At the end of the basketball game, I could tell that my son was not as enthusiastic as he had been at the beginning of the season. I asked him how things were going with the team, and I mentioned that he wasn’t hustling quite like he had before. He responded, “Well, I guess my heart’s just not in it right now. And, besides, I was thinking about that writing project that’s due tomorrow.” He was in the game—physically. But that was not enough. To play well, to have an impact on the game, he needed to have his head and heart in the game as well. Sometimes, we’re the same way with regards to our faith…
Before we read the passage for today’s sermon, we need to back up and say a few words about our Old Testament reading this morning—the reading of the Ten Commandments (see notes below). Many folks suppose these commandments were all about setting a moral code for the people of Israel. To be sure, there are moral issues here—murder, adultery, lying. But, keeping Sabbath is not moral…nor is the call to have one God. More than providing moral guidance, these commandments were established as community-forming standards. One God, one day of rest, particular ways of dealing with each other, boundaries of behavior, expectations: the Ten Commandments provide the foundation of what will become Torah—the Law (613 commandments!)—the framework for individual and community life and faith for Israel.
With that foundation laid, let’s turn now to Deut. 6:4-9:
4Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Perhaps we recognize the first two verses as something Jesus says during his ministry. Of course, our story today and through the rest of this year leading us towards Christmas is focused on the Old Testament, but we cannot help but remember Jesus’ response to the ‘greatest commandment’ question:
28One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:28-34 (NIV)
While Jesus speaks only the first few lines of this passage from Deuteronomy, in all likelihood he was employing a literary device or element of speech we call “synecdoche” (syn·ec·do·che | say: ‘sin-ECK-doe-key’). Synecdoche is “a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (such as ‘fifty sails’ for fifty ships), the whole for a part (such as ‘society’ for high society), the species for the genus (such as ‘cutthroat’ for assassin), the genus for the species (such as a ‘creature’ for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (such as ‘boards’ for stage). By bringing out the opening lines of this passage, Jesus calls to mind the whole passage for his hearers (and subsequent readers of the Gospel). And if Jesus thinks this is one of the greatest commandments and passages, we need to sit up and take notice!
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one—
This is a reminder to the people of Israel who have been living in and are not walking out of a polytheistic world that they did not need a myriad of gods and goddesses to care for them. The ONE God of Israel was enough. And, we need not think that the ancient world was the only world dealing with multiple gods. Of course, in some Asian cultures today, various or many gods are worshiped. In our own world, we, too, are torn between the gods of our making and the God of our religious faith—trusting at one moment the power of our money to fix our problems, confident in another moment that modern medicine or technology will correct our ills, faith the next minute in a political process to make our stresses go away. When all of these gods of our making fail, perhaps we fall to our knees before the One God. We, too, need to be reminded that there is one God—One in whom to place our trust, confidence, and faith.
5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength—
Lip service was not enough. Love of God needed to be expressed through the whole being. Our love of God should be evident in how we live our lives, every facet of our lives. Our love of God would be evident in ‘heart matters,’ ‘spiritual matters,’ and the very living out of our daily lives and daily work. When we worship, we worship with our hearts, our souls, and our bodies. When we pray, we pray with heart, soul, and strength. When we serve, we serve with heart, soul, and strength. When we minister, we minister to the hearts, souls, and bodies. This passage seems to indicate that we are ‘all in’…or we really aren’t in.
6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts—
For the ancient near-eastern world, the heart was more than simply emotion or the organ that moved blood. “‘Heart’…occurs over one thousand times in the Bible…denotes a person's center for both physical and emotional-intellectual-moral activities….” These commandments were and are to be a part of and impact our physical life, our emotional life, our intellectual life, and our moral life. In other words, vs. 6 is a reiteration of vs. 5 – let these commandments and your love for God permeate your lives. We need to let these community forming foundational directives permeate our lives if we’re going to be people of the one God.
7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up—
These commandments are not an individual, “personal” thing—they are to be shared with family, impressed upon the children. These commandments are to be a part of daily talk. How different was that world from our world—a world where spiritual issues are often discussed rarely (if at all) outside of the Church. This passage encourages the people to be thinking about the community-forming commandments of God when they go to bed and when they get up…on the way to work and on the way home. How different our lives might be if we were to think of the things of God at the end and beginning of each day, throughout the work day, if we were to tell our children these things daily. We probably wouldn’t even need reminders in courthouses and schools…
8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads—
Here, Moses (see notes below) speaks symbolically…even though some groups have taken this part rather literally at times so that members of the groups wore little boxes with a small parchment of the commandments (phylacteries; see Matt. 23:5) on their heads and tied copies on their arms. Understood metaphorically, the commandments are to guide what we think (on your heads) and what we do (on your hands). Again, this passage urges the hearers/readers to make this faith thing a part of our whole lives, to allow the Scriptures and the life of faith to guide every part of our lives.
9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates—
These are not just about our ‘interior’ lives—these commandments are about our community life…the life of family and the greater life among neighbors. When I was in high-school in Decatur, GA, one of my best friends was Neil. I recall going home with him after school, and every time got to his house, he would reach out and touch a small brass ‘do-dad’ that was nailed a bit off center and slightly twisted to the door frame of his front door. Around the second or third time visiting his house, I asked him, “What’s that?” He explained that there was a small scroll of the commandments in that brass box and that many Jewish people practiced this tradition of having these at the entrance to their homes. Older now and after much reflection, I wonder if it’s not so much about being at the ‘entrance’ to their homes but rather at the ‘exit’ from their homes…something to remind people who they are as they step out of the safety and openness of the home into the world with all of its unpredictability and temptations.
In the end, we have to come back to Jesus after all. We’re Christians, right? So, we can’t preach a Sunday sermon and not bring in Christ. Jesus was asked which (of the 613) commandment is ‘the most important,’ the greatest. He does not go back to the decalogue (the Ten); rather, he selects this passage from Deut. 6 with all of its significance and connection. Perhaps his intention—as was Moses’—was to call people back to a faith and a trust that was all-inclusive. What we hear and ‘amen!’ on Sunday must be lived out in our lives on Monday and Tuesday. What we affirm in Sunday worship must impact our relationships at home and at work on Wednesday and Thursday. The love we claim we have for God must be reflected in what we trust, what we put our confidence in, on Friday and Saturday. The commandments of God must be a part of our conversations with our children, a conversation too often wrapped in movies, sports, culture…or simply non-existent thanks to smartphones and other devices. To live as God’s people, God’s words and God’s Word must suffuse our lives, must be all in our lives—individual and community.
When we’re ‘all in’ and allow God’s Word to be ‘all in’ our lives, we know how to make decisions, we know how to guide our families, and we know how to live, to work, to vote, to serve, to lead in this society. When we’re ‘all in,’ our lives speak through our merely living. Our actions and words become hope and healing for a sometimes hopeless and hurting world.
My son finished his writing project, watched Hoosiers that weekend, and was the star player at the next game. He was ‘all in.’ What about us with regards to our faith? What about our commitment to God, to the Church, and to our neighbor? Yeah, that was the other part of Jesus’ response, right? Love you neighbor as yourself. Are we ready to be ‘all in’ today?
While some may be tempted to take an either/or approach to the readings for this week—either the commandments of Deut. 5 or the Shema of Deut. 6, really both of these passages need to be read. Deut. 5 is too ‘big’ to preach on one Sunday, and we can’t really understand Deut. 6 without being reminded of Deut. 5.
I find the Ten Commandments a bit too much to try to preach in a single setting. This would be a good series for the summer when we can tackle one or two commandments at a time, each Sunday. We could have sermons of depth addressing these important directives that form the basis of much of Western society. So, I would not try to preach the Commandments this Sunday.
Some folks may be tempted to talk authorship, about “J, E, P, D” writers (if you don’t know what this is, no worries!) Tradition indicates that Moses is the author (though that’s rather improbable.) Even so, I can promise you that our congregants are not going to be edified or encouraged, changed or more committed, for knowing about the theories of possible authorship of this book. For simplicity, I simply refer to Moses as the author. The sermon time is not the moment to drag up our seminary knowledge. Don’t be tempted by such a distraction…unless you find a way to use this information to somehow strengthen the faith of your hearers and encourage them towards discipleship.
 From the Merriam-Webster On-Line Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/synecdoche
 See more here: https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/heart/