- Date: October 8, 2023
- Bible Reading: Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 6:4-9
- Free Resource: Loving Others Skits (3rd-6th, NL)
- Unit Theme (October 1—October 15): Responding to God’s Love
- The Point: We are called to love God and others.
The Israelites—after a long detour—are about to enter the Promised Land. Moses recounts their (mis)adventures since their deliverance, including God’s gift of the Torah: instructions on how to love.
Since Last Time…
Last week, we met the people of Israel in dire straits. Previous to that, Joseph, the son of Israel (Jacob the wrestler) had involuntarily been sent to Egypt, and there he had prepared for the deliverance of his family by saving the land of Egypt from a severe famine. But, as the people of Israel became numerous, the Pharaoh got scared and took away their power and autonomy, making them slaves to his will. God heard the people’s cries for rescue and acted by calling Moses by name to lead them out of slavery and to the Promised Land.
But this proved a bit more complicated than that. Even on their way to Mount Sinai to meet their Rescuer, the people complained. After receiving the Torah (and the whole golden calf incident), the people persisted in their disobedience and distrust of God. They took the fearful way out when they heard about the dangers of entering this Promised Land. God responded with a curse, that the people (with the exception of Caleb and Joshua) would not enter the Promised Land.
Responding to God’s Love
It is when the people, the next generation, are ready to enter the land that Moses gives his final speech, which is our Book of Deuteronomy. This speech is basically a recap. God responded to the people’s cries in Egypt based on love. Moses responded to this love with obedience (mostly). And, now, Moses is instructing the people on how to respond to God’s love.
Torah: Instruction vs. Law
One thing that has stuck with me (from wherever I learned it) was that we normally translate Torah as Law, but it is better translated as “instruction” or “guidance.” The Torah of God—of which we have a summary in Deuteronomy 5 and 6 here—is not so much a set of rules to follow in fear of punishment, but guidance on how God wants us to live. Now, “wants” is a little weak here, but “demands” I think is also inaccurate. I prefer the term “calls.” I see it as God saying, “Come on, follow me! This is the best way to live (and I should know, I created you). Let me help you with these instructions.” That’s better than: “Follow these rules because I said so, or else!” God is a loving parent who wants us to live up to our potential.
There is a simple summary of the Torah: love. Full stop. That’s the point. That’s it. It’s spelled out in Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the LORD your God…[with everything you have].” Okay, sounds great. But…how? What does this mean when the rubber hits the road (an ancient idiom, I’m sure)?
“Okay,” God says, “Let’s spell this out.” That’s how we get the Ten Commandments. That’s how we get the set of “sermon illustrations” that is most of the Hebrew Bible. Because of how we are as humans, a lot of this instruction comes in the form of: “You want to know how to love, well, don’t do that…or that…or that.” I’m certain that God sighs a lot. As I sometimes tell my kids when I am frustrated with their behavior, “It’s a good thing I love you.”
God Loves Us
The first—and most important—thing is not what we can do for God, but what God has done (and continues to do) for us. God loves us. God’s love for us led to our creation. God’s love led to choosing to make a priestly people through an elderly couple. God’s love led to these people being saved from famine. God’s love led to God rescuing the people from slavery. And, God’s love led to the gift of the Torah. God’s love still leads God to teach us and forgive us (repeatedly, ad nauseam). That is the good news.
God’s love is not a good feeling God has for us. Feelings may be involved, but love is an orientation (heart, soul, spirit, mind) toward the good of another by way of action (might/strength). However, we cannot do anything that benefits God. Worship doesn’t benefit God, it doesn’t add anything good or fulfill a need. God is all-sufficient, God doesn’t need anything.
Worship, and otherwise loving God, actually benefits us, fulfilling a need we have. What it does is orient us toward God and God’s ways. But, you know who needs our actions? The people around us. This is why Jesus (as a part of a long tradition of Jewish teachers) adds Leviticus 19:18 as a necessary corollary. You love God by loving those who are created in God’s image (and the rest of creation). God loves you, so return that love to God and others. That’s the summary of the Bible, the content of Jesus-following faith, and one of our core values. The rest is just (very important) exposition.
God Teaches Us, We Teach Others
God gives us the Torah to teach us the right way to live. God calls us to teach others from a young age about how to love God and to love others. That’s the point of Deuteronomy 6:6-9. Meditate on it. Talk about it. Live it. Yes, this is specifically directed at parents to teach their children, but even if you don’t have kids, or they are now adults on their own, you are not exempt. All of us need to form relationships and teach others about God’s love for them and how to love God and others.
Faith Formation Strategy: Interaction
One of the best ways to learn something is to do it. In a faith formation setting, this means that action and interaction are important faith formation strategies. Invite people to do stuff. That’s why I like to use the term “participants.” It’s not about being an audience (listeners), but about participating in the process of faith formation (ours and others’).
Go out to love and serve the Lord!
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 10 to May 19), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download the activity “Loving Others Skits” from our Living the Word: Kids (3rd-6th) resource.
This is a revision of a blog post originally published for October 6, 2019. It’s been a rough couple of weeks.
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