Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
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Generation to Generation

Deuteronomy 6

 There is an old saying that goes, “God has no grandchildren.”  There is no such thing as being born a Christian.  A person can only become one by being born again, by making a choice to follow Jesus.  To put it in the context of the Old Testament, there was no such thing as being born Jewish.  Now that gets a bit muddied because being Jewish or Israelite or Hebrew was also an ethnic designation, but even in the Old Covenant, no one was born faithful.  Each generation had to choose faith for itself.

 And if each generation has to choose faith, then it also follows that it becomes the responsibility of each generation of the faithful to pass faith on to the next generation.  A quick look at our own culture tells us that we, as a whole, are not doing a good job of that.  Each successive generation in America has less people who have faith in Christ.  I think this chapter contains the best “formula” to be found in Scripture about what it requires to pass faith on.  

 It also contains one of the most important declarations in the Old Testament about what their faith entailed.  It is frequently called the Shema, based on the first word in Hebrew, which means “To hear.”  In Hebrew it is, “SHEMA, YISRAEL.  YAHWEH ELOHENU.  YAHWEH ECHAD.”  “Hear, O Israel, Yahweh is our God.  Yahweh alone.”  This is considered to be the cornerstone of belief in the Old Testament.  

 Now Bible scholars debate about exactly how it was understood.  On the one hand, there is “philosophical monotheism,” a belief that there is and ever has been only one God.  On the other hand, there is what is described as “monolatry,” the worship of only one God.  Did the ancient Israelites believe that Yahweh was the only God, or did they just believe that he was the only God worthy of their worship?  We don’t know.  And maybe the answer is that their beliefs grew over time from believing that Yahweh was their God to believing that he is the only true God.  

 But what comes after the Shema is, I think, even more interesting:  “And you must love the Lord.”  God wants more out of his people than just intellectual belief that he exists or even outward acts of service; he wants us to love him, to have a personal and meaningful relationship with him.  

 This was completely unique in the ancient Near East world.  Most people feared their gods.  They wanted to appease them, but the thought of loving them and having a personal relationship with them was just unheard of.  And to an extent, I think it’s still

unique in the world today.  I don’t think that “love” has much of a place in most of the world’s religious systems.  But we believe that God is lovely, that he is worthy of our love for who he is and what he has done for us.

 And what’s more, it’s not enough just to love God a bit.  He wants us to love him totally, completely, with every fiber of our beings:  “With all your heart, soul, and strength.”  This is not so much an exploration into the nature of humanity as it was just a typical Hebrew way of saying, “With everything you have, love God.”  

 So the question is not simply, “Do you believe in God?” but “Do you love God?”  There are many people who believe in God.  But there are many less who love God, who desire an intimate relationship with God.  Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.”  Outward service flows out of a loving relationship, but not necessarily the other way around.  It’s possible to perform outward actions for God without personally loving God.  

 And this is important for our discussion today because we are not just trying to teach the next generation to believe in God, but also to love God.  

 Moses goes on:  “Commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these things and teach them to your children.  Repeat them over and over.”  Repetition is a key to learning.  We seldom learn things the first time.  And much of our learning is not gaining new information, but remembering what we have learned previously but failed put into action.  

 The picture Moses is painting here is of a life saturated with the word of God and the ways of God.  “Talk about these things when you’re at home and when you’re away, when you lie down and when you get up.”  That pretty much covers all of life.  

 A few things to note here:  

 First, the primary place of learning about God is the home and the family, not a “weekly gathering” or from a “religious professional.”  Do those things have a place?  Do pastors and Sunday School teachers and weekly worship have a role in faith formation?  Yes, certainly.  But I think they should be seen as a supplement to the faith formation that takes place in the rest of life, rather than a primary vehicle for it.  

 If what is learned on Sunday is contradicted by what is learned Monday through Saturday, in all likelihood, Monday to Saturday is going to win out, by sheer volume, if

nothing else.  But also, the most influential people in the lives of children are their parents.  And if faith is not being passed from parent to child, it probably won’t be passed from pastor or Sunday School teacher to child.  

 My former District Superintendent said that many children are “inoculated against Christianity.”  What’s that mean?  Well, you inoculate someone against a disease by exposing them to enough of it that they build up resistance, but not so much that they catch the disease.  And that happens to many children, I think.  They are sent, not taken, to Sunday School a little bit as young children.  They are sent to Vacation Bible School.  The rationale being that they should “get a little religion.”  But that “little religion” is not backed up by what they experience everywhere else in life.  So they become inoculated against Christianity but never “catch the disease.”  Jesus Christ becomes “something for little children,” not a vital part of daily life.

 And that’s the second point:  Faith must be a part of daily life if it is to be “caught.”  Faith must relate to daily life.  It can’t just be an intellectual exercise.  As parents or grandparents, we should do our best in every situation to relate the word of God and the ways of God to daily life.  What does God say about going to bed and getting up?  What does he say about preparing and eating food?  What does he say about school and work?  What does he say about how we carry on conversation and relate to other people?  What does God say about our recreation or entertainment?  If faith is to be caught, it must be made relevant to every aspect of daily life.  

 And the third point is that we should make good use of symbols of faith.  For the Jew, it was the phylactery and the mezuzah that became symbols of faith.  Phylacteries were the little boxes worn on the arm or forehead by faithful Jews.  Mezuzahs were little scrolls placed on the doorposts of homes.  Both contained important verses of Scripture, including Deuteronomy 6:4-9.  

 Bible scholars debate whether or not this command was meant to be taken literally.  And one of the arguments for its literal use is that many of the nations around ancient Israel frequently wore pieces of religious jewelry or decorated their homes with objects that were believed to have magical powers.  This then became a positive alternative to the beliefs of their neighbors.  

I think there are good reasons for us to include symbols of faith into our daily lives.  Images that represent our faith are a way to “fill daily life” with the word and

ways of God.  We have numerous pictures and decorations in our home that tell stories from Scripture or feature prominent verses from the Bible.  And our children do notice them and ask about them.

One last point from this chapter:  Verse 20 says, “In the future, your children will ask you, ‘What is the meaning of all this?’”  

We can only pass on the story of faith if we know it.  What has God done for his people?  Can you talk about it in meaningful ways?  What has God done for you?  Can you tell the stories of how God has changed your life?  

And perhaps the most fundamental aspect of passing on faith is this:  We can’t share with others what we ourselves don’t have.  

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