Education—The Shema: “Love it, Teach it, Live it!” sermon from 6/13/10
Vision Statement: “The Wellsburg Reformed Church will ignite a passion for Christ through active worship, education, fellowship, and outreach in our community and surrounding area, resulting in a vibrant church family who will openly love, care, and serve.”
Well, this morning we move into the second sermon of our current series on our newly developed vision statement here at Wellsburg Reformed Church. Actually, if you look at our vision statement you might notice that we are going slightly out of order. I had originally intended to lead a service today on the topic of Active Worship, however I have some different things in mind for that service and it needs another week for it all to be pulled together. Besides, after today’s service during coffee fellowship there is a S.S. & Catechism meeting scheduled so jumping ahead to the topic of Education does seem to fit for this morning as well.
Before moving forward then, I would like to share a quick statement I came across from Rick Warren, Pastor and author of Purpose Driven Life. A quote of his that I read this past week says, “Christlikeness is [our] eventual destination, but [our] journey will last a lifetime. This journey involves believing (through worship), belonging (through fellowship), and becoming (through discipleship).” This is the journey we are all on together and this morning’s message will venture into the becoming portion of that journey as we talk about education & discipleship.
As we journey along together then, if you recall last Sunday, I introduced everything and took us into our first message of the series as I talked about a passion ignited for God and His Gospel in the world. Our vision statement talks about a passion being ignited through certain things in God’s people and our community, but I wanted to begin by talking about how God instills a passion for Him and His Gospel in us first before we turn around and love Him back in the ways that follow in the remainder of our vision statement. I talked about the blessing and the grace we have in the Lord of Hosts, to know Him and be saved unto Him in Jesus Christ His Son, the Lord and Messiah! This morning then we’ll move forward and talk about one of our responses to this blessing and grace we have in the Lord of Hosts as we explore the topic of Education. Before jumping in, let’s quickly start by reading our vision statement and also our overarching Scripture passage for our current series (Acts 2:42-47)… Open your bulletins and read along with me…
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
So, these people of the early church had definitely built up a reputation for themselves. People were added to their number daily and they had the goodwill of everyone. They devoted themselves to certain practices and disciplines, and their hearts were filled with warmth and gladness in their days. Sounds like a great community, and a good one to emulate.
The first thing that this passage says that the people devoted themselves to then is the Apostles’ teaching. The Apostles (at least the initial ones), if you recall were the 11 Disciples of Jesus minus Judas, along with a 12th person who replaced Judas. The purpose of the Apostles is given in Acts 1:22, which was to be a witness to Jesus Christ’s resurrection. The initial Apostles were made up of people who had had direct contact with Jesus while he lived on the earth and experienced His life and teachings, during all the time that Jesus went in and out among [them,] beginning from [His] baptism of John until the day when He was taken up from [them] (vs. 1:21-22). Because of this direct relationship and witness with Jesus Christ there were none better than they to guide the early church. Therefore then, in order to find out what the Apostles’ teaching was, one must look to Jesus and what He stood for and sought to instill into them that they could then be an example and witness to. What then did Jesus come to represent? Well, in Matthew 5:17 Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Also, upon being asked by an expert in the Law what is the greatest commandment? Jesus replied in Matthew 22:34-40 by saying, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” These verses tell us at least some of what Jesus was about during His time on earth. To take us into our topic of education this morning, I want to take us back to the Law & the Prophets and this Greatest Commandment, back to where they originally stemmed from. And to do that we’ll look at what has been a traditionally well-known Scripture (at least in Judaism & Hebrew culture) found in Deuteronomy 6:1-9. Open your Bibles and follow along as we go there now…
Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the Lord your God charged me (Moses) to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, 2 so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
So, I take us back to this Scripture in Deuteronomy, what’s known as the second book of the Law (Deuteronomy means, second). In chapter 5 of Deuteronomy the people have just revisited the 10 Commandments as they are about to cross over into the Land promised to them and their ancestors by the Lord. These commandments are to be carried, passed along among them, in order to instill in the people the fear of the Lord (not fear as in being scared of God, but as revering God) and to make their days long and prosperous. These commandments are important. On them are the basis of all the Law & the Prophets. They are what Jesus was referring to as He answered the expert in the Law with “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength… And love your neighbor as yourself.” Did you hear an echo as I read that between the Greatest Commandment and this passage from Deuteronomy? If you look at the 10 Commandments, the first 4 have to do with God and our love and respect for Him, and the final 6 have to do with our relations to other people and our love and respect for them. Our lives are to encompass love for God and love of neighbor. That is the journey we embark upon as we grow in Christlikeness. As we also saw before reading our main Scripture passage for this morning, Jesus at one time said, “I have not come to abolish the Law & the Prophets, but to fulfill them.” Jesus did not come bringing anything new with the purpose of throwing out the old. No, He stood as the fulfillment of everything before Him in the Law & the Prophets of the OT and was continuing to live out, carry through, and pass along that to His followers.
The second part of our Scripture passage for this morning is, like I said, a traditionally well-known passage. It is known to those in Judaism and Hebrew culture of old as The Shema. Shema in Hebrew means, to hear, and it represents the first word of verse 4 where it says, Hear, O Israel,… This section of Scripture (verses 4-9) actually became a prayer, or something those in Judaism or Hebrew culture devoted themselves to (even to this day) remembering and reciting it multiple times per day; when they get up in the morning and before they go to bed and at other moments of their day. I, along with my classmates, was required to memorize this passage in Hebrew for Hebrew class in seminary, and even I began reciting it to myself throughout my days and have grown quite fond of it.
Those in Hebrew culture also took this passage quite literally in their day, especially the parts of “Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” It became tradition in Hebrew culture to bind small, box-like structures to one another’s wrists, foreheads, houses, and gates as a sign of living this passage out. This shows quite devotion. I mean, imagine how silly they looked. I guess it probably wouldn’t be so silly with multiple other people doing it, and also with the fact that such things were practiced to show their love and respect to their Lord. We do things like this still today in our culture as well. We wear symbols to declare things like we’re married, or we’re Christians (with crosses around our necks, or things on our cars, etc), or that we’re fond of certain people or groups/organizations. These symbols and things are all well and good, but what makes them even better is that you don’t just wear them on the outside, but if you also learn to where them on the inside, where they become a part of your very essence and who you are. They become things you live out and act within. This is what I believe is a deeper meaning to this passage. It tells us to keep these Commandments on our hearts. It describes them as becoming a part of everything we do and everything thing we are. This doesn’t happen all at once. We need to be guided, led, taught in becoming Christ like. This is a common goal and bond we all share together in Christ, and we each have an important role to play in each other’s becoming.
This takes us into then what I mainly want us to get out of this passage in regards to education this morning. More specifically, it’s described in the title to this message as Love It, Teach It, Live It! Each one of these three things is an important aspect of the journey, our becoming, and the becoming of others in our community of faith as well. In this way in regards to education or teaching and passing along certain beliefs, practices, principles, guidelines, etc to one another… It’s not about just teaching these things because they are good and wholesome, but our goal should be to teach it, out of our love for it and each other, as we all strive to ultimately live it.
This is the calling in the shema in regards to the commandments and the Law & the Prophets. To first of all, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. This is a loving of the Lord your God with everything you are and have. Not half-heartedly or lukewarm, but with all your heart, all your soul (actually means your whole being), and all your might. This is a love that stems from what I spoke about last week; knowing the Lord of Hosts and our salvation unto Him in Jesus Christ. How does one grow and cultivate their love for another? I think of this in terms of dating or romantic relationships. You pursue one another; woo one another. In the Bible we learn that God in His great love and mercy is always calling out to us, pursuing & wooing us, drawing us to Him. As we in turn draw near to Him, we collide in our pursuits for one another, making our love grow even stronger. In terms of a marriage, or being a Christian as well, it’s easy to stop pursuing one another at some point (i.e. when the “honeymoon” is over) leading to the passion/fire fizzling out. This is what makes prayer & devotions, acting/living out in love to one another (in obedience and showing God’s love to others) so important, and rewarding. They lead and keep us in a strong love relationship with the Lord our God. If we are lax, our love can fizzle and we miss out on what we could have, or had.
This then is the place from which we move into the next concept of this morning in, Teach it! The best way to teach anything is out of a love for it! As a way of expressing and guiding others in something you deeply care about. First of all in this, one needs to be diligent in cultivating their love as I just described so that it can help them teach. In thinking about this, the recently late coach and teacher John Wooden comes to mind. Over this past week and a half or so I have read up on him some and have seen many tributes to him on television (since the main thing I watch is ESPN) and I think I can say what was evident about him was that he loved and cared deeply for what he stood for/believed in (he was a man of faith) and he deeply loved/cared for those he had the opportunity to coach and teach in such things. In this coach Wooden held certain life principles in his heart. He recited them to many and kept always before even himself! That’s what it means in our passage when it says, “Recite them (the commandments) to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” They become things you live, and weave, and keep before yourself in everything. In this teaching and learning isn’t just done in church or in the school. It’s also done in the home, really wherever you are, whatever’s before you, and whatever you’re doing. John Wooden coined his own “Pyramid of Success” and many know him for his many quotes referring to basketball and life. In these things his witness and example went far beyond just basketball and sports, but reached many others outside these realms as well. Teaching out of a love for what we are teaching as well as a love for others, and continuing to cultivate that love in the process, only enhances your witness.
Finally then, the last concept of this morning is, Live it! This is what the rest of our passage for this morning speaks of. The passage closes by saying, “Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” As I said before, Jews & Hebrews of old have taken these lines quite literally, but what if instead of only ascribing these things to our hands, foreheads, houses, and gates, we would also strive to allow them to sink further in than just skin deep? As I began to get into above then, these things aren’t just written on the surface level of ourselves, but they become embodied and our hands, minds, houses/families, and cities/communities become examples/witnesses to the ways of the Lord our God. This too only enhances our witness because as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. It’s like what St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Always preach the Gospel, when necessary use words.”
So today I’ve used a little phrase to help guide us in our journey’s towards becoming more and more like Christ in our Christian discipleship. Love it, Teach it, Live it! It sounds rather simple, although it’s not. But may we devote ourselves to it, and may the Lord bless us and keep us in it, until the day He finally calls us home.