The Narrative Lectionary texts this week are Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 6:4-9, and Mark 12:28-31. During the month of October, I’ll be preaching under the theme of FOUR CALLS TO DISCIPLESHIP. The first is the call to love (followed by the call to commit, submit, and serve). This week the text is immense. Anyone who has been preaching for a long amount of time has done a series on the ten commands. That’s ten weeks of preaching and we have one Sunday in the lectionary (and then there’s the Shema and the Greatest Commands text in Mark!). The challenge for the preacher is to be choosey instead of trying to get it all in. Although there is much value in the 10 and I woulnd’t criticize anyone for making that their text, I’m going to practice the passover on the ten commands (or maybe use an article in the bulletin to talk about those) and go right for the concepts of loving God and others.
“Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates.”Deuteronomy 6:4-9, CSB
God is certainly worthy of our love, but can we ever love God worthily? Who can claim to love God with all of their heart, soul, and strength? This is a manner of speaking in which we love God with everything we are. Moses’ instructions give us insight into how this love is cultivated.
Keep these words in your heart. I’m a terrible memorizer, and I know it. But my friend who is a great memorizer says that if you memorize one verse – no matter how long it takes – then you have one verse memorized and you can start on another. God’s word in our heart is crucial to living the holy life. Psalm 119:10 reminds us, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” It would help if we had heard God’s word from the time we were young.
Keep these words in your ears. Speaking these words to our children is key to a lifelong commitment to God. We talk about everything else, why not talk about God’s Word, when we sit, walk, lie down and get up. Those are the normal parts of our everyday movements. Talking about God’s Word should be as normal as a walk in the park or lying down when we are weary.
Keep these words in your sight. Not only should we learn them and speak them, but God’s Word should also be seen. The passage suggests signs and symbols on our hands and foreheads. Sometimes people make fun of the kind of Christian merchandise that is available with Scriptures and sayings on every kind of home decor imaginable, but I wonder if that’s not a good thing! The Word should decorate not only our doorposts but also the city gate. More, it should be on our hands and foreheads. On our hands to remind us who we are (maybe like a wedding band?). On our foreheads to let others know to whom we belong.
When asked about the greatest command, Jesus uses this same text but adds some Rabbinical wisdom to it.
One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which command is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.”Mark 12:28-31, CSB
As you might notice Jesus adds that we should love God with all of our strength. Then he offers up a second commandment that sits on top of the righteous life of the believer with the first. Love your neighbor as yourself … a command that gives character to all of our acts of love and is flavored by the Golden Rule. Am I loving others the way I would like to be loved?
These two commands do not sit above the others because they are easy. No, they are above the others because they give character to everything we do and every way we interact with God and others. No matter your positions when it comes to principles of how you interact with others in arenas of politics, religion, race, gender, sexual preference, family, friends, workplace, marketplace, etc. … are we ever excused from loving God and loving others as the guiding principle? We know love doesn’t always mean approval nor agreement, but it does relate to how we treat others. It’s a pretty high calling. And one we cannot afford to take lightly.
The call to love is a call of discipleship. God is love. Jesus taught us to love. He taught us that love is the hallmark of Christianity (John 13:34-35). It requires a good deal of self-awareness to know if we are being loving people or not. Perhaps by always thinking, speaking, and seeing God’s Word we will be more conscious of how we are doing when it comes to the top Words from the Lord.
I did not mention the beginning of the sayings, that the Lord our God is one God. I affirm the teaching of a Triune God. The early church Fathers wrote about this quite a bit. I tend to agree with John of Damascus:
The Trinity is understood and worshiped by faith – by faith, not by inquiry or investigation or demonstration. The harder you look the less you will find; the more you seek it the more will be hidden. God therefore ought to be worshiped by believers with an incurious mind. Believe that God exists in three hypostases, but how this can be is beyond our understanding, because God is incomprehensible.John of Damascus, On Heresies, Epilogue.
The Bible Project has a nice 3 minute video introduction to the Shema.
I’d like to invite you to join my Facebook group called NARRATIVE LECTIONARIANS and share resources, ask questions, and converse about the weekly texts. Thanks for reading these initial thoughts on this week’s text (at least part of it!). – JED