“I Am The Lord Your God”

“I Am The Lord Your God”

A Sermon by the Rev. Peter M. Buss, Jr.
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Life progresses. I’d like you to think for a moment about what
your life may be like a year from now. Countless things will happen to
all of us between now and then. We will all experience another
Easter, another Thanksgiving, another Christmas. Some of us may
retire. Others may change jobs, or become grandparents for the first
time, or move. Those of us who are married will celebrate an
anniversary; it may be a third anniversary, or a thirtieth or fortieth
anniversary. Those of us who are parents will notice that our children
will develop substantially: they will become more independent and
more competent. This might be the year for a child to move out of the
house – even get married. We will all celebrate a birthday this year.
Whatever activities or landmarks fill our time, we can be
assured that life will keep rolling by. Each day brings with it new
experiences and challenges; some which give us joy, and others
which test our endurance.
Through it all we will be developing as people. Our perspectives
will change as we see more of life. We know that beyond the various
things which fill up our day, we are supposed to be making spiritual
progress. Each year we get closer to the time when our lives in this
world will be over, and we will enter the spiritual world, which includes
heaven and hell. Our primary goal in this world should be to prepare
for that time – to be led by the Lord towards heaven. From time to
time, then, it’s useful to reflect on how religion will play a part in our
lives. How will the Lord Himself help us to make some spiritual
progress this year? What is He leading us towards? What does He
want us to see about our choices and ways of acting, and consider
changing? What is most important to Him?
The First Commandment. Today’s focus is on the most central
religious principle to keep in mind as we strive to make progress in
our spiritual lives: dedication to the Lord our God. That is why we will
look at the First Commandment today – the first thing, and in one
sense the most important, which the Lord commanded from Mt. Sinai.
He said:
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before My
face. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness
of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or
that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them
nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting
the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth
generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands,
to those who love Me and keep My commandments (Exodus 20:2-6).
“That which reigns universally.” There is a teaching in the
Writings for the New Church which says: “What is stated first must be
held in mind and must be seen to reside universally in everything that
follows” (Arcana Caelestia 8864:3). In one sense this means that the
First Commandment must be held in mind when we look at the rest of
the commandments, for it “reigns universally” in them. For example:
• The next two commandments teach us how to worship the Lord
alone or have no other gods before His face: we are not to take
His name in vain, which means that we honor and revere Him;
and we are to remember the Sabbath day, or take time to focus
on the Lord and make Him a priority.
• We are not to steal, because the God whom we worship forbids it.
• He commands us not to commit adultery because He is the God
of marriage.
• We are not to murder, lie, or covet because in doing so we are not
loving the Lord nor keeping His commandments, as the First
Commandment requires.
In general, the First Commandment calls us to commit
ourselves to the Lord to let Him reign in our lives. If we think about it,
we need this command. For religion to make any sense, we have to
know who the Lord is – He is the central focus, and the object of all
our religious devotion. For us to see value in the Bible we have to
know the Revelator – then it can be a Divinely authoritative guide for
us. If we are to accept the path of regeneration or spiritual rebirth, we
need to worship the Savior who makes it all happen.
One teaching in the Writings for the New Church says: “What
reigns universally with a person is that which is present in every idea
of his thought and every desire of his will… That which reigns
universally within a person should be the Lord” (emphasis added,
Arcana Caelestia 8865). Another teaching says: “A person’s whole
character is determined by the nature of whatever dominates his life”
(Arcana Caelestia 8858). The Lord asks us to let Him “dominate” our
lives. He asks that we love Him above all things, that we make Him
and His ways the priority in our lives, for He is the Source, the
Beginning, the Lord our God.
The Tone. One of the things we notice about the First
Commandment is that it is stated in the negative: “You shall have no
other gods before My face,” rather than “You shall worship the Lord
your God alone.” If we fail, He will “visit the iniquity of the fathers on
the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate
[Him].” For He is a jealous God and one whom we should fear. We
might wonder why this is the case. If worshiping the Lord alone is so
important, why does He appear so foreboding, commanding, and
manipulative – so distant? As you may suspect, there are several
reasons for such a tone. First, the Israelites, to whom the Ten
Commandments were first revealed, needed such an image. They
would not have listened unless a powerful, jealous God was
speaking. Such an image caused them to pay attention!
But another reason for the tone is that it teaches us how to
make the Lord our central focus. “You shall have no other gods
before My face,” it says. How? By not carving any images, or making
any likenesses of anything in heaven, on earth, or in the waters
below. All these represent things which stand in the way of letting the
Lord reign in us. “Gods” can mean selfishness – putting ourselves
before the Lord, which is the root of all evil. They can also mean
worldliness, or a lack of concern for anything beyond what we can
see and experience, namely the Lord and heaven. A “likeness in the
heavens above or the earth beneath” means pretending to be a good
person. A person who acts like a spiritual and moral person
externally, is making a likeness or putting on a façade (see Arcana
Caelestia 8871:1). The Lord calls such people hypocrites.
When we get to “the waters under the earth” we come to the
direct opposite to worshiping the Lord. The waters and the things they
contain represent a bodily-oriented person, who cares only for
external pleasures (Arcana Caelestia 8872). Such a person is
dominated by appetites for worldly things such things as food or
possessions, or for physical, lustful pleasure. This is a far cry from
what is orderly, with the Lord at the top, and these cravings much
further down the list in their appropriate places (see Arcana Caelestia
The purpose of stating the First Commandment in the negative
is to warn us that we all have tendencies to love ourselves, to make
ourselves appear like good people, to seek pleasure. If we focus on
these things alone, the Lord cannot help us. Without Him, we live
lives which are pictured by the Israelites in the land of Egypt-in
bondage, controlled by negative influences which come to us by
means of hell. Our lives will have qualities to them which don’t bring
us happiness, but instead make us feel miserable. We will act in
selfish and manipulative ways, and cause harm to the people around
us. But the Lord wants us to realize that it doesn’t have to be that
way. He can free us from these negative influences. If we put Him
first, He delivers us from the influences of hell (see Arcana Caelestia
8866). He gives us a rationale for the way things should be, with
Himself at the top governing and directing our lives, with charity to
other people next, as He commands. Then we can take care of our
own needs, and experience pleasures in their proper measure, with
appropriate goals: eating to remain healthy, earning money to support
a family or even to live comfortably.



“A person is totally unaware of the fact that the Lord is governing them by means of angels and spirits.”

Arcana Coelestia 50

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