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You Shall Not Make Wrongful Use of the Name of the Lord

The use of the words “gee,” “gee whiz,”  “darn,” and “golly” were forbidden by my mother. Mom said their use broke the Second Commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”  I obeyed mom; those words never crossed my lips.

Mom would have been pleased to see the “No Profanity” signs posted on the streets of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Mom’s rule obliged me to expand my vocabulary searching for and using more expressive, more lively adjectives and adverbs. For that, I will always be thankful to my mother and her rule.

Dad supported Mom’s rule but I learned later that Dad’s reading of scripture was not as literal as was Mom’s. Dad allowed and encouraged me to bring textual, form and literary criticism to reading of the Bible and in so doing the Bible would reveal a richness otherwise overlooked. Dad read the Second Commandment to mean we are not to use in vain God’s essence by ignoring the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the thirsty, the stranger. Dad would have been scandalized by today’s prosperity gospel preachers. Dad would quote 1st John 4:7, “…for God is love.”

Mom and Dad’s guidance informed the study of the 2nd Commandment taught at Confirmation.

The first chapter of Genesis describes God not as a thinker or builder but as an agent of speech. We read, “Then God said…” in Genesis 1:3. “Language, as well as the faculty of speech, was the immediate gift of God,” wrote Noah Webster in the preface to his dictionary. He was referring to God’s instruction, with words, to Adam and Eve to use language and give names to the animals.

“It is my mouth that speaks to you,” Joseph said to his brothers who had come begging food from Pharaoh’s second in command, their brother they had sold into slavery years earlier (Genesis 45:12).  But with Joseph’s words, he was recognized. From a “holy tongue,” writes Rabbi Epstein, come “words spoken by an individual with attention, awareness, open-heartedness and inner sanctity. . . .Joseph’s brothers were thus overcome by the holy quality of his words, a linguistic garment for his love of them.”  By the “garment” of words, the brother’s recognized Joseph. With words, they were forgiven.

Heeding my mother’s advice, I will encourage the students to obey the 2nd Commandment by (1) honoring, cherishing, and venerating the words that pass their lips; (2) avoiding words rooted in bigotry and racism, in ignorance and hate; and (3) discipling their speech so it becomes a sacred instrument for healing, understanding, honesty, kindness and truth. Heeding Dad’s advice, I will tell students that overlooking those in need of care and love is taking the Lord’s name (essence) in vain.

– Pastor Steve