Sermon on Deuteronomy 6:1-12
5th Sunday after Pentecost
Hear. Remember. Teach.
Text: Deuteronomy 6:1-12
Shema Yisrael, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad. At the very beginning of six years of training in the Hebrew language, those words are often the first words that our Lutheran pastors are able to understand and speak. My classmates and I would say them often just to sound cool and to impress our wives-to-be. (It took a lot more than some Hebrew to impress Becky).
Shema Yisrael, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad. Long before I was stuttering over those words—3,500 years ago—Jews first began to recite those words. Now, three and a half millennia later, Jews still recite those words. Many Jews today say them twice a day every day as the closing words of their morning and evening prayer or worship.
This phrase or prayer is often known simply by its first word—the Shema. While it is only six words long in Hebrew and 11 in English, its meaning and importance are vastly more profound. This morning, these words of Holy Scripture lie before us in our first lesson for the day. Deuteronomy 6:4—Shema Yisrael, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad—“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” With these words God communicated to the Israelites and today communicates to us a very important message: Hear. Remember. Teach.
The setting for these words is almost 3,500 years ago. By the power of God and by the guidance of Moses the people of Israel had miraculously left the land of Egypt and escaped through the middle of the Red Sea. While the Israelites were in the desert of the Sinai Peninsula, God made a promise to be with the Israelites and to bless the Israelites if they obeyed his commands. But they struggled mightily to do this. Many of you might remember the famous scene from the movie The Ten Commandments when Charlton Heston showed his outrage as Moses and smashed the 10 Commandments on the ground. But it wasn’t just Moses who was angered by the Israelite sin. It was God who was angry with their constant sin and rebellion.
Yet God continually spared them in his mercy and kept his promise. He brought them to the land he had promised—the land of Israel. Now, after 400 years in Egypt and after 40 years of wandering in the desert, they were finally about to set foot into their new home called Israel. But before they did, Moses stood up to deliver his farewell speech and one last encouragement to the people. Listen to a part of that speech, beginning at Deuteronomy 6:1, “These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you.”
Did you get what Moses was saying? He had just reviewed all the laws and commands of God, including the 10 Commandments, and was encouraging people to hear those commands and to remember those commands.
Listen to how he continues in verse four: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
The encouragement continues. Moses was speaking to the Israelites about the LORD, the one true God, and he beseeched and implored them to hear what God had to say and to remember all of his commands. Not only that, they were to teach these commands to their children and pass them on from generation to generation. The Word of God and the commands of God were to be a part of their every day lives. Moses was saying, “Talk about these everywhere and all times. I don’t care if you have to put them on bracelets or tie little Bible passages on your foreheads or paint them on your homes. Fill your lives with the Word and commands of God.” To summarize, Moses told the Israelites: Hear. Remember. Teach.
You may know that Israel did not do so well with this encouragement. It was not very long before they refused to hear what God had to say. Instead they worshiped idols and false gods. They forgot many of the commands of the Lord and reveled in gross sins of every kind. And clearly, they didn’t teach their children in the ways and knowledge of the Lord and his commands. They were so foolish that they only took Moses’ words literally. They made little boxes called phylacteries and rolled up Bible verses and put them inside and then tied those boxes to their hands and foreheads. They wrote Bible passages on their doorframes. But over time, and still to this day, it became just a cultural custom or a good luck charm. In other words, they heard what Moses had to say but they weren’t truly listening. The Israelites failed to Hear, Remember, Teach.
How have you done? Moses has been in heaven for more than 3,000 years, but his words and encouragement still apply to us today: Hear. Remember. Teach. How have you done?
Well you are here today, which means you are hearing the Word of God today. That’s good. But how do you normally do with this encouragement to hear? Where do you hear the Word of God? In church. In devotions at home with your family. When you read the Bible at home, which is the Word of God. When you attend Bible studies. Do you hear the Word of God regularly? Or might other things sometimes become a little more important? “I need to catch up on some work!” “It’s a beautiful Sunday morning. We need some family fun time. We need to get our spot at the beach early. Missing church once isn’t a big deal.” Suddenly once because twice. Two times becomes four times. It isn’t just attending church. We get so consumed with our busy lives—we get up, get the kids up, cram food in everybody’s face, get the kids to school, go to work, work all day long, pick the kids up from school, make dinner, have a few minutes of family time, get the kids to bed, and then we crash. Where is there time for reading the Bible and hearing what God has to say? (And you don’t have to have kids to live that kind of a busy life). We don’t always do so well at hearing the Lord.
How about remembering what the Lord says? I want to direct you to a very important verse, verse 5: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” It almost hurts to hear the word, but I will say again the most important word in that verse once more—all. It’s a short word. It’s a simple word. But it’s a disastrous word for us. Have you ever tried to really grasp what this verse means, or to truly try and do it? Loving the Lord with all your heart would mean that you put him first in every thing and at all times. Loving the Lord with all your soul means that nothing in your life would supplant your relationship with the Lord, nothing would come between you and church time, nothing would ever stop you from your time with him. Loving the Lord with all your strength means that you would never take his name in vain or curse or swear or share and laugh at dirty jokes. You would never give into temptation. You would never forget what God commands. It’s not a suggestion. It’s a command—Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. We don’t always do so well at remembering.
How about teaching what the Lord says? Moses encouraged the Israelites to teach their children and to make the Word of God a part of every day life. I know that many parents will do anything for their children. They will get up at the wee hours of the morning for a day trip to Disney. They will drive all over sunny Florida to take the kids to baseball and soccer practices or games. Dads spend lots of time teaching how to throw a football or change the oil. Moms are all over the children when they don’t say “Please” or “Thank You.” I’ve seen these things often. Far less often do I see parents eagerly bringing their children to church and modeling a joyful attitude for attending church. Rarely do I see children who really know Bible stories inside and out. And almost never have I seen a child skip a baseball or soccer game because it was during church and church is more important.
Moses told the Israelites that if they have to they can tie Bible verses to their heads or write Bible passages on their doorframes. But have you ever seen a person with a Christian bumper sticker acting as the most rude person on the road? (maybe you have been that person). Do you have a WWJD bracelet or a picture of Jesus in your house yet acting like Jesus is often an afterthought? Do you have a Bible, maybe one dear to your heart, but it is covered with dust on your shelf?
Oh how often we have been like those Israelites! While these words from Deuteronomy are from a speech by Moses, really it is God speaking to the Israelites and to us. It is God who is commanding us to Hear, Remember, Teach. The last encouragement before us today is in verse 12. Moses said, “Be careful that you do not forget the LORD.” But how often we have! How often we have failed! That is called sin. Sin is to be punished. Sinners deserve hell.
This last week of Vacation Bible School was an interesting, exciting, and fun week for us at Christ the King. The theme for the week was based on the life of bees. The children met all kinds of different hive members like Bee-anca the Queen Bee, and Barb-bee the manager bee, and the child care director named Nanny McBee. The point of all of these bee friends they met was not to teach the kids how to tell someone to “buzz off.” No, these bees and all of our VBS leaders taught the children something much more important—about being bee-lievers.
I suppose the question is, “Why? What does it matter?” This morning we reviewed what God demands of us. We have seen that we haven’t done so well at meeting his standards. We have recognized that we are sinners and we have acknowledged that deserves punishment. Why even bother teaching God to these children?
We make such a big deal about Vacation Bible School and about our Christ the King School and about Sunday School because there is an important message to share with these children, a message that God shares with all of us in his Word, a message that we all can “bee-lieve.” That message is about Jesus.
Israel failed miserably in following Moses’ encouragement and in obeying the Lord. Yet God was forgiving and merciful. He still kept his promise to bring them into the promised land of Israel. More importantly, he still kept his promise made long before that to send a Savior. That Savior wasn’t just for Israel. That Savior was for us as well.
Earlier we looked at that impossible word all. It is impossible for us to love the Lord with all our heart soul and strength. But Jesus did. Jesus obeyed all of God’s laws and commands. He never forgot. He never slipped up. He never failed. Jesus is our Savior because he lived the perfect life we haven’t.
But we still have this problem of sin. We still forget. We still make mistakes. We still do the wrong things. We still deserve God’s punishment. Jesus came for that too. That’s why Jesus died on a cross. The cross is not some good luck charm. It’s not some worthless symbol that reminds us of a really loving and caring guy who unfortunately died. The cross is where our sin was heaped. The cross is where our guilt was laid. The cross is where God battled Satan. The cross is where God died once for all. The cross is where forgiveness was won. The cross is where salvation was accomplished. By both his perfect life and his innocent suffering and death Jesus has saved all. We don’t need to earn it. We don’t need to pay for it. All we do is one thing, one simple thing we taught the children this last week—we “bee-lieve” it.
So now, dear friends, and especially you, dear parents, listen once more to the words of Moses: Hear, Remember, Teach. Hear what God has done for you. He has forgiven and saved you through Jesus our Savior. Remember what God has done for you. Take the message of forgiveness and salvation and make it a part of your every day life. Tie it on your wrists and foreheads. Write it on your doorframes and gates. Talk about it at home and on the road. Come to worship. Attend Bible studies. Read the Bible. Do whatever you can to make the good news of Jesus a part of your life. Finally, teach what God has done. Teach it to your friends, your family, your neighbors, your coworkers. Most importantly parents, teach it to your children. Bring them to church. Bring them to Sunday school. Have devotions at home. Pray at night.
Shema Yisrael, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad. The words are almost 3,500 years old, but those Hebrew words are still just as important today. Hear, O people: The LORD our God, the LORD is one, and the LORD has saved us. Hear it. Remember it. Teach it.
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