You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.
~ Deuteronomy 11:18-21 (NRSV)
Just a few minutes ago, we presented Bibles to our 2nd graders, and it is my hope that they won’t just look at these Bibles as trophies and put on a shelf or in a drawer somewhere, but they will actually read them. Maybe not today, or even tomorrow, but someday, especially when they are looking for guidance in this crazy world that we live in.
But why is reading and listening to God’s word so important? I mean, I guess it’s something nice to do on Sunday mornings, and some of you may even open your Bibles during your own devotional time or household huddles during the week. But why did today’s scripture reading say that it is so important to talk about scripture and teach it to our children? Don’t some of our kids seem kind of young?
But friends, do you remember what Scripture said? “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
My friends, these are all ways to help us to remember scripture and to have it become not just words in a book but a part of who we are. Our Jewish brothers and sisters have always taken the idea of teaching scripture to their children very seriously. And even back in Jesus’ day, children were taught the words of the Torah at a very young age. But what I find really interesting is the way that the scriptures were taught. In the book of Psalms, it says: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Well, the reason why the psalmist said that is because when Jewish children were taught the scriptures, they learned by repeating the words that their Rabbis and teachers said, and memorization was very important. Once they repeated the scripture correctly, they were given a lick of honey to reinforce the fact that God’s words are sweet, sweeter than honey in fact!
And even today, in almost any Jewish home that you enter, you’ll see a mezuzah hanging on the door frame. A mezuzah is a small rectangular box that holds a scroll in it. On the scroll are the words of the Shema, which is a prayer but also words of scripture found in the Old Testament, which say, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Does that sound familiar? So, each time the family walks through the doorway of their home, they are reminded of their faith and of their charge to love God in all that they say and do.
But why would all this talking about scripture and memorizing scripture and being reminded of scripture be so important? After all, today we can just look up Scripture in our Bibles, or better yet Google scripture on our smartphones. Well, part of the reason why listening to Scripture and talking about Scripture and remembering Scripture and even memorizing Scripture is so important is that the more we talk about it and the more we read it, the more it becomes a part of who we are. And when scripture becomes a part of us, we are more likely to remember just how God calls us to live.
I wonder, do any of you feel as though you have hidden the word of God in your heart? Are there lines or phrases from the Bible that you hear in the back of your mind sometimes? Perhaps words that your parents or teachers or grandparents used to say? Things like: “Honor your father and your mother.” “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble.” “Do not be conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Friends, when we hear words and phrases over and over again, they become a part of us, without us even knowing it. When you hear the words, “Our Father who art in heaven,” what comes next? (“Hallowed be thy name.”) What about “The Lord is my shepherd?” (“I shall not want.”) or “To everything, there is a season?” (“And a time to every purpose under heaven.”) “Love the Lord your God with?” (“All your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength; and Love your neighbor as yourself.”) “For God so loved the world?” (“That he gave his only Son.”) “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden?” (“And I will give you rest.”) “Love is patient?” (“Love is kind. It does not envy or boast. It is not proud or rude, or self-seeking.”) And finally, “Rejoice in the Lord always?” (“Again, I say rejoice.”) Now you may not have known all of those, but did you know that you had scripture in your heart? Did you know that you carried it with you all the time?
Friends, do you ever think about those scriptures when you are out in the world doing everyday things? The truth is, you may not be conscious of it, but because the Word of God is a part of you, it has the ability to affect the way you think and act. I don’t know about you, but I find that sometimes, especially when I am trying to make a difficult decision or struggling with something, some of the words that are “hidden in my heart,” words that I might not have heard for a very long time, somehow begin to ring in my ears. And even in the darkest times, they shine a light on my path. The thing is, my friends, we all face difficulty sometimes, whether we are 2 or 102. And when we have a strong faith foundation. when we have the word of God hidden in our hearts, that doesn’t mean that we are protected from harm by an “invisible shield.” It doesn’t mean that life will always be easy for us. It doesn’t mean that things will always go our way, but it does mean that when unexpected things happen, or when we face struggle and pain, or when we feel insecure or like we are not enough, we can find comfort and rest as we stand on the promises of God.
Jesus never said that life would be fair. Throughout the Scriptures, Jesus simply teaches us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. So, it is our job to continue to teach and model love in all situations. That means that sometimes we pray for our enemies and those who persecute us, and my friends, if we didn’t listen to the Scriptures and hold them in our hearts, we wouldn’t understand that.
Folks, sometimes life gets confusing, doesn’t it? Our heads tell us that things should be fair and equal, but when our hearts are filled with the Word of God, we understand that sometimes the good news is that life isn’t fair. Because it is in moments like that, that we get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. And how can that be good news, you ask? Because eternal life isn’t fair, is it? You see, if eternal life were “fair” – that is if eternal life was earned by the quality and quantity of our good works – then none of us would ever see heaven. But the good news of the gospel tells us that eternal life is not something that can be earned, but instead, it must simply be received as a gift, like God’s grace and God’s unconditional love. And my friends, if we didn’t read scripture, and listen to scripture, and talk about scripture, and teach scripture to our children, and hide it within our hearts, if we didn’t wait to hear the word of God speak, then we wouldn’t have that good news to cling to. And in moments when we fall off our bike, or we get bullied on the bus, or we have trouble doing our math homework, or we find that no matter how hard we work we can’t make ends meet, or we struggle with addiction or depression, or someone we love gets sick, or even dies, we wouldn’t know which way to turn. Friends, as people of faith, we don’t have all the answers. But the good news is, we don’t need to. Because no matter what happens, our faith reminds us that we are loved unconditionally, just the way we are, and that God holds each one of us in the palm of His hand.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, think about the Word of God that you hold in your heart. And instead of complaining about bad things that happen in this world, or people who don’t treat you fairly, focus on the unconditional love of God and the good news of the gospel, and then share it with your children and your families and those who you meet along your journey. Because life is hard, and the world can be a difficult and confusing place. We all face struggles and difficulties, and more than anything we all long for a little bit of good news in our lives. So, let’s go out and make a difference in the world this week. Not judging and complaining and feeling sorry for ourselves, but loving and listening and helping and serving, as we share the Good News with those who we meet.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen!