The text this morning confronts us with three stories.
The first is the most obvious.
The Israelites are about to cross into the Promised Land.
They are a new nation, delivered from the hands of their Egyptian oppressors.
But they just have spent forty years wandering in the desert.
And it is all Moses can to hold them back while he delivers his final sermon.
As they enter into a new land, with a different culture and a different religion than their own, he reminds them of their covenant relationship with God. They remain faithful to God and God remains faithful to them.
He reminds of the Law, particularly the Ten Commandments, which underpins this covenantal relationship.
He warns them of the hardships that may confront them. They may be tempted to worship other Gods, but they must remain faithful.
Then he lays at their feet laws about holiness, worship, public order, life and death, property, and social justice.
Our passage today comes from this sermon.
We see in it the urgency behind Moses’ demands that the Israelites remain faithful to YHWH.
Over and over he says:
Keep his decrees and commandments
Observe them diligently
Keep these words that I am commanding you today
Recite them to your children
Talk about them
Bind them as a sign
Fix them as an emblem
Write them on your doorposts
Take care that you DO NOT FORGET the Lord
Moses is clearly not convinced his people’s faithfulness is lasting faithfulness.
And his worries are not unfounded. In fact, we find them played out in the second story, the story behind the text.
By the 6th Century BCE, over seven hundred years after Moses’ warning, Israel has fallen away from the God. It’s divided into two kingdoms. The Northern Kingdom has been overrun by Assyria. In order to pacify the Assyrians, the Southern kingdom has capitulated with Assyrian culture. One of the aspects of this capitulation was to condone the worship of Gods other than YHWH like Baal, the caannanite God and the Assyrian astral cult. They allowed practices forbidden by YHWH such as child sacrifice and wizardry.
Israel had broken its covenant.
Prophets like Zephaniah and Jeremiah begin to speak out against these practices, indeed, against Israel in its infidelity to God. The current king, Josiah, confronted with by these railing critiques and by the discovery of a book of law from the temple, decides to undertake a great reform.
It is out of this reform, scholars agree, that the book of Deuteronomy, including our scripture this morning, was created.
The religious elite were horrified at the degeneration of YHWH worship. So they composed a book that summarized the law.
They were terrified that Israel’s covenant with YHWH was broken, that because they had fallen away from God, God would desert them, so they wrote of Moses preaching the importance of faithfulness to YHWH.
They were afraid that future generations would not know to love God, so they remembered a Moses who cried out:
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 on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
The passion, the fear, the intensity, behind these words arrest us today because of our own story.
In the United States, every Protestant denomination is in decline and losing members. The Catholics would be in free fall without the immigrant communities taking root in their sanctuaries.
Sunday morning worship around the country does not look unlike ours: few young parents, few young adults, and even fewer youth and young children amidst a crowd of white hair.
Luke, my boyfriend, is a community organizer and he spends his days meeting with pastors, asking them about the issues facing their communities. Some speak of poverty or foreclosure and others of unemployment or political corruption, but every pastor inevitably asks: Where is the younger generation, because they are not in our pews! Will they ever return to the church?
The Israelites covenant with YHWH was made new for us in Jesus Christ. And still, Jesus tells us that our passage today- Hear o Israel love the lord your God—this is the most important law.
And are we not feeling a breach of the covenant as we fail to reach our children and our children’s children with the message that they need to Love the Lord and Love their neighbor?
We want our children and grandchildren, our friends and neighbors to experience the same love warmth and forgiveness and uplifting that we experience in our church community. We want them to feel and then to spread Christ’s saving love.
How, we ask, how, o Lord, do we reach them?
As a young person entering the ministry, this question defines me.
At the most pragmatic level, if the current trend continues, and it is likely that it will, HOW AM I GOING TO FIND A JOB IN TEN, TWENTY, FORTY YEARS?!
But at a more profound level, this “lost generation,” these are my peers. They are my friends from childhood. They are my colleagues and coworkers. They are my brothers and sisters. They may very well be my children.
And while I desire for them to know and experience Christ’s love and peace and hope as I experience it, while I lament at their loss of spiritual community, I do not, and in fact, cannot see them as any more broken or perverted than I am. I do not feel confident that their lives would be enriched simply by joining a church or being baptized.
So, how, o Lord, do we restore your covenant?
As I stand before you this morning, on Young Adult Sunday, a day meant to honor those of this “lost generation” that have found the church, I do not have any definitive answers, save one: Tell It.
I have read this scripture a hundred times and found no magical solution for religious or moral restoration, only a call to continual love, faithfulness, teaching and dialogue with and about God.
This is not a proselytizing, Tell It!, meant to convert. It is a sharing, a telling of stories, a recitation of covenant relationship.
Moses says, Recite these commandments to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when are away, when you lie down and when you rise.
In times of spiritual denigration especially, scripture calls for us to SPEAK to one another. To engage in holy conversation.
This may seem simple, but look around you.
God has given us at Central Woodward a profound gift, and, dare I say it, task.
Among us we have spiritual and biblical and compassionate stanchions, people who have been on this journey with God for fifty, sixty, eighty years and who have amassed large quantities of experience and wisdom which we can apply to our current crisis.
But, unlike many congregations, we also have young people, with fresh energy and insight, people who experience, like me, a double identity as people of faith and people of the church’s lost generation.
Imagine the future in Christ we could forge together.
However, this task of sacred conversation is dangerous and requires vulnerability.
This morning, I want to speak to you out of my experience as a young person entering into this dialogue. I want to share with you some of my fear and my pain and my hope.
However, we, both you and I, must remember that I cannot speak for all young people. I can only speak from my perspective as Alex, a twenty-four year old, white, college-educated, able-bodied woman from Bloomfield Hills, MI.
Yes, I identify as a woman.
On Young Adult Sunday, we must recognize that the “young people” we are speaking of, though they may be younger than most, they are not all kids.
In fact, most of the people in this congregation under 35 are also over 18.
You may have noticed that this is not a youth service.
You are not watching a kooky skit. There haven’t been any more praise songs than usual. Communion will be with matzo and grape juice, just like every Sunday.
I love creative worship. But I did not want this to look like a Youth Service because I can say with certainty that the young adults in this congregation want to participate as adults.
We have responsibility, experience, insight and, even, wisdom. We need to be taken seriously as peers in the conversation.
Please be careful not to write us off. And this may happen more often than you realize.
In my classes, I often hear this refrain:
Kids these days
Kids these days with the texting and the facebook and the twitter, they know how to have a real face to face conversation.
Kids these days don’t have to work for anything, just click click click, and they don’t even have to lift only lazy finger.
Kids these days
Kids these days
We’re not kids. Okay, I already said that. But it’s really important, especially because many of the older folks knew many of us younger folks as children, and so the distinction becomes blurred.
But I want to address my colleagues’ specific qualms because I imagine that they are shared here, and will arise as we begin to enter into true intergenerational conversation.
So, yes, with the cell phones and the internet communication looks different than it ever has before.
And yes, with the technology and the internet we can find out anything we want to know with the click of a few buttons.
I would agree that these new realities provide new and tempting opportunities for all people, but especially the young because of their increased exposure, to fall prey to alienation, loneliness, laziness, apathy, hatred, and violence.
But, as the saying goes, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. They also can be valuable resources for connection, for information, and for perspective.
And when you write these realities off as evil, you are cutting young people out of the conversation.
I realize that opposite can happen; we as young people need to recognize that we often write off important resources as outdated.
For example, even because we are used to using email and facebook, a handwritten letter may prove a moving token of love and support.
As young people, we need to watch our tendency to paint over the old. We can walk into a worship or a Bible study or committee and want to completely overhaul it, paying little attention or respect to its original form, purpose, or creators.
And while we often do not have the power to do this, even talking about it can cause pain for those around us.
If we want to preserve our community’s covenantal relationship with God, we must come together, young and old, recognizing that in Christ we are peers, none too young, nor too old to Tell It.
Now open your bulletins, because like I said before, here at Central Woodward we actually have the opportunity to have these conversations and I am about to tell you how.
1) Read. The Young Adult Commission has created a week-long devotional geared toward young adults. I have printed copies. Take one and read it this week.
2) Talk. Well, obviously, you can just talk to each other. At coffee hour. Or meet up for lunch. Or exchange emails or home addresses.
3) Worship together. Obviously we are doing that just now, but I would also invite you to come to Community Worship this evening (and every 3rd Sunday) at 5pm, it’s led by young adults, but attended by all ages. Dialogue and sharing are part of the service.
4) Play together. On March 5, we are going to have a gathering at the church. We’ll eat, potluck style, and play board games and card games and any kind of games you like!
5) Work together. On March 26, we are going to serve at Earthworks community garden in Detroit. From 9-12, we’ll work in the gardens and talk with one another about food justice. Afterward, we will be invited to eat at the Capuchin Soup kitchen.
6) Study together. In May and June, my father and I will be leading a Bible Study after church on the Ten Commandments. We want the class to foster dialogue—around exactly the issue our scripture today raises: How do we preserve God’s covenant with us on Sinai in our world today?
How do we preserve God’s covenant with us on Sinai in our world today?
Let’s do as Moses suggests: Let’s share our stories. Let’s Tell It!
Alex McCauslin is currently serving as Intern Minister at CWCC.