The First Table of the Law

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

First things first. You shall have no other gods before My face. Thus saith Yahweh. Which really means: do not make any gods. In the end, there are only two different kinds of gods: the one, true God, who made everything that exists; and the million little gods made by the creatures of the true God. You will have one or the other. You will fear, love, and trust the only God who is not you, or you will fear, love, and trust yourself above all things. “Anything on which your heart relies and trusts, that is your god.” Examine your heart: see if what you rely on is the Creator of everything that exists, or something you have made with your own mind or hands. Is it your own ingenuity? Your own talent? Your ability to make money? Your savings? Your car or house? Your favorite things to do? Your quality of life? What would happen to you—what would happen to your faith in God—if any of those things, or more, were taken away from you? If your faith in God is affected by the loss of a thing, your faith might actually be in the thing. The amount of discomfort you feel at the thought of their disappearance might indicate how much your heart relies on or trusts them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “To have a God, as you can well imagine, does not mean to grasp him with your fingers, or to put him into a purse, or to shut him up in a box. Rather, you lay hold of God when your heart grasps him and clings to him. To cling to him with your heart is nothing else than to entrust yourself to him completely. He wishes to turn us away from everything else apart from him, and to draw us to himself, because he is the one, eternal good.”

All gods are jealous gods. What demands your time? What demands your money? What demands your energy? To what do you give all three? Every god has a name on which you call for help. Some require more or less work to get them to respond, from the ease of an ATM PIN number to a carefully cultivated public image—names that we bless or curse depending on how they treat us. The true God will not allow us to use His Name however we want. He gives His Name for specific reasons: to call upon in every trouble, for prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. He has not given His Name for superstition, as if it were some kind of magic talisman, where if you only repeat it enough, you’ll be safe from bad things. You cannot control God with His Name. He has not given His Name for swearing by, as if you could prop up your falsehood and lies by invoking the Name of the Truth. He has not given His Name so that people can be convinced to give up money, whether it’s invoked by the rich or the poor. His Name is not empty or worthless, because He is not empty or worthless: He is not an idol. If it is not to call upon for mercy, to speak of what He has done, and to give thanks, do not think that He takes the misuse of His Name lightly.

All gods have their day, on which you must pay homage to them. Bow to me today, they say. And again. And again. Again and again you offer them the sacrifices they demand, so that you will be holy in their sight. Whatever your gods are (a good indication is what you would rather be doing than hearing the Word of God and receiving His gifts), they will not share their time with any others. The true God also has a day, but it is not so that you can put in the requisite time, and make yourself holy before Him. His day is where you stop working, and He does His work. It’s where you stop your words, and He speaks; where you rest from trying to make yourself holy, and He sanctifies you with His holy gifts. That sanctification ends in a new creation where all time is God’s, no matter what we might be doing. And why is it that we are so eager to pour time into every idol, but we find it so easy to despise the true God’s preaching and Word? It is because our flesh naturally despises the true God and naturally loves idols. Our flesh naturally loves the names of the idols we have made, but naturally takes the Name of the true God for an empty, worthless thing. Our flesh naturally fears, loves, and trusts every single thing other than the true God. There is no end to the making of idols, with all their names, and all their days. It should be so exhausting that we quit, but we just keep running after them, taking them up one by one as they each inevitably fail, until they exhaust us and we die. The true God will eventually put an end to all idols, and those who trust them will be like them.

So examine yourself today according to these three commandments. Do you hold the one, true God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit? Do you look to Him alone for every good and in every need? Do you trust that He will give you everything you need, now and forever? Do not deceive yourself; repent. Confess, and hear that the one, true God has mercy on idolaters as the Creed shows us; because you, who were once slaves to your idols, now have the Son, by the Spirit, you have God for your dear, heavenly Father, who listens when you call on Him; into His holy Name you have been baptized; by His Name you have been absolved; and it is none other than the flesh and blood of the Son of God in flesh that you eat and drink. Only the true God can do such things.

This catechism is nothing but a summary of God’s own Word to you and to all people. So, this Lent, let us be together like Dr. Luther and return like children to the children’s catechism, and learn it again to our good and our salvation.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/16/16

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