You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.
What does this mean?
Answer: We are to fear and love God, so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God's name, but instead use that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God. [Luther's Small Catechism]
So I had this great sermon on the Second Commandment all planned out, on how Luther’s explanation to the Second Commandment means we should all act as if the word Christian was hanging in big neon letter above our heads at every moment, so that we would be super clear that every move we make and every word we say is a direct reflection on the name of Christ. And I was going to talk about what’s going on with Christian fundamentalists and how male pastors are using their positions to condone the assault of women, in the name of Christ, and how pastors abusing people is a violation of the Second Commandment. And then I was going to ask, what if we all had to wear this collar that I wear on Sundays, knowing that every encounter we had with our neighbour or at the grocery store or with the stranger we pass on the sidewalk would shape people’s opinions, for good or ill, about God, the great I AM. I was going to talk about how for Christians, every action we make can only be either a misuse or the proper use of God’s name. And, since it’s Father’s Day, I was going to talk about the relationship between fathers and their children as a reflection on the relationship between God and us. It was a great sermon, at least in my head.
And then on Thursday, the United States Attorney General, who is the head of the Department of Justice, (Justice!), Jeff Sessions, a proud Christian who is not ashamed to say that he serves God first, said something absolutely outrageous. You see, there is a new immigration policy in the United States that says that if you are a family fleeing to the United States because your lives are in danger, if you are a father who has had to choose between home and the total unknown of another country and have decided that leaving home is the safer option––if you arrive on the doorstep of the United States as a refugee seeking asylum for yourself and your children and you cross the physical border between Mexico and the United States without going through a border check-point because you are desperate and terrified that if you talk to a border agent you will sent right back into the lions’ den again, then American policy dictates that the minute you are caught by Immigration Control for entering the country illegally, you will be put in detention. And because parents who are arrested for breaking the law and end up in detention are not fit to take care of their children, those children, even though they are babies still breast-feeding or are toddlers who aren’t yet potty-trained, even though they have slept every single night up to then in the protective embrace of their parents who have risked everything for them, the new immigration policy dictates that those children should be separated from their parents and detained elsewhere. And since this policy has gone into effect, there has been a small but growing outcry.
Which brings us back to Thursday and U.S. Attorney General, Christian par excellence, Jeff Sessions. Who, last week, had spoken at the annual Southern Baptist Convention as a guest because of his Christian values. Who then, on Thursday, in response to challenges to the new immigration policy, used the name of God to defend this ungodly policy. That is, Jeff Sessions referred directly to Romans 13 to tell Americans that God has instituted government, with the implication that God has therefore instituted this policy, and to disobey the policy or to protest the policy was therefore to disobey and protest God.
And I’m sorry to be so blunt about this––I was at Synod Convention the last three days and I only wrote this sermon this morning, which I’ve never done before, so it’s not very nuanced––but Jeff Sessions, in the moment he invoked the name of God, broke the Second Commandment: You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God. Jeff Sessions, in invoking the name of God to justify this obscene immigration policy, to justify the separation of 2,000 children in 6 weeks from their parents, to justify that these children are still separated from their parents, in saying that the word of God tells us to obey this law use the God’s name to curse those children and their parents.
I don’t know how to make this any clearer. When we use God’s name, or we use our standing as Christians, to defend actions that hurt others, we are breaking the Second Commandment. Because, as Christians, everything we do reflects on God. And when people know that we are Christians, they see everything we do through as a reflection of God. And while they really should judge us by God’s actions, they end up judging God by our actions. If we curse someone, we give the impression that God curses them. If we separate children from their parents, we give the impression that God separates them. And again, I’m going to blunt: if we, as Christians, who bear the name of Christ and the cross of Christ on our foreheads, stay silent in the face of this injustice––or any injustice––we give the impression that God, too, is silent. And we, too, become guilty of misusing the name of God, and of breaking the Second Commandment.
Luther says that the way to obey the Second Commandment is to give thanks to God. You may have noticed by now that every sermon I give ends with Thanks be to God. Every sermon needs to end up so that I can honestly say thanks be to God. And on Friday morning, after hearing what Jeff Sessions had said, I could not see any way to say thanks be to God. But by Saturday, there was hope. Because between Thursday and Saturday, the Holy Spirit of God, who comes to us sometimes as the spirit of disruption, actually, that Spirit had swept through the body of Christ in the United States, and the leaders of churches across that country stood up. From Southern Baptists to Roman Catholics to even the Orthodox churches, they spoke out. And this is what they said.
We live once again in challenging times, when God’s name is under assault. Not from without this time, but from within. And again, please forgive me for not being as nuanced as I ought to be and for being so blunt in saying that we are living in a time when people are using the name of God to justify sin. But here is where we can say, Thanks be to God. Thanks be to God that the Holy Spirit is moving our leaders to speak out. Thanks be to God that we have the opportunity to act in ways that honour God’s name. Thanks be to God that even us, up here in Canada, are still free to speak and to act in ways that defend God’s children, in God’s name. Thanks be to God that, in the midst of the evil around us, that we do in every time of need call on God’s name. We can, and by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, we do follow the Second Commandment. Thanks be to God, thanks be to God, thanks be to God. Amen.