SHEMA "Hear O Israel: The LORD is our god. The LORD
alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your
heart, and with all your soul and with all your might."
Foundational statement of a
people that has lived through epic journeys, migrations
and forced relocations for thousands of years. It has
lived through years of enslavement, foreign occupation,
impoverishment and through the grandeur of the kingdom
It is a statement that we
Christians have inherited. For the most part, we
understand this statement as a commandment one among ten
or one out of two. Listen again. You shall love the Lord
your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and
with all your might.
And as a commandment, as a law,
as a rule, or even as a strong suggestion, we struggle
with obeying it as it says…with all your heart, with all
your soul, with all your might. As commandment, it
becomes impossible to fill. How can I direct all of my
attention to loving another?
But perhaps we can see it
another way. Perhaps we can hear it as promise. Or even
go so far as to see it as identity.
There is a core story in our
first reading from Deuteronomy. I don't know if you
heard it, it began, a wandering Aramean was my ancestor.
It is the story of course of Abraham going down into
Egypt to escape the famine, only to have his future
generations end up as slaves. It is the story of Moses
and Aaron and their exodus into freedom. It is the story
of promise and covenant with God that gave meaning to
the lives of every Israelite. It is a story that is
foundational for us as well. Remember Stephen before he
was stoned retold the story of the Exodus but with a
twist. He challenged his accusers with not living out
the promises or fulfilling the covenant.
They were angered by his
charges…because as far as they knew, they had obeyed
everything - dotted all the I's and crossed all the T's.
You see the early people of the covenant tried so hard
to be sure to do what God wanted that they created a
fence of rules designed to make sure they wouldn't
possibly disobey their part in the covenant. They had
their own share of people like James Dobson, Max Lucado,
Steven Covey, Tim LeHaye to interpret for them how to go
about doing what was right in their lives.
Then King David and all their
contemporary singers and musicians wrote those great
praise songs we know as Psalms. People would sing them
when they went on caravan, or at family gatherings on
the roof tops with their next door neighbors. They would
sing them on their way to the temple. These were the
songs that gave people hope, in a time when people could
not read - these songs taught the love of their God for
them and the promises he had made. When life got
difficult these psalms would return to their lips
reminding them of who they were and WHOSE they were and
what was the center of their existence.
Paul says that very thing in the
Romans reading. The word is near you, on your lips and
in your heart. (that is, the word of faith that we
proclaim): because if you confess with your lips that
Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised
him from the dead, you will be saved.
For those of you who have ever
learned a foreign language, you will have at times been
frustrated by the fact that there are not always exact
one-to-one corresponding words or phrases to get your
meaning across. This is particularly true of verbs. Past
tense and future tense can seem extremely complicated
when you start talking about he did, he was doing, he
has done, he would have done, he shall have done. And
suddenly there you are mixing the future in with the
past or the present or perhaps with commands and also
And so it is with the word Bible
translators have assigned the English - shall and often
times "will". It is a fluid, flexible word filled with
encouragement. It should not always be assumed that it
is a mere command but rather bound up with pride and joy
knowing God has richly blessed and will continue to
bless NOT because of anything we have done but because
of WHO GOD is. And so, the sense is, perhaps not now,
not this minute, but the time is coming when this will
be our reality…and so we live in that future reality -
You see God was trying to form a
people who were unique, who were peculiarly his, who
were particularly identifiable. Their behavior in every
minute of their daily life would be their distinguishing
feature. Knowing themselves claimed by the Lord, their
behavior would reflect God's purposes. Their lives would
proclaim the greatness of God and would become a light
But it is too easy to slip over
to the legalistic side. In tending to our own desires,
it is easier to say, okay, just tell me what I'm
supposed to do and I will do it. As if to say, I'll add
that to my chore list and get it accomplished. And at
the end of the day, the month, the year, or perhaps the
end of my life, I'll get my reward. OR. OR here's the
other side of it. We see God's promises and we stretch
our desires as far as we can testing how strong God's
promises really are. How faithful will God be, before
God crosses me off the list.
THAT - THAT was what Satan was
trying to do with Jesus during the days in the
wilderness. OH Satan knew all of the promises of
Scripture. And, we know that he knew God just as well.
And, so he was preying on the humanness of Jesus. We
heard that Jesus had been without food for forty days.
Can you imagine how hungry…how his body was longing for
satisfaction. We read about three challenges, the devil
presented to Christ, change the stone to bread, worship
the devil and all the world would be his, and jump off
the temple steeple and watch the angels come and protect
you. But these three were not all. The scripture tells
us that Jesus was tempted the entire 40 days. Tempted
with untold numbers of things.
But Jesus resisted, He returned
over and over again to the Psalms, to the scriptures.
Why? Were his Bible passages stronger or truer than the
ones the devil used? NO and I hope you don't get drawn
into that trap of quoting verses to prove your point.
Because if you do, you've missed the point.
Instead, think. Think, What is
God trying to do in this world, what are God's reasons
for drawing you unto God's self. What does it mean to
have been given "life." Are we just trying to get
through this existence with as few errors as possible or
as many earthly pleasures as we can get away with? Do we
use anesthetizing substances to help us avoid facing
life's real challenges? Cigarettes, food, alcohol,
drugs, sex, thrills.
I am not standing here to read
you a bunch of rules and laws to follow. I won't tell
you you gotta stop smoking, doin drugs, or overeating -
even though that would be beneficial to your health. I'm
not going to teach you today the ten commandments over
again so that you can resist a temptation that might
come your way this afternoon. Although that would help.
Instead, I want you to go away
from here knowing WHO you are and WHOSE you are. It's
like a filter through which you see the world and your
responses become automatic. For example, I have been a
seamstress all my life. That becomes my filter through
which I make clothing and decorator choices. If you are
a survivor of the depression, you make economic
decisions through a certain criteria. If you are a
democrat, you have a certain platform that influences
your decisions. If you are a Christian in today's world
you might have run around with WWJD bracelets or bought
the Prayer of Jabez books or you're really into the Left
Behind series. These decisions come from life experience
- and sometimes they come from media hype.
And some of it is good and some
of it is the devil bombarding us with temptations every
minute of the day.