Sermon: Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28
Pentecost 2 - June 18, 2017 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
Last Sunday was Trinity Sunday. It is of course a day on which we celebrate the truth that God is three Persons, each being God, and yet he is only one God. We even read together the Athanasian Creed, the long creed, that especially defends the triune nature of God. The words of the Athanasian Creed are unmistakable: “So the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; yet they are not three Gods, but one God.”
If you listened and observed carefully last Sunday you couldn’t possibly come away from the service not knowing what God we worship, who he is, what the Bible says about his triune nature. So it may sound a bit strange this morning that we ask the question:
WHAT GOD DO YOU FOLLOW?
What God do you follow? If you ask that question randomly in our society you’d get a number of different responses. One of the responses you’d get from the overly-sensitive members of our society is, “You have no right to ask me or anyone else that question.” One of the successes of progressive and left leaning social engineers in our society is that they have made it inappropriate to talk about God or religion in public settings, public universities and schools, and actually in a conversation between two people. To be honest, what they’ve really succeeded in is to make it inappropriate for Christians to talk about their God and their religion.
But those who are honest and brave enough in our society to talk about the god they follow will give a number of different answers. Some will talk about the god of their particular religion, what he’s called, what he does, what kind of god he is. And faithful Christians of course will talk about the triune God who sent his Son Jesus to be our Savior.
There’s another category of answers to this question about what God we follow that ought to concern us. These answers would come from people who would identify as Christians. They would say they believe in the triune God, even though they might not be able to explain what triune means. They would even say they believe in Jesus, but when they go further in describing the god they follow, they describe a god who doesn’t really sound much like the God of the Bible. His commandments are not the Ten Commandments, but what people think right and wrong ought to be. He doesn’t declare himself to be the only true God or the only saving God. Rather he’s just a kind of general god who loves all and condemns no one.
What would your answer be? It’s good for us to be challenged with the question ‘what God do you follow?’ even us who are members of a conservative, Bible-believing, Lutheran church, even us who celebrated Trinity Sunday last Sunday and read the whole Athanasian Creed.
It’s easy to recite the words of the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed or the Athanasian Creed, but actually believing in and following that triune God described in those creeds is another thing. That’s why it’s so important that we challenge ourselves with that question, “What God do you follow?” What do we really believe about God and do we really follow him?
Moses was concerned about this very issue with the people of Israel. What God were they going to follow? We might wonder how Moses could have that concern for the people of Israel. After all, they were the people of Israel. The LORD God had clearly identified himself to them. He gave them the Law from Mt. Sinai. How could they possibly follow another god? How could they incorporate mistaken notions about God into their belief about the LORD? Moses knew that they could very easily make those kinds of mistakes, and so he gave them a very strict warning about what god they were going to follow.
The book of Deuteronomy, from which our text is taken today, was really Moses’ farewell, his final instructions, to the people of Israel. Actually it was nearly forty years since they had left Egypt, and these Israelites were already the second generation. They had not actually witnessed the exodus or the dividing of the Red Sea or the giving the Law at Mt. Sinai. Deuteronomy was really a second giving of the Law for this second generation and words of encouragement and warning to the Israelites as they were about to finally enter the Promised Land.
So what did Moses tell the people? He said, “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” There were many conservative, religious Jews in Jesus’ day and some still today who took these words of Moses absolutely literally. They created little black boxes called phylacteries that contained pieces of paper with scripture words on them. They would tie these boxes with leather straps to their forehead and to their hands and arms.
But it was clear that Moses meant something different. They were to know and believe the word of God in their head and in their heart. The word of God was to guide their hands and their conduct.
Moses also said to the Israelites, “Teach [the words of God] to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Moses was already speaking to the second generation of Israelites. Many more generations would come, and each generation needed to be taught the word of God. And they were to begin teaching that word to each generation when they were young, when they were children. The teaching of God’s word was to be just a regular part of their daily routine, when they took walks together, in the morning, in the evening.
If we’re really going to follow the triune God of the Bible, if we’re really going to be believers in Jesus, and if we want our children to do the same, then we also need to fix the words of God in our hearts and minds and tie them on our hands and foreheads. We need to have the word of God incorporated into our lives on Sunday morning, and every day, when we get up, and when we go to bed. We need to make the word of God a regular part of the lives of our children.
We need to know and believe, and our children need to know and believe, two basic truths of the word of God - the law and the gospel. We need to know God’s Ten Commandments, what they mean and how we are to keep them. We need to know God’s will, what’s right and wrong, what’s moral and immoral. We live in a society that’s thumbed its nose at God’s commandments and will. Where do you stand? Where do you stand on God’s commandments? Where will your children stand?
We and our children need to know the gospel. The gospel is the truth that God sent his Son Jesus to be a Savior for all sinners. Jesus’ death on the cross has atoned for our sins. His resurrection from the dead assures us that our sins are forgiven. And for all who believe in him, for all who follow Jesus, there is eternal life.
Find a time in your life each day to read a portion of the Bible, a chapter, a psalm. Use a copy of Meditations, the daily devotional. Our computers and tablets and phones have access to the whole Bible, daily readings, daily devotions. Never before has the word of God been so available to people. To not access the word of God, to not fix it in our hearts and minds, is inexcusable.
And parents, incorporate that word, the commandments of God and the gospel message of Jesus, into the lives of your children. Do exactly what Moses said: “Teach [the words of God] to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Bring the word of into your home. Talk about the law and gospel. Demonstrate the law in how you think, speak, and act. Demonstrate the gospel to your children by your own faith that makes itself evident in how you live.
Then Moses said something to the Israelites we should all take note of, something very serious: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse - the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today, the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.”
What’s truly sad is how the people of Israel down through its history to the time of Jesus routinely did not really follow the LORD God of Israel. In the days of the prophet Elijah most Israelites had actually turned the Canaanite god Baal or didn’t worship God at all. When Jesus the Messiah finally came some believed in him, but most didn’t. What a sad irony it is that most of God’s chosen people didn’t end up following him.
It’s no different today. And every nation is no different than Israel. The word of God, the gospel message, forgiveness and salvation in Jesus’ name has been abundantly proclaimed. The blessing and curse of God is clear to every generation and every nation. But most people in every nation, including the United States, don’t follow God, the triune God, the true God, the only God of salvation. What a sad irony it is that most don’t really follow God today.
What about you? What about your children? What God do you follow? What God do your children follow? Do you follow God? Do your children follow God?
“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; . . . Teach them to your children, . . .” And do that. Fix the word of God in your life and in the lives of your children, by following Jesus. You follow Jesus now by faith. Follow him even more closely. Learn to know him better from the Bible. Be glad that he has forgiven your sins. Rejoice that he’s risen from the dead. And keep your eyes focused on heaven.
Follow Jesus. When you do, you follow God. Amen.