We now live in the electronic age. We communicate frequently and efficiently through, among other tools, emails. Emails are quick and easy to send. They are even easier to forward. It is not uncommon for a joke or anecdote to be forwarded time and time again throughout the world. There are emails that most of us have seen numerous times, being forward by yet another friend or relative.
One very common email is the one that lists church bulletin bloopers. I suppose that it is an occupational hazard, but I have received this email quite often over the years. This email contains such unfortunate misstatements as, “Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.”
Such is the power of prepositions! A simple little word, of just two letters, can completely change the meaning of a sentence and its impact! "Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community", certainly should have read, “the many who are sick in our church and community.”
In today’s Old Testament reading we have a very powerful preposition. The Ten Commandments include the admonition “You shall not make for yourself an idol.” While we may read this as God calling us to follow him and him alone, its meaning is much more profound than that. It is much more profound because of a preposition.
In English there are well over 100 prepositions. Many of them can be understood in the classic explanation of the bread box. For instance, by the bread box, on the bread box, in the bread box, above the bread box, beneath the bread box, over the bread box, and so on.
But Hebrew is a much simpler language than English. Biblical Hebrew only has four main prepositions! Many times a Hebrew preposition can mean any number of things. The word translated as for in today’s Old Testament reading can have several meanings.
Consider the impact of another translation of this commandment: “You shall not make in yourself an idol.” This commandment is not just God calling us to be faithful to him. The subtlety of the Hebrew tells us not to be fooled into thinking that you are God.
A friend once told me that there are two basic rules to the spiritual life:
Number One: There is a God.
Number Two: It is not you.
We live in a world that has removed the mystery of life and our sustenance from us. We earn our pay checks. We buy our food. We pay our bills. But we are so removed from the source of our blessings that it is all too easy to believe that we have earned these gifts rather than being blessed by having them.
In our world today, it is too easy to lose sight of the fact that we are beloved creations of God, created and sustained solely by God’s grace. When was the last time you thanked God for your pay check or your pension check or even your Social Security benefit? Why do you think the Church asks for ten percent of your income? It is not a clever ploy to raise funds. It is based upon a biblical mandate to return thanksgiving and gratitude for God’s blessings and sustenance.
Consider the words of our Offertory:
All things come of thee O Lord,
and of thine own have we given thee.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow . . . .
These are not simply poetic words chosen for their symbolism. They are words that state a profound truth:
We are God’s beloved creations whom he blesses and sustains.
“You shall not make for yourself an idol,” can and should just as easily be translated as, "You shall not make in yourself an idol.” A little preposition can teach us so much about God’s providence and our gratitude.
There is so much more to living than earning a living. There is so much more of value to life than our net worth. Those are just two profound insights that such a little preposition can give us.
As we approach this season of autumn, of thanksgiving, of harvest and first fruits, let us pause and consider those myriad blessings for which we are thankful.
Let us not make for ourselves any idols. Nor let us make within ourselves any idols. Instead let us consider the graciousness of God, his blessings, his kindness, providence, and above all his love that has created us, sustained us, and so wonderfully redeemed us; and let us be thankful.