the outer world, but about our understanding at the intellectual level of our being.  The heavenly meaning takes this one step further.  It goes even deeper into our being.  It deals with the relationship we have with the Lord.  It means we are not to desecrate the Word or deny its holiness.  Since the Lord is the Word, we are not to desecrate our relationship with him. 

This is the briefest of summaries of the Ten Commandments.  We can see that each of these Commandments has three levels of meaning that correspond to the three levels of our being. 

Swedenborg said they are the most important thing in the Word of God.  If that is the case, we should probably be taking them seriously.  Do you know what they are?  Can you name all ten?  Being able to say what they are is a good start toward being aware of when we violate them.  Then the real work begins.  Awareness of the Ten Commandments can help us to resist breaking them.  And keeping the Ten Commandments can result in some wonderful changes in our lives.

Let us pray.  Lord help us to be obedient to your Word and to live by your Commandments.  Amen.