On your lips and in your hearts

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 11, 2010

Deuteronomy 30:9-14

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your hearts.”

To many Christians, these words may seem very natural. One strong current of Christian spirituality has brought the word/Word near, with hymns on our lips, scripture in our ears in bible-reading and our liturgies, and the Word made flesh in-corporated into our bodies in the communion meal. To an insider, these words sound familiar, comforting.

Yet we may miss the anxiety surrounding them, and the challenge they are spoken into.

The text presents these words as part of Moses’ last testament, his charge to the people he has led out of slavery and through the wilderness. As they end their wandering and prepare to enter the promised land, a new commitment is needed. Many scholars have also seen this text as part of the Book of the Law discovered in the Temple walls during the reign of Josiah (2 Kings 22).

In each case, though, the words are addressed to a people facing major change. In each case, the people are being offered a choice, seen as the difference between righteousness and destruction, life and death. “You must decide once and for all to worship the Lord with all your heart and soul and to obey everything in The Book of God's Law” (Deut 30:10, CEV).

There are moments in life when we have the chance to commit “our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor.” There are some decision-points with great consequences. Think marriage vows, taking the oath of office.

Anything of consequence should give us pause. And where the ultimate is concerned, these big choices, where failure can mean suffering, isolation, death... well, perhaps it is easier to avoid the choice. Truth be told, most of us show little moment-to-moment or day-to-day awareness of the sacredness of all our choices, where this gift of life is lived always in God’s presence – whether we notice it or not.

When we consider the weight of these choices, well, it may seem too heavy. Obey all the commandments? All the time?

But God’s presence, God’s word, God’s commandments are not impossible, not impossibly hard, not impossibly far away (Deut 30:11-13).

This is a theme of Deuteronomy. Keep God’s word close, and God’s will becomes not just a possibility, but a living reality in your life. In the Shema, the great commandment of Israel (Deut 6:4-9), the people are commanded not simply to love and confess the Lord, but to recite and teach and touch God’s word constantly. This is not blind obedience, but a discipline which fosters love.

With God kept close, what might seem a burden becomes a blessing. Throughout history, we have discovered that keeping faith with God is no light or easy matter. But it is the experience of faith – and in this text, the very testimony of God – which reminds us that things go better when the word is close, “on your lips and in your hearts.” When slaves and civil rights marchers sing spirituals and freedom songs – the word is near. When an Alzheimer’s patient sparkles to the tune of “Jesus loves me, this I know” – the word is near. When trouble or death is imminent and the Lord’s prayer or 23rd Psalm comes to our lips – the word is near.

And it is not only in the extreme moments when we need this, but every day of our lives.


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