“Back to the basics: Honor His Name”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
Born in October of 1897 the third of four children, William Alexander Abbott, known by his friends and family simply as “Bud,” dropped out of school early to work at an amusement park. But when that didn’t work out quite as well as he had planned, he signed on as a cabin boy on a Norwegian steamer, where he was forced to shovel coal. But that didn’t work out quite so well either, so he ended up in Brooklyn, working with vaudeville shows. And that’s where he began to learn how to entertain.
A few years later, in the early 1930s, he met a man named Louis Cristillo, also known as Lou Costello. And from that moment on, the two of them would work together for the rest of their lives--Abbott and Costello.
Finally in March of 1938, they got their big break on the Kate Smith radio show, when they performed a skit called, Who’s on First?
Now if you’re under thirty, you may not have any idea what I’m talking about, so let me give you a quick synopsis.
It begins as Bud Abbott talks about the strange names baseball players have these days, names like “Dizzy Dean” and “Daffy Dean.” I mean, what kind of names are those? Then he goes on to explain that on his team, Who’s on first, What’s on second and I Don’t Know is on third.
Costello says, “You’re the manager and the coach, and you don’t know the players’ names?”
“Well, I should,” says Abbott.
“Well then, Who’s on first?”
“I mean the fellow’s name!”
“The guy on first!”
“That’s the man’s name!”
And from that point on, it gets only worse, because What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third, Why is out in left field, Because is in centerfield, Today is the catcher, Tomorrow is the pitcher and I Don’t Care is the shortstop. You can just imagine what happens when there’s a triple play!
Now that’s just a skit by a couple of comedians. But what’s really strange are the names some parents have actually called their children.
For example, back in September of 1967, rocker Frank Zappa and his wife, Gail, named their daughter Moon Unit, soon followed by her three siblings--Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva.
Or how about the name Abcde? Believe it or not, as of 2021, there are not one, not two, but 393 children--all girls--that have that name! Back in 2018, when a gate agent made fun of a five-year-old girl who had that name, Southwest Airlines was forced to apologize! And that’s nothing to say of other names like Russell Sprout, (apparently very popular at Thanksgiving), Mary Christmas, Rusty Ford, Campbell Soup, Summer Breese and a set of twins--one named Sunrise and the other, Sunset.
As William Shakespeare once wrote in his play, Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Names are important. They mark us and identify us. They’re not simply letters on a page. Instead, they embody who we are. They have power. They have meaning.
What would you think if your friends would habitually mispronounce your name? Or if the Department of Motor Vehicles misspelled your name? Or if the Social Security office wrote down the wrong name? Or think of what companies like McDonalds, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, 3M or IBM will spend to protect their name!
And as names are so important to us, they are of utmost importance to our God and Father, so important that, when He chose to give us Ten Commandments, ten rules to live by, He even gave one about His name.
I’ll read the words of Exodus chapter 20: “And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. 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” (Exodus 20:1-4). Then verse 7: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).
It’s easy to say that, once upon a time, God’s commandments were considered a standard part of a good American education. Even before students started elementary school, they were expected to be able to recite all ten. And if they needed any help, poems like this would help them to remember: “Thou no gods shalt have but Me, Before no idol bend the knee. Take not the name of God in vain, Dare not the Sabbath to profane. Give both thy parents honor due, Take heed that thou no murder do. Abstain from all that is unclean, Steal not though thou be poor or mean. Make not a willful lie nor love it, What is thy neighbor’s do not covet.”
But today, it’s anybody’s guess. In fact, in a recent poll of adults between the ages of 18 and 29, while as many as ninety percent agree that we shouldn’t lie, steal or murder, less than half cared anything about the rest. As one author writes, “The new default setting is ‘No religion,’ and the few who are religious see themselves as swimming against the tide.”
But that’s not at all how our God would have us be. And that’s the reason why He gave us these Ten Commandments.
So how should we understand this second commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7)?
Martin Luther wrote in the words of his Small Catechism: “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”
And he wrote in his Large Catechism: “It is misusing God’s name when we call upon the Lord God, no matter in what way, for purposes of falsehood or wrong of any kind.” And he wrote, “For to lie and deceive is in itself a great sin, but it is greatly aggravated when we attempt to justify it, and seek to confirm it by invoking the name of God and using it as a cloak for shame, so that from a single lie a double lie, nay, manifold lies, result.”
Imagine for a moment that, one sunny, summer afternoon, you’re sitting in your easy chair in your living room paging through a book or a magazine. The windows are open, and you quietly listen as your son is replacing some weathered boards on your deck and your daughter is in the kitchen preparing dinner.
When all of a sudden, out of the blue, your son accidentally hits his hand with a hammer and, in a loud and angry voice, starts to swear--”Dad, how dare you! Dad, how could you!” And throwing his hammer down and kicking the side of the house, he repeats it three or four more times in a row.
Now you know he’s not blaming his problem on you. It’s just that his words are a way of venting his anger and frustration. Still, because he used your name, it stings you to the bone. That son of yours, to whom you gave life, is cursing you and swearing at you, even though you had absolutely nothing to do with his pain.
So what do you do? You sink down in your chair and try to hold back your tears.
And just as soon as your son finishes his venting, you hear a glass bowl crash against the kitchen floor and shatter. Immediately, your daughter begins to say, “Daddy, what is wrong with you!” And though you had nothing to do with her pain, you sink even lower in your chair.
You always thought you had done everything you could to love your children. Together with their mother, you gave them life. You cared for them when they weren’t old enough to care for themselves. You provided for them, giving them what they need and so much more. You loved them more than you even loved yourself and would lay down your life to save theirs. And now they curse and swear, using your name?!
Yet that’s a picture of what we do when we take our heavenly Father’s name in vain, when we treat it as something that’s foolish or silly, worthless or useless, something that has no real value.
But as the Lord said, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”
And what is His name? His name is Elohim, “God Creator, Mighty and Strong.” It’s El Shaddai, “God Almighty.” It’s Adonai, “Lord.” It’s Yahweh-Yireh, “The Lord will provide.” It’s Yahweh-Rapha, “The Lord who heals.” It’s Yahweh-Shalom, “The Lord is our peace.” It’s Yahweh-Tsidkenu, “The Lord our righteousness.” It’s Yahweh-Rohi, “The Lord my Shepherd.” It’s Yahweh-Tsevaoth, “The Lord of armies.” It’s El-Elyon, “Most High God.” It’s El-Olam, “Everlasting God.” It’s El-Gibhor, “Mighty God.” It’s Yahweh, “I am.”
And this God creator, mighty and strong, came in the person of Jesus. And when we look at Him, the abstract becomes concrete and theory becomes reality. Now He has hands and feet, and eyes to see, ears to hear and lips to speak. He has a voice that we can understand.
We see Him touch a leper, and we know that no one is too dirty for Him. We see Him pause to speak to a beggar, and we know that He’s never too busy for us. We see Him feed the multitudes with loaves and fish, and we know that He can supply all our needs. We see Him with a towel and a basin, and we know that no job is too menial for Him. And we see Him hanging on a cross, suspended between heaven and earth, beaten, bruised, bloodied, mocked, scourged, spit upon, jeered, hated, attacked, scorned, despised, rejected and crucified. We hear him cry out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” and we know something of the great, great love He has for us.
Even more, this God of the universe, who created the expanse of the galaxies, who designed all that is both seen and unseen, who gives life and breath to every creature, and who made us in His own image, has given us His name that might be privileged to know Him, honor Him and adore Him.
That’s who our God is. And He bears a name that we must never dare to take lightly.
In July of 1976, Israeli commandos raided a hijacked plane at the airport in Entebbe, Uganda. In less than fifteen minutes, every one of the seven kidnappers was killed, while 100 of the 103 Jewish hostages were set free.
How did they do it? When commandos came in, they shouted, in Hebrew, “Get down! Crawl!” And the Jewish hostages who obeyed survived, while the other three, for whatever reason, hesitated and were shot by the men who came to save them.
You know, when someone loves you enough to die for you, it’s the height of foolishness to ignore their stern warnings, and it’s the height of wisdom to believe and to obey the One who loves you.
In the words of Psalm 1: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2).
You have written Your law, dear Father, on our minds and in our hearts. Help us to walk on the path You’ve set before us, that we may live according to Your promises and obey Your commands, for Jesus’ sake. Amen