Sunday, November 12, 2006

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 "Mezuzah"

Today’s scripture tells us to take the commands of God and bind them to our doorposts. Jews throughout history have taken that command very seriously. I want to read to you from a book about how they do so:

A mezzuzah [sic] (Hebrew for ‘doorpost’) is a cylinder of metal or wood put aslant on the right-hand doorpost of the house. Inside is a rolled fragment of parchment on which is a summary of the Deuteronomy command: ‘Remember God and love him with your all.’

Anyone going in our out is obliged to remember it and may stretch out their hand toward it, and kiss the hand. In such a house the whole course of life ought to be subject to the authority of God’s word.

A tale is told of a Gentile buying a house from a Jew, and noticing the mezzuzah, asking its significance. ‘This is a mezzuzah,’ the Jew explained. ‘Inside the case you see is a scroll on which are written the most sacred and holy words of the Jewish law.’

When the transaction was completed, the purchaser of the house was interested to see if the mezzuzah would be taken with the outgoing family. But no, the mezzuzah stayed, and every day he saw it on his way in or out, until finally his curiosity would hold no longer. With a small screwdriver he removed the case, opened the tiny parchment with trembling fingers, and read:

‘HELP! I am being held prisoner in a mezzuzah factory.’

(From Celtic Daily Prayer by the Northumbria Community, pg 542-543)

It seems that the mezuzah is a great way of following the letter of the law without getting to the point of the law. Hopefully people living in a house with one do pay attention to the words inside it. Hopefully they do allow themselves to recite the beginning of the great commandment every time they touch the mezuzah, but my fear is that they might just allow themselves to go through the motions. I mean, what is the point of having the words written on your doorframe if you never look at them.

But I’m not attacking the Jews or the custom of the mezuzah here. I think it’s a beautiful thing. And how many of us do the same thing. We have a Bible or maybe even multiple Bibles throughout our house, but we never open them up and read from them, learn from them, allow them to change us.

Let us open in prayer

I. Inspired for What?

We are taught that the Bible is the Inspired Word of God. It says so in 2nd Timothy 3:16. “All Scripture is God-breathed (or inspired) and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” In seminary, as we began to study the language that the Bible was written in, Greek, we discovered something interesting and quite a powerfully different way to read this scripture. It’s all about the word “and”.

You see, we usually read it as “All Scripture is God-breathed; period. And all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking… etc.” When we read it this way we assume that the word and is separating two separate thoughts about scripture. But there is a much more interesting and more accurate way to read it. The word “and” could be separating the words “God-breathed” and “useful” All of a sudden this scripture takes on a deeper meaning. All of a sudden it is saying, “All Scripture is inspired by God for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness and all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

What is the difference? Well the first reading allows us to set the Bible down in our houses and keep it closed and feel that we are honoring it just by having it on display somewhere. The second reading forces us to open up the Bible and spend time in it and allow it to do in us what it is inspired and God-breathed to do.

Saying that the Bible is inspired is letting ourselves off the hook. Saying it is inspired allows us to argue with people in the culture war about the importance of the Bible without allowing the Bible to impact our own lives. But when we say that it’s inspired to do something, we then force ourselves to open the Bible and spend time with it and allow it to change us to our very being. This is what Hebrews talks about when it tell us about the power of the Word of God. And this is why Deuteronomy 6 tells us to take God’s commands so very seriously.

II. What do we do?

“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 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. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

I find this passage in Deuteronomy to be powerful and yet interesting. You see, there is something left out of this list of the things we are supposed to do with the commandments. It never tells us to obey them. Now, there are other places in Deuteronomy where it is made clear that we are called to obey the commandments, but that is not the focus of this group of verses. God wants us to obey his word, but, truthfully, that is just not enough for him. Now you could say that maybe God is asking for a bit too much, I mean, obedience is hard enough, now he expects us to spend time talking about his word in our homes and on our journeys. I mean, who is this God? What, does he expect our lives to revolve around him or something? Well, yes, he does. Just a little further down in Deuteronomy 6, in verse 15 we are told that God is a jealous God. I must say that that is not the normal thing that I think of when I think of God.

The words that come to mind when I am thinking about God usually are: loving, just, good, Father, righteous, holy, Almighty, all-knowing. But jealous? I’ve got to say that that is an interesting one. And it doesn’t only appear here. Last Sunday, when we read from Joshua 24, the same thing was said about God. He’s a jealous God. He expects us, his people, to be faithful to him.

Well then, it’s a good thing that we’re a New Testament church. Since Jesus came, God gave up his jealousy, right? Jesus came to forgive our sins so we no longer need to worry about being faithful, right?

Well, not exactly. It is true that the word “jealous” doesn’t come up in describing God in the New Testament, at the same time it is made clear that God has a certain expectation for his people. We are called to stay true to him and be faithful to him and put him first.

And so we are told that we are to spend time with God’s word and with God’s commandments and we are to work to get to know God as best we can.

But today’s scripture isn’t about obeying the commandments. It’s about sharing them with your children and teaching them and using them to teach, rebuke, correct and train in righteousness; just like it says in 2 Timothy. We are to raise up our children with scripture. We are to find opportunities to discuss what it says around the table at home and when we are journeying. When we lie down to go to bed, we are supposed to discuss the scriptures and also when we awake. The scripture isn’t telling us to think about the scripture when we lie down. It’s telling us to talk about them.

Our scriptures are not me-and-God. They’re not private. They’re to be shared with those around us. Private time with God is important, but it cannot be the only part of your faith. Worship is good too, but the sermon format is very one-sided. I stand up here and preach, and lecture. There is not much time for discussion. Yet it is often discussion over scripture that truly brings out depth. When people see scriptures from each other’s perspectives they are able to see something new and wonderful.

III. Physical Faith

And then today’s scripture makes this importance of the scriptures something physical. “Bind these commandments as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

You see, physically acting out something gives it more weight and makes it more real to many of us. My sister once went skydiving; something I’m not sure I’d be terribly comfortable doing. She tried to describe to me what it was like. The description was lost in the translation. It didn’t make much sense to me. Then she showed me a video that was taken of her and her friend as they jumped out of the airplane and fell, screaming, towards the earth. I got a much better idea from watching her skydive than she could tell me. But, to truly understand what it is like to skydive, I’d really have to get in an airplane myself and then jump out of it. Thankfully, there are some things in life that I don’t feel that I need to truly understand, and skydiving is one of them.

If someone tells you that scripture is important to them, that’s one thing. Okay, you have to take their word for it. But you might not really understand what it’s about. Now, if you visit that person’s house and run across a mezuzah in their doorway or see a dusty Bible on their bookshelf, you will take them more seriously because they are physically showing their commitment to the commandments. But if they then begin to share with you about the scripture that is so very important to them, if they begin to engage you in discussion about what it means to be a follower of Christ, if they are living out the faith in their own lives, then this is how you will truly come to understand what it means to take the scriptures seriously.

So, how seriously do you take God’s scriptures? The fact that you are here today tells me that you’ve already come through that first group. You’re someone who claims to take scripture seriously. That’s a good start. I would imagine that most all of you have a Bible at home somewhere. How often do you open it to read its words? That’s the next step. But let us follow today’s scripture even more by finding time to spend discussing scriptures with each other. Let us focus on sharing God’s truth with our children and our families and our friends. I’m not talking about being obnoxious with God’s truth. I’m talking about discussions with people. I’m talking about asking questions of those around you about what they think a scripture is trying to say. I’m not talking about preaching, I’m talking about having conversations about God. It can make for some of the most interesting conversations you could imagine. And you will discover that not only will you learn things but God will use you to teach others things as well.

So, let us take God’s inspired word seriously. Let us realize that when we are told that it is inspired, that doesn’t mean that it’s holy and needs to be put in a place of honor somewhere in our house. Instead let us ask what it is that scripture is inspired to do and let us be about the business of doing that very thing. Amen.

No comments: