(Significant Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 20-25)
A few years ago, when our oldest children were still young, my dad said something to me that I haven’t forgotten. He said, “Your mother and I won’t know how good a job we did raising you kids until we see how you raise your own kids.” Let me say that again. He said, “Your mother and I won’t know how good a job we did raising you kids until we see how you raise your own kids.” I think that what he said was quite profound, and I’m not saying that just because he’s my dad. The point my dad was making was that not only is it important to pass on solid values and beliefs to your children. You must also pass on the ability to pass on those values and beliefs to the generations that follow. If you really want to make a lasting difference, it is not enough just to teach what is important in life, you have to also teach how to teach what is important in life.
Moses knew the necessity making an impact on the generations that follow. After God lead the Israelites out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, they were condemned to wander in the desert for 40 years because the people refused to enter the Promised Land when God said it was the right time to do so. Moses continued to lead the people even as, over time, an entire generation passed away. All the people who were adults when they left Egypt, except for Moses, Joshua and Caleb, all passed away in the desert and a new generation became the grown-ups, the moms and the dads, the aunts and the uncles of that community of faith. Moses was by now 120 years old and he was still able to relate to and lead this new generation. He had their respect and they recognized him as their leader. And yet there was one more important thing for Moses to do. As this nation of perhaps as many as 2,000,000 people stood poised to cross over the Jordan River and enter into the Promised Land, Moses took the time needed to impress upon the people the importance of passing on God’s story of redemption and hope and forgiveness and life onto the next generation and the generation after that and the generation after that and so on down through the ages. The community of faith that is God’s people is ever and always only one generation away from extinction and if we are not successful at passing on the faith to those who follow us, we will very quickly cease to exist.
And the situation was soon going to be even more challenging for the Israelites because as they moved into the land of Canaan, they would do so without Moses. His time as their leader was coming to an end, and he would not go with them. And there were other challenges in the land of Canaan. The people there did not know the one true God. They worshipped many false gods such as Baal and Asherah and Molech. And the Canaanites were not only idolaters, their cultural and religious life was full of many detestable practices such as sexual immorality and even sacrificing their own children. And God knew that the Israelites would soon be immersed in this culture that would try to pull them away from him. So the Israelites had to be reminded of the story of all that God had done for them. And they had to be encouraged to pass that story on the generations that follow.
So Moses told the people again as he likely had so many times in the past of how their wandering in the desert was a consequence of the people’s failure to trust God. He told them again of how God was with them throughout all of those 40 years. As they travelled through dangerous territory it was God who kept them safe. When it came time for the people to fight a great battle, it was God who gave them the victory. It was God who freed them. It was God who disciplined them. It was God who protected them. It was God who provided food for them, sending mannah from heaven. It was God who led them. The great all-powerful Creator Godof the universe has chosen this group of people to be his people, and he was living among them, so they could be a light to the whole world that would draw all people closer to the God who saves. As God promised Abraham, the patriarch of this nation, many years before: 2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)
And to help them to be a blessing to others, God also taught the people how to live, giving them the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Moses told this new generation about that event too, and how it is so important to respond to God’s saving action toward us by living a life that reflects the character and the love of God. It is a good and wholesome thing to love and worship God above all other things. It is a good and wholesome thing to love your neighbour and help him or her to live in safety and security and peace.
And then Moses says this: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) Now the word that is translated here as “heart” is the Hebrew word lavav. And the ancient Hebrews understood the heart as being the seat of the human will. The heart was where you made your decisions. So we should love God with all of our will, all of our decision-making. The word “soul” is our English translation of the Hebrew word nephesh. And the word nephesh can mean soul. But it tends to mean more than that. The ancient Hebrews didn’t tend to think of humans as a body-soul dichotomy like we do today. And so nephesh usually refers to the whole person, a living creature with that life-breath of God within them. And so we are also to love God with our entire person, body and soul. And the Hebrew word behind “strength” is the word meod. It means exceedingly, or with abundance, or very much. It is used in Genesis 1:31 where it says “God saw all that he had made, and it was meod good, it was very good.” And so we are to love God with all of our muchness, all that we have and all that we are. And so one commentator suggests that God is calling us to a life where God’s love for us so permeates our entire being that we love him back from the inside out, with our will, our entire person and all that we have.
Then Moses says to the people, “6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 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. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9) God’s story of salvation was to so fill the homes of the people that it became integrated into the very framework of their houses, and as soon as they entered they would be reminded, “Oh, yes! God has saved us, and he loves us and he is with us, and so we love him in return with ourselves and all that we have.” And as God’s salvation story transforms the moms and dads and the uncles and the aunts and the grandpas and the grandmas from the inside out, then those influential adults will be able to make a godly impression on the children. As the parents and others talk about what God has done in their lives as they eat at the kitchen table, as they visit in the living room, as they drive down the highway, when they go to bed at night and when they wake up in the morning, as people talk about God’s story in their lives, God can take and use those actions and those stories to plant a little seed in that little heart. And each time those parents make a decision in faith or take some action in faith or tell some of their story of faith that little seed in that little heart gets watered again and again, and it begins to grow. And God begins to make something happen that we, as parents, cannot make happen, but we all hope it will — faith begins to develop and grow in our child’s heart, and God begins to transform that child, from the inside out, into a person who also loves God with all their will, their entire person and all that they have and are.
There are no guarantees with raising children. A parent cannot make a child believe in God. And I cannot tell you that if you do A, B and C your child will turn out alright and they will faithfully follow God all of their lives. But the way that God has given us for passing on the faith from one generation to the next is for one person who is filled with the love of God and fully devoted to him to move alongside of another person and make an impression on them. So if you want your children, your grandchildren, or your nieces and nephews to be a fully devoted follower of God, the best thing you can do is to immerse yourself in God’s story of salvation for you and let him change you from the inside out.
So how are we doing as individuals and as a community of faith at passing the faith onto the next generation? How are we doing at not only teaching the faith, but also teaching how to teach the faith? Well, if you are like me, you have times when you feel like you are failing miserably at this all important task. Someone once asked me how I managed as I parent my children. I said, “I feel such incredible guilt at times. And yet I know that Jesus forgives me for all my failures as a parent. And I also know that all I can do is the best that I can do. And I trust God to fill in all the gaps.”
God has given us such a wonderful story. You see, the story of how God brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land, that was a great story. But it was just the prequel, for an even greater story to come later on. Fourteen hundred years later, a little baby was born to a poor, teenaged unwed mother. And that little baby grew up to be a man. And that man Jesus began preaching a message that a new day was dawning. That God’s Kingdom was now available to all people through him. And Jesus demonstrated the presence of the kingdom by healing the sick and forgiving those filled with shame and guilt and raising the dead back to life. And because he loves you and you and you and all the other people in the world, Jesus willingly went to the cross and died and rose again, victorious over sin, death and all that is evil. He did that to bring you and your children and your children’s children out of the land of slavery to sin and death and into the Promised Land of everlasting life with the God who reigns. That is the story that makes all the difference. That is the story that we remember. That is the story we live by. That is the story we tell. And as Jesus lives in our hearts and we grow in our faith and love towards him, we will make an impression on others to follow Jesus. Jesus lives in us and he will work in us to create and build up faith in others even when we don’t realize it is happening.
It really comes down to remembering. In the movie, the Lion King, there is a scene where Mufasa reminds Simba to remember who he is, … the one true king. It is powerful scene because it reminds us that remembering our true identity makes all the difference in how we live our lives.
So I encourage you to remember who you are. Because of Jesus, you are a forgiven, much loved child of God and His Holy Spirit lives in you. Remember who you are when you are in your home eating meals with your family, remember who you are when you are making life-changing decisions, remember who you are when you go to bed and night and when you wake up in the morning, and talk about it with your family as your travel and work and play together. And the next time your son or daughter, your niece or nephew, your grand-daughter or grandson or the kid down the street asks you what is the meaning of all these things that we do, like going to church and reading the Bible and praying at mealtime and before we go to bed at night, you tell them your story of what God has done in your life. It is His-story for you and for the generations to come. Amen.
(Preached 10 August 2008 at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC)