"Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons 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."
On Your Heart, In Your Actions, In Your Words
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Here it is. The basic, foundational confession of Judaism, called the Shema Yisrael, Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is One - or The Lord Our God is One Lord! It is also basic to the confession of the Christian faith - only thing is, we Christians define who "the Lord" is: Jesus Christ is Lord. Put the two together and you have the basic confession of the Christian faith, and clear picture of why Christianity and Judaism are at loggerheads. They cannot wrap their minds around their God existing in the form of a man - any man. We cannot acknowledge any God who is not Jesus Christ.
Now that we have this confession of God, what do we do with it? That is the question answered by the verses following the Shema. Our theme is, On Your Heart, In Your Actions, In Your Words.
The confession of Israel was all-encompassing. Their God, the one known by the name which they never pronounced, was God absolutely. There was no other God of any sort, anywhere. He was not a committee or a group of deities. There was no top rank God, followed by multiple demi-gods. The God they knew, who had spoken to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and had revealed Himself to Moses, and had spoken to Israel at Mount Sinai forty years earlier - within the lifetimes of many who were hearing Moses on the day he spoke these words, is the God of the whole world and the Creator of all that exists.
It was a staggering announcement. In a world that worshiped a different deity in every valley and on every lofty hill, here was the reality of God speaking through His Prophet to His chosen people, announcing His presence, His reality, His uniqueness - being the only God that actually exists - revealing Himself, and telling them how to deal with that knowledge. God was speaking to them through Moses. The message, that there were no other gods in reality, was a staggering and unusual thought for those people and in that time. Their world believed in many, many Gods, even if they did not worship them. Then to hear that the One who created everything was actually their God and talking to them? That was literally stupefying.
The Children of Israel had no reason to doubt Moses. They were still eating Manna. The pillar of cloud by day and fire by night was still with them. Moses' face was still glowing, however dimly or brightly, with the glory of God. Here was direct communication that assured them that the Creator of heaven and earth was with them and communicating with them. You have the same sort of communication through your pastor, but you do not have the signs and wonders of Moses before you today to confirm that the words you hear are His. You must take that on faith. Those early children of Israel, had something extra.
They knew that this was God. They now knew that He alone was God - He was a unique and singular instance of true deity. They did not know a lot about Him, but they had seen His power, they had experienced His faithfulness for over forty years, and they had reason to know His love for them and His providence: things simply did not wear out during the Exodus. They always had food and water. And here God was telling them to make sure that He was part of every bit of their lives: on their hearts, in their actions, and in their words.
Of course, they messed that up.
What God had intended is that they would remember Him and His goodness to them, and love Him in return. In the verses just following our text, God added: "And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." That was what having His Word on their hearts meant. God intended that whatever they might do would be done in the light of their God and His goodness to them. That is what binding His Word to their hands meant, an instruction in the verse just following our text. When they reached their hand out, they would see His Word, and conform their behavior to His will. God intended that they would speak of Him, sharing with one another His goodness, and reminding one another of His love, and carefully and diligently teaching these words to their children. That was the intention behind the command to speak of this confession when they sit down and when they go for a walk and when they lie down and when they stand up. God also intended that they would not leave their homes without remembering who they were and who their God was, and that they would take Him with them, at least in their hearts, and when they returned, they would remember with thanksgiving that He had provided them with their homes, ready made, as it were. That was what His instruction about writing these words on the doorposts and gates of their houses was all about.
What they actually did was make little pouches and boxes and hide the Scriptures - or small portions of them - around. They had Phylacteries, little pouches with a piece of the Scripture in them, which hung on their foreheads and obscured the top of their vision. They wore tephellim, a small pouch tied to the back of their hands which contained a scrap of the Scriptures on them, and Mesusah's, a small box, usually metal, which either contained a piece of Scripture or had a few words of Scripture engraved on them, to hang on the doorpost of their house. They would touch it, or kiss their hand and then touch the mesusah as they entered and left the building.
In other words, the law which was to keep God and His Word and their covenant with Him in their consciousness and guiding their lives, became a custom, a piece of attire, something to be gotten used to and ignored, much like the crosses that many people wear today without a thought, or because it is a nice piece of jewelry. The devotional practices were not bad in and of themselves. In fact, they were good. The problem was that they became so accustomed to the devices and the reminders and the actions, that they forgot to think about what they were intended to remind them of, and so became useless. Worse than useless. They were items dedicated to bringing God to their minds, and they became a nuisance and so made God bothersome in their minds.
The command which followed the confession was that these words, and what they meant, were to become a part of them, of their speaking, or their thinking, and of the things that they did, and carefully taught to their children. These were not just words, or intellectual concepts, but living truths upon which the lives of the Children of Israel were to be built.
Our lives are, similarly, to be built upon the foundation of our confession. Our confession starts with their confession, and the command that the confession of our faith is to be a part of our lives, On Your Heart, In Your Actions, In Your Words, applies to us. God does not intend that we will physically write the words of our confession on our hands, nor, necessarily, post them on our door-posts. But He does intend that when we reach out our hands, we remember Christ before we act, and act in accordance with the grace and love of God which we have received. He would have us mark our homes and our family lives with the confession of - and with sincere faith in - our Redeemer, and that He and His will and His grace and goodness be the substance of our conversations with one another, and with the world around us. And He would have us diligently teach these words, values and precepts to our children.
Our confession is that the Lord, spoken of in our text, is Jesus Christ. We further confess that He took on human form and nature and became one of us, to bear the Law and to earn eternal life, where mankind from the very beginning earned only death by sin. Jesus then took our guilt and sins on Himself and went to the cross in our place to die for us and bear the judgment of God against sin, so that we would not. Because He died in our place, and has risen from the dead, we have full forgiveness. Your sins are forgiven! His resurrection was and is God's absolution on us.
That undeserved grace and goodness is to be the mark of our behavior, when we reach out our hands toward another. We are not to deal with one another according to what each one deserves, but according to the mercy which God has shown to us. This would be in accord with what Jesus said, that the one who is forgiven much loves much, and the one who is forgiven little, loves little. When we stretch out our hands, the tephellim on our hand is to be the love with which we have been loved by Christ - which also left a mark on His hands!
Our words are to be filled with our confession. "and you shall teach them [the words of your confession] diligently to your sons 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." The Gospel of our forgiveness is to be the phylactery which hangs before our eyes as we deal with the world in which we live. Most importantly, we must teach the words of the Gospel to our families, but they also should form the backbone of our conversations with one another, and we should be freely speaking of the gospel when we deal with our neighbor, as well. This need not be some artificial evangelism program, memorized and rehearsed. It should flow out of us because it is fundamental to our existence and we are filled with it.
Just as ancient Israel had a staggering announcement, that the God of all creation was their God and speaking to them, we have a staggering announcement, too. Sure, the world has heard our announcement, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the God of all creation, who made this world and has preserved it and cared for it through all these ages, has set His attention us, to love us - to die for us and forgive us and claim us for His own and offer and bestow upon us everlasting life, and resurrection from the dead! It is still mind-boggling!
If you speak this Word and confess Christ boldly, you will likely face the question, in some form, "Are trying to say your religion is better than others, or that they are lost and condemned by following their religion?" No matter how you answer, the true answer to this question is "YES!" Those who hope in another god or another salvation are hoping in a fantasy. Here is the true God and eternal life!
People don't always believe what we proclaim, but that is partly because the announcement is so big and so amazing. God loves you! He has called you by name! He has made you His child, and purchased you at the price of the life of the very Son of God. That's big! The thought of it should fill you with wonder - and if nothing else, it should simply fill you. I find myself amazed that it doesn't make more of an impression in me than it does. But that is simply the world we live in, a world of sin and dominated by the old evil foe. My flesh, no less than your own, struggles against this good news. That is why these words, our confession, the wonderful news of the Gospel and of the love of God for us, needs to be on our hearts and on our lips constantly. Even we who believe need this precious word in our minds, in our mouths and in our ears at all times!
The text for today is not just a confession but and instruction - a command from God through His prophet. He commands that His truth, and the truth of our relationship to Him, be On Your Heart, In Your Actions, and In Your Words because we need to keep Him before our eyes and in our thoughts as we live that we may walk in faith - and the world around us needs to know and see Him in us. God grant it be so, for Christ's sake!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due.
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.
Send Pastor Robin Fish an email.