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.
In the Bibles we just gave to the kids, there is a character named Squiggles that peers from every page. Squiggles is a caterpillar and in some pictures he smiles. In other stories, he has a tear coming down his cute green face. On other pages, he shows total shock and awe- think the parable of the Vineyard or wide-eyed concern and compassion- Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness. It’s fun for the kids to follow along and find Squiggles in their Bibles. And it’s Good for the Kids to see Squiggles’ varied reactions. It supports the kids as they themselves feel different emotions in response to scripture.
On the page for today’s lesson, Deuteronomy 6, known as the Shema, Squiggles looks a star struck as he stands with the people of Israel peering up at Moses on the mountain who says, “Hear O Isreal: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.”
The following verses are especially important for today. “Recite these words to your children and talk to them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.”
It’s appropriate for the day the children receive their Bibles. And it’s an appropriate verse for a week when so many parents found themselves to be at a loss for words. There was the mother whose daughter found her in the bathroom on Wednesday morning crying, and the daughter needed to know What Happened? There was one mom who refused to share her electoral choices with her inquisitive child- “I don’t want to indoctrinate her,” she explained. Then there’s the Trump mom who had gone through a whole spiel about how they WOULD support Hillary as President, and then scrambled for words when they woke up. A Hillary mom whose little one asked, “How are you Mom.” When the Mom replied, “I’m sad.” The first grader said, “Well, I’m upset and angry.”
And these are only the reports from the 6 and under set. I’m sure it got even more complicated for parents with older children.
What am I going to say to my kids about this election? This has been something I’ve heard quite a bit. Today we hear. Recite THESE words to your children “The Lord is our God. The Lord Alone.”
But we know it’s not that simple. To answer our kids’ questions, I mean. We can’t just say the Shema and send them on their way. And our Kids are definitely not that easy! The world is not that easy, and the words of scripture themselves sometimes are not that easy.
If only, the kids were tearing off that wrapping paper to find a straightforward blueprint to make life easy. But we’re a faith community, we know it’s not that simple: Teaching the faith, living the faith, keeping the faith. In the Bible, there are stories to inspire, and stories to struggle with.
I have to let y’all in on something. That second layer of wrapping in the liturgy was supposed to be a newspaper. But I couldn’t find anyone other than Todd who took the newspaper, so I printed articles from CNN.COM and wrapped the Bibles in those. Instead of newspapers, did you know that—and you may or may not believe this—44% of Americans get their news from Facebook.
Ahh, Facebook. Talk about no easy answers. I’m not really sure where I stand on it. Let’s just say the place where I have been most pleased with the impact of Facebook in my life is when it leads to real relationship. Once, I posted that a mentor of mine died in the Presbytery and was consoled by a woman who had seen my post. She had lost her mother at a young age and was able to share her grief with me. Not many people know that story she said. I’m glad we spoke about it.
And not too long ago, when the nation was trying to sort out Donald Trump’s comments about women caught on the Access Hollywood Tapes. While the media was full of bleeps, blustering explanations or complete incredulity—my Facebook feed was full of testimonials. Women who had been treated poorly, passed over for a promotion, seriously assaulted or publicly maligned- these women were finally sharing their stories and were for the first time feeling supported. These posts led me to sit with my mom in her living room and ask how she navigated the waters of being female in the business world. She shared how her friends were just now telling about decades old incidences with healing in the sharing.
My father and I talked about his being the father to girls about how harassment affected him. When I was 13 my friend and I were running our cross country route in small town Bristol Virginia and a guy in a pick-up waved us over saying, Can you help me with directions. I won’t fall for that one again, and we ran off reciting together the numbers and letters on his license plate. My friend happened to be the Sheriff’s daughter, so no quicker justice had ever been found in that small town. After the incident, we always felt supported and protected.
But it was a terrible thing and I was scared to run by myself for years afterwards. It was a terrible thing and I didn’t want to think about it again but I couldn’t avoid it in the rhetoric of the election cycle. And I was determined to find a different witness. So I asked my dad—a caring and compassionate, total good ol’ boy (think football and beer and bow ties, folks). How was he affected by this event?
Dad shared he was devastated. It was like he was in a different world. A primal sense of protection for his little girl. What worked he said, those people in power—the judge, policemen, my coach—they quickly and decisively stood up for what was right. There was never any dismissal or bluster.
We know the hurtful rhetoric of the world, but there are alternative witnesses too. They won’t be taken away, so great a cloud.
We hear, too, about a complicated WORD.
Did you know there are two creation stories? There’s the one where God wants a companion and so makes a man and then man needs a companion and God makes woman. The second person pulled from the one who God made first. That’s not the only holy text on our origins.
In Genesis 1:27, the Bible says, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.” The Hebrew for humankind is “ADAM” a general substance, a unified humanity connected to the word for Earth. Only later is this oneness distinguished with Hebrew words “ish” and “ishah,” male and female.
Did you know this is the story told most often in children’s curriculum now? What will it be like when a new generation has shaped its sense of self around this sacred story?
I’m guessing many of you like me, grew up hearing the rib one. And that’s not a bad one to learn. All of scripture speaks authoritatively of God and God’s people. It’s good to struggle with the stories, but when we get too wrapped up in the study of terrifying texts, we miss binding ourselves to the shema, the words Moses and Jesus called the greatest. 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. And the gospels tell us Jesus adds some lines from Leviticus. You Shall Love your Neighbor as Yourself.
God didn’t create me or any other woman as less than. God gives us worth. It won’t be taken away. And that is powerful.
I don’t know if Martin Luther King, Jr. struggled with the Timothy texts sanctifying slavery. But I do know that Dr. King didn’t keep those words in his heart or write them on his forehead. His last sermon he took his people up to the mountain and said GOD HAS BROUGHT US OUT of slavery, and AHEAD is the PROMISED LAND.
For all those people of color and difference who have felt less in this season of our lives together, God gives you worth. It won’t be taken away. And that is powerful.
And for all those who felt disaffected by the establishment. Less than worthy because you didn’t have the necessities of jobs or healthcare. Less than worthy because your problems weren’t heard, and you were dismissed as dumb. God doesn’t dismiss you. God gives you worth. It won’t be taken away. And that is powerful.
The power of Christ is not found in violence or outrage or aggression. Jesus’ power is of walking through the wilderness, showing up on the side of the oppressed, and dying on the cross. Jesus’ power is self-sacrificing love, deep truth and quick forgiveness, strength for the journey—God in solidarity with all humanity. In Christ, God gives us all our worth and THAT is Powerful.
Speaking of power, did you see how little faith entered the conversation, or if it did, it wasn’t in our newsfeed or on the debate stage. The Church no longer finds itself with institutional influence in the public sphere. For families, Christian values are no longer absorbed by osmosis through the culture. But it’s not bad that we do not have an automatic hearing. Because we have to make our words count.
Parents and Church Family, the Bibles are unwrapped now. We have to use them. Recite these words to your children:
LOVE GOD. LOVE OTHERS. GOD LOVES YOU.
LOVE God—Be serious when you say God’s name. Keep the Sabbath holy. Give your money, toys, time—everything we have is a gift from God.
LOVE Others—Don’t hurt other people; everyone has the light of God in them. When there is a fight, go to the side of the one who is hurting. Honor your parents and Don’t kill or lie or steal. When you are older don’t break your marriage. Don’t even want what other people have.
Then say this, and it’s not easy. It’s hard. Maybe even impossible, but we are supposed to try (Godly Play, 10 Best Ways).
We Love You. Love God. Love Others. God Loves You.
When the people of God first received these words, the Shema, they too were on the precipice of change. They had been brought out from slavery in Egypt, had been wandering in the wilderness and now they were about to enter the land God had promised to their ancestors.
But they can’t seem to make it work. They grumble in their tents, saying they want to go back to Egypt instead of facing the uncertainty of what lies ahead.
You see, one of the important features of the Promised Land is that in this place they’ve got to BE the promised people. The ideal is of a land flowing with milk and honey where houses are built and cisterns dug, where the people please God, obeying the commandments and teaching their children
But they don’t trust themselves to be holy. Even when God was so, so, so available to them in power and parting waters in smoking flames, when they were writing the story of salvation, they grumbled, lost faith and worshipped golden calves. HOW would they write this unknown verse when it requires something so sacred from them.
SHEMA, O Israel. Into their arrogance, fear, faithlessness, confusion, pain, our gracious and loving and slow to anger, God says, Hear. The Lord is our God. The Lord Alone. Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Love your neighbor as yourself. Keep these words in your heart. Recite them to your children. 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.
These words. It’s time. To live them, breathe them, wear them, keep them, tell them, hear them.
SHEMA, O PEOPLE OF GOD. AMEN.
Rev. Jamie Butcher
Decatur Presbyterian Church
November 13, 2016