Worshiping The Unholy Trinity Of Me, Myself, And I

2019 Sermon series on the Ten Commandments at St. Paul's Lutheran  Church.  

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Today is Ash Wednesday which means it is the first day of the Season of Lent.  More precisely, at the heart of Ash Wednesday is the theme of repentance – that is sorrow for sin. 

It could also be said that the Season of Lent is an extended period for pause and reflection.  It is a time for you and me to consider our place before almighty God. 
With this in mind, tonight, there is no better way to consider our place before almighty God than to contemplate His holy, perfect, and divine will for us, as expressed in the Ten Commandments.  Yes, over the next six weeks we will be considering the 10 Commandments. 

Now, as we examine the 10 Commandments, we will not only be instructed on what is good and true, but we will also be convicted of our sin.  You see, as we contemplate the Ten Commandments, we will realize how we sin.  However, as we realize our sin, we do so knowing that we are traveling towards the cross of Good Friday where our sin finds its home not on us, but on Christ. Therefore, by considering the extent of our sin problem during Lent, only makes the Good News of Holy Week and Easter sweeter still.

So, to begin this six-part series on the Ten Commandments, we are focusing on the first and second commandments of God which state,

“You are to have no other gods.”

“You are not to take the name of God in vain.”

As we examine these two commandments a bit more closely, what we find at work is something called idolatry.  Not adultery with an “A,” but idolatry with an “I.”  That is right; when we look at the first two commandments, the theme of idolatry emerges. 

The problem with idolatry though is that when we think of idolatry, we immediately imagine primitive people gathering around idols that are carved out of stone or wood.  And with this image in our minds, we think that idolatry doesn’t apply to us.  Now, while idolatry is indeed worshipping a stone or wood idol, we need to be on guard from an oversimplification of idolatry.  In other words, we need to be aware that even though we do not bow to wood and stone idols, we still commit the sin of idolatry as twenty-first-century Americans. 

Martin Luther teaches us in the Large Catechism that idolatry does not consist merely of making an image and worshipping it, but he shares that idolatry is primarily a matter of the heart.  You see, when your heart and my heart gaze upon things other than God for help and comfort, we commit idolatry.  When our eyes are easily turned away from the Creator to created things, we make created thing into an alternative god.  Tragically, you and I commit idolatry with whatever our hearts cling to or rely upon for ultimate security.

So, what is your idol today? 

What do you trust, believe, and desire good things from?

What do you fear, love, and trust the most?

Perhaps the biggest idol in our lives, as Americans, is that which is closest to us.  I am not referring to a false god that we have created or even to the way we make money, sex, and power into gods that we worship.  But rather, I am referring to our fear, love, and trust of the ‘idol of self.’ 

Dear friends, it is like this: what we Americans fear, love, and trust the most is the unholy trinity of ‘me, myself, and I?’  Indeed, has not the ‘self’ become the idolatrous creator, healer, and sustainer for us as modern Americans? 

To confirm this, one only has to look at the self-absorption and self-love demonstrated in our media.  In fact, our fascination with ourselves is no different in the church! 

David Wells once said that the American Church is,

“Trying to hold at bay the gnats of small sins while swallowing the camel of self.” 

In other words, we are pretty good as Christians to nitpick small sins that are committed by others in the church.  We hone right in on the failure of others in the church with fussy fault-finding while simultaneously propping ourselves up.  Yes, we seek out the smallest infractions in others and then demand that everyone else worship us – the idol of ‘me, myself, and I.’ 

Dear friends, the painful reality is that we are fascinated with ourselves.  As the old hymn states,

“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.” 

We wander back to ourselves and our own projects.  We fear, love, and trust our inner life, our piety, our projects, our legacy, our abilities, our opinions, and so forth.  We are addicted to the idol of ‘self.’  We are an idol unto ourselves. 

Besides the obvious sin of the idolatry of ‘self,’ there is a catch-22 to idolatry.  And that catch is this; it doesn’t sustain or work!  The idol of ‘self’ is frankly, powerless.  For example, if the idol of ‘self’ is the source of meaning in our lives, how do you and I cope and survive with the pressures of fulfilling a meaningful life? There is more, how does the idol of ‘self’ deal with the insurmountable weight of taking the place of God? When we fear, love, and trust in ourselves, what happens when we fall apart? What happens when life beats us up?  What happens when guilt plagues us? 

It is clear that you and I are not designed to take the place of God.  It is clear that the idol of self is a one-way street – it is a dead end.  Like the idols of the Old Testament who have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see; and ears, but do not hear, the idol of ‘self’ is empty, incomplete, powerless, and futile.

Take a moment and consider the story of the golden calf in Exodus 32.  Briefly, in Exodus 32, the Israelites made a golden calf out of gold jewelry.  And what is rather ironic is that their building of this golden calf idol is contrasted with the building of God’s tabernacle in the later portions of the book of Exodus.  To the point; the Israelites in making an idol were trying to do something that God was already providing for them.  That is the same with you and me.  Whether we uphold a golden calf idol or the ‘idol of self,’ we are seeking to create something that God has already provided.  The ironic implication is that mankind forfeits God himself with the hopes of creating golden calves and idols of self when the Lord God is right there to give Himself to mankind. 

Dear Baptized Saints, amid America’s self-absorbed idol of ‘self,’ the cross stands.

You and I attempt to create, sustain, and worship ourselves so that we can feel complete and whole; the Lord’s Gospel says that you are already complete as a chosen and set apart royal priesthood in Christ. (i.e., 1 Peter 2:9) 

You and I attempt to climb a metaphoric ladder to fulfill our moral, mystical, and intellectual needs; God comes down to you in the water, word, bread, and wine, marking you with His name, feeding you the forgiveness of sins, and pronouncing that all is finished. 

You and I mistakenly attempt to love to get love; God’s Gospel Word speaks to you that you get to love because He first loved you. (i.e., 1 John 4:19) 

You and I attempt to prop up ourselves so that we might live; the Lord meets you with the cross that crucifies you so that you might live by faith in the Son of God. (i.e., Galatians 2:19-20).

You and I try to establish the perfect image through the idolatrization of ‘self’; God presents to you His perfect icon and image, Jesus Christ—the one you are clothed in. 

God have mercy on us, on me…. the sinner. 

You, who have ears, hear: in Christ, the idol of ‘self’ finds its end.

There is no need for the idol of ‘self,’ for you have been given Christ, the one who came among us to put our sin to death. 

In Christ, you are baptized, have worth, have an identity, have meaning, have hope, and belonging. 

Your life is found not in a powerless wooden or stone object called ‘self,’ for the idol of ‘self’ died in the living Son of God who bled and died—especially for you! 

Fear, love, and trust in Jesus because He is your deliverance, He is your sustainer, and He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world - especially your sins of idolatry. (i.e., John 1:29, 3:14-16) 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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