Trinity Sunday June 18, 2000
3, 245, 246, 625
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates. Here ends our text.
In Christ Jesus, our risen and ascended Savior, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
What do you think is the worst problem confronting our society today? Is it one of the terrible diseases such as AIDS or cancer? Perhaps you feel that it’s the drug problem, or the rampant crime that most plagues our country. Columbia professor Alan Bloom says it’s none of the above. According to him, the worst problem facing our society today is a philosophy called “value relativism”. In plain English, that means the inability to tell right from wrong. He says that Americans (and especially young Americans) are having a harder and harder time distinguishing right from wrong. According to Bloom, one reason for the change is that past generations of Americans were, for the most part, Christians—people who could go back to the Bible as their absolute source of truth. If they needed an answer to a problem, they relied on Holy Scriptures to give it to them. That is no longer true for most people in our country. They no longer feel they have an absolute source of truth—now, everything is relative. What’s right for you, they say, may not be right for someone else. It’s not fair to say that democracy is right, because that means communism is wrong. You can’t say straight is right, because that means gay is wrong. You can’t say Jesus is right, because that means Mohammed and Buddha, Confucius, etc. are all wrong. The American mind is closing. People in this country are asking the same question Pontius Pilate asked two thousand years ago: “WHAT IS TRUTH?”—But it seems like nobody is willing to answer.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Boy, am I glad we’re not like that. We Christians know what the truth is!” And it would seem that we do: a few minutes ago we all stood up together and confessed our faith in the one true God. We all say that we believe in the Bible as the only source of truth for our Christian lives. But do we? Does God’s revealed truth really govern our everyday lives? Today’s text has some important questions—and answers!—for you. Our theme today is:
Our text this morning comes from a speech that Moses made to the Children of Israel before they entered the promised land, Canaan. They were standing on the eastern bank of the river Jordan, eagerly looking across to the land that was about to become their home. They’d waited a long time for this day to come, and they were impatient to get on with it. For many years they had served as slaves in land of Egypt. When they finally escaped from there, they wandered through the wilderness for forty more years. Now they were so close to the promised land that they could almost taste the milk and honey. And Moses picks this moment to stop and make a speech! But there were some important things they needed to be reminded of, and the first thing was this: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.
Do you know the difference between “polytheism” and “monotheism”? Polytheism means, “believing in many gods.” Monotheism means, “believing in one God.” The Israelites were monotheists; they believed in Jehovah, the one, true, Triune God. They probably thought Moses’ reminder was unnecessary: “Come on, Moses—we all know that! Of course we all believe in one true God!” But the people of Canaan were polytheists—they believed in many gods. Baal, Ashteroth, Anat, Aqat, Molech. And Moses knew that the many false gods of Canaan would have their effect on Israel. Eventually, the people would turn away from the Lord, and bow down to these idols.
What about us members of Ascension Lutheran Church? We all believe in one true God—don’t we? Don’t we all confess our faith in the one, true, Triune God? Well, we do on Sundays, anyway! But what about the rest of the week? In our everyday lives, are we still “monotheists”, or do we have many different gods? One thing’s for sure—we definitely live in a polytheistic society. The people around us worship many different “gods”—chief among which is a god called The Almighty Dollar. Is money a god that you bow down to and serve, that you rely on to solve all your problems? Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Lk 16:13. What about power—is that your god? Success—your career—your family—do you serve any of these before you serve God?
Moses continues with the First Commandment—a passage that each of us probably knows from memory: Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. I’d like you to take a moment and really think about what involves—Jesus called this “the first and great commandment.” It’s been said that, if we truly kept this First Commandment, we wouldn’t even need the other nine! But do we really offer God the love that is due to Him?
This First Commandment is a wonderful tool to inspire a humble spirit in a Christian. It’s a sad fact that we believers tend to get a little too big for our breeches once in a while. We tend to think that, if we haven’t killed anyone, haven’t committed adultery, and haven’t stolen anything, well—we must be doing a pretty good job of keeping God’s Commandments! But go back to the First Commandment—do you love the Lord? With all your heart, all your soul, and all your might? Here even the most dedicated, pious Christian has to hang his head. This is one place where all of us fall way short of fulfilling God’s Law.
How can we even know what kind of love that is? And how can we possibly carry out that love? The answer to both those questions lies in one simple word: Jesus! We can see what true love is when we look at what love drove God to do for sinful mankind. The Apostle John asks: Do you want to know what love really is? “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the payment for our sins.” I Jn 4:10. In love, God handed over His Son to be tortured and executed on the cross for us! For sinful people who were actually his enemies by nature! And when it comes to fulfilling God’s commandment of love—showing our love for Him in return—we simply can’t do it. So Jesus did it for us. Where our love of God is imperfect and flawed, His love was perfect. Where our devotion to God has gaps—periods where we forget our God for whole days at a time—Jesus’ devotion was perfect. And His perfect devotion and love for God becomes ours, by faith. It’s a free gift, ours for the taking! That’s the Good News of the Gospel that we hear in Romans: “The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Rom 5:5.
I once had a roommate in college who had a real aversion to the Christian faith. “You Christians,” he said, “You make me sick. The rest of us strive and struggle to find life’s answers, but not you. You’ve got this Book. And whatever the Book says, that’s what you believe!” He meant it as an insult, of course, but on second thought I realized what a comforting truth that is. Just think about it! As a Christian, you don’t have to wonder where you came from—the Book says, “Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him.” You don’t have to wonder where you’re going—the Book says, “I have prepared a place for you, that where I am, there ye may be also.” You don’t have to search high and low to find the meaning of your life—the Book says, You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. 1 Pet 2:9. You don’t have to struggle and strive to solve the problem of your own sin and guilt—the Book says, He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. Psa 103:10-12.
So cheer up! The message of God’s Word is this: that through Christ, God’s commandment of love has been completely fulfilled. On the cross, your Savior gained for you a complete pardon for each one of those sins that burden your conscience. What a wonderful Word that is! The question now is, will we keep this Word in our hearts? Moses says, And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.
I’m going to teach you a Hebrew word. The word is “tefillin.” Tefillin were little square boxes of leather which contained Scripture verses. Jews who wanted to appear very religious (especially the Pharisees) would hang these little boxes by leather thongs so that they dangled from their wrists and between their eyes. That’s how they carried out God’s command to “keep His words in their heart.” Jesus said that they had God’s Word on the outside, but not on the inside! “But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries (“tefillin”) broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.” Matt 23:5.
But the Holy Spirit has given us true faith in the redeeming Son of God. His Word is in our hearts, not just tied to our wrists! Because of what Christ has done for us, we’re free from sin and death. Our future is bright and our salvation is assured; there’s just no such thing as a Christian loser! How, then, can we possibly keep our joy over God’s Word a once-a-week celebration? We can’t. It’s got to flow over into our everyday lives. We take care to teach that Word faithfully to our children. We have opportunities to speak about God’s Word every day: at work, at play, over the dinner table and at bedtime prayers. Let’s use those opportunities; on Judgement Day, you’re going to look back and be awfully glad you did!
Finally, Moses says of God’s words, “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” I knew a Christian husband and father once who took great care in crafting a beautiful plaque for his front door. On the plaque were inscribed the words of Joshua, chapter 24, verse 15: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve—but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” The thing that impressed me most was not that he had those words on his door, but that I knew he had those words in his heart.
Is truth relative? Is the right way, after all, impossible to find? Not for us, it isn’t! We have the irrefutable word of our Savior, who said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Jesus is the way we’re walking, the truth God has revealed to us, and the eternal life we’re waiting to inherit. After all—we all believe in one true God, don’t we? By His grace—yes, we do! In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.