Rev. Jeff Chapman, Faith Presbyterian Church
In a moment we are going to read a passage of the Bible together. It’s what we do every Sunday morning. It’s what many of us do every day. We open this book and listen for God. And no matter what part of the Bible we read, every passage in one way or another, from Genesis to Revelation, is a variation on the very same theme.
It goes like this. We get stuck, in trouble, far from God and in need of His help. God then comes to deliver us. We get trapped; God sets us free. We get on a road that leads to death; God builds for us a road that leads to life. Over and over again we see God doing this in the Bible. He’s still doing this.
Our passage today is a prime example. In this part of the Bible God has just delivered his people, the Israelites, from 400 years of slavery inEgypt. Now he is leading them into freedom and giving them rules for living so that they won’t get themselves back into trouble again.
Pay attention to the order. God gives his people commandments only after he has delivered them. I want to make sure you understand this because lots of people get this backwards. God’s law does not come first. Salvation comes first. Don’t get the order mixed up. God’s message ceases to be good news if you get the message backwards.
Now this is the commandment, the laws and the regulations that YHWH your God has commanded (me) to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing into to possess, in order that you may hold YHWH your God in awe, by keeping all his laws and his commandments that I command you, you, and your child, and your child’s child, all the days of your life; and in order that your days may be prolonged.
You are to hearken, O Israel, and are to take-care to observe (them), that it may go well with you, that you may become exceedingly many, as YHWH, the God of your fathers promised you—(in) a land flowing with milk and honey.
Hearken OIsrael: YHWH our God, YHWH (is) One!
Now you are to love YHWH your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your substance! These words which I myself command you today, are to be upon your heart. You are to repeat them to your children and are to speak of them in your sitting in your house and in your walking in the way, in your lying-down and in your rising up. You are to tie them as a sign upon your hand, and they are to be for bands between your eyes. You are to write them upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:1-9, The Schocken Bible)
There are days when my children suspect that they got stuck with the strictest parents on the planet. Anybody else’s kids living under the same suspicion?
One day not long ago, just after Esther and I had instituted a new rule in our house – I don’t even remember what it was – one of our kids, out of frustration, burst out, “All you two ever do is sit around the house and think up new rules.” Our other three kids happened to be in the room at the time and they all stopped what they were doing and looked at us anxiously. Somebody finally had the guts to say aloud what they had all been thinking for some time now.
The jig was up. Our cover was blown. There was nothing for me to do but come clean. “Yes,” I confessed, “it’s true. Every night after you all are in bed your mother and I hole up in our room scheming and dreaming about new ways to restrict your lives. We scan the internet looking for ideas. We read the biographies of some of the meanest parents in history to pick up techniques and strategies. We especially try to think of rules that none of your friends’ parents have yet thought of so that our kids can be the only ones they know who have to do these things.”
“You’re right,” I said. “You’re on to us. We may not be the strictest parents on the planet yet, but we’re going to give it our best shot.”
In all seriousness, I had to laugh because I remember feeling the exact same way when I was a kid. There were a few years there when I concluded that the sole job and greatest joy of my parents was to regulate and restrict my life.
As a kid I hated rules. I’m sure you did too. By nature, none of us likes other people telling us what to do. And that doesn’t change when you get older. If we’re the ones making the rules it’s great. But from the time we were kids, something in us doesn’t like somebody else making up the rules.
With this in mind, I can hardly blame you if your initial reaction to the passage we just read was not positive. After all, it begins this way, “Now this is the commandment, the laws and the regulations that YHWH your God has commanded (me) to teach you.” Commandments, laws, regulations. You’re thinking, I knew I should have stayed home and watched football.
But hold on. Remember the context. Yes, this is a part of the Bible where God is giving rules. The Ten Commandments, in fact, are given in the previous chapter. But once again, these are not rules given to the people so that they can prove themselves worthy to God. Let’s keep the order straight. God already delivered them. They’re already out ofEgypt. God saved them first. Salvation always comes before law. These are not rules given by a God who wants to restrict his people. These are rules given by a God who has already proven that his aim is to set his people free.
I’ve heard it put this way. God’s claim always comes before God’s demand. Before God demands anything from us, he makes a claim. And this is God’s claim. “I have delivered you out of bondage and death and into freedom and life, abundant and eternal life. I came to give you the best I have to give you. Before I ask anything of you, understand what it is that I have already done for you.”
You see, even though the passage begins with the mention of commandments, laws and regulations, in the very next verses God reminds his people that He wants their days to be prolonged, He wants things to go well with them, He wants them to become exceedingly many, He wants them to live in a land of abundance, a land flowing with milk and honey. In other words, God gives these laws to his people not to keep them under his thumb or to make life miserable. God gives us laws to set us free. God gives us rules so that we can flourish!
Again, this is the theme of the whole Bible. God meets us in places of bondage, and scarcity and pain and delivers us into life. He did it back then; He does it today. We may not find ourselves in slavery inEgypt, but every one of us, in one way or another, needs to be delivered. We are bound by discouragement and depression that we just can’t shake. We are defeated by addictions that have enslaved us for years. We carry around this aching dissatisfaction that things in our lives and in our world are not as they are supposed to be. Sin condemns us. Fear suffocates us. Grief crushes us. Doubt shakes us.
Listen to me. God meets us in those places and before He demands a single thing from us God makes this claim to us, “I have come to deliver you and set you free. I love you. You may not love me. You may not even know me. But I love you. And I have come to set you free and give you the life your soul has always desired.” The very first word we hear from God, long before he makes a single demand of us, is love. God’s love for us is the foundation for everything that comes after. It is a love so powerful that it has the potential to change everything.
In one of the most memorable passages his book, The Magnificent Defeat, Fredrick Buechner describes the love of God this way:
The love for equals is a human thing…of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles when it sees it.
The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing…the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world.
The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing…to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is bewildered by its saints.
And then there is the love for the enemy…love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer.
This is God’s love. It conquers the World.
This is God’s claim to you. I love you even if you are my enemy. When you hate me I love you. When you fail me I love you. I love you before you do a single thing that pleases me. My love has delivered you. Through my Son, Jesus Christ, I came to suffer and die so that you could flourish and live.
This love, when we see it, when we believe it, conquers us. It makes us ready to say to God in response, “Because you have done this for me, I will do for you whatever you ask of me. If you will lead you, I will follow you wherever you go.” If you truly believe God’s claim you will find yourself more than ready to hear His demand.
Many people, even in the church, miss this. We’re afraid, in fact, that if we focus too much on God’s love for us, if we overemphasize God’s unconditional, unwavering love for us, people will take it as a license to live their lives any old way they want to live their lives. The thinking goes like this, “If God loves me no matter how I live my life, then it doesn’t matter how I live my life. I can do what I want and at the end of the day God has to welcome me home.”
There are people who think that way, but they are people who have never come to know God’s love in the first place. For when you truly come to believe that the Holy Creator of the universe loves you more deeply than you can ever imagine or deserve and has delivered you from a bondage out of which you had no hope of escape, when you truly believe this the only possible response is one of total devotion.
A Trappist monk named Thomas Merton once put it this way in a prayer:
The sinner, suddenly struck by the lightning of mercy that ought to have been justice, falls down in adoration of Your holiness: for he had seen what kings desired to see and never saw, what prophets foretold and never gazed upon, what the men of ancient times grew weary of expecting when they died. He has seen that Your love is so infinitely good that it cannot be the object of a human bargain.
When God delivers you, you don’t bargain with God. You trust Him. When we come to understand the claim of love God makes on our lives, we readily give our lives away. Whatever God demands of us from that point forward is okay with us.
And what is it that God demands? Well, if you thought the claim was a surprise, what until you hear the demand! God’s claim is that He loves you. God’s demand is simply that you love Him in return.
Deuteronomy 6:4 is the heaviest verse in the whole Old Testament. In fact, when Jesus was asked to name the most important rule God ever gave, He pointed to this verse. God’s demands on your life are summed up in this way: “You are to love YHWH your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your substance!” All you heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength. God’s demand is that you love Him with all you’ve got.
Now, coming from anybody else such a demand would be the height of arrogance and self-centeredness. Imagine if I said to my children, “Kids, listen to me. I want you to love me, your father, with all your heart, all your being, all your substance. I want you to love me with all you’ve got, with everything that is in you. I want to be the absolute center of your life. Revolve your life around me, every aspect, every minute. This is what I demand from you as your father.”
Can you imagine a human father speaking like this to his children? For any human being to demand this from any other human being would be a horrendous act of selfishness. Why? Because if you listen to me and do center your life around me, making me the focus and foundation of your existence, you will have placed your life on a foundation that will ultimately fail you.
Tragically, we see this happen all the time. Lots people devote their hearts, and beings and substance to all sorts of things besides God – to a lover, to their children, to a career, to fame, to pleasure, to image. The list goes on. But in the end none of these things can ultimately deliver. And only a fool listens to the demand of that which cannot, in the end, deliver.
God can deliver. God alone can deliver. God, in Christ, already has delivered. This is the claim God makes to us. This is why His demand for total devotion is neither arrogant nor selfish. It is love. God knows that if we make Him the focus and foundation of our lives, the deepest desire of our hearts and souls, then we will find life, life that flourishes, life that never ends. God’s demand to love him is, in itself, a demonstration of his love for us.
Any person who comes to believe this truth will never again be the same person. The love of God is the most explosive force in all of creation. This is why the very next thing we are told in the passage is this:
These words, which I myself command you today, are to be upon your heart. You are to repeat them with your children, and are to speak of them in your sitting in your house and in your walking in the way, in your lying-down and in your rising up. You are to tie them as a sign upon your hand, and they are to be for bands between your eyes. You are to write them upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
God is saying to us, “This is so crucial, do whatever it takes to get this inside you and your children. Get my claim and my demand of love so deep inside that you will never, not even for a moment, forget them.”
I need to hear this because I have a tendency to forget things. I forget trivial things. I forget important things, sometimes really important things. I don’t know about you, but I have a very hard time remembering.
Thankfully for my sake, back in 1977 the 3M Corporation launched a product they originally called “Press-n-Peel”. The name didn’t stick, but the product did. In fact, it stuck to everything. Today they’re called Post-it Notes. I call them sticky notes.
About 7 billion sticky notes are manufactured every year. This is a good thing because I use a lot of them.
My mom’s birthday is tomorrow. There is a sticky note on my desk reminding me to call her. I have forgotten to call my mother on her birthday before. She’s a gracious woman, but she has her limits.
My wife calls me in the afternoon and asks me to stop by the store on the way home and pick up a few ingredients that are essential for her dinner menu. The first time she did that I just tried to remember and showed up empty handed. Now I use a sticky note.
Without the help of sticky notes I will leave my children stranded around the city. Or forget simple household tasks. Sticky notes even help me remember things in my life that are so important you would think I would never forget them, like my anniversary. Believe it or not, one time I completely forgot about a wedding I was supposed to attend. And I was the one doing the wedding. That’s not a call you want to get at home on a Saturday afternoon. Now I write a sticky note.
There were, of course, no sticky notes back in the days Moses wrote these words. It’s too bad. They would have come in handy. In an effort to remember God’s claim and demand the Israelites could have put sticky notes on their children, on their donkeys, on their bedposts, on their hands, on their foreheads, on the doorposts of their homes, and on their gates.
I suppose they could have put them in theTempleas well but Moses didn’t mention that. Because that’s not usually the place we forget. In fact, it’s easy to remember on Sunday morning that God loves us. It’s Monday morning when we forget, and Wednesday afternoon, and Friday night. It’s not as hard to believe God loves you in church. It’s not quite as easy to believe in all the mundane and often difficult places of our lives.
We live in a manipulative, oppressive, deceitful and destructive world that fills our heads daily with all sorts of lies about who really are. Time and time again we are left feeling hurt, offended, rejected, unworthy. And so time and time again we need to hear God’s claim. You are a favorite son of God. You are a beloved daughter of your Father in Heaven. You are highly esteemed in His eyes. He will not let go of you. If you let Him, he will deliver you. He already has.
Nothing else God ever tells you will ever make sense until you come to believe the very first thing He tells you. God loves you. You must get this inside of you and inside your children. God loves you. Period. God loves you. This is the claim He makes. And on one hand it’s simple. We’ve all heard it before. We all know God loves us. But on the other hand it’s profound. We know it, but how many of us always believe it?
Do this for me. In your bulletin is a sticky note. Take it out. If you don’t have one our ushers have extras. Grab something to write with – there are pencils in the pews. Ready?
I want you to write these three words on your sticky note. God loves you. Don’t forget the period. It’s important. That’s the claim. Not, God loves you if… Or, God loves you because… Or, God loves you when… God loves you, period.
Take a moment to write these words.
This week I want you to stick this in one of those places where you tend to forget. If you’ve got kids at home, make one for each of them (we’ve got extras) and stick them in places where they tend to forget. Then, when you see it stop. Stop and take a moment to say the words to yourself. Hear God say them to you. Don’t add anything to them, just these three words, period. Ask God to help you believe them. Get these words deeper inside you. Imagine what your life would be like if you actually started to believe them.
Just to make sure you understand what I’m asking you to do, we’re going to take a few minutes now to practice this. As we move to a time of prayer together, keep these words in front of you. Know that God is present in this time and place as He is present in all times and places. Open yourself up to hearing your Heavenly Father speak to you. Open yourself up to hearing God’s claim upon your life.
The Next Step – A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Read Deuteronomy 6:1-9. What sticks out to you here?
What would you say to somebody who said, “I don’t like the Bible because it’s full of rules.”
God commands us here to love Him. Can you command somebody to love?
Jeff pointed out that God makes a claim before He makes a demand. Here is God’s claim: I love you and have delivered you. Here is God’s demand: Love me and obey me. Is the order here important? Imagine if the order were reversed: Love me and obey me and then I will love you and deliver you.
You have been told, “God loves you, period.” Do you believe it?
Where did you put your sticky note this week? Why did you put it there?
What do you do during the week to make sure you don’t forget God’s claim that he loves you or forget his demand that you love Him? (Read the suggestions we’re given in verses 7-9)
We’re told to pass all this on to our children. Are we?
Further ScriptureReadingsfor the Week:
Monday: Psalm 139
Tuesday: Ephesians 2:1-10
Wednesday: Romans 5:1-11
Thursday: Psalm 136
Friday: I John 4:7-21
Saturday: In preparation for worship tomorrow, read Deuteronomy 6:1-25
 The Schocken Bible is a translation of the Old Testament scriptures which attempts to re-create the full force of the Bible’s original rhetoric and poetry—its rhythm, nuances, and stylistic devices—allowing for the English reader to experience the spiritual and aesthetic power of the Bible’s own voice while recovering layers of meaning that are missed entirely in conventional translations.
 Patrick Miller, Interpretation: Deuteronomy, (Louisville: John Knox, 1990), p. 98.
 Fredrick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985).
 Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, (The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane, c. 1955).
 Deuteronomy 6:6-9.