Trinity 22/ Reformation/ Ordinary Time 31
Today’s text takes us back to the time in the Old Testament when God, through His servant Moses, brought the Israelites through the 40 years of desert wanderings and to the borders of the Promised Land. Moses had led them throughout those 40 years but he was not allowed into the Promised Land. He could see it from a distance but not lead the people into it. The Lord would use Joshua as His servant to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, defeat in battle the inhabitants and to settle the people there.
What we have in our text is a small section of the OT book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is made up of the last speeches Moses gave the Israelites before they would enter the Promised Land. In these final discourses Moses, the man of God, explained the Law/ teaching of God to this new generation of Israelites, the ones who would enter and settle in the Promised Land--just as God had promised. And our text is part of the section which can be summarized: the basic command is to love God above all. Not only is it a very simple, basic command, but in today’s Gospel Jesus answers the question: Which commandment is the greatest of all?, with our text: Hear, O Israel, the Lord, our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The simple, basic commandment is also the most important. And it doesn’t change!
This is why what Moses spoke about 3500 years ago is so vital for us today--and important as we today remember the Reformation. Moses leading the people out of slavery in Egypt and through the desert wanderings is also for us an image of our lives as Christians. The Israelites were rescued from slavery when the Lord brought them through the Red Sea--here think of your baptism; and as Pharoah’s army drowned in the Red Sea as the waters collapsed on them, think of your rescue from your spiritual enemies of sin, death, devil and hell as in baptism you were brought from being a slave to sin, devil and death to being a dear child of God. And just as the Israelites were not right away in the Promised Land but were in the wilderness for 40 years, there be reminded that right after baptism-- although we have every heavenly gift and blessing--we are not in heaven but continue to live out our lives here until our Lord calls us home. It was precisely then during those 40 years that the Israelites were tempted to sin, fell into sin, rebelled and repented numerous times. That’s the history, too, of each one of us. Yes, we are Christians; but we so often fail and sin and rebel against God; but by His grace He forgives and restores us. And just as He provided sustenance to the Israelites like water, manna and quail, so too He provides us spiritual sustenance during our journey to heaven--His holy word and sacraments.
Like the Israelites needed to hear again before entering the Promised Land God’s holy word of teaching, Law, and of promise, so, too, do we need to hear it again and again and to take it to heart. When it is not heard and taken to heart and taught in all its truth and purity, then any and every sort of corruption and false teaching is received and believed. The history of the Israelites shows that God’s word was not always rightly taught and taken to heart/ believed; there was much falling away. We see the same thing in the history of the Church--God’s word not being taught purely, and believed; people believing any sort of human idea or superstition instead. That’s why there had to be the Reformation. It stands as a reminder that we can lose the pure word of God by our own neglect and so to treasure and guard God’s word. The Reformation is the call back to the pure word and teaching of God in Luther’s day and it is still sounding today. It stands always calling us back to that central theme of all of Holy Scripture--we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone. And the Reformation shows God’s guardian care of His Church. It shows His grace and mercy that He did not let us remain in our sin but calls us back to Him in faith. In our own lives, we see the same thing--God calling us back to Him when we stray; God, in grace, working through the word that is taught to strengthen and keep us in the faith. The Reformation is God’s faithfulness to us and it is a call to us to hear His word, take it to heart and remain faithful to Him.
So what is this call of the Reformation to us today? What does it consist of? As we examine Moses’ words in our text, we will see that first, the Reformation is a call to pay attention to doctrine; then it is a call to treasure that doctrine.
Our text: What is this greatest of the commandments? What is the commandment from which flows all the other commandments? Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one. This verse is the “creed” of the OT Church. It is a beautiful confession that even though all the peoples around them worshiped many gods, there is only one true God. And, on top of it, there is a very beautiful but subtle Trinitarian aspect--because, notice, there are 3: the Lord, our God, the Lord--and yet one. This OT creed, is still prayed by Jews today--even with its subtle Trinitarianism. That’s how central this Creed was and still is; this is how it was taken to heart.
But let’s not skip over, forget about that first word: Hear! What does that show us? It shows us that we, by ourselves, by our own reason or strength cannot come to know God rightly; it shows us that the things of God are not by human deduction or reasoning; it shows us that all that we can and do know about God are things that He reveals to us.
So it then means that we dare not add to or take away from what God has told us about Himself. We hear, we listen to God in His holy word. There and there alone can we be certain that what we hear about God is true and should be believed! That’s why Luther’s call in the Reformation back to the word alone is so vital. We dare not rely on our thoughts and feelings but hear!; hear what God says about Himself in His word, not what we want God to say.
The other thing about that little but vital word hear! is that it requires silence. There are many competing voices in the world around us trying to drown out the voice of the Lord. We have all the doom and gloom we hear from the media; we have all the advertisers hawking their wares trying to convince us of our new needs; we have the normal hustle and bustle of everyday life; we have our own voice in us of worry. But we have that simple gracious command in our text: hear! To hear, to hear rightly and fully we need silence. That’s why time each day with our Lord’s word is vital. That’s why we come to church each week and leave the voices of the outside world outside where they belong and come here to hear our Lord in His word. When we are silent, we aren’t speaking and can hear the Lord; when we are in silence it is quiet to hear that still, small, voice of the Lord in His word. And what happens? Through that word of the Lord, faith is created because the Holy Spirit is in it, working through it, teaching us about Himself, and strengthening and preserving faith.
And don’t forget: Hear! That’s a command. But it’s a gracious command. It means that God wants us to hear His word. He wants to reveal Himself to us. He wants to create faith in Him in our hearts. He wants to strengthen our faith. He doesn’t want to keep knowledge of Him away from us. If we ever think that we are not “worthy” enough for God’s word, there’s still the command: Hear!
God reveals Himself: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And what is to be our response? You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. The LOrd in His grace reveals Himself to us. He calls on us to love and serve Him alone. He has shown that He is our God and Savior and therefore He alone is worthy of our love, total and complete. To love the Lord means to hold to Him, regard Him as higher and of more worth than anything/ anybody else--even self, for each sin is love of self over love of God and His will. Here is a powerful call to examine our heart, life and conscience. Each must ask: “Do I love the Lord with all my being--heart, soul and might?” “Who or what rivals are there in my heart for the true God?” “Does absolutely everything in my life belong to God or am I holding something back?” All this is nothing but a call to faithfulness to our almighty, holy, and gracious Triune God and holding to Him and His word alone--and that’s the call of the Reformation. As we pay attention to doctrine, we then come to know God fully and with all His grace and mercy. Where doctrine is not pure, correct, we cannot know God rightly and He is robbed of the glory that He is due.
Not only does the Reformation call on us to pay attention to doctrine but we are to treasure that doctrine and teach that doctrine! And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. The point is this: the word/ doctrine of God is not just some occasional extra in our lives; it is not one little corner of our life; it is not just a Sunday morning thing. Instead You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. This isn’t so much literal but an image--our eyes are always to be fixed on the Lord’s word and always to be in our mind/ memory, that is, we are always to be thinking of the Lord and His will and desires; the word of the Lord is to be the chief object of our meditation. Again, this is not some dreary, hard command of our Lord. But as Christians it is our greatest delight and blessing --after all God has revealed Himself to us in His word; there He has told us great mysteries, the mysteries of our faith; there He has told us heavenly things. How can we not meditate on them/ want to ponder them? We do that when we treasure our Lord’s doctrine--it’s His that He revealed to us in grace.
Having our Lord’s word and doctrine foremost in our minds serves our spiritual good another way--the devil is constantly attacking us and tempting us. But He has a harder time of it when our hearts and minds are filled with the Lord’s word and meditation on it. How much easier time the devil has of it to lead us into sin and unbelief when our hearts and minds are not filled with the things of God. So, yes, God very much knows our need and He wants to warn and equip us and, so, in love gives us the command and privilege: You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
The Lord, with the Reformation, has shown us great grace and shown His guardian care of His Church, that when much of it had departed from His clear word and turned away from the teaching that we are saved by grace through faith, He raised up Luther and brought us again to the truth, pointing us to Jesus alone. That was a great grace and mercy of God we didn’t deserve. May another Reformation of the Church be unnecessary! May we faithfully have the word of God always before us, deeply impressed in our hearts, and inwardly remembered and treasured. And may we teach that word faithfully to the next generations. Today let us heed the Reformation’s call to faithfulness and pay attention to doctrine and treasure that doctrine. INJ