October 25, 2020/Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 6:4-9
Shema Yisra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is one.
Twice daily, morning and evening, faithful Jews recite the Shema, named for the first word of the text. It is more than a call to prayer. It is a profession of faith in the one God who created the world and all that is in it, who accompanied the children of Israel on their winding journey to the Promised Land, who covenanted with them to protect and uphold them in all times and places. According to the Gospel of Mark, a Jewish scribe asked Jesus which commandment was first of all. Jesus responded with the words he had said from his youth: Shema Yisra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Our text from Deuteronomy finds Moses nearing the end of his life. Following God’s direction, he has led the Hebrews from Egypt to the border of the land promised them by God, a land flowing with milk and honey. Moses will not be allowed to enter the land. In this place, close enough that the Hebrews can peer off to the horizon and see the fertile place they are to claim as home, Moses preaches the longest sermon of his life. The people before him represent a new generation – the people who fled out of slavery all have died. It is their children and their children’s children who will receive the promise. But not before Moses takes this opportunity to remind them of the divine commandments.
Calling all Israel together, Moses begins by reciting the commandments given by God at Mt. Sinai (here referred to as Horeb). These commandments, according to Moses, are emblematic of the covenant God has made with them – with them, not with their ancestors – “with us, who are all of us here alive today” (Deut. 5:3). Moses summarizes that covenant in the words of the Shema, which calls the people to devotion to God “with all the powers of care, intelligence, and will one might possess. To agree with the law is not enough; to feel awe is insufficient; blindly to act is too little for the capacities of the human heart. All work in concert.” The people are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5).
Moses adjures the people to “keep these words … in your heart.” They are to hold them fast, teach them to their children, even use physical reminders of them – a mezuzah containing a parchment of the words nailed to their doorpost; phylacteries on their arms and foreheads.
There is another audience, too, for Moses’ sermon, and it is we who stand centuries away from the entrance to the Promised Land, we who nonetheless also live in covenant with God. The admonition to love God with the whole being is given not only to the children of Israel but also to us today. “Passing on the teaching of the Law remains important from Moses through … the writer of Deuteronomy, through Jesus and the Gospel writers, through to the present day. Otherwise, we might forget, we might lose our way.” We are called, like the Israelites, to worship God alone. “God expects love without limits, that is, love with our entire being, including our minds.”
Holding these words in our hearts is not enough, however. Moses reminds us we must teach our children the great truths of God. We should steward these truths – guard them and convey them – by reciting them and talking about them, by reminding ourselves of them, even in physical ways. “God expects his truths to have a place of importance in the lives of those who claim him as sovereign.”
Moses preaches the long sermon of Deuteronomy not as a history lesson for this second generation of Israelites or us, but as a means of transformation. “He seeks to persuade this new generation [and us] to re-commit to the covenant God made with their parents at Sinai.” With our tendency to focus on New Testament gospel rather than Old Testament teachings, we sometimes struggle with the strictures of the law. We view the law as onerous and tedious, and we celebrate our supposed freedom from the law through Christ. But the law grows out of relationship – “God gives them to Israel so that they know how to live into that relationship, how to be God’s own people. The Law is … a gift given to promote life, life with God, and life with one another.”
What does it mean to keep God’s words in our hearts? How do we love God with our entire beings? This morning we will present our commitments for the coming year – our pledges of our wealth and our talents in the service of the church of Jesus Christ. I use the word wealth intentionally – we live in one of the richest countries in the world. We don’t have to wonder how we will feed our children tonight. We don’t have to wonder where we will sleep. We have not suffered through natural disasters like fire or hurricane or tornado, like so many of our brothers and sisters have this year alone. We are tremendously blessed. And our stewardship of those blessings – our management of the many gifts we have been given – is one way we love God with our entire beings.
If we really believe the words of the Shema, the words of Jesus, our only struggle in pledging to the future work of God’s kingdom through Providence will be our desire to do more, ever more. So I challenge you this morning. Hear, O Providence, the Lord is God, the Lord is one. Recite these words morning and night. Teach them to your children. Bind them as a sign in your life. Live them in your walk as a disciple of Christ.
 Patricia Tull, “Commentary on Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 6:4-9,” www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2561, accessed October 18, 2020
 RevGalBlogPals, “Narrative Lectionary Leanings: Rule of Life,” https://revgalblogpals.org/2015/10/06/narrative-lectionary-leanings-rule-of-life-deuteronomy-51-21-64-9/
 Judy D. Cummings, Lectionary Commentary, The African American Lectionary, www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=101, accessed October 18, 2020