Deuteronomy 6:4-9, John 21:1-19
April 15, 2007
Do you love God? That’s an important question, isn’t it? But it’s not one we always think about. We learn about God. We talk about God. We’re thankful to God for he’s done for us. We pray to God! But do we love God? Do we tell God that we love him? Do we show him?
The more I think about it, the more it is apparent to me that how we love God is one of the most important things that we people of faith need to consider. I believe it is way above all the learning, all the doctrine, and all the wisdom we can ever cram into our heads about God and our faith. Do we love God? That’s what I want us to think about today.
We just read one of the most important passages in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 6 we find the great “Shamah Israel” – the great “Hear, O Israel…” passage. “Hear O Israel. The Lord your God is one God. And you shall (what?)” “Worship the Lord your God?” “Follow?” “Learn about?” No. “You shall Love the Lord your God…” How much? “With all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” That is one of the most important passages in the Old Testament, and perhaps the whole Bible!
When I was in Seminary, a friend of mine told us the story about the time he came into his office in the church where he was serving as student Pastor, to find a five year old boy sitting in his desk chair. Thinking quickly, he sat down in the opposite chair and said to the boy, “Pastor, I have a problem. I’m not sure that God loves me. What should I do?” And the boy responded, “Love God.” Which is a good answer, if you think about it! Impressed, my friend asked, “How much should I love him.” And the boy responded, “A ton!”
Deuteronomy couldn’t have said it any better. “You shall love the Lord your God – A Ton!” Then, what should you do with your love for God. Look what it says about these words, “They shall be upon your heart.” “You shall teach them diligently to your children.” (Or listen to your children teach them to you!) “You shall talk about them – all the time.” “You shall bind them on your wrists and your foreheads.”
The Jews still do that! They have these little leather boxes called “Phylacteries,” that contain little scrolls of the scripture. And they actually bind them on their foreheads and wrists during certain devotional times. And I was amazed to find that word “phylacteries” actually in my computer dictionary!
Then it says, “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house.” Maybe you’ve seen one of those little “scrolly” looking things on the doorpost of a Jewish person’s house. Some of them have a little scroll imprinted on them. Some are actually hollow and they have a little bit of scroll paper inside them. They’re called Mezuzahs. That word was in my dictionary, too. I think my computer is Jewish! Patty and I actually have a couple of those in our house. Someone asked why we have a door with a cross on one side and a Mezuzah on the other. And I told ‘em, “We don’t want to take any chances!’
Well, that practice comes from this passage. In fact that little bit of scripture in the Mezuzah is this “Shamah Israel” – “Hear, O Israel” passage. If you see one, look for the little Hebrew letter “Sheen,” which is the Hebrew letter “SH.” It looks like a little “U” with an extra stem in the middle. It comes from Deuteronomy 6. “Hear O Israel. The Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God – A Ton!” Do you love God? Do you know that love in your heart? Do you tell God you love him? I want you to think about that today!
In our New Testament lesson, Jesus confronted his disciple, Peter, after the resurrection. Remember that Peter was the one who denied three times that he even knew who Jesus was, when his own neck was on the line. And so, in this story, Jesus gave him three chances to redeem that deed. And as he did so, he asked him three times – what? “Simon, do you believe in me?” No. He asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me – A ton?” (Simon was his old name.) Each time he asked, he gave Simon a command. “Feed my sheep.”
Both the Deuteronomist and the Evangelist John would point out the same thing. We are to love God.” And if we love God, then we do something.” If we love, what do we do? We tell. We teach. We talk about it. We make it so important that it’s part of our everyday lives. Mezuzahs shouldn’t be just for the Jews! (Or for my computer!) We should all keep those words before our eyes and in our hearts each day! “You shall love the Lord, your God…”
Then we should remember how the Love of God should manifest itself in our lives. We should do the last thing that Jesus said to Simon Peter in this story. We should “follow.” And love should be the reason and the motivation for our following. Remember the words he gave the disciples in the Upper Room, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” “Simon, Son of John, do you love me?” Then “Follow me!”
My friends, we in the Church we sometimes forget that. Instead of following, instead of being Christ’s disciples – that is Christ-followers,” we tend to concentrate on being what? Too often, we concentrate on being “Church Members.” We think of being “Church Members” instead of being “Disciples.” Now, should those two be the same thing? Yes, they should. But are they?
I was at a seminar at Princeton this past week, and they asked that question. And the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realize how important it is! Jesus didn’t say, “Go ye therefore and make Church Members of all nations.” He said, “Go and make disciples!” We’re going to hear a lot more about that in the days to come. Because it’s so important. What does it mean to be disciples? Is that not a difficult road sometimes?
Discipleship is challenging. It’s not easy. Too many people come into Churches and become “members” so that they can “feel good.” And granted, there are good feelings we get as members. There are wonderful feelings we get! “The peace which passes all human understanding,” is a real big one! “But the objective,” they said this week, “is not just to make people feel comfortable in Churches.” “The objective is to make the people feel like they matter to the kingdom of God.” My friends, each and every one of you matters in the kingdom of God! We’re going to be hearing a lot about that, too!
It all starts with this question for today. “Do you love God?” And “How much do you love him?” (A ton?!) My friends, let the love for God be upon your hearts! Teach it diligently to your children – and your grandchildren! Talk about it – often! Let it be in front of your eyes, and apparent in your homes. Let it be evident in the way you keep God’s commandments, and in the way you follow Jesus!
Eternal God, we love you. And we seek to be your followers. As we go today, help us to keep our love for you in the forefront of our minds and hearts. Give us the desire to follow and to be Christ’s disciples. Help us to feel your spirit tugging on us, calling us into service in your kingdom. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.