The Israelites were getting ready to pass through the waters, and Moses had been given some last few, but very important, words to deliver. They were about to pass through the waters of the Jordan and enter into the Promised Land, but God wasn’t quite ready to let them go yet. There were a few more things they needed to hear as they got ready to live their life, redeemed and freed from slavery.
These words from Deuteronomy 6 have become some of the most important words in the Jewish faith. It wouldn’t be overstating the case to say they are the most beloved words of Scripture. Observant Jews recite these words in prayer twice a day, they are the center of their prayer services, and it is traditional for them to be spoken as a person’s last words. The passage, beginning with verse 4 is known as the “Shema” for the first Hebrew word in the passage – “Hear!” or maybe better yet, “Listen up!” The command lets us know something important is coming. The command alerted the Israelites to the center of what they needed to know as they made their way through the water.
It’s a good command for us, too, for we who have come through these baptismal waters, for we who have promised even today to care for those born, through their baptisms, into our family of faith. “Listen up!” God’s going to tell us how we should live in this family formed by the water and the Spirit.
At the playground recently I saw a dad waiting with his son for some space to clear up on a climbing toy. The only dad in that area, while helping his son wait patiently, he also helped some other children make their way safely to the top. Even after his little boy had reached the high platform he kept helping the others, spotting them so a potential fall wouldn’t be so dangerous, giving a hand to steady them if they got a little wobbly. Another dad came jogging up when he saw his daughter getting some assistance. He thanked the first dad, apologizing for not being there; he was chasing his other children, too. The first dad, smiled and shrugged, “Hey, we’re all in this together!”
We sure are. We’re all in this together! God’s commandment through Moses in Deuteronomy 6 doesn’t come in a little “For parents only” section of scripture. It’s not set aside for just those who are raising children in their homes. It’s not that elusive instruction manual all parents sometimes wish came with their children. It’s not just for those with the immediate responsibility of day to day care for little ones. Hear O Israel! Israel! It’s for the whole community, the whole people of God. It’s for ALL of us!
Hear, O Israel! Moses calls to all of God’s people, the whole nation, the entire community and because of this you know something very important is coming up - - Hear me! Listen to me! Listen up now! The Lord is our only God and the Lord has some important things for us to do. We are supposed to love God with all that we are and all that we have, and we show that love by following God’s command. We’re commanded to know this all by heart. We’re supposed to love God and love what we know about God. We’re supposed to keep all of this treasured inside, NOT to horde it away from others, but so that we can live it before others - - especially so that we can live it in front of our children.
This is the call and command to the community of faith. It is the community’s responsibility to teach our children about God and God’s love for us all. It is the community’s responsibility to recite these words by heart, to talk about them, to talk about God, to tell our children the stories and the promises of God’s love for them and for the world.
Sometimes it sounds daunting, I know, because we don’t know when and we don’t know how. Many of us think to ourselves, or even out loud to one another, “But I don’t know enough. Someone else speaks to the children better than I do. I’ll mess the story up, so maybe if I learn it a little better, then I’ll be able to teach it. I don’t really see a lot of children, so I don’t get the chance to teach them.”
But really, it’s not that hard! Moses tells us how we should do this - - by heart! I don’t mean memorization here, but truly by heart. We are supposed to love these kids, this children made all of ours by the waters of baptism, we’re supposed to love them so much that they know God’s love. We are supposed to love God so much you can see it coming from our hearts, hear it coming from our lips, feel it coming out of our very souls.
And when should we do all of this? Oh it’s not too hard, Moses tells us - - only when we’re home or when we’re away. Only when we’re sleeping and when we’re waking. That’s all! In other words, there isn’t a designated time. It isn’t just in Sunday School or worship. It’s not just at Networks youth ministry or Children’s Time. This is our call, this is God’s commandment to us ALL THE TIME. Loving God and teaching God’s children is our fulltime job, and we do it with the lives we live before them. We do it by holding close to God’s Word, by keeping these words in our heart and in our lives.
We do it by heart, when we choose the Way of Jesus in our thoughts, in our words, and in our actions, in the church, in our homes, in the schools, and in our communities. We do it by heart when we remember we are the family of Christ, born through the waters of baptism, sealed by the Holy Spirit, marked as Christ’s own forever, and we ACT like a loving family. We do it by heart, we hear God’s commandment and we teach it to our children, when we choose the way of love and forgiveness and justice, over fear and revenge and retribution in all that we do, wherever we are.
We keep God’s commandment to love the Lord and teach love to our children, we do it by heart, when we come to this table, the table of our Lord, Jesus our Christ. We do it when we proclaim with our lips in prayer and our hearts in humility and our faith in the action of eating this bread and drinking from this cup, that by these humble, common elements we are fed by his body and his spirit, so that we will be enlivened for his ministry. We do it by heart when we come together as the community of Christ, the family of God, not just with those who share the Lord’s Supper in this room on this day, but with all people in all times and in all places who share his body and blood through this sacrament.
We keep these words in our heart, we recite them before our children and the world, when we join together around this table, obeying the words of Jesus, “Do this in remembrance of me,” taking his very life, his very spiritual presence into our bodies to nourish our lives and our faith.
Keep these words, and share them by heart. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. In all that you do, and all that you are, whether you are here or there, close by or far away, working or resting, going or coming, in the church or in the world, share this love with all the generations.