Posts Tagged ‘naming’

Obedient Service

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? Romans 6:16

Faith without works is not faith at all, but a simple lack of obedience to God. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Slavery has a long and horrendous shadow. Although legalized slavery ended in the United States 150 years ago, traces of its oppression linger. Even today, we know of entire groups of people enslaved to others. Slavery is about property and property rights. When someone is a slave, another person owns him or her, as one owns a piece of property. Presumably, the owner of property can do whatever the owner wants with his or her possession, without regard to the impact on the possession itself. A slave’s sole purpose is obedience to the master.

One of the recurring realities referenced in Scripture has to do with slaves and their masters. Some interpret these references to imply that God approves of slavery. I do not believe that is the case. Slavery was, and continues to be, a reality. That slaves and masters are referenced in the Bible is no more affirming than the references to kings and tyrants – they were common elements of the landscape of the times.

Slavery is evil when one is enslaved to another of the same nature, particularly when the master does not have the best interest of the servant at heart. In a sense, employees are slaves to their bosses, in that they are expected to be obedient to the mandates of the boss. The fact that an employee can walk away from an oppressive employer, however, makes that relationship significantly different. The concept of slavery takes on a completely different nature when one willingly becomes a slave to a superior being, such as becoming a slave to God. Paul tells the Romans that we are slaves to whomever we obey.

Jesus was a slave to God, obedient even to death on a cross. Although that act of service brought new life to us, the act itself was one of obedience to God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologist of the last century, wrote that true faith requires acts of service because faith calls us to obedience to God, and God calls us to acts of service. A vibrant faith leads us to willingly enslave ourselves to God. Service is not something we do for the less fortunate because they are less fortunate, but something we do out of obedience to our master. In the words of Bob Dylan, “You gotta serve somebody.” The foundational questions are: Who is your master? and Whom do you serve?

Come home to church this Sunday.

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Life Worship Notes—February 6, 2104 

“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.” Exodus 20:7

Names have power. Names describe what something is and is not, and they limit the perceived essence of the named. For example, the name of the tree outside my window is River Birch. That name establishes it is not an oak, a maple, or a redbud. The name also establishes it as a tree, and not a raccoon, a daffodil, or a mountain. Names define and limit the named in ways that help it be known. When we realize that names have power, we understand that misusing a name is a misuse of power. The early Israelites asked Moses for the name of God. God’s answer, in Exodus 3:14, was “I am who I am.” The people wanted to know something about God, something that would make God more knowable; but God refused to provide a name that limited God’s nature in any way.

Some Bible versions translate this commandment as saying not to use God’s name in vain. However, I believe that translation misses the commandment’s broader meaning. We can misuse God’s name in ways that have nothing to do with cussing. For example, I believe we misuse God’s name when we overemphasize the masculine aspect of God’s nature by constantly referring to God as “He.” Certainly, the Bible is full of masculine references to God; indeed, even Jesus referred to God as Father. Given the male-dominated cultures the Bible arose from, the masculine emphasis is not surprising. However, the true nature of God certainly transcends earthly gender. Unfortunately, referring to God in male terms disenfranchises those who have unjustly suffered at the hands of cruel, abusive fathers or other men on earth. In order to reach these broken souls, we must reach out in ways that help them break their connection between God and a specific human male. My only point is that, while it may be comfortable and common to refer to God as “He,” it is a naming of God that limits God is perceived nature in a way that repels some people. Ultimately, God is not a “He” or a “She.” God is who God is.

This is not to let us off the hook for using God’s name in vain. When we make a common statement of profanity, asking God to “damn” something or someone, we are asking the source of all power in the universe to focus a curse on some object or person. Is that really our intent? Using such language is a clear misuse of the power of the name of God, and one we can only hope God will choose to ignore. Clearly, we need to use God’s name with care and reverence, both for ourselves and for others. Implying erroneous limits to God’s nature or essence, or using the power available through God’s name to the detriment of others are what the third commandment encourages us to avoid.

Come home to church this Sunday. God is calling your name.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Notes—August 15, 2013 

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?’”  God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”  Exodus 3:13-14a

A friend of mine once gave a sermon with this theme: God is not a question to be answered.  It was a powerful message for me, capturing a fundamental concept of truth:  Try as we might, we will never figure out God.  Let me explain.  Figuring God out is not the purpose of scripture or prayer or church or spiritual growth.  The purpose of spiritual practice is to build a connection with the Divine. The Hebrews of the Old Testament were squeamish about naming God, and for good reason. When we name something we limit its nature.  Naming establishes boundaries for what a thing is and is not.  When we say, “This is a maple tree,” we establish it is not an oak.  It is not a house, a car, or a person.  We name because it is useful to categorize and describe what we encounter.  It is also helpful in sharing our experiences with others. However, God is distinctly different.  God, by nature, cannot be limited by a name.  God is limitless. Further, God’s nature transcends language.  Language is a useful tool for communication; but just because we name something a maple tree does not mean we have captured its essence.  This is especially true with God.  We use the name God, but what that name implies is as varied as those who speak it.  No human name can capture the essence of God.

In Exodus 3:1-15, Moses encounters God as a burning bush that is not consumed by the flames.  God promises to deliver the Israelites from their slavery to the Egyptians.  Moses asks who he should say is the giver of this promise and the reply is, “I am who I am.”  The original word has been interpreted in different ways, all of which are vague and mostly uninformative to our need to define and categorize.  A common application of this name is in what I learned as the Doxology: “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.”   The Doxology is a translation of the name God gave Moses to share with his people.  Although Moses asked for God’s name, God refused to become a question for us to answer.  Thus, God is not a being to be named.  I am leery of those who act as though they have God figured out. I believe the Bible confirms in numerous ways that God is beyond our ability to fully understand or name.  I think what is helpful, necessary and possible is a relationship.  Even so, we can never get too comfortable in our familiarity with God.  We do best to keep our minds and hearts open to the possibilities, trusting in God’s love for us. It is a love we may not fully understand, but a love that is reliable.

Tom will be preaching downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch is preaching at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Enter and explore the mystery with us!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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