The last two Waypoints we’ve been circling around the idea of what it means to be in relationship with God. We started broadly, with the idea that “by this way of life”, we mean a way of love. We narrowed our focus last week to examine the Most High God who protects and cares for us. This week we’re looking at what it means to be in right relationship with that God. The text from Deuteronomy 6:
Hear, O Israel: 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 strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
The commandment is to love the Lord. Easy peasy, right? I want to focus on what it takes to obey that commandment, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength, because it’s easy to get lost in the rolling language and forget the depth and immensity of the command. We use the word love all the time. I love that blouse. I love how you redid the living room. I love the way that car handles. I love riding my bike.
Is that the same love we’re commanded to give to God, with all our heart, soul, and strength? I think not. The command calls us into relationship, and if we focus on relationship, not on emotion, love changes, becomes more powerful yet more slippery, fleeting. Long-lasting relationships are built not on emotions but rather on actions, attitudes, and choices that put the other party first. It involves a deep, inherent attitude that focuses not on me, but (in this case) on God, a continual inner orientation that’s easy to lose. We get off course, drift in a sea of to do lists, wants, mental chatter, bodily needs, the immediate and pressing life circumstances that are urgent, but not necessarily important. For me the key to loving the Lord with all my heart comes from the second part of the passage.
When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you–a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant–then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
How often do we remember that what we have is a gift from God, not the fruit of our own labors? It’s easy in a modern economy to get distanced from this. We go to work, often in cube farms or the service industry, producing something intangible. For this work we receive a paycheck, deposited into a bank account, that’s spent with credit or debit cards. Like the ancient Israelites, we live in houses we didn’t build, eat food we didn’t raise, slaughter, package, and in many cases, prepare. We eat and we are satisfied, even satiated.
My mother’s day present this year was a 4×4 garden in the back yard. Mark and Owen cut the wood and mixed the soil. We planted the seeds together on that Sunday, and by the next week, we had tiny shoots poking up through the soil. There’s food, people, FOOD, growing in my back yard. Seeds, sunshine, water, and rich earth. I planted this garden, but even the fruits of my small labors aren’t mine to claim. Later this summer I will harvest tomatoes and carrots that grew through the sheer miracle of nature, reminding me of how distanced I am from God’s bounty, and yet how close it is, and how tenacious God is in providing it.
Gratitude, as Bruce Van Blair says so often, is the fuel of the Christian life, and if gratitude is the fuel, humility is the spark that sets it alight. The text reminds us not of our weakness or our inferiority, but of our proper place in the order of things, as recipients of staggering generosity, every moment of every day. These days it’s not easy to remember, but making time to remind ourselves helps shift us back into right relationship with ourselves, with others, and with God.