This morning’s reading moves us forward about 40 years from last week. Last week Moses was getting the word to bring the nation of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and this morning we join them on the other end of that story, just as they are about to leave their wandering in the desert and entering the land that had been promised to them.[audio http://www.buzzsprout.com/33052/314547-the-law-part-deux.mp3]
Wandering in the desert wasn’t always much of a picnic. It seems that a million and a half people that have spent their lives in slavery had a bit of trouble adjusting to life as a free people. Left to their own devices they managed to get into all kinds of trouble and frankly, created something of a train wreck.
God, being merciful and kind, stepped in to give them some direction. God pretty much said, “Okay folks, you’re struggling a bit so let me help you out. I’ll give you some foundational rules to follow and if you follow these rules, life gets pretty good for everyone.” The people thought this was a great idea!
Until God actually gave them the 10 basic rules and then they rebelled. Ten basic rules, the Ten Commandments and they couldn’t follow them. A simple roadmap with three rules to love God, five rules to love one another and two rules to love yourself and they biffed it.
So they spent 40 years in the desert, trying to get their act together. Sometimes it takes a while.
And now they’ve got their act together and they’re ready to enter the promised land. Before they do, the guy who has been their leader for the past four decades has a couple of reminders for them. Moses gives them the Law – part two.
A few might look suspiciously like the ten commandments. Moses originally shared them 40 years earlier or so but apparently he felt there was a need to share them again. Sometimes once is not enough when you’re sharing something important, right?
And so he does. Ten commands from God, ten rules to make life better, ten ways to improve ALL of your relationships.
Three rules that cover our relationship with God. God is the one and only. The other God’s we create don’t count. And don’t use God’s name badly.
Five rules that help our relationships with others. Honor your parents. Don’t kill or hurt others. Keep your relationships honorable. Don’t lie.
And two rules that our relationship with ourselves in good form. Both come down to not being consumed with desire for other people or their stuff. It’s one thing to think, “Wow, that new 2016 Chevy Silverado ¾ ton pickup is looking pretty sweet.” It’s another thing to be so consumed with desire for a new truck that you orient your life toward getting one.
And then, Moses shares with them what is known in the Jewish world as a prayer called the Shema. This steps up the game a little bit. It’s the part that begins in chapter 6, v4 with “Hear, O Israel” which means, “Hey, pay attention here! I’ve got something I really want you to hear!”
Then God goes on to lay some things out. First things first. Keep God first. Love God with everything you have.
Keep God’s word in your heart. It’s one thing to keep head knowledge about God and religion and all but it’s another thing to go beyond knowing about God to really having God in our heart. Don’t just know God’s word, live God’s word.
And talk about it with your children. When you are at home and away, when you go to bed and when you get up. Once a week on Sunday isn’t enough. Every night in every home. If, like me, you don’t have children at home, find someone! The point is we are called, no, we are commanded to talk about our faith.
Finally, bind them as a sign on your hand and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. At first glance this seems like yeah, well, whatever. Another rule that doesn’t make any sense but okay, we’ll do something on those lines.
Here’s the thing. We learn from folks who study neurology that the part of the brain right behind our forehead is the pre-frontal cortex. It is the part of the brain responsible for judgment and surprise, surprise, it is the last part of the brain to develop fully. Ever notice that insurance rates go down about age 25 or so? There’s a reason for that. Thanks to the physiology of our brain, our judgment capability finally matures at about 25 and since our
And here is Moses telling the people to keep the word of God there? No doubt the ancient writers of scripture did not know about neurology but God did, telling them to keep the word of God on their hands and on their foreheads.
This is where making the sign of the cross on our foreheads is a good practice, particularly with young people whose pre-frontal cortices are still in their formative stage. Imagine the effect of a cross being made 1/4” away from a brain structure that is still coming together. Every night having that symbol of our faith, the cross, ¼” away from the part of our brain that will eventually determine our ability to make our judgment calls.
I didn’t grow up with this kind of tradition. Much of any of it. We didn’t talk about our faith and we certainly didn’t make the sign of the cross on our foreheads. I suspect I’m not alone in this. But I wonder now if I’d had the sign of the cross on my forehead every night when I was six if I would have had better judgment when I was sixteen, knowing that God is with me and I wasn’t on my own.
The Israelites escaping slavery in Egypt didn’t get it right the first time so Moses gives them the Law for a second time. We likely don’t always get it right every day either. But just as Moses reminds the people around him about the love of God for God’s people, so too can we remind ourselves and those around us. God claims us in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.