Sunday, June 1, 2008

Third Sunday in Pentecost

Third Sunday in Pentecost.
Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26 -28
Bror Erickson

"You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deut. 11:18-19 (ESV)

The question arises from our text today, “What words of yours Lord?” What words are we to lay up in our hearts and in our souls?
Sometimes that is the problem with cutting a text like this out, “pericoping,” for reading on Sunday morning. It can be totally divorced from context. But Deuteronomy is a rather large book, and even reading the entire 11th chapter would be problematic for the constraints of the Divine Service. Of course, that is part of the point to our readings today also, that you don’t leave church thinking you are done for the week, but continue to study God’s word diligently throughout the week and teach it to your children. Deuteronomy means second law. It was Moses’ fifth book, and really records his last sermon to the Israelite children before they enter the Holy Land. It is called the second law, because for the second time Moses gives Israel the Ten Commandments in the 5th chapter, expounds on these, and retells Israel’s very young history. In the 11th chapter he talks of loving God.
What words is he talking about? He is talking about the commandments. Especially the first, “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other God’s before me.” He talks about how this means to love God, and to despise other gods, to not follow them. This is why he tells us to lay them up in our hearts and in our souls. We are not supposed to just follow God’s law we are to love God’s law. To love God is the greatest of the commandments, Jesus says so himself :
[28] And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" [29] Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. [30] And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' [31] The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." Mark 12:28-31 (ESV)
Notice the emphasis on love.
[10] Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:10 (ESV)
When Luther gave the meaning to the first commandment He said we are to fear, love and trust in God above all things. That is what it means to have faith, to believe in God is to fear, love, and trust in Him. But the greatest of these is love. See we Lutherans always talk about faith alone justifying us, saving us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. And the whole world says that that is wrong. It can’t be as simple as faith alone. There must be some other requirement. But there just isn’t. Faith itself, and love with it are hardly requirements, but blessed gifts of the Holy Spirit. But people won’t accept that. There needs to be more. More than just faith. Otherwise you could be a swine, a murderer, a rapist, and still go to heaven. But without faith in Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection, without faith and the love of God that comes with it, you could be the most virtuous person in the world by human eyes, yet you are swine in the eyes of God. For the most important commandment is to love God.
Love, wow. It isn’t something you can really force a person to do is it? Ever try to get someone to love you. Telling them to love you probably won’t do the trick. But if you love them, they might return that love. If you tell them you love them, they might say it back. But as your wife is walking out the front door never to come back, you might try telling her to love you, that they ought to love you, etc. But you may as well just say good bye. Telling one to love you won’t get them to love you. You can’t force a person to love. And yet you can learn to love, and you can teach to love. It isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but it can be done. Most couples do it. They learn to love. They teach to love. Sure they fall in love at first, but if it ends there it ends. After a couple falls in love, they need to learn to love, and teach to love each other. And that takes a life time. You are never done learning, never done teaching. It takes time and work. And people mess it up, drop the ball, and stop caring to teach, stop caring to learn. It happens. But over time you learn to put up with quirks, and you teach the other your likes and dislikes. And the other teaches you. You learn not to annoy your wife, because you love her, so you put a coaster under your drink. Your wife learns to give you a little space when you get home from work to decompress. You learn, you teach to love.
This is why we are to teach our children. It is the only natural thing to do when you love God, and love your children, that is to teach them to love God. I have often heard people, Christians, well meaning, but I think misguided, who think that they shouldn’t baptize their children, or influence their children in matters of faith. That their children should be able to make their own choices in these regards. Problem is one way or another you influence your kids. Parents not bringing their kids to church influence their kids not to go to church, you teach them not to care about God. There really is no middle ground here. If you ignore God, your kids are taught to ignore God. Parents are never neutral in this. But God has told us to teach our children and so we should, when we are sitting in our houses, walking by the way, lying down, and getting up. God is saying: “every day,” “every moment.” “Teach them about me at every opportunity. I want your children to know me, because I know them, and I love them, and want them to be with Me in heaven.” So we baptize our children and we bring them up in the Christian faith, so they grow up to be Christians. Of course, they may not grow up to be Christians. They will make their own choices in life soon enough, but you have done your part. But if your children do stray from the faith keep loving them. God keeps loving them.
But with that love comes a warning. He sets before us today a blessing and a curse. A blessing if we obey God and His commandments. And a curse if we disobey them, turn aside and follow other gods. God’s love is a jealous love. He will not share you with other gods, idols of your own sinful imagination. What can He do for you if you reject His blood? How can He forgive you if you reject His forgiveness? He can warn you about the pits of hell, but He can’t save you from them if you refuse His salvation. He says love Me. Love Me and you will avoid the curse and receive blessing. Don’t go after other gods, gods who have not, and will not love you. Don’t put those other things, other gods, yourself included before Me. I gave all for you. I would not even spare My own Son, who I sent to die for you that you might be washed clean, redeemed, sanctified, that is set apart for Me. And there on the cross, there is love. There God shows His love, for while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And seeing that love that devotion, we can love. We can’t be told to love. The law is useless there. It tells us to love, but it does not give us the power to do so. It does not gives us love with which to love. It is the same for our children. We can tell them to love, but we cannot force them to love. We can teach them to love, but we can’t make them do it. Neither can God make us love. But He can show us love, and that He did forgiving our sins with His very own blood on the cross. And we can show our kids that same love, bringing them to church to be baptized, to go to confirmation, Sunday school, reading devotions at night, or in the morning. We can teach them and show them that love. And only after seeing that love can we love. Only by hearing the Gospel can we be given the power to fulfill the law, and do so as if it weren’t even there. Not because it tells us to, but because we want to. For only love can drive one to want to follow God’s law. Not out of coercion, or fear of hell and damnation. This is what it means to live as if there were no law. We follow God’s law out of love, not from fear or coercion. love fulfills the law. And So
[19] We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19 (ESV)
And loving us, he fulfilled the law perfectly for us. On the cross He gave us love, in the forgiveness of our sins. On the cross He forgave us for not loving Him. And at the altar, where we consume the fruits of that all sufficient sacrifice, He forgives us for not loving Him, with our whole heart and mind, and all our strength. He forgives us for loving our selves more than Him, and more than we love our neighbors. And with that forgiveness He loves us, and shows His love for us.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the love of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

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