6th Weekend after Epiphany 2-12-2023
February 12, 2023 | Jonathan Dolan
Passage: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
In the school district I grew up Rudd-Rockford-Marble Rock or RRMR, elementary was K-5, middle school 6-8 (my class was the final 6th grade class considered middle schoolers) and high school was 9-12. In elementary, particularly from 2-4 grade my teacher’s had a policy about forgetting to write our names on our papers.
Anytime we forgot, we were required to write either on the marker board or on a piece of paper “I will not forget to write my name on papers.” Or “Jonathan will write his name on papers.” There was no building up to a certain number of times. As best as I can remember, it was always 100 times. We weren’t allowed to do this at any other time than during the first couple minutes of recess. It wasn’t always the teacher in class that we forgot because sometimes they had recess duty. And I wish I could stand here and tell you that after during that a couple of times, I never forgot to do it again. But that would be a lie.
You see, when I was an elementary student, I always tried to be one of the first students done with my assignments. Inevitably, that meant that I cared more about writing down the right answers or completing the assignment. Often times, I would just start with the work and skip over writing my name on my paper. Then when I would see Jessica or Amanda or Lindsay or Jake or Brenda or Jamison start turning their papers in, I would rush all the more.
Well, this fault of mine during elementary probably cost me around 15 - 20 total hours of lost recess time. And let’s be real, for a little me who was just as much of an extrovert in elementary school as an adult (Until 9th grade, “Talks too much” always appeared on my report cards) losing that social time was a big deal. But it didn’t matter, I just kept forgetting to do it even though I knew the punishment that would occur should I forget.
While this is much different than the Commandments God gives to Moses, there is certainly some correlation. To fully understand what our Deuteronomy text is referencing, we need to spend some time looking at a couple of the “commandments, decrees, and ordinances” that the Lord God gave to Moses and the people. The easiest way is to look at a couple of the Ten Commandments. In fact, the youth are actively studying the Ten Commandments in Children’s Church right now.
After Moses reveals the First Commandment that “You shall have no other Gods before me.” God tells Moses something that Moses invariably must also report to the people. “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Ex. 17:5b-7). Before Moses is able to reveal the next commandment from God to the people, they must understand the consequence of iniquity. Today again in our Deuteronomy text Moses reminds the people that there are consequences if you do not keep the Lord’s commands.
But human nature after the Fall from the garden of Eden is one that innately rebels against God. Truthfully, if the commandments would have been the end all; be all of our relationship with God and one another than the atrocities of the Babylonian Captivity, the Diaspora or expulsion of Jews from first century Palestine, the treatment and racism against Jews throughout the Middle Ages, the Crusades, the brutality of the Genghis Khan and the Mongolian Horde, the enslavement of people from Africa, the genocide of people based on their race or nationality of the 1800 and 1900’s would never have happened. But the reality is that we are fickle people who easily forget to whom we belong and how God calls us to interact with one another. God most certainly, does not want us to repeat these things. God calls us to oppose them.
So, God tells the people if you sin gravely, I will remember that sin to the third and fourth generation. Or contextually to my 9-year-old self, Jonathan, if you forget your name, you will stay in from recess until you write 100 sentences before you can go out to play. Sure, staying in from recess is vastly different, but the fact that I knew what would happen and yet I still forgot speaks to this reality.
God knew too that people were fickle, so built into the very same proclamation is that statement that “but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” How many times have you thought about your 1,000 times great grandmothers or grandfather’s faithfulness? But that is not exactly what God is going for in that comment. God’s intention is to show that God is much more invested in graciousness and mercy than punishment and condemnation. This is even more emphasized by the fact that the number is 1,000 generations. A number that is used to signify that God actually wants to be in relationship with you always and for all time.
God is wholly aware that it will be a struggle to follow the commandments, decrees and ordinances placed before us as faithful people do our best in a complex world. That in reality it is nearly impossible, so God imbedded in commandments these words that help us comprehend them in a new light. When we learn the 10 Commandments as children, to be in right relationship with God, our neighbors, our neighbor’s possessions and the created world, this promise of hope is often overlooked. But I don’t want us to overlook it.
Understanding the commandments within the context that faithfulness to God extends to 1,000 generations should change how we view them. No longer should they be seen as God saying, “Child, do this or I will punish you. You must obey me. I am a jealous God…only.” Now they can be seen as “Child, do your best to live into my words. Remember always that you belong to me and follow me all your days. In so doing, my graciousness and mercy shall flow over you.”
As the Deuteronomy text states, “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying God, and holding fast to the Lord; for that means life to you and length of days.” God desires that we be in God’s presence. Look to the commandments, the ordinances and decrees as guideposts to lead us on the path. But do not forget that imbedded in them are immeasurable mercies for when we fall short. When we do, God catches us…always. Amen!