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Love and Obey God
Winter Quarter: Our Love For God
Unit 1: God Is Worthy of Our Love
Sunday school lesson for the week of December 2, 2018
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers
Lesson Scripture: Deuteronomy 6: 1-9
This quarter our focus will be on “Our Love for God,” and we begin with how “God Is Worthy of our Love.” Our verses for study this week are the source of one of the most famous passages in the Old Testament – the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Shema is the Hebrew word for “hear” and this designation has persisted through the millennia.
The passage begins with Moses’ last will and testament to the next generation of the wandering Hebrews before their entrance into the Promised Land. We find it interesting how generations can lose the power of earlier convictions and practices. Sometimes, this can be a sign of learning and progress, but there are times when change can be disastrous! We saw this happen with a very famous hotel on Sea Island. The Cloister was begun by Alfred Jones, became a five-star resort, continued successfully by his son, and then bankrupted in the third generation.
Moses was giving the people what he had received from God so that life would be useful, productive, and full. Sounds very similar to Jesus’ promise of why he came! (John 10:10)
The Book of Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Pentateuch, and most scholars believe this was the scroll found during the renovation of the Temple in the reign of Josiah. (Read the account in II Kings 22 and 23.) When the scroll was found, that generation learned how far they had fallen from obeying God and keeping the commandments.
Of course, this was exactly what Moses had said might happen, and he provided the recipe for preventing disaster. Beginning with the fear (deep reverence) of the Lord, matched with obedience, the people are commanded to teach each succeeding generation. This legacy is the greatest gift we can leave those who follow us. The reward? Long life, not just for the individual, but for the nation.
Next, Moses reminds the people of “the promise” made to Abraham so long before. The covenant-making God is also the promise-keeping Lord. We must keep in balance covenant, promise, and obedience. Josiah’s generation was stunned to learn this lesson. The Passover had not been observed since the time of the Judges! (II Kings 23)
We arrive at the heart of the lesson in verses 4 and 5. These verses are worth repeating. After all, Jesus answered the question of the scribe (teacher of the Law) in Mark 12:38-34 (also Matthew 22:34-40) quoting these verses: “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
Jesus added “mind” and Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This injunction stands in sharp contrast to the religious world of the time, where multiple gods with multiple ways of worship, including child sacrifice, were the norm. Josiah’s father and grandfather were among the worst of all – Ammon and Manasseh. When the scroll was read to Josiah he immediately tore his clothing and went into deep contrition, leading the nation to do the same.
The meaning of both “heart” and “soul” are different in Hebrew from our understanding. “Heart” refers to the center of human life, including intellect and will. Soul is also very different, referring to a person’s entire identity. Read Psalm 103:1 and remember Hebrew poetry is often expressed in parallels. The thought of one line is reflected in the second line with different words. “Bless the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being praise his holy name.”
We will never fulfill this goal in this life, but, as one writer said, the blessing comes in the quest!
The quest is spelled out in the actions in the verses for today. Moses told the people these commandments were to be “in their heart.” Sam’s grandmother gave him a KJV Bible when he went to Emory. On the flyleaf she wrote three verses: The very first one was Psalm 119:11. “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee.” The other two were II Timothy 2:15 and Proverbs 3:6. Remember what we said about “heart” earlier – not emotion, but the center of life where will and intellect reside. This understanding contradicts the prevailing attitude of Christians toward the Old Testament of focusing on outward actions and rigid rule-keeping. God has always been concerned about the health of our heart.
Now come some practical ways of leaving a legacy to our children. A word of prophetic truth: You cannot leave the teaching of the faith to others – even the Church! The ministry to youth and children is the most critical ministry of the Church because here are the facts: from age 5 to 12 only 32 percent become disciples of Jesus, of ages 13-18 only 4 percent, and after 19 it rises to 6 percent. At best, one out of three. Why? Look at the culture of today: full schedules leaving little time for family life; technology that separates more than unites; prevalence of drugs; inundation of pornography; rampant violence; chaos in many families; and the list continues. At one time Christianity might have had home field advantage, but not today! The faith is not passed from generation to generation by osmosis. We do not live today in a Christian culture. There must be intentional time spent, and by all – parents, grandparents, and all the members of the Body of Christ. We promise to do just this in the baptism of every child!
Moses can help and here are his ways. 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.
The use of opposites makes the point clear – indoors/outdoors, bedtime/waking. Anytime and anywhere under any circumstances we share our faith, not hoard it.
Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
Many took this literally and wore small leather boxes call phylacteries, and wearing them became a way to flaunt their faith. Do we wear or show our cross in a similar way? The power lies in emphasizing the totality of faith as action and belief – hands and head.
Write them on the doorframe of your houses and on your gates.
Again, the literalists made containers called mezuzah and attached them on the entrances to their homes. The power lies in practicing the faith consistently at home, so children learn by seeing as well as hearing. The gate of the city was where everyday commerce and politics took place. The faith is not just for religious settings but deals with all of life.
We conclude with a quote from a recent article: “In these times that are awash in spiritual darkness and confusion, it is critical for Christians to take these ancient instructions to heart, using every opportunity to reinforce biblical truth to our children and youth and helping them see its relevance to daily living.”
The most influential Bible translation available is the one our children and youth see communicated by example in word and speech. Remember Jesus said this was the greatest commandment – where the focus is on our love for God.
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.