While my college students were assembling for class last Tuesday, one girl could not help but share her Valentine story. She was so excited that she asked for everybody’s attention, and said, “I’ve just got to tell you what my boyfriend did for me on Valentine’s Day.” Then she said that her boyfriend fixed her a meal, but that was just the beginning of the story. When she walked into the dining room, he had spread red rose petals all over the floor. And all the girls in the room said in unison, “Ohhh, that’s so sweet!” And she was very impressed as well! Then on the table he had a dozen yellow roses with red tips. And there was candlelight and champagne, followed by his finely cooked dinner. She was ecstatic about the way she was treated. And everyone else in the class unanimously agreed that she had the best Valentine story of the class.
Now, I have two boys so I know something about boys. I never had one of my boys fix a lovely meal like that for me! In fact, I can hardly imagine my boys doing something like that. What do you think got into that young man that made him act in such a strange way? It must have been love! Love changes our behavior, doesn’t it?
Our text for today has several wonderful themes that I want to address, but they are all centered around the theme of loving God. When we really love God, our behavior will change.
These verses come in the middle of what seems like chapter after chapter of instructions about proper sacrifices and proper behavior. Deuteronomy has just treated us to another repeat of the Ten Commandments. But in this passage the Bible makes clear that blind obedience isn’t nearly enough. Dutiful slavery is not what God wants. God wants us to love him.
1) God’s promises
The book of Deuteronomy starts out by giving a brief review of the events that have happened to Israel up until that point. Moses reminds them of God’s deliverance out of Egypt, of their journey through the wilderness, of the spies who went into the land, of their refusal to go in and seize the land, and how God had sentenced them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. But now all that is behind them. They are the edge of the Promised Land once again, so the question before them is whether they will rise to the challenge this time.
Then our specific text in chapter six offers a brief review of God’s promises. Moses explains that if they want their days to be long, if they want it to go well with them, if they want to multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, then they must keep their end of the bargain with God. They must keep all the decrees and commandments of God, and they must fear God all the days of their lives.
This part of the passage is a reminder of the covenant nature of Israel’s relationship with God. This covenant is modeled on the typical relationship between a powerful king and a vassal state. Such a covenant always began with a review of what the king had done for the subjects, then the king explained the terms of the covenant, and finally, the people agreed to abide by the demands of the covenant. God uses this same form in relation to the people of Israel.
Then we come to the Shema, a phrase that is still repeated twice a day by every devout Jewish person. “Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one: and you shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4-5).
In the New Testament, Jesus was asked what he thought was the greatest commandment, and he immediately replied that it was the Shema.
The Shema begins with an emphasis on hearing. The Shema in verse 4 begins, “Hear, Israel.”
On Wednesday our men’s group made a list of foundation principles for the Christian life which included worship, prayer, Bible study, fellowship and missions. Then we were to list some subpoints of how we can make sure those things happen in our spiritual lives. For most of the items listed, we mentioned the importance of just “showing up.” If we show up in church, we will hear the word of God. If we show up, we will participate in prayer and worship. If we show up, we will experience fellowship and be challenged to do missions.
Romans 10:17 puts it this way, “So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” During his earthly ministry, Jesus often repeated the phrase, “Let anyone who has ears, hear.”
The first affirmation of the Shema is a profound statement of monotheism. Monotheism means having one god. Polytheism means having many gods. One of the unique contributions of the Jewish people to world religion was this idea of one God. The Shema states it this way, “Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one.” or as some translations put it more clearly to me, “The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”
Many of us have great difficulties with the violence found in this part of the Bible. God instructs the Israelites to utterly destroy their enemies, often including innocent civilians as well as the opposing warriors. It is not easy to understand such violence at the command of God. And this part of the Scripture has often been used to justify similar violent acts throughout the ages.
But many scholars explain that the reason God was so harsh on the neighboring tribes was their practice of polytheism and idolatry. God determined that Israel would never hold to their views of one God if they intermingled with the people of the land who had many idols. The action of the Israelites served as the judgment of God on those nations, just as later other nations would conquer Israel as an act of God’s judgment against them.
Today we don’t hear of many religions that are genuinely polytheistic. But ours is a society that does have many gods with a small letter “g.” We worship the god of money, the god of success, the god of sex. Some people are willing to put almost anything before Yahweh God, and such actions are just as much idolatry as the actions of the people in Deuteronomy.
God calls us to worship one God. God is a jealous God. “Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one!”
4) Love God
Next the Shema commands us to love God. This command is a corrective to any possible misunderstanding of the “statutes and ordinances” given throughout Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. With so many specific demands to perform worship is very specific ways, there is always the danger of performing worship in a merely outward manner.
But the Shema makes it clear that God does not want blind obedience and dutiful slavery. God wants a loving relationship with the people. “Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one: and you shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
On what should this loving relationship be based? One mistaken idea is that we should love God simply because we are commanded to. While that might be a worthy reason, that is not the main reason we are to love God. We are to love God because God first loved us.
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Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of Christ” has been making the news quite a bit lately. It comes out this Wednesday, and I encourage you to see it and to take your friends with you. It is apparently a very powerful presentation of the last 12 hours of the life of Christ. But you should be warned that it will not be an easy movie to watch. From what I have read about it, it seems that Mel Gibson has pulled no punches in graphically portraying the violence done to Jesus, for which it has earned an “R” rating.
I have read the reviews of several people who have seen the movie. Everyone has described it more as an experience than a viewing. They have repeatedly said it is not a movie that you watch; it is rather a movie that you experience. There are many of us who need such an experience because we need to be reminded of God’s love for us.
Mel Gibson wrote and directed this film out of his own religions convictions as a devout Catholic. His comment was, “Jesus’ wounds healed me.” Those wounds can heal us as well if we have ears to hear and eyes to see.
I have read many incredible descriptions of the movie and the events surrounding it. One is the fact that the actor who plays Jesus was struck by lightning while hanging on the cross. I don’t propose to understand the meaning of such an event, but it is incredible. Another interesting tidbit is that the actor who plays Jesus is 33 years old and has the initials J.C.
The other thing that struck me about the movie came as a response to someone’s inquiry about why Mel Gibson himself was not in the movie. He quickly replied, “Oh, I was in it.” But the interviewer had not seen him and asked where. Gibson replied, “It was my hands that nailed him to the cross.” He went on to explain that it was not the Jews who killed Jesus, it was us – all of us. Our sins are what nailed Jesus to the cross.
When we see the cross in this light, we can finally understand it as the supreme act of God’s love. We love God because he has first loved us!
1 John 4 puts it this way, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God. He who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, for God is love. By this God’s love was revealed in us, that God has sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
5) Teach your children
The last thing we find in the Shema is the emphasis on teaching our children. Verses 7-9 say, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be for symbols between your eyes. You shall write them on the door posts of your house, and on your gates.”
Recently, I was asked by the local newspaper to write an article about raising children with values. I struggled for some time with that article because I think the only people who want to give advice to parents about raising children are people who never had children themselves. Once you have children of your own, you realize you don’t have all the answers.
When I finally got it written, my very first point was, “Take your family to worship every week. If you are interested in values, then turn to your faith because that is the one place in our society where values are cherished and taught. I am amazed at families who want their children to grow up right, but they are very hap-hazard about bringing them to worship. Children need to spend regular time, and plenty of it, in worship and religious training to really catch the meaning of it.”
In the article, I went on to give the following advice: Keep your children busy in positive activities. Plan as many family activities as possible. Talk about the impact of children’s behavior. Plan family service projects or civic activities. Teach your children good manners. Reward moral behaviors. Use teachable moments. Model appropriate behavior. And finally say what you mean, mean what you say, and back it up consistently.
Every one of us wants the very best for our children. We want them to be people with values, and for the most part, we want them to have our good values. We want them to know God and to love God with all their hearts, with all their souls, and with all their might.
The Shema hits a nerve in our life together. We want our children to be people of faith. Well, the Shema tells us to teach the children from an early age. Remind them in every way possible about our faith, the content of our faith, and our personal commitment to it.
But perhaps an even greater argument for teaching the children is the statement: Christianity is always one generation from extinction. It only takes one generation failing to pass on the faith for the light to go out! If we want them to have faith, we must show them the way. If we want Christianity to endure, we must pass it on to our children.
The reason the Shema has endured in the Jewish community is the same reason Jesus cited it as the greatest commandment. These few verses capture the very heart of our faith. “Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one: and you shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. These words, which I command you this day, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.”
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2004, Mickey Anders. Used by permission.