The Third Commandment

I’ve been percolating on the third of the ten commandments [or second, depending on how you count] (Exodus 20:7) for a few weeks now.  Here it is in the King James Version, with which many of us are most familiar…

“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain…”

And here is the same passage in the New Revised Standard Version, which I think evokes a broader and deeper understanding of the intent of the original text…

“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God…”

What I find interesting about this passage is how we look at it.  Many of us (thanks to how King James presents it) see it as a prohibition against swearing with the name of God.  But really, that’s only a tiny part of it, as the Jews demonstrate with their avoidance of using the name of God at all.  (To the point where, for millennia now, no one has known how to say the Lord’s name in the original ancient Hebrew!)

The NRSV version helps us see some of the reason behind this Jewish interpretation of the third commandment: it’s not just about swearing, but that we are not to make wrongful use of it in any form or context.

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Do It Again, Daddy!

Even though the Universe is huge and complex, and we ourselves are such a small and insignificant part of it, the Bible is filled with lessons and examples of how God is committed to us and cares for us. God emphasized this to me one night through a simple question asked by my young daughter.

Sermon delivered at Payson Park Church, UCC, Belmont MA; August 23, 2009

It was the evening of Friday, May 4th, 1991. My life was at a crossroads. Worries that had been looming over my family on every side for months, getting ever darker and more worrisome, hit as full blown crises – all at the same time.

At home, my marriage appeared to be on the rocks: divorce seemed to be unavoidable. Compounding this was a financial situation that was dire, due in large part to our buying a house that had far more problems than we’d been led to believe, or could have imagined.

My career was also up in the air: I had been managing a very successful two year-long project, but the economic recession of 1991 (sparked by the first Gulf War) hit just as we completed the effort. This resulted in a hiring freeze at my company: I was given a temporary assignment, but was also told I would be laid off if things didn’t improve soon.

I felt very alone. I felt like I had no one to turn to. I have not been in a more challenging situation either before or since that time.

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