Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 6:4-9
(sermon note: 10-08 sermon note)
Moses convened all Israel, and said to them:
Hear, O Israel, the statutes and ordinances that I am addressing to you today; you shall learn them and observe them diligently. The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the fire. (At that time I was standing between the Lord and you to declare to you the words of the Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) And he said:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
Neither shall you commit adultery.
Neither shall you steal.
Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.
Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife.
Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a woman who brought a very limp duck into a vet’s office. As the woman laid her pet on the table, the vet pulled out his stethoscope and listened to the bird’s chest. After a moment or two, the vet shook his head and sadly said, “I’m sorry, your duck, Cuddles, has passed away.” The distressed woman wailed, “Are you sure?!” “Yes, I am sure. Your duck is dead,” replied the vet. “How can you be so sure?!” she protested. “I mean, you haven’t done any testing on him or anything. He might just be in a coma or something.” The vet rolled his eyes, turned around and left the room. He returned a few minutes later with a black Labrador. As the duck’s owner looked on in amazement, the dog stood on his hind legs, put his front paws on the examination table and sniffed the duck from top to bottom. He then looked up at the vet with sad eyes and shook his head. The vet patted the dog on the head and took it out of the room. A few minutes later, he returned with a cat. The cat jumped on the table and also delicately sniffed the bird from head to foot. The cat sat back on its haunches, shook its head, meowed softly and strolled out of the room. The vet looked at the woman and said, “I’m sorry, but as I said, this is most definitely, 100% certifiably, a dead duck.” The vet turned to his computer terminal, hit a few keys and produced a bill, which he handed to the woman. The duck’s owner, still in shock, took the bill. “$1500!” she cried, “$1500 just to tell me my duck is dead?!” The vet shrugged, “I’m sorry. If you had just taken my word for it, the bill would have been $50, but with the Lab Report and the Cat Scan, it’s now $1500.”
Now isn’t that how it always happens? If only we spent a little more time listening and a little less time talking, then we could save ourselves a whole lotta unnecessary heartache and expense! If only that woman had listened to that vet…but I particularly enjoy the imagery of a dog and a cat examining the dead duck and offering their assessment. Who knew cats and dogs could have such keen training?! Well, it’s nice to hear of a cat doing something helpful for a change…not just stealing God’s throne like we heard last week.
It’s true, listening is an important part of all communication yet it’s all-too-often ignored. The vet had no problem listening. First, he listened to the chest of the duck. Then he listened to the distraught woman. And he responded to both “speakers” with definite clarity. But because she was in shock over what she had heard, the woman just didn’t listen. Now was it her fault that she didn’t listen to the vet the first time? Probably not. That is a hard thing to hear, that your beloved pet is no longer alive. Having had to put down one of our cats earlier this year due to sickness, I know firsthand how hard it is to hear those words. Not as difficult as hearing of the loss of family or friends but still a difficult loss of a loved one. These pets of ours, so dependent on us, so generous with their love for us…so hard to lose! The point being that some words are difficult to hear regardless of how clearly they were spoken. Sometimes they simply need to be spoken multiple times before they actually sink in, before we can actually hear them.
Such was the case with God and the newly freed Israelites as we heard in today’s reading. Moses had called all the Israelites together for the sole purpose of reminding them of God’s law as expressed by the ten commandments. They had been wandering the wilderness for a while and the desperation of their situation had set in. “Why, Moses? Why had you pulled us away from the familiarity of slavery? Sure, we were treated inhumanely but at least we had semi-certainty in our lives! We knew what to expect and what was expected of us. This wilderness wandering is just too UNCERTAIN!” And Moses, being a calm and wise leader, simply reminded them of God’s goodness. It is good to be freed of slavery! It is good to be free to think and act according to one’s conscience and desires! And it is good to know how to think and behave in a community! God’s laws helped them, and us, to know how to think and behave as a beloved community. Contrary to popular belief, none of us is an island unto ourselves. We need each other and we each have something unique to offer for the benefit of the whole. God’s law provides the boundaries for our community to thrive, just as it provided the necessary boundaries for Moses’ community. The wandering Israelites needed the boundaries if only to provide them the much-needed certainty. The institution of slavery only provides pseudo-certainty. It isn’t real. It’s all an illusion. And we sacrifice so much of ourselves in submitting to such an institution. We ultimately lose ourselves in whatever we’ve become a slave to. Remember our God is a God of freedom. He doesn’t want us to lose ourselves. He knows we each have an invaluable gift to offer to each other. But before we can offer our gifts we must first listen. Listen to the boundaries of the community. Perhaps most importantly, listen to the words of God. He only wants us to live and thrive in this world. Why wouldn’t we want to listen to his words?!
Listening to God’s words provides us with certainty: certainty of God’s love, certainty of God’s boundaries, and certainty of the love we have for each other. At the very least, we ought to listen to God’s words because He listens to us. He certainly listened to the cries of the enslaved Israelites. They were miserable in their slavery and God used Moses to set them free. God gave them laws not to restrict their freedoms but rather provide boundaries. As God’s beloved children ourselves, God listens to our cries too as we sing in the 34th psalm, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.” (v. 15) It’s only fair that we ought to listen to him since He always listens to us. And not simply listen but obey as well. Jesus told us, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” (Luke 11:28) We are blessed with “steadfast love to the thousandth generation” when we obey God’s word as we heard in our reading for today. Don’t just listen to God’s word…heed God’s word! As the book of James tells us, “but be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” (1:22) If we only listen and don’t change our behavior, then our behavior won’t accurately reflect God’s word. Our behavior ought to reflect the wisdom of God’s word.
Friends, listening is important, perhaps more important than heeding what is heard. In listening, we are showing faith and humility, maybe even a little bit of vulnerability. But that’s okay, God wants us to have faith and humility and vulnerability. Our whole community is built on faith and trust in God and each other. God blesses us for our faith and trust. As Paul advises in his letter to the Philippians, “keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and HEARD and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (4:9) That is the true gift of listening and heeding his word: God’s peace. Who among us can’t use a little more of God’s peace in their lives? We all need his peace, long for his peace. So let us listen and heed all that God gives us and in turn give him our thanks and praise. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.