Drowning Our False Selves — The Selves That Need to Be Commanded!


Exodus 20:1-17     Third Sunday in Lent     March 4, 2018

 

Who are you?

Are you your ego-driven false self?  Are you the old person who thinks the world revolves around her?  Are you the old person who is attached to (or even addicted to) safety and security, and averse to risk; or to power and control, and averse to letting go and allowing others to take over; or to the need for esteem and affection?  Are you the old person who is motivated by fear of what others might think if you fall short of the impossible standards you set for yourself?  Are you your ego-driven false self?

Or are you the joyous, new person that God wants you to be – your true self, the new person who is centered in God, the one who allows God to love you into your true self,[1] the one who acts out that love from God as you love others?  Which person are you – the old one or the new one?

May I be perfectly Lutheran with you?  We are both!  We are saints – and we are sinners.  We are our true selves, and we are our false selves.  On the one hand, we are saved through our baptisms into the death and resurrection of Christ.  We are saved by what God has done, as a gift, simply because we believe that God has done that!  And we are captive to sin, and we cannot free ourselves.[2]

This “both-and” is the life-long journey of baptism.  Baptism “signifies that the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance, and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”[3]  This is the daily drowning of the old person in us – our ego-driven, self-centered, motivated-by-fear false selves; so that a new person – our true selves as God created us to be – can rise up to live before God in the joy God desires for us.  May I put this in a way that is rooted in this morning’s first reading?  I’m talking about the daily process of drowning our false selves.  These are the selves that need to be commanded!

I have never thought of the 10 Commandments in this way before.  But this seems to fit perfectly with our theme for this season of Lent: of dying completely so we can live fully.  I have quoted Luther’s teaching about Holy Baptism – the daily drowning and rising – and that seems to be how we can understand the 10 Commandments, as well.

From Luther’s Small Catechism

From The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

IV  What then is the significance of such a baptism with water?

It signifies that the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance, and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

The Ten Commandments

I  You shall have no other gods.

What is this?  Answer: We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.

II  You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.

What is this?  Answer: We are to fear, love, and trust God so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God’s name, but instead us that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God.

III  Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.

What is this?  Answer: We are to fear, love, and trust God so that we do not despise God’s Word or preaching, but instead keep that Word holy and gladly hear and learn it.

IV  Honor your father and your mother.

What is this?  Answer: We are to fear and love God, so that we neither despise nor anger our parents and others in authority, but instead honor, serve, obey, love, and respect them.

V  You shall not murder.

What is this?  Answer: We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.

VI  You shall not commit adultery.

What is this?  Answer: We are to fear and love God, so that we lead pure and decent lives in word and deed, and each of us loves and honors his or her spouse.

VII  You shall not steal.

What is this?  Answer: We are to fear and love God, so that we neither take our neighbors’ money or property nor use shoddy merchandise or crooked deals to obtain it for ourselves, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income.

VIII  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

What is this?  Answer: We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations.  Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.

IX  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

What is this?  Answer: We are to fear and love God, so that we do not try to trick our neighbors out of their inheritance or property or try to get it for ourselves by claiming to have a legal right to it and the like, but instead be of help and service to them in keeping what is theirs.

X  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

What is this?  Answer: We are to fear and love God, so that we do not entice, force, or steal away from our neighbors their spouses, workers, or livestock, but instead urge them to stay and remain loyal to our neighbors.

The old person is always in need of drowning, and that’s why there are the commandments.  So, for instance, look at the third commandment.  The old person in us asks, “Why can’t I skip worship this week?  It’s a beautiful morning!  Why can’t I just go out and ride my bike?  Luther’s answer is: because it’s a command – the sabbath commandment.  Because, without centering in what we do during sabbath worship, nothing else holds together!  But then, when the old person in us is drowned, the person who needs to be commanded, then we “keep [God’s] Word holy and gladly hear and learn it.”  You see: it becomes what we want to do.  This is the new person in us!  We are allowing God to love us into our true selves.

Look at the second commandment.  When you’re acting out of your false self, you’re self-centered and ego-driven.  You’re the most important creature in the world.  If anyone or anything frustrates you, then “God <bleep> it!”  This is the “old person” who needs to be drowned whenever you see it raising its head, and that’s why there is the commandment!  The person God has created you to be, though, only wants to call upon God’s name for positive purposes in any time of need – to use God’s name in prayer, and praise, and thanksgiving.  This is the way of joy!  This is the new person, your true self.

Look at the eighth commandment.  I think this is the hardest one of all 10.  Let’s look at it in our current social media era.  Our ego-driven, self-centered false selves jump to conclusions about what other people say, and make snap judgments about what they mean without thinking about it, and assign them to a polarized category of “us versus them” and never the twain shall meet.  Social media is full of people acting out of their false selves.  That’s true of the comments sections following news posts too.  The vitriol is coming from our false selves that need to be drowned!  But look at how Luther describes our true selves – the people of joy that God desires for us to be: “Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”

So: I disagree with what that guy said (or posted).  But could it be that he has the common good in mind?  For instance (to take a current hot topic), I wonder if there are people on both sides of the gun debate who agree that it’s not a good thing for children to be massacred at school?  What if those on both sides would “interpret everything [the other person does] in the best possible light,” and would be open to each other in a mutual give-and-take, listening to each other to understand why those on “the other side” are thinking the way they are, working with each other in good faith to find common ground, working towards an actual solution to gun violence?  Imagine what we can achieve, when we continually drown the “old person in us” and, instead, act out of our true selves, the “new person [who] is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (or, at least, until we need to drown the old person again!).  This is the joyous person that God wants you to be – your true self, the person who is centered in God, the person who allows God to love you into your true self, the person who acts out that love from God as you love others.

You could do this with any of the 10 Commandments, couldn’t you?  (Do you notice how Luther begins each “You shall not” with the command: what you are not to do.  But then we come across the word, “instead.”  Instead, here is what to do, positively!

This is the day-by-day journey of baptism – of drowning the old person, our false selves that need to be commanded.  It is the welcoming of the “new person” who is coming forth, our true selves that God desires us to be!

Could Lent be a time to give special attention to this?  Blessings to you on your journey through these remaining weeks of Lent.

In the name of God who is Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

 

Pastor Andy Ballentine

[1] A phrase from Richard Rohr.

[2] We had just said these words, in the liturgy for Confession and Forgiveness, Evangelical Lutheran Worship

[3] Martin Luther, Small Catechism


About Pastor Andy Ballentine

Pastor Andy Ballentine retired in July 2019 after 40 years of ordained ministry. He loved serving as a parish pastor! Pastor Ballentine took his BA degree from the University of Virginia (with a major in sociology) and earned the Master of Divinity degree at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He earned the Master of Sacred Theology degree at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with the thesis topic of: "How Benedictine Monastic Spirituality Nourishes Parish Ministry." He has completed the program of Spiritual Direction from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Ballentine has served as Dean of the Peninsula Conference and as chaplain to the candidates in the Virginia Synod’s Candidacy process (those on the way to being approved for ordained and professional ministries in the church). He has staffed many, many Virginia Synod youth events!