Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (text from The Bible in 90 Days) 9/27/2009

An Emblem on Your Forehead

Lessons:     Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29     Psalm 19:7-14 (8)     James 5:13-20     St. Mark 9:38-50     Semicontinuous Series         Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22         Psalm 124 (7)   Prayer of the Day     Generous God, your Son gave his life that we might come to peace with you. Give us a share of your Spirit, and in all we do empower us to bear the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Text from "The Bible in 90 Days"

6:1 Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the Lord your God charged me 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. 5 You 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.

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

In the Hebrew language, the first two words of verse 4 in today’s reading are “Shema Yisrael.” Translated into English, these words mean, "Hear, [O] Israel" – and are commonly referred to as “The Shema.” They are the first two words of a section of the Hebrew Bible that is a centerpiece of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services. It is traditional for Jews to say the Shema as their last words.

This passage calls Hebrews and Christians alike to devote themselves fully to God. The faithful are called not to dedicate one morning each week, or a modest portion of time, or 10% of family income, or some other pre-determined (and limited!) aspect of life. But the faithful are – no, check that: we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our might.

Admittedly, that is a pretty tall order. And if we’ve paid any attention at all to the New Testament and the teachings of the Lutheran Church, we’ll readily admit that it is a taller order than is humanly possible to fill. Yet that is our calling. Even if it functions more as a target than a requirement, loving the Lord with all the heart and soul and might lies at the very center of the faithful life.

So if we acknowledge that this is a hard (impossible?) guide to follow, what do we do to make it more likely that we’ll grow in our ability to follow it? Moses teaches his listeners that there are a variety of strategies that could be helpful:

  • Keep these words in your heart.
  • Recite them to your children.
  • Recite them at home, and when you are out.
  • Recite them when you lie down, and when you rise.
  • Bind them on your hand.
  • Fix them as an emblem on your forehead.
  • Write them on the doorposts of your house.

Ancient Israel did just that (and some observant Jews continue to do so today): they posted the Shema in a variety of locations, as a reminder to themselves of these words of Moses, and of what the life of faith was all about. I can imagine that for those faithful believers, to have these words about God so much a part of daily life was a helpful way to encourage their belief in God, and their attempts to honor God with their lives.

I wonder if this Jewish practice might be helpful for us Christians. What if God’s word was prominently displayed over our doors? (Say, for instance, “Welcomed into God’s Love” over the entrance and “Sent into God’s World” over the exit…) Would it serve as a reminder to us, every time we entered or left, of who (whose) we are? Would it remind us that we are children of God, forgiven by grace? That we are called to build our lives on the word of Christ? That a life centered on the word of Christ is like a house built on a rock solid foundation? Would it be a witness to those who visit our homes of how important our relationship with God is?

I’m sure there would be times when we’d mess up, and our sinfulness would be even more embarrassing (than if there wasn’t something publicly declaring our faith). But on balance, it still might be a helpful reminder for all of us – of the grace that has claimed us, and of the call to build our lives on the word of Christ.

In Deuteronomy 6, Moses taught the Israelites to put God’s word in their heart and soul, to bind them as a sign on their hands, to fix them as an emblem on their foreheads, to write them on the doorposts of their homes.

I’m not sure I’m ready to tattoo a fish on my forehead, or permanently wear a WWJD bracelet. But this weekend’s lessons come to me as a strong reminder to keep the words of Jesus before me always, to build my life on them, and to remember that the word of Christ which calls us to faithfulness is a gift. It is a gift that helps us withstand the storms of life. It is a gift that empowers us to live into the grace of the one whose death and resurrection has saved us. It is a gift that transforms our lives, and despite our brokenness, allows us to become public witnesses of God’s power.

David J. Risendal Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Text:

  1. What was the purpose of the law for ancient Israel?
  2. How did the Shema help Israel remember and understand the law?
  3. What guiding principles are as central to Christianity as the command to love God with all the heart, soul and might is to Judaism?

Connecting with This Week’s Text:

  1. How might I remind myself of my calling as a Christian?
  2. What Bible passages summarize my understanding of the faith?
  3. Who could work with me to help us both be more effective at living faithfully? 

Scheduled Readings for "The Bible in 90 Days" 9/13/2009 - 12/12/2009


Begin Reading At Sermon Based On
9/13 Genesis 1:1 Genesis 1:1-19
9/20 Leviticus 1:1 Exodus  16:2-15
9/27 Deuteronomy 23:12 Deuteronomy 6:1-9
10/4 1 Samuel 28:20 Joshua 24:1-3, 14-18
10/11 1 Chronicles 1:1 1 Kings 3:5-12
10/18 Nehemiah 13:15 Nehemiah 1:4-11a
10/25 Psalm 89:14 Job 38:1-11
11/1 Isaiah 14:1 Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
11/8 Jeremiah 33:23 Isaiah 25:6-9
11/15 Daniel 9:1 Ezekiel 2:1-5
11/22 Matthew 26:57 Micah 6:1-8
11/29 Acts 6:8 John 20:19-31
12/6 Hebrews 1:1 Romans 5:1-11