Sunday, February 27, 2011

“Bound to God” Deuteronomy 11:18-22 February 27, 2011

This morning we come to the last of the five sermons in our series where we have been looking at what it means to live lives beyond belief and become the people God. We have heard from the prophet Micah, from Moses, from Paul, from the Gospel of John, and we end the journey by coming again to Moses. We come Moses again because he calls to the people again and again, trying to help them understand what it means for their lives to be shaped by the love of God. They struggled, like we do, with the temptation to give in to tradition, to culture, to their own wants and wishes and in the process lose their way.

Our focal passage for the morning brings us to an encounter between Moses and the people soon after their utter faith failure when they commissioned the building of the golden calf. While Moses was on the mountain top with God receiving the Commandments, the people lost heart and focus and crafted a symbol of a God that they hoped would meet their expectations. With the golden calf constructed they threw a party that played to their desires Many of you probably remember the visual of this spectacle of this scene from the classic movie The Ten Commandments. I think the probably the best contemporary image would be moral insanity and unadulterated movement and pageantry witnessed at Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro. As the story unfolds Moses comes down the mountain and walks into the chaos. Somehow I cannot escape the picture of Charleston Heston in the role of Moses raising the stone tablets above his head and crashing them to the ground in a fit of righteous rage.

But Moses knows the people cannot live without God’s presence, God’s power, and God’s love. So Moses goes up into the mountain again to plead to God for the people. For forty days and nights he lays on the ground prostrate in prayer before God. Finally God speaks. God forgives. God again gives Moses a word and way for His people. Slowly but surely Moses makes his way back down the mountain and tries to help them understand. In Chapter 10 verses 12 and 13 Moses proclaims; 12 And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? He tries to help them understand what this means and he comes back the same thought again and again. In verse 20 we hear him preach; Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. Again in Chapter 11 verse 13 he echoes, faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul. On and on he pleads with them that there is a different way of living, a way of life that draws them close to God and helps them become the people of God, the people they were created to be. It will take a radical reprioritization of their way of life. Moses tells them nothing less will do.

We come now to our passage, where this theme echoes again; this time with some very clear instruction. Andy read our passage aloud earlier in our service. Let’s take a closer look at it together. It begins; 18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

I love the way Eugene Peterson casts these words in his interpretive translation The Message. He offers; Place these words on your hearts. Get them deep inside you. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder. Teach them to your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning until you fall into bed at night. Inscribe them on the doorposts and gates of your cities so that you'll live a long time, and your children with you, on the soil that GOD promised to give your ancestors for as long as there is a sky over the Earth. Moses wanted them to understand that becoming a people of God was not an occasional religious expression but should be a reflection of every moment of everyday. God’s word and God’s way is suppose to be worn on our heart and mind. It is supposed to be written and wrapped on our arms so every time we look down we are reminded. It is supposed to be written and wrapped on our foreheads so every time someone sees us and every time we see our reflection we reminded. It is suppose to be a central topic in our conversations with our children and the children within our care. Moses describes a conversation that begins the moment they wake up – includes every moment we walk at their side – and carries them to bed at night. Moses wants them to understand that becoming a people of God is a sacred task and how they teach their children to follow God is a sacred responsibility. Their future and the future of their children depend on it.

When I do premarital counseling with a couple I tell them something that I wished more people realized. The only way we know how to love is how we saw our parents love. We have to identify what part of our parents’ modeling is a blessing and we should claim for ourselves. We also have to identify what part of our parents’ modeling is curse that should be set aside. Equally true is that the only way we know how to be married is how we saw our parents live out their marriage. Again there are elements of blessing and elements of curse. We who have children shape their capacity to love and to sustain relationships. In addition, frequently we talk about the people outside of our immediate family that offered us a model of love and relationship. It is amazing the great good an aunt, or uncle or family friend offers for those who struggle to see a healthy way of love lived out in their parents. What I have learned is that kids are watching us – learning from us- and will model what they see in us.

We who desire to become a people of God are also shaping how the children of this church family and our community will see and understand what it means to follow God. This means that parents, Sunday school teachers, GIGGLES workers, children’s choir teachers, KidsHope mentors, and all who encounter the children within these walls and beyond these walls are helping shape the faith walk of the children they call by name. They are watching us. They are listening to us. We have a sacred task and a sacred responsibility. There are no time outs and no do-overs. Moses was right – becoming a people of God should be a reflection of the depths of our hearts and the first thoughts on our minds. Our future, and their future, depends on it.
Moses returns to his theme one more time, pleading -no demanding - they hear and understand the impact of becoming the people of God would have in their lives and in the lives of others. He offers it in an “if/then” format. He tells them. 22 If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow—to love the LORD your God, not to revere God for what you can get from God, not to fear God because of what God can do to you, but to love God out of who you are as a child of God.

to walk in obedience to him, claiming the image he has just used to describe the parent walking side-by-side the child, leading the child, instructing the child, Moses tells them to walk with God side-by-side, staying close and following God’s lead.

and to hold fast to him— perhaps best heard as “wholly embrace God, cling to God with all of your might and do not let go. They had walked away from God before. It had led them in to captivity in Egypt. Not long ago they had lost heart and lost hope and crafted the golden calf, Moses wanted them to understand that they had to get close to God, grab on, and hold tight. Who they were and who they were called to be could only be found at God’s side.

Moses then offers the promise, If they will observe the way and the word of God THEN…The “then” he describes is a future where God makes a way for them. It is a future of hope and promise. It is the future they were created for. It is the future as God intends it. It is a future with God!

The choice to live lives beyond belief, to commit ourselves to live our lives as the people of God, is not a religious obligation that weighs you down. It is not about a life driven by rules and regulations. It is about claiming the kind of relationship with God that founded in love and shaped in a side-by-side walk with God and a clinging embrace. It is about a faith walk that not only empowers us in this place, but defines us every moment beyond it as well. It is a faith walk that carries us into the future with God. The choice is ours. Let’s not settle for less.

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