Click HERE for an Audio version of this message.
I invite you to turn to the first portion of our reading from Deuteronomy this morning as God, through Moses, reminds us to focus on what’s important.
If you listen to the media, you would think that the most important thing for you to know and do is to make sure that your child is in the proper car seat. It seems that in our world today it takes a degree in physics to figure out which is the right one for your child’s every-changing height and weight, but by the amount of money spent on public service announcements, it would seem to be one of the most important things for you to know and do. Oh, and don’t forget the helmets and the knee and elbow pads if they are riding bikes or skateboarding.
People in our world today are very concerned about their children’s safety. That’s not a bad thing. One of the responsibilities that God gives parents is to care for the physical safety of their children. But, as Jesus said, what good is it if they gain the whole world and lose their soul? What good was it for the rich man in our gospel reading to be able to party and enjoy his earthly life only to spend eternity in the fires of hell when he died? As important as it is for us to be concerned about physical safety, the most important thing for us to be concerned about is where we and our children will spend eternity.
Deuteronomy 6:4 was a verse every Jewish person knew by heart. It was the creed of the Old Testament. They would recite it twice a day. If anyone asked them what they believed they would reply, the LORD (Jehovah) is our God. The LORD is one. There are not many different gods, there is only one true God. His name is the LORD, Jehovah. And he is our God.
This one and only true God is not a local god whose power is limited just to Israel. He is the Lord of heaven and earth. He rules over the sun, moon and stars. He rules over every nation on earth. He is the one who promised to send a Savior, born of a woman, who would crush the power of Satan, the lying prince of the sinful world. He is the one who promised Abraham that this Savior would be one of his descendants, and that, not just Israel, but all nations would be blessed through him. He is the one who rescued us from slavery in Egypt by performing many signs and wonders. He is the one who is about to bring us into the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
To this list we can add; the LORD, Jehovah, the one and only true God, is the one who defeated Israel’s enemies for them, even knocking down the walls of Jericho and making the sun stand still. He is the one who took on flesh and blood, was born in Bethlehem, suffered and died on the cross, and rose again on the third day, just as all the prophecies said he would.
This is the LORD, the one and only true God who has shown himself faithful to every promise, who has provided forgiveness and eternal salvation for free to all in Jesus. This is the LORD our God! He is our God not because we chose him, but because he chose us. Just like Israel, we were stubborn and rebellious, yet he chose us to be his. He chose to reveal himself to us through his word. That’s the way he has chosen to work, as the rich man was told when he asked if someone could go back from the dead to warn his brothers that hell is real and they need to focus on what’s important- they have Moses and the Prophets, they have God’s word. They have everything they need in the word. If they won’t listen to the word, they won’t believe that there is such a thing as a resurrection from the dead. Jesus rose from the dead, but even though there were over 500 eyewitnesses of that fact, consider how many don’t believe that he rose. The LORD uses his word to convict us of sin, and then to convince us that we have salvation in Jesus. We confess that he is the LORD our God, not by our own thinking or choosing, but because he chose us and called us to be his own through the gospel in word and sacrament.
What a blessing it is to know that the LORD is our God! It means, like the poor beggar Lazarus, when our time comes to die, we will be carried by the angels to be with the LORD for all eternity. Those who don’t know the LORD as their God will, like the rich man, be separated from the LORD and from every good thing for all eternity. The rich man realized too late that he had not focused on what’s important- the LORD and his word.
By God’s grace Israel knew that the LORD was their God. By God’s grace we know that the LORD is our God. But it’s so easy to take the Lord for granted. It’s so easy to get so involved with life that we forget how important the Lord and his word is.
Israel was camped along the Jordan, preparing to enter the Promised Land. They were about receive blessings beyond their imagination. God was going to defeat their enemies for them. They would live in houses they didn’t have to build. They would drink from wells they didn’t have to dig. They would harvest crops they didn’t have to plant. But all these blessings would also be temptations. They would be tempted to take their blessings for granted and forget about God, like the rich man did. They would also be surrounded by people who worshiped all kinds of other gods. Their forms of worship would seem a lot more interesting than hearing the same old thing over and over again. Their forms of worship would appeal to the sinful nature, even promoting prostitution as a form of worship. Some of the things you learn about the worship of idols in Canaan seem disgusting. But we are in a similar situation today. Our sinful nature gets tired of hearing the same old thing over and over again. We are surrounded by religious groups that promote a so-called Christianity where anything goes, and that appeals to our sinful nature. Like Israel, we still today need reminders that the LORD is our God and that we need to show that he is our God every day.
God, through Moses, says make sure that the Lord is not your God in name only. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Make sure that you don’t love anyone or anything more than the LORD your God, not even your spouse or your children, not even your life. Make sure that you don’t entrust the care of your soul to anyone or anything other than the one true God who alone can save you. Make sure that you are serving the LORD your God with all your strength, not just half-heartedly, not just for an hour a week, but all the time.
That’s a tall order. How do you do that? Moses says, Let the word of God be on your heart. Be immersed in God’s word so that it is what informs your every decision in life and guides your every word and action. Let his word point out your sins, all the times that you have forgotten about God, all the times you have chosen to do what you wanted to do instead of what God would have you do. Let God’s word point you to Jesus so that you can see that he was always guided by God’s word, God’s word was always on his heart so that he always loved what God loves and hated what God hates. Let God’s word point you to the cross so that you may see all your sins being paid for in full. Then your love for the LORD will continue to grow, you will entrust your soul’s salvation to him alone and be motivated to strive to serve him with all your might.
God, trough Moses, says make sure that your children know the that LORD is their God too. That doesn’t just happen. It is both taught and caught. It comes from diligent teaching. It comes from making sure that your children hear God’s word over and over and over again- in home devotions, in prayers together with them, in Sunday school, in church, and whatever other opportunities there may be. If you are diligent in making sure they are physically safe, in the right car seat, wearing the right safety equipment, be even more diligent in making sure they are eternally safe. That means making time to teach God’s word.
It also means that you let them see that God is included in everything you do. It’s not just a thing we do for an hour on Sunday. Others, especially children, are always watching to see if your actions back up what you say you believe. Consider all the ways you can show how important God is to you during the day. What do you talk about at meals? What effect did God and his word have on the things you said and did during your day? What do you talk about in the car on the way to all their activities? If someone cuts you off do you curse them, or do you thank God that he kept you safe? Do you remind them where their ability to play a sport or an instrument comes from? Think of all the opportunities you have to talk about God and his word as you decide what movie or TV show to watch, or even as you watch the news and there are reports about abortion and gay rights. Having those discussions will show that God’s word is on your heart and in your mind all the time. You aren’t just going through the motions on Sunday.
Because it’s so easy to forget about God and because there are so many gods that tempt us to follow them, God says that we should tie his words as a sign on our wrists, and as symbols on our foreheads. Write them on the doorposts of our house and on our gates.
The Jews ended up taking these words a little too literally. They actually made little boxes, put a piece of paper with a verse from scripture on it in the box, and then tied it to their wrist, forehead, and nailed it to their doorposts. Jesus reprimanded them for this because, even though they physically wore God’s word, they ignored what it said. It wasn’t on their hearts.
It’s not a bad thing to have a sign or a symbol that is a constant visual reminder of God and his word in our homes, in our yards and in our pockets. It’s not a bad thing to have a cross, or a picture of Jesus in those places to serve as a constant reminder to ourselves and others that the LORD is our God. He is most important. He is the one and only Savior for us and for anyone. But the best sign for our children and for the world is that people see us studying God’s word, and that our words and actions agree with what God says in his word.
What a blessing it is that God has chosen to be our God. What a blessing it is that he has revealed himself to us through his word and called us to faith in Jesus so that we might live with him now and forever in glory. That’s what’s most important for us and for our children. Focus on God and his word so that you are reminded daily that the Lord is your God, your savior. Let people see by your words and actions that he truly is what’s most important.