It was the perfect plan! Perfect.
The Phillips Brats were in fine form. Mr. Olson, the patient and gentle teacher of their primary Sunday School class, wouldn’t know what to do. They were sure of it.
The eight and nine year-old boys normally were on their best behavior on Sunday mornings, since their father was acting as the Sunday School Superintendent that year. They never knew when his strong fingers would slide through the portable cloth panel behind their chairs and pinch an arm to quiet down his rowdy offspring. The man knew how to pinch!
Today, though—today—his work with the Post Office guaranteed there would be no pinched arms. The busy holiday season required more hours of all the employees, and their dad, a clerk at the main office in town, was no exception. He wouldn’t impede them in their mischievousness today.
They drafted one of the more courageous girls in the class to help with their plan. It was a simple plan, but one guaranteed to disrupt progress.
Mr. Olson began to teach and they went into action. Well, it wasn’t really into action. Each of the three children simply had an assigned word to whisper. Just one.
The older brother didn’t hesitate.
Their teacher stopped in mid-sentence, but only for a second. His eye-brows went up quizzically, and then he was off again.
It was time for brother number two to interject.
The result was the same. No verbal response was forthcoming, nor was any expected. The lesson simply went on.
Praise the Lord!
The brave little girl carried off her part admirably. Mr. Olson didn’t even hesitate this time. He wasn’t sure what was going on, but he would fulfill his responsibilities, regardless.
The entire half hour went in much the same manner. The alternating voices, sometimes louder—sometimes softer—interjected at appropriate (or not) intervals, and the lesson was completed at last.
Amen! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!
They are good words, are they not?
The plan was genius. No Sunday School teacher in his right mind would deny the children the privilege of using those words in response to the lesson. The boys knew that. The problem is—the good words were not in response to anything.
They meant nothing to the children. Nothing.
An entire lesson was wasted. All while only good words were spoken.
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 is one of the Ten Commandments about which we are most vociferous. In my house, growing up, we had a list of what my father called minced oaths—words mimicking the sound of God’s name—which were prohibited. I cannot bring myself to say them aloud to this day. You will, no doubt, be able to bring them to mind without me listing them here.
Frequently, I see written comments or hear them in conversation from well-meaning folks, who are fed up with the constant barrage. I don’t disagree. It is disheartening.
We understand what it means to take the name of God in vain.
Or, do we?
Well, at least the ancient men of God understood it, right? They wouldn’t even utter His real name, choosing instead a euphemism. The rationale was that they couldn’t inadvertently be guilty of trespass that way.
But, did they understand any better than we do?
What if taking the Lord’s name in vain has nothing—absolutely nothing—to do with the language that erupts when we smash our thumb with a hammer, or are spattered with hot grease?
What if the foul words that come unbidden when we are angry and out of control are not even remotely connected to the principle God intended for us to take away from His instruction to mankind?
I wonder. Is it possible that we will someday have to justify our passive invocation of God’s blessing upon our gatherings in which we do nothing but further our own well-being?
Will He reprimand us for the actions we have demanded of others in His name? Our list of spiritual do’s and don’ts has grown sophisticated and somewhat unmanageable over the centuries.
Somehow, I hear the voice of the Teacher castigating the teachers of the Law for their lists and demands, as He clearly tells them that the burden the people carry is not God’s, but theirs—and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them carry it. (Luke 11:46)
What if our gatherings for giving thanks are not that at all, but simply a time for us to gaze fondly at our wealth and physical blessings, all the while closing our hearts—and hands—to those who have nothing?
The day we set aside as a country to celebrate our giving of thanks is upon us.
Amen! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!
The children, perhaps, may be pardoned for their youthful misuse of the words.
What if, this time, we really meant the words? I trust it will be so.
On this day, and throughout the year, may our gatherings be blessed with thankful hearts, out of which flow generosity of spirit and a love for others.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
(Colossians 3:15-17 ~ NIV)
To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.
(Johannes A Gaertner ~ German born poet/theologian ~ 1912-1996)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.