Sermon Library

Sermon Library

Sun, Jul 14, 2019

The Word is Very Near You

Duration:18 mins 41 secs

Our Second Reading for this morning comes from the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 30, verses 6-14. The name of this book, Deuteronomy, literally means a second telling of the law. The people of Israel have almost reached the end of their 40-year Exodus journey in the wilderness. God first gave the people the law through Moses at Mount Sinai, but that was 40 years ago. So, as their journey comes to an end Moses gives a final speech about how they are to live in the Land of Promise through following the law. He begins to conclude with our text for today, so let us hear this Word of God.

6 Moreover, the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live. 7 The Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies and on the adversaries who took advantage of you. 8 Then you shall again obey the Lord, observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, 9 and the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, 10 when you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

11 Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 14 No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.


Perhaps you have seen the bumper stickers or social media posts, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” At first, we nod in agreement. Of course, we believe the Bible, right? It is the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ and God’s word to you and to me.

But is it all so easily settled?

We begin to wonder because that bumper sticker sounds a bit like our text for today. In the Bible we have the commandments of the Lord. If we believe it; if we follow the rules then everything will go well. And not just go well, we will prosper and flourish and bear great fruit! It sounds pretty easy and straightforward. Incredibly even Moses says it is not too hard: “Surely this command that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away.” It’s easy, right? Just do what the Bible says.

But then why does doing the right thing seem so difficult?

Well, … because life is complicated. To begin, we need to acknowledge that despite the fact that the inspired Word of God we find in the Bible is eternal, even the last books and letters were written about 1900 years ago. For better and for worse, the world has changed a little in that time. And a changed world means that when we seek to do what is right, we find that often we are asking different questions than either the Israelites or followers of Jesus did thousands of years ago. For example, I would love to have some definitive guidance from scripture about my internet privacy settings. When Facebook gives me 30 options to protect my privacy, which one do I choose? Should I have an expectation of privacy when I post something online or not? Yet, as best as I can tell, the internet, which so dominates our lives today, is not mentioned even once in the Bible.

We run into the same trouble with how one is to deal with foreign nations pursuing nuclear weapons. Weapons that can destroy whole cities are not in the bible. Neither are nation states as we know them today. The list goes on. Who should you and I vote for the next time an election rolls around? Unfortunately, democracy and elected leaders are not mentioned in the Bible, much less which candidate to vote for. Also unknown are genetic testing and gene manipulation. What is appropriate to cure illness and make life “better” and when do we start playing God?

Those are but a few of the real and significant questions facing Christians and the church in the world today. I’m sure that you could add to that list. But none of them are explicitly discussed in scripture. So, if our ethical framework is to just do what scripture says, we are at a loss.

Well, if we cannot find an answer to every modern question in the Bible, maybe we should at least attempt to obey all the laws and commandments we find in scripture. That sounds like what Moses is telling the people of Israel: “You shall again obey the Lord, observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, and the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous.” Observe all the commandments and you will prosper.

About a decade ago, author and magazine editor A.J. Jacobs set out to try and keep all the laws in the Bible. He recorded his attempt in a book called The Year of Living Biblically. At the beginning of the year, Jacobs – an agnostic, non-practicing Jew - wrote down every rule, suggestion, and nugget of advice he could find in the Bible. His list contained more than 700 rules and was 72 pages long. He began trying to follow them all.

The result was an enlightening and fascinating year with almost daily surprises and insights. He writes about not having any trouble at all with some of the rules. For example, he did not break, not even once Leviticus 18:18 – “You shall not marry your wife’s sister.” Of course, it helped that his wife doesn’t have a sister. He also managed not to eat any eagles, vultures, horned or screech owls, storks, or bats – all of which are forbidden food in the Bible. He did try throwing pebbles at Sabbath breakers because the Bible says those individuals are to be stoned. Turns out that people do not like having pebbles thrown at them when they are sitting on park benches on a Sunday morning instead of going to church.

Jacobs also allowed his beard to grow for a year because Leviticus 19:27 says “you shall not trim the corners of your beard.” As Leviticus 19:19 says “you shall not wear garments of mixed fibers,” he cleaned out his closet of polyfiber t-shirts and gave up wearing wool blend suits. Instead, taking Ecclesiastes 9:8 seriously, “Let your garments always be white,” he wore white pants, a white shirt, and a white jacket or robe.

He followed the Ten Commandments, Love Your Neighbor, and Be Fruitful and Multiply. And something amazing happened along the way. While he did not become a believer in God, he discovered something sacred, something fulfilling, something liberating about trying to live in this way. By keeping the Sabbath, he learned about the beauty of an enforced pause in his workaholic week. By not gossiping he learned how many of our conversations involve negative speech about others. To not create idols or images he refrained from television, pictures, and doodling and discovered that as a culture we are losing the power of words and texts because we are so visual. He gave thanks, not just after meals or at night, but for everything – like when the subway arrived on time and the comfortableness of his couch – and he learned how many thousands of things actually go right in our lives each and every day.

Yes, A.J. Jacobs discovered that the law, while sometimes confusing and obscure and often impossible to follow completely, doesn’t have to be a heavy burden. Trying to follow the law actually may be a good way, a blessed way, to live.

This is what Moses is describing for the people of Israel. Obeying the law and the commandments of God is not intended to be a burden. Obedience leads to a good way, a blessed way, a prosperous way of life. Observe all the commandments and you will prosper.

And yet, something is still missing. Jacobs himself admits that while he discovered following the law led to a good and blessed way of life, he never became a person of faith through following those laws. It was an intellectual exercise for him. He spent a year living the laws, wrote a book about it, and then moved onto his next project. We might say, using the language of our text for today, that Jacobs merely observed the commandments, but he did not internalize them.

That is why, if we listen carefully, we discover that Moses does not just say, “Keep the commandments and you will prosper.” No, Moses says, “Moreover, the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live.” Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and you will live. That is the essential command.

Generations later the Word became flesh, the one who was the Word of God lived among us, and he was asked: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus of Nazareth provides a version of this text from Deuteronomy. Jesus asked the lawyer, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

So, back to our original question: what is the right thing to do? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and love your neighbor as yourself. How do we know? Because the Word is very near to you. The Torah became flesh in Jesus himself. He showed us the way to life through the way he lived his life, the people he welcomed and healed, the prayers he prayed, and by giving his life for you and for me on the cross. And through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Word continues to be very near you - in your mouth and in your heart - so that you might do what the Lord commands.

Could it really be that simple? What is the right thing to do that leads to flourishing? Do what the Lord commands - Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.

Old Testament scholar Gene Tucker reminds us that while it seems simple, the task remains complex. He writes:

The multitude of laws and their frequent reinterpretation through time testify to the understanding that those who intend to obey the command to love only one God must work at learning and applying the meaning of that love. The rabbinical tradition developed a practical criterion for applying the law that stems from the theology of this passage. The law leads to life. If one interprets the law and finds that it leads to death, then the interpretation is wrong.

My friends, we face immense issues as Christians trying to do what is right in this world. But let us not despair, for God provides us what we need. The Word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart. Remember that the law leads to life. So, love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and live.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

Latest Sermons