August 5, 2012 “Keep These Words” Deuteronomy 6:4-9
This is the first Sunday in a series I’ve called “Building Endurance”.
I’ve been thinking about things like commitment and endurance a lot lately.
It might be because there have been a number of events in our community lately that provide the opportunity for people to test their own strength, speed, and endurance.
A few weeks ago there was the first ever Holmes County Triathlon, yesterday there was the run for relief; and there are even a few of us who are just starting to get ready to run the first ever Holmes County Half Marathon in Berlin on Thanksgiving weekend later this year.
(if you’re interested in joining us, you’re more than welcome to do that)
I think it’s a positive thing that these kinds of things are happening more frequently these days, right in our own backyard!
It’s almost like we’re hosting the Olympics right here in Holmes County!
…So thinking about all these events, combined with some of the coverage I’ve seen about the Olympics…it’s all gotten me thinking about the spiritual equivalent of endurance athletics.
How can we train our spiritual muscles in the same way athletes build their physical muscles?
Now, let me say real clear that I’m not one who makes a real clear distinction between the physical world and the spiritual world.
I think what happens in one impacts the other more often than we care to admit.
But, that doesn’t mean we can just focus on one and hope the other follows suit.
Just because you can run a great distance, doesn’t mean you’re spiritually fit.
Likewise, if you’re daily devotions aren’t impacting your physical world…what you eat, what you do, how you treat people…then something is off.
So, I was thinking about all this, and I came to the conclusion that it might be a good idea, to spend some time in church trying to learn how to build our spiritual endurance.
The end goal is to become more spiritually fit than you are right now.
All of us can grow. It doesn’t matter if you’re brand new to the faith, or if you’ve worn through three Bibles already…all of us can grow in faith, love, and understanding.
All of us can become more spiritually fit.
Any Olympian would tell you that practicing once a week isn’t going to do much for you.
So you’ll notice, for the month of August…actually, starting in last week’s bulletin, there is a list of daily scripture readings for the coming week. Each week, the daily readings will be in preparation for the next week’s Sermon. They’ll share a common theme…for example, if you were following along last week in preparation for this morning, you might have noticed they all had to do with the Word of God in one way or another, which I think is a good place to start.
So, the passage I chose this morning comes from Deuteronomy…the book of the Bible which many believe is the “lost scroll” that was found during Josiah’s reign, when he commanded the restoration of the temple.
You can find that story in 2 Chronicles chapter 34.
The gist of it is that as the workers were cleaning out and repairing the temple, they found this scroll, which had long been neglected in the archives of the temple.
They took it to the king, and when he heard it, he tore his robes because it was clear they were in trouble.
The way the Chronicler puts it, the king says “The wrath of the LORD that is poured out on us is great, because our ancestors did not keep the word of the LORD, to act in accordance with all that is written in this book.”
It’s an interesting comment for a king to make.
Politicians generally seek to avoid responsibility, right?
Especially when they can claim ignorance or innocence…both of which Josiah could have rightfully claimed.
He didn’t know the book even existed. Whoever was at fault for misplacing it generations ago…it wasn’t Josiah.
He could have washed his hands of it as easily as we wash our hands of our country’s land-grab at the expense of the native cultures that occupied it before us.
He could have washed his hands of it as easily as my generation and those younger can wash our hands of things like institutional racism…after all, it wasn’t us who made the unjust laws, and the civil rights movement was before our time.
Josiah could have easily washed his hands.
But he tears his robes instead.
And I think there’s something important there.
Tearing your robe…it’s a symbol of grief.
It’s an ancient symbol of laying open the pain you feel–laying open your grief-stricken heart to whoever looks your way. Tearing your robe was a way of making a statement without saying a word.
It’s like a physical proclamation that all is not well…that you’re feeling things on a deeper level than what you can express.
The discovery of this lost book…it drives Josiah to tear his robes.
And that’s troubling. That’s troubling, because there’s something that seems downright “un-American” about accepting responsibility for something that happened generations ago.
It’s hard enough to take responsibility for the bad choices we’ve made…much less the choices of our ancestors, people we never met.
So that’s a little bit of background about the book of Deuteronomy.
It’s discovery in the temple kind of paved the way for Josiah to make a whole bunch of reforms according to what he found in the book…that’s all described in 2 Chronicles 34.
And that’s the meat of my message this morning.
See, words can be forgotten.
Books, letters, and scrolls can be misplaced.
They can be laid aside and shut away for too long…for so long that the message is at first missed, then forgotten, and finally it altogether ceases to form the people for whom it was intended.
As you drive around Holmes County, you can sometimes see a sign by a mailbox, or at the edge of someone’s property that says “The Word of the Lord Shall Stand Forever” or something similar.
In the King James version, it might say “endureth” forever.
Those words are an allusion to a verse in 1 Peter, who probably got his imagery from Isaiah chapter 40.
It’s a biblical concept, I’m not saying it’s not.
…But sometimes when I see those signs, I wonder which “Word” the family has in mind.
That is, the Word on the Page, or the Word made Flesh.
The words written in ink, or the words inscribed upon our hearts.
I think about how Deuteronomy was misplaced and forgotten, and then I think about my own Bibles, and how seldom they seem to really affect my own life. Can you relate?
The power of the written word…it’s easy to overestimate.
Words come at us on all sides these days.
Long ago, there were very few people who could wield a pen, or understand the marks it made.
Literacy was reserved for a very special group of people…the Bible calls them scribes.
In such a culture, the value and the power of a book or a scroll was very high, because the special knowledge it took to make them or use them was very rare.
Today the opposite is true.
We’re saturated with knowledge. We’re overwhelmed by information, and we think of it as normal.
Instant information has become a way of life, so the value and the power of the written word has faded, precisely because there is just. so. much of it.
Which is why the words from Deuteronomy are still so relevant. “Keep these words.”
Incorporate them into your life in such a way that your head, your hands, and even the doorposts and gates to your house are affected by these words.
Keep them as you would your own life…keep them in your heart. Recite them, internalize them, and they will keep you as you keep them, for these are the words of eternal life.
In a world that’s filled with noise, we need to make choices about our intake.
We need to decide which words are worth keeping, and which ones aren’t.
We all traffic in words…but are the words you keep words of hope?
Or words of condemnation?
The gospel of John tells us about the Word that was in the beginning with God, the Creative word that forged our existence, and the Sustaining Word that continues to create, define, and expand all that we know.
This morning we’re talking about the Word that took on Flesh, The Word that dwelt among us, the inspired word, alive and active and sharper than any double-edged sword.
The word we keep penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
It’s a lot more than just the words on the page.
“Keep These Words”…and they’ll keep you, too.
Paul wrote to the Romans, saying “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Jesus is our hope! He is the Living Word that endures forever!
It’s just too bad that’s not good enough for most of us, right?
We have the Living Word of God wrapped up in our flesh!
And we still try to turn faith into a rulebook.
Like Josiah, we might end up tearing our robes because we see how far off course we’ve gotten.
May we, like Josiah, have the courage to tear our robes instead of washing our hands when God’s word confronts us.
When it comes to church, and to practicing our faith, too often we come to wash our hands rather than tear our robes.
We want to be absolved of responsibility, absolved of guilt, absolved of the inconvenience that commitment invariably sends our way.
But keeping this word…seeking to wrap it in our own flesh and blood so that it cannot be lost…it is not clean work.
Consider this as we take communion in just a few minutes. The symbolism of the bread and the cup is very fitting. We eat and we drink this new covenant, forged by the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus who is the final word of God in response to evil.
And as we eat it, it becomes part of us. It dwells in us, the fantastic, beautiful, magnificent creations that we are.
We dare not wash our hands of this experience…would we rather not, like Josiah, tear open our robes to expose the painful work that God is doing in that most holy of places?
Keep. These. Words.
Keep. This. Word.