Friday, October 17, 2014

The Greatest Command (Deuteronomy 6:1-8) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

One of my favorite movies is Fiddler on the Roof.   Golde, the wife of Tevye, asks her husband, “Do you love me?”  Tevye replies, “Do I what?”  Golde repeats, “Do you love me?” Tevye responds - “Do I love you?”  “With our daughters getting married and this trouble in the town you're upset, you're worn out, go inside, go lie down!  Maybe it's indigestion.”  Golde again says, “Tevye, I'm asking you a question...  Do you love me?”

The question for this morning is - Do you love God?  We as believers regularly hear the biblical truth preached and taught that God loves you.  And what a powerful and awesome and comforting truth it is.  But today we ask another question  – Do you love God?  Do you ever say - “I love you Lord, I love you God.”  If not try it.  Practice saying it.  If it feels a little uncomfortable, start to say it in your prayers and devotions.  Why?  Because we are talking about ultimate things.

What is the purpose of life?  What is the reason for living?  What is the meaning of existence?  A mother writes:  “Our eight-year-old son was reading on the couch one morning when he discovered a new word. "What does ponder mean?" I wished for a dictionary. If you don't nail the odd impromptu definition perfectly, you hear about it later—and regret it!   So, I told him, "Ponder means you're wondering or thinking about things.  Like, you might say, 'I'm pondering the meaning of life.'" Oh, no, mistake,  mentioning "the meaning of life" is going to lead to one of those twisty, theological discussions, where I have to finish by saying, "I don't know; it's a mystery!" But to my utter amazement, my son was way ahead of me. "I know the meaning of life," "It's to love God!"

The ultimate question for faith is what does God, the creator of the universe, want from human beings?  What does God the Father want from us?  What does God want from you?  Which leads us to our passage from Deuteronomy.   In chapter 6 verse 4 we read the Shema.  Repeat after me – Shema!   Shema means “hear, listen.”   Now you know some Hebrew.   Here’s a suggestion.  Sometime when you can tell the person you're talking to isn’t listening, just say: “Hey, Shema!”  That will get their attention.

Shema Israel, that is, listen Israel, hear Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”   Moses has gathered the Israelites before him and addresses them: “This is the commandment that the Lord Your God, charged me to teach you to observe in the land you are about to cross into and occupy, so that you and your children and your children's children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, so that your days may be long.” 

Moses was proclaiming the truth of monotheism, one God, rather than polytheism.   Monotheism, is the unique and powerful divine truth which Judaism contributed to the world. 

And God charged Moses to command the Israelites, whom God had freed after 100's of years of Egyptian slavery, to love Him with every fiber of their being.  Was this command paramount?  Absolutely, so much so, that Moses offers some ni-monic devices:  “Keep these words in your heart, tell them to your children, talk about them wherever you are, bind them as a sign on your hand, attach them as an emblem on your forehead, write them on the doorposts of your house and your gates.” 

Mezuzah is a Hebrew word which means “doorpost.”   A Mezuzah is a small wooden, metal or glass case which contains the Shema and which Jews place on the doorposts of their homes.  It's a constant reminder of God's command.

Jesus reaffirms this central truth of Judaism and Christianity, that there is one God whom God's people are to love fully, in the Gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke, when he was asked: "Of all the commandments from God which is the most important?"  Now there were 613 commandments in the Law and Jesus, not being wishy-washy, immediately quotes the Shema, but then adds the word “mind” in addition to heart, soul and strength.  

"The premier command is to love the Lord your God, with all your heart with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind.”    Jesus further connects this command from Deuteronomy with another command from the book of Leviticus 19:18 saying:  “There's a second like it, "Love your neighbor as yourself."    Your entire life should be an expression of your love for God.  Today, we are looking at the first part, the command to love God.

Why is this command the preeminent command?  An author writes:  “The more you love something, the more you become like it.  For example, I have a friend that loves tennis. He wears tennis stuff. He reads tennis magazines. He has tennis talk. He has a racket, and his hair looks like a tennis ball.  I have another friend that loves surfing. He dresses with surf stuff, and he reads surf magazines. He talks surf talk. He's even starting to smell like seaweed. Everything about him is starting to go that way. But isn't it true whatever you love, you start moving that way? That's why this is the greatest commandment of all. Because we become what we love.”

Second, this is the premier command because God alone is worthy of our ultimate loyalty, our ultimate allegiance, our ultimate love.  Everyone and everything else is penultimate.  There are many people and things we love in this life.  There are many things worth loving, family, friends, home, country, chocolate.  But God says, “I am first,” God is first, everything else and everyone else comes after God.  God isn't saying  - don't love other things in life.  God is saying love Him before everything and everyone else.  If we don't, if we don't love God first, there is a danger, the danger that we will make an idol of other things or persons that we love.    The first commandment says: “You shall have no other gods before me, you shall not make for yourself an idol.”   We must keep things in proper perspective, in cosmic balance.  We must keep our priorities straight.

Now though we are commanded to love God wholly, fully, completely, if we are honest, we know we don’t.  There is a constant battle, an invariable competition, between putting God first and putting other things first.  Why, because it’s not natural to our sinful human nature.  Our nature is to be self-centered rather than God-centered.  It takes the Holy Spirit working in our hearts through faith, to slowly transform us into persons who are growing into loving God more fully.    It is a process of spiritual growth.  Our ability to love God fully is a work in progress.   It depends upon the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts through faith.

But I believe, isn’t believing in God enough?  No.  People say:  “I’m a Christian, I believe in God or I believe that God exists or I believe there is a God.”    Comedian Louis C.K. writes: “I have a lot of beliefs .… And I live by none of them. That's just the way I am. They're just my beliefs. I just like believing them—I like that part. They're my little "believies." They make me feel good about who I am. But if they get in the way of a thing I want, I sure as heck just do what I want to do.”  Moses and Jesus are raising the bar, declaring that the faith God desires for us, is more than believing, it is loving God with our whole being.

God I love you, God we love you?”  Do you tell God you love him?   Oftentimes, we don't say it to people close to us.  Like the woman who says to her husband: “Honey, you never tell me you love me.   He replies, “Dear, I told you I loved you when we were married 30 years ago and until I take it back, it still stands.” 

When one becomes a Christian, when we confess Christ as Lord and Savior, when the Holy Spirit enters our being, God gives us a new heart.    This is the beginning of a spiritual journey.  A journey of a growing desire to love God, to please God, to worship God, to obey God,  to glorify God, to follow God's will in your life, to lead a life that is good, just and righteous.  It arises from a thankful heart, in response to God's gift of sacrifical love and salvation.  

How do we love God with all our heart and soul?  It means desiring to know God and His will more closely.  It means sharing yourself with God, asking for God's guidance and inspiration in your decisions.  It means trusting God.  It means praying to God and worshipping God either alone in prayer or meditation or in worship with God’s family. It means spending time and taking time for God.  It means opening up and allowing God to know you. 

It means loving God with our emotions.  It means recognizing the importance of your interior life.  It includes times of repenting and confessing your sins and seeking God's forgiveness.  It is turning to God when your heart is broken.  Loving God with your heart and soul means seeking to please God, to honor and celebrate God and enjoy God.   The psalmist says: “Praise the Lord oh my soul.  I will praise the Lord as long as I live. I will sing praises to my God all my life long.”

Loving God with your might, your strength, is to obey God physically, yes, using your physical strength to glorify God.  I have been exercising recently at World Gym in PB.  Wow, there are some rather large intimidating dudes there, muscle bound guys and gals, who can lift enormous weight.  Their degree of physical strength is amazing. 

But this command also includes mental strength.  And sometimes life requires more mental strength than physical strength.  It means to learn to love God not only when your strong, but when your weak.  It means to love and trust God not only when life is good, but in times of disappointment, unrealized expectations, illness, discouragement, set-backs or even in crisis.  The threat which we all must deal with is giving up in despair. For in such times we need sheer spiritual and mental strength more than ever?  Loving God with all our might, our strength is critical.

Loving God with your mind means using your intellect in your relationship with God.  Faith is more than feeling, it is also an intellectual journey, a quest.  You are committed to learning, to studying the scriptures and the Christian faith.  You ask questions. You seek answers.  You seek understanding about your theology, the beliefs, truths, and tenents of your faith.   You are not afraid to wrestle with the moral dilemma's and tough questions about life in relation to your faith in God.   Loving with your mind is striving to integrate your faith into your life.    C.S.Lewis writes: “God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers.  If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you that you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all.”     

Some contemporary critics think Christianity or any religion is for the simple minded, a crutch for people who don’t think for themselves, for mentally weak people who want to be spoon-fed religious nonsense.  Loving God meants to use our minds to seek to know the nature and will of God and the mind of Christ.  God wants us to love him with our our thinking, with seeking understanding, with our questions, and with reflecting upon our experience in life in light of our faith.

What does God want from us?  I close with these words from C.S.Lewis. “When I have learned to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now.  Insofar as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.”   Amen!

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