Text: Deuteronomy 6:4-15
Today we’ve had the glad opportunity to speak together the words of the Holy Spirit through King David in Psalm 119. Psalm 119 is the great Psalm of the Word. It is an acrostic psalm, which means the lines of the psalm follow the pattern of the Hebrew alphabet. In Psalm 119 each chunk of 8 lines begins with the same letter in Hebrew. Psalm 119 as a whole focuses on the blessings of God through His Word. Psalm 119, you know is the longest Psalm. The second longest Psalm is Psalm 78, and it, too, speaks about God’s Word. Particularly, the psalmist reminds God’s people to remember His great blessings by teaching His Word to their children. Psalm 78 goes like this,
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God.Psalm 78:1-7, English Standard Version
Psalm 78 expands upon what the Holy Spirit teaches us in the Old Testament text. Today, the Lord calls us to remember all the blessings He has bestowed on us by teaching His Word to our children so that they, too, might receive His blessings.
Our sermon text today is the Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy 6. The book of Deuteronomy is the last book given by Moses’ pen and is largely a reminder and application of God’s Commandments to His people just before they entered the Promised Land. Our chapter today is well known for this passage, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (v. 4) But, let’s start at the end. Moses said,
When the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.Deuteronomy 6:10-12
Remember that these words were spoken as Israel was preparing to enter, well, Israel – the Promised Land. For 40 years they wandered through the wilderness being fed and cared for by the Lord. Previous to that He led them up out of slavery in Egypt with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. Now, He was about to fulfill for them a promise He made to Abraham – that the land he dwelt on would belong to his offspring long after him. At the entrance to the Promised Land, the Lord called upon His people not to forget His many blessings. He provided for their bodies by giving them food, drink, clothing, families, and so on. He provided for their souls by graciously forgiving their sins through faith in Christ, who was yet to come. Now, they were going into a land flowing with milk and honey, with cities they didn’t build and houses they didn’t fill and wells they didn’t dig. They only had to, “take care,” lest they forget their good and gracious Lord.
How shall they not forget Him? Moses said,
These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.Deuteronomy 6:6-9
Israel would be caused to remember the Lord by being devoted to His Word. By speaking it, reading it, singing it, and so on, they would learn to always be thankful for the Lord’s blessings. And, being thankful, they were to teach it to their children – that they might know the Lord’s mercy as well. The Scriptures say that faith comes by hearing, so the Lord commanded His people to remember His blessings by teaching them to their children.
The same Lord who blessed His people then, blesses His people now. We are God’s people through our Baptism into Christ and by the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word. As His people, we have been richly blessed by God. We have a beautiful sanctuary to worship in. We came here in cars from our homes. Our God has blessed us with food and water, with family and friends. As bountifully He has and does provide for our bodies, even more bountifully has He provided for our souls by sending us His Son. Though we were by nature children of wrath, without hope and without God in this world, He had mercy on us. For us and for our salvation, our Lord Jesus Christ came down from heaven so that He might be lifted up for us on the cross. By His death, He has released us from the eternal slavery of sin and death, granting us eternal life as a gift through faith.
All this our God does out of His own divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness within us. For all these blessings, He demands nothing from us – nor would He take anything from us – except that we receive His gifts with thanksgiving. The way that we show our thankfulness for God’s blessings is by being devoted to His Word. We heard earlier how Israel was encouraged to bind the Word upon their hands and write them on their doorposts. These were practical ways by which God’s Word would be continually in their lives. In our lives, we might decorate our walls at home with Scripture, go to Bible study, go to church, teach Sunday School, regularly read a Bible app on our phones. By being devoted to God’s Word in these ways and more, the Holy Spirit causes us not to forget our gracious God. If we forget the Lord by despising His Word, He won’t forget us; but He may cause His blessings to pass from us to those who do love His Word.
The Lord binds these two things together today: remembering His Word and teaching our children. He does this so that neither we nor they forget His blessings, but that we would all receive them together with thanksgiving. St. Peter said in his Pentecost sermon that the blessing of the forgiveness of sins in Christ is not just for us, but for our children, too. God has given them to us so that they might learn and know this. How are our children to learn and know the love Christ except that they be taught? Who better to teach them than we, their parents and “parents in the faith?” Let these words of Psalm 78, then, also be our words, “We will not hide them from [our] children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done…so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God.”
We must confess, though, we have not always been diligent in the work our God has given us. We have not always devoted ourselves to His Word and we have not always been eager to see that our children (and our new members) are well-taught in the Christian faith. We have not answered the call when help in this task is needed, and we have impeded this work by placing other activities above it in importance. But, hear, O Israel, the Lord is one. The Lord is one, who has taken your sins, balled them all up, and cast them into the deepest depths of the sea. He renews you day by day through His Word and gives you – today – in the Absolution and the Sacrament of the Altar, again, the forgiveness of your sins. Through these things, He strengthens us and leads us to remember His Word. God grant us the Holy Spirit that we might treasure His Word in our hearts, remember His benefits, and teach the same to our children.