Have you heard of the frustrated parent who said, "For the five millionth time, stop exaggerating!"? or, perhaps, the saying, "Your constant harping doesn't make you an angel!"
How many times does a parent have to tell a child to do something and know that it will be done? How many times should it take? What happens to the parent's voice each time? Is it better for the child to do it first up, or doesn't it make any difference? Do the child find that he/she still has to do things anyway, even after going off and doing something else first? And we face it as adults too - Do we like to do what we are told, or do we wish we could always do our own thing?
Our heavenly Father has rules for us too, things that are important for us to do if we are to live happily in his world, if we are to be part of his family. There is one rule that is a key to the others.
Listen to these verses that all come from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.
Deut.6.5 "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."
Deut.11.1 "Love the Lord your God and always keep all his laws."
Deut.11.13 "So then, obey the commands I have given you today: love the Lord your God and serve him with all your heart."
Deut.11.22 "Obey faithfully all the laws that I have given you: Love the Lord your God, do everything he commands, and be faithful to him."
Deut.19.9 "He will give you this land if you do everything that I command you today and if you love the Lord your God and live according to his teachings."
Deut.30.16 "If you obey the commands of the Lord your God, which I give you today, if you love him, obey him, and keep all his laws, then you will prosper and become a nation of many people."
Dt.30.20 "Love the Lord your God, obey him and be faithful to him, and then you and your descendants will live long in the land that he promised to igve to your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
Do you think God was really trying to get something over to them? Was there something that they just might forget all about?
Do you get the idea that God is trying to tell us something? Is there something that is so important that he keeps on telling us so that it will sink in, so that we won't forget?
He wants us to love him! The God who created the whole universe - all the galaxies, all the stars, all the comets - who created the blueprints of all living things, wants us to love him! Can you guess why? It is because he loves us! He is love. This vast incredible Creator is love and he loves us! He wants us to love him!
Last week we were thinking about Joshua who had led the Israelites into the promised land. He had to follow Moses who had brought them out of slavery in Egypt. Of the twelve spies who had been sent to look at the land, only Joshua and Caleb had expressed confidence that they could certainly go in to possess the land because the Lord was with them. There can be no doubt at all that Joshua was listening when Moses told the people what God wanted them to do. Listen to what he himself said to the Israelites towards the end of his life.
Josh.22.5 "Make sure you obey the law that Moses commanded you: love the Lord your God, do his will, obey his commandments, be faithful to him and serve him with all your heart and soul."
Josh.23.11 "Be careful, then, to love the Lord your God."
The teachers of the Law were a group who explained to others what the Bible said. They didn't have printed books in those days. Copies of individual books of the Bible had to be written by hand on long scrolls. Unfortunately, these teachers had turned God's clear and simple rules into thousands of restrictions - and they came to believe that the only way to be right with God was by keeping all their rules. One day there was one of them came up to Jesus and asked him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" Jesus answered, "The most important one is this: 'Listen, Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second most important commandment is this: 'Love your neighbour as you love yourself.' There is no other commandment more important than these two" (Mk.12.28-31).
Jesus gave him more than he asked for. He gave him the second commandment too! We don't find it in today's Bible reading. But it was among the rules God gave to Moses in the book of Leviticus. Listen to this, "Do not take revenge on anyone or continue to hate him, but love your neighbour as you love yourself. I am the Lord" (19.18).
What will loving your neighbour really mean? Jesus said that our relationship to God is the most important. But he knew that it is so easy to say that we love God. To leave it there might let us off too lightly! John says in his letter, "If someone says he loves God, but hates his brother, he is a liar. For he cannot love God, whom he has not seen, if he does not love his brother, whom he has seen. The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love his brother also" (1 Jn.4.20-1).
So what will loving others really mean? It will involve us in being kind and caring to others. It will involve us in being willing to forgive them. It will mean that we want what is best for them.
Some people had a saying that added something to God's Word, "Love your friends, and hate your enemy." Jesus said, "But now I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may become the sons of your Father in heaven" (Mt.5.44-45).
Notice those words - "that you may become the sons of your Father in heaven." Trusting in Jesus we are to become part of God's family - being loved by him and loving him - and his love is to reach out to others through us!
In so many ways the choices and commitments we as parents make affect the life and direction of our children's lives. A schoolday's friend of mine said one day that when he grew up he wouldn't send his children to Sunday School or church until they were sixteen or seventeen and able to make up their own minds about God - as if that choice would leave them open-minded!
No! We are teaching our children, whether we intend to or not! In time they will make their own choices based on what we have taught them together with other life experiences of their own.
For Joshua's commitment on behalf of his family to be translated into reality, there would be the process of teaching that Moses goes on to talk about in today's reading. "Never forget these commands that I am giving you today. Teach them to your children. Repeat them when you are at home and when you are away, when you are resting and when you are working. Tie them on your arms and wear them on your foreheads as a reminder. Write them on the door-posts of your houses and on your gates" (vv.6-9).
Strict Jews have worn phylacteries when they pray - a little leather box containing parchment with some of the law written on it worn on their forehead and another box strapped to the left wrist.
The real question, of course, was the attitudes and convictions of their hearts. The forehead and the wrists - God's law is to become the principle behind all our thinking and our acting. On the door-posts - the principle of our family life. On the gates - not just in our personal, private life, but in all of our coming and going.
"Teach them to your children." Our values, convictions, faith and love of God are to be passed on to the next generation.
We think of Paul's words to Timothy. "I remember the sincere faith you have, the kind of faith that your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice also had. I am sure that you have it also" (2 Tim.1.5). Those two women passed on their faith to young Timothy.
But it has to begin with our own response to God. "Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. Love your neighbour as yourself."
How many times does God have to tell us that before it sinks in and we begin to live it?
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