Scripture: Deuteronomy 5:1–21 & 6:4–9
“Are God’s promises for me, too?”
It seems like this is the question that has quietly been the margins of each of the stories that we have explored this season. Abraham already had a relationship with Yahweh, who had appeared to him multiple times offering multiple promises. Sarah might have wondered, “Are God’s promises for me, too?” When the three divine strangers showed up, they insisted that, indeed, God’s promises were about her, too, and that she would have a son, Isaac, as a result. Yes, Sarah, you, too.
Isaac’s son Jacob asked the same question. As he stood on the banks of the Jabbok, he wondered if he had messed up too many times, made enough people mad, burned too many bridges, that he felt the need to remind God, “Remember me? The son of Isaac, the son of Abraham?” His insistence that God keep up his side of the covenant revealed the doubt that Jacob had that God would do it. But there by the river, he was blessed and given a new name. Yes, Jacob—Israel—you, too.
Moses stood barefoot by a bush that burned but did not burn up. God had already called and commissioned him, telling him over and over again he could speak for justice against the oppressor Pharaoh. But Moses had to double check: “Now who again are you? Who should I tell the people you are? Are you sure that the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob has the time for me?” God responded with the holy I AM. Yes, Moses, you, too. God’s promises are for you, too.
By today’s passage, we find ourselves in a bit of a time leap. Moses put his shoes back on and went to work. He challenged the systemic and cultural power that had privileged and raised him, standing against the authority of Pharaoh, claiming that God’s power and authority and way of grace was more life-giving and lasting than Pharaoh’s. He led them out of that oppression: through the Red Sea; past the covenant-granting power of Mt. Sinai, where they received the 10 Commandments; and into the wilderness for 40 years of reeducation as the people of God instead of a people of slavery.
Now, as Moses stood on the cusp of the Promised Land, he knew he had one more shot to get them to understand. Like Martin Luther King in Memphis. Like Jesus on the Mount of the Great Commission. “I am not going there with you, but you need to understand that yes, God’s promises and grace and love and commandments are for you, too!” To this next generation, Moses tried one more time to teach them. Hear now a portion of that final, great commission:
1 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. 2 The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. 3 Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant but with us, who are all of us here alive today. 4 The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the fire. 5 (At that time I was standing between the Lord and you to declare to you the word of the Lord, for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) And he said:
6 “ ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 7 you shall have no other gods before me.
8 “ ‘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. 9 You shall not bow down to them or serve 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 10 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
11 “ ‘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.
12 “ ‘Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14 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. 15 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.
16 “ ‘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.
17 “ ‘You shall not murder.
18 “ ‘Neither shall you commit adultery.
19 “ ‘Neither shall you steal.
20 “ ‘Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.
21 “ ‘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.’ ”
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 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. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
For 40 years, the wandering people of God wondered “Are God’s promises for us, too?” This was a people who had endured 400 years of slavery, followed by a generation of challenge and unsettledness in the wilderness. Many scholars have written that these 40 years in the desert were really a re-education, a way for them to understand the alternative vision of obedience to God instead of Pharaoh, reliance upon God instead of their oppressor, and trust in God instead of the ways of Empire. Moses led his people out of that enslaved context, through the plagues and the Red Sea and Sinai. But he still had to lead them out of an enslaved mindset, through forty years of a re-education of trust. Instead of trusting Pharaoh, they had to learn to trust God. Through manna and quail and water in the desert. Away from the mindset of Empire. Away from “not good enough.”
It is the same challenge that we face in our world today. We are faced with the mindset of Empire. Trained by it. Brainwashed by it. For example, consider three of the Commandments of Empire:
- You don’t have enough. We are taught to live in a mindset of insecurity. Of scarcity. We must accumulate wealth, and we can never accumulate enough. We must protect possessions, and we will always be in danger of losing them. You don’t have enough.
- You are not enough. Our bodies are commodities. They are meant to be used to serve those in charge, and protect their wealth. If we start asking for things like healthcare or a living wage for our workforce, people call us fascists and claim we are bad for business. You are not enough.
- Finally, they are not enough. We are constantly taught to distrust the other. They are out to get us. To steal things from us. To hurt us. We ought to be afraid of or angry or both at those who are of a different race, nationality, ideology. They are not enough.
Moses is pushing back on these proclamations, inviting them to see themselves in a new light. They are about to enter the Promised Land, where they will be on their own. Moses won’t be with them anymore. Aaron and Miriam are long gone. Their parents who knew the horrors of slavery won’t be there to tell them the stories. So here, in Deuteronomy, Moses the teacher is giving them one final review session before the exam.
In some ways, the life of relative comfort and privilege that they were about to live would be their biggest challenge. No longer would they wake up every morning to God’s providence, as clear as the manna on the ground, or the pillar of cloud before them, or even a burning bush. Now, they would be forced to trust that God was still there: invisible, often silent, and much less obvious. So, in the passage today, God through Moses is doing the same thing that he did with Sarah, and Jacob, and even a much younger and lost Moses himself. God is reminding the people that God’s promises and grace and providence are for them, too. Not just their parents and their generation, but their generation, too. Moses uses a couple of different strategies to do this. Both just happen to have seven syllables. Recontextualization and shared intergenerational practice.
The first is what I would call “recontextualization.” Or put another way, telling the same stories in a new way. Teaching the same lessons, but to a new audience. This is what he does in Chapter 5. Has anyone ever compared the Ten Commandments given in Exodus on Sinai and Moses’ repetition of those commandments here in Deuteronomy? They are more or less the same…it’s not like Moses took any out or added any. But the way that he phrases them is a little different. For example, look at the commandment about Sabbath. When it is given in Exodus, the reasoning behind it is that God rested, so that we should; it harkens back to the Creation story. But here in Deuteronomy, it suggests that Sabbath should be observed “because you were slaves.” It is a recontextualization of the same principle. Basically, Moses is holding up before the people an alternative way of living to what they have been taught. The way of Empire is that bodies are commodities, created to serve those in power until they are used up and worthless. But the way of God is that we are also people of work AND rest, that we must intentionally choose to sacrifice a portion of our earning potential every week, to demonstrate that the ways of Empire do not rule us. It is akin to God’s command to tithe. We give away a portion of our money, demonstrating that money does not rule us. We will not play by its rules. Moses is recontextualizing for a new generation what their alternative way of living will look like.
The second thing that he does in this passage is what I would call “shared intergenerational practice.” When those who suffer from multigenerational trauma begin to heal, it is often because they learn a new way to live out their story. They are thankful for the lessons of the previous generations, but work to live out a new way of being. In the same way, Moses taught the people to practice a shared and intergenerational way of life. Teach these commands to your children. Remind them to follow God when they wake up in the morning, and when they go to bed at night. In their bodies and souls and lives, practice this awareness of and trust in God. On the edge of the Promised Land, God knows that a multigenerational embodiment will serve them in the Promised Land. No manna. No cloud. No burning bush. But they will have the Promises of God coursing through their daily lives. Through Moses, God reminds the people to live out these commandments, “and it will go well for you in the Land you are about to possess.”
Recontextualization, paired with shared intergenerational practice. The ways that Moses the teacher helps them cram for the big exam.
Pastor Cristina and I have been preparing for this sermon together since Easter. We didn’t know we were headed to exactly this sermon, but we have been reading a book together by David Csinos (“SIN-ohs”) called A Gospel for All Ages. It is a book about intergenerational ministry, specifically worship, and most specifically preaching. It was co-written, along with those who spend their time working with and ministering to families and youth and children. It doesn’t use the same language that I am for Moses, but what they describe is the same process of recontextualization—telling the old stories in a new way, and shared intergenerational practice—living out an alternative vision together in community of all ages.
The book makes a helpful distinction between what it calls “multigenerational,” in which multiple generations exist and maybe even worship together, but don’t really build any kind of relationship between each other, and “cross-generational,” in which relationships are built across generations but not in a way where any real transformation or change takes place. Csinos names a third thing, “intergenerational” worship and ministry, in which relationships are built across generations in ways that foster change and transformation not just for younger people, but for the whole community.
He suggests that we consider moving away from the metaphor of the baton, which has been a favorite, using this very baton to make the point. The problem with the metaphor, though, is that it suggests that one generation has all the answers and then when the time is right, hands it off to the next one, who has been basically doing nothing. Instead, Csinos refers to a metaphor by Parker Palmer of a symphony. Instead of this kind of baton…think this kind of baton. Here, musicians of varying experiences and talents are gathered together to teach each other and learn from each other. They practice together, each learning what they need to, sharing their gifts with others. Finally, together they perform a concert where everyone participates at once. What if we used this metaphor in the church, as a place where we are constantly learning from the generations who have come before, and the generations who are coming afterwards. Co-learning. Co-teaching. Co-obeying God together.
Practicing this way means letting go of some of our basic assumptions about worship, about children’s and youth ministry, about who has the authority and giftedness to speak. There are some ways in which we do this pretty well. The 838 [worship service] actually has a lot to teach the 11:00 [worship service]. In that early service, children regularly light the Christ candle, participate in the shared sermon and prayer requests. Last week, one of the children asked for prayer for their first year of school. Another brought me—during the sermon—a picture that she had been working on. This way of church means that children are not a distraction, nor are they just tokens of cuteness for adults to ohh and ahh over. They teach and preach to adults with equal ability as the adults are teaching and preaching within their hearing. Like Moses tells us to, they are recontextualizing the sermons and commandments that we tell again and again. They are practicing and embodying those commandments in new and refreshing ways. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty that I love about the 11:00 service, too, but the 838 is doing some amazing work in this realm, and has some lessons to share.
One more story of what this may look like: Blue Team, Jr. For a month, we talked about the importance of worshipping God in creation. Then we did it. On a cloudy Saturday morning, we had multiple generations of Baptists gathered together at the arboretum on the south side of town. Some rode bikes, others walked, some sat and enjoyed the community that was happening there. Adults and children raced down the sidewalk, showing off that they didn’t need to even use their hands, while parents and youth talked and walked and caught up on school and work. It didn’t feel like a typical “children’s ministry event,” in which we created something that children would like, so that we could entertain them or teach them. It was a shared moment of community in which we all delighted in God’s creation together.
In about a month, we’ll do another one. A “Crafternoon” which will be for all ages…not a “children’s ministry event” only for kids and parents, but an afternoon for creativity and crafts and co-learning and fellowship…together. Stay tuned for details.
Just like Sarah, like Jacob, like Moses, our world is filled with those who ask, “Are God’s promises of love and grace and care for me, too?” Regardless of how old we are, or how long we have been in the church, or what our gifts or talents might be, practicing this way of life can be a deep and profound reminder that we all need to hear: “Yes, God’s promises are for you, too.”