June 3, 2018

“Who is Your Leadoff Hitter?”

Deuteronomy 5:1-22


The order of things can be very significant. For example, many of you are aware that I am a fan of the Oakland A’s. There’s a real order to a game like baseball. In general, you play for 9 innings, and each team has 27 outs to record on the other team. If they do this without allowing the other team to score, and score a minimum of one run, they win the game. There are always 9 players out on the field. Home team always allows the away team to hit first. Order is significant in baseball.  And perhaps the most important order in baseball is the order of who bats when. For those of you who follow baseball, perhaps the most important batter in the batting order is the lead off position. Now the A’s have had some a super leadoff hitters at different times in their history- Hall of famer Ricky Henderson was their greatest leadoff hitter.  He hit 81 home runs to start a game, an all-time record in the major leagues, which gave the A’s and other teams he played for a great advantage. And if he got on base, he would often steal and make it to second and sometimes third base. A ground ball or fly ball would then score him from third, and was known as a “Rickey run.”


The same is true when it comes to the Ten Commandments- Order is significant, and who is leading off matters a lot. In both Exodus and Deuteronomy, in the lead off position is God. God is a really powerful leadoff hitter! God sets the table for all of life. The order for the Ten Commandments begins where our life has to begin- with God.  In fact, the first four commandments deal with God, and our relationship with God. The other six deal with moral and ethical matters such as stealing, killing, committing adultery, etc. But order is very significant here. We begin with our relationship with God. It is then and only then that we can live moral and ethical lives, for we have that relationship with God as our base.



So today, we look at the lead off position in the Ten Commandments- God, and what God says at the beginning is, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.” Because of God’s saving grace, the Hebrew people are to respond loyally to God. This commandment was given to the people of God at a time when there were gods all over the place. For the Hebrews, while they were in Egypt, there was still the practice going on of household gods- Many households had a different statue god for different areas of the house.  And, having lived in Egypt for nearly 400 years, it is likely that some Hebrews also worshiped the multi gods of the Egyptians. The Hebrews were polytheists, believing in a multitude of different gods for different purposes. So, as they left Egypt and began their new life, God wanted to get one thing straight- “You shall have no other gods before me.”  God wanted the Hebrews to know the proper order in life- God first, all other things to follow.


Jesus also had the order of things correctly. In Matthew 6:33, after speaking many spiritual truths, Jesus says to those gathered at the Sermon on the Mount, “Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” Jesus too, understood that all things begin with God, and our relationship with God. All other things are to follow.



The commandments begin by emphasizing the absolute loyalty that Israel owes to God. Above all, Israel was to offer the one God exclusive service.   The Hebrew people at first were fine with the commandments, and in particular the first- to have no other gods before the one true God. When Moses gave these commands, the thousands of people responded as one, “let it be so with us.” But things didn’t last. After Moses received God’s commandments, he went back up the mountain the next morning, in order to receive more instruction from God. When he went up to the top of the mountain, a cloud covered it, and God’s glory shone in the cloud. Then on the seventh day, Moses went into the cloud and remained there for forty days and nights, leaving Moses’ brother Aaron and a man named Hur to keep order. While Moses was receiving important instruction from God about offerings, how to build the Ark of the Covenant and how to set up a temple in which to worship God, the people got restless.



Their leader had been missing for over a month, and so they began to revert to their multi god beliefs. In Exodus 32, the people said to Aaron, “Come make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” So Moses’ brother had the people bring all of their gold jewelry, and Aaron made an idol shaped like a calf, most likely the Egyptian bull-god Apsis. The people then believed it was the Bull god Apsis who had delivered them from slavery, saying, “These are our gods, who brought us out of Egypt.!” (Exodus 32:1-4) In just over a month, the people were done with the first commandment, done with having God be first in their lives, and reverted back to their old ways.


The story of Israel found in Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, tells a story of back and forth loyalty with God over this first commandment, to have no others gods in place of the one true God. Wars with other nations, as well as personal, political, and economic needs led many people to consider the worship of gods other than the God of Israel to be a practical necessity. Those like Moses and the prophets who followed, who wanted Israel to serve its God alone were a distinct minority.


What about us, today? We are monotheists, right? We believe in one God alone. Yet where God lies in our order of things determines our true belief system. So today, we are called to look at our order. What is most important to you in your life? Who is your leadoff hitter? For your leadoff hitter “Sets the table” for the rest of your life. In one sense, the first commandment is the greatest because it provides a foundation for all the rest. And really, when you think about it, the remaining commandments mean little if anything unless we are committed to God first above all other things. 16th Century Protestant Reformer Martin Luther said, “Whatever thy heart clings to and relies most upon that is properly thy god.” What is of utmost significance to you? Your children, grandchildren, your spouse, your home, your material wealth or goods, your pets, your love of country, your profession, your political party, your baseball team? What does your heart cling to in this life? Today God makes it clear what our order as the children of God is supposed to be- “You shall have no other gods before me.”  And if we place God first, all other things will follow.





Consider the story of Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity. Millard’s father was a successful businessman, who instilled in his son the desire to seek his fortune.  When Millard went away to college, he became fascinated by financial success. His goal, his god became wealth and its pursuit. After college and in very little time, Millard became a worldly success. By the age of 29, Fuller was a multi-millionaire. He got married and had children, and seemed from a worldly perspective to be a real success story. Yet in time, the god he placed in his lead off position began to affect the rest of his life. His enslavement to the pursuit of wealth began to destroy his relationship with his wife. His life began to crumble around him. His frequent absences left his wife, Linda, feeling lonely, so she had an affair, took the children and left him. After Millard and Linda re‑evaluated their life’s priorities and tearfully reconciled their marriage, they made the decision to place God first, above all other things.


The Fullers then took a drastic step: They decided to sell all of their possessions, give the money to the poor and begin searching for a new focus for their lives. This search led them to Koinonia Farm, a Christian community located near Americus, Georgia, where people were looking for practical ways to apply Christ’s teachings. With Koinonia founder Clarence Jordan and a few others, the Fullers initiated several partnership enterprises, including a ministry in housing. They built modest houses on a no‑profit, no‑interest basis, thus making homes affordable to families with low incomes. Homeowner families were expected to invest their own labor into the building of their home and the houses of other families, known as sweat equity. This reduced the cost of the house, increased the pride of ownership and fostered the development of positive relationships. Money for building was placed into a revolving fund, enabling the building of even more homes.


In 1973, Fuller moved to Africa with his wife and four children to test their housing model. The housing project, which they began in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), was a success in that developing nation. Fuller became convinced that this model could be expanded and applied all over the world.



Upon his return to the United States in 1976, he met with a group of close associates. They decided to create a new independent organization: Habitat for Humanity International. The mission statement of Habitat for Humanity is "Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope.”  From 1976 to 2005, the Fullers devoted their energies to the expansion of Habitat for Humanity throughout the world.

In 1996, former U.S. President Bill Clinton awarded Fuller the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, calling Habitat ¼the most successful continuous community service project in the history of the United States.”


Mr. Fuller passed away in February, 2009 at the age of 74. But the legacy he began, to help those who were poor have housing has changed the world forever. I have worked with several families on Habitat homes, and our church supported Rogue Valley Habitat by giving them $1,000 this year. It is such a blessing to work with these families in the place they will one day call home. In 2017-Habitat announced that more than 13.2 million people worldwide have built or improved a stronger, more stable place to live with the organization’s help. Its global success is due to one thing and one thing only- Millard Fuller changed his order of things, his order of what was most important. When God was placed first in his life, the rest followed and he lived a life of success, not from worldly perspective, but from God’s perspective.


So, where does God rank in your life? Is God first, or is there some other god in first place?  Who is your leadoff hitter in your life? Whoever bats first sets the table for the rest of life.  Today’s commandment calls us to get our priorities straight, to have the proper order of things. “You shall have no other gods before me, says the Lord.”  If we follow this first commandment, and have God first, the rest will follow. Alleluia! Amen.

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