This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on February 12th, 2017.
Can a word be preached from the book of Deuteronomy? Would it not be easier to preach from the gospel text this week or even Paul’s epistle? What does a speech of Moses for the Hebrew people before they enter the Promised Land have to say to us today? These might be tempting questions to ask yourself before you pass over this passage from Deuteronomy and continue that series on Matthew’s Gospel or Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. However, Matthew’s gospel text from last week’s lection reminded us that Jesus did not come to abolish the law (Matthew 5:17). I know when I was a kid if I saw in the church bulletin that Deuteronomy was the sermon passage I could take the next hour off and wait until the next week. I just knew it would be a boring sermon. With age, though, I have come to appreciate the fact that Deuteronomy is central to understanding the Old Testament and Israel’s relationship with God. More than this, though, Jesus references Deuteronomy more than any Old Testament book save the Psalms. With this in mind, that it is neglected and rarely used in sermons is a shame.
What other gods might we be serving? To call attention to these “gods” might take some conviction as well as imagination. Israel’s idolatry was often made apparent in Scripture, but we rarely build golden calves. That our gods are less visible makes them no less consuming for our lives. Preaching a sermon on idolatry is rarely met with disagreement from congregants. That is, most in our congregations will affirm our desire to avoid idolatry. However, to call attention to the gods of our own culture, we must take a long, hard look at our lives. Last week Isaiah 58 showed it is possible to be fooled into believing we are living rightly ordered lives. In what way does your congregation struggle to “choose life” or hold fast to God’s commandments?
This passage from Deuteronomy assumes a level of knowing on behalf of the Hebrew people that we cannot always assume in our sermons. Not everyone knows the commandments of which this passage speaks. This does not mean, though, that we are not responsible for keeping the commandments of Jesus. The lectionary has provided several weeks on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. One potential sermon could show the call to obedience and faithfulness seen here in Deuteronomy 30, but then also found in the commands of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. This will also be tied into the Old Testament lection from Micah 6 two weeks ago where Israel is reminded that God has revealed to them how they must live. Jesus has shown us how we must live through his life and his teaching – to deny we know this is to fail to obey, and disobedience is not seen positively in Deuteronomy 30. The call to obedience to God is a call to do justice, be righteous, and walk humbly before God.
One common theme amongst theologians today is to ask what it means for humans to flourish. This question is built upon the assumption that we live in an ever-increasing pluralistic world and as such we should seek out a vision of the good life that resonates with all people. To ask Deuteronomy what it means for humans to flourish, though, we receive a particular answer: “Obey the commandments of the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 30:16a). This same particularity can be seen throughout the prophets as they continually call Israel back into right relationship with YHWH. The prophets recognize Israel’s failure to keep the commands, but also recognize that YHWH’s promise is to remain faithful to this particular people. Therefore, to emphasize particularity when it comes to this passage is to acknowledge that what is set before the people is “life and prosperity, death and adversity” (Deuteronomy 30:15). Take this opportunity to ask you and your congregation what they see as the good life – as flourishing. However, encourage them to see that this good life is made possible by a particular form and way of life that we find in Scripture. Deuteronomy is not the natural place we as Christians find these answers because we want to look directly at Jesus’s life, work, and words. What Deuteronomy helps us see, though, is that a central concern of Scripture – and therefore of our own life – is looking at the particularity of the commandments of the Lord our God and thus how in strictures there is in fact freedom.
Moses has come to the end of his life, and the people are preparing to enter the Promised Land. God has brought them through the difficult times of Egypt, crossing the Red (Reed) Sea, and wandering in the wilderness. For many in our congregations, the end of their lives marks a time to reflect. The end of Moses’s life found him asking hard questions and reflecting on his life as the leader of this people. What is it about the end of life that forces us to reflect? Perhaps a sermon could be preached on the significance of reflection for us as an act of memory. This would pair particularly well if you happen to be participating in Communion on this Sunday. Moses reflects on his life in order to remember their call to obey God. Moses reminds the people of God’s faithfulness to them through the promises made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – they are literally about to see these promises fulfilled as they enter the Promised Land. We are reminded at the Lord’s Table what promise has been made to us, but tethered to this promise is a particular way of life. To live faithfully, we must remember rightly. So let this passage speak to you and your congregation about God’s faithfulness and the reciprocal command to love God with all our heart, soul, and might. (Deuteronomy 6:5).
First Baptist Church Richmond, VA
Tags: justice, loving-kindness, humility, reconciliation, worship, doctor who, remembering