These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
“What does the Lord require of you?” For many of us when we hear those words,we can almost answer the question thanks to the prophet Micah:
“What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God.”
We have even put it to music and sometimes sing it at the Kirk:
“What does the Lord require of you, what does the Lord require of you?
To seek justice and love kindness and walk humbly with your God”
Micah likely picked this up from Moses in this sermon in Deuteronomy.
In our text, Moses is speaking to people who have let God down to put it lightly… but who are now being given a second chance.
Before Moses had even come down the mountain, and the ink was even dry (or should I say that before the last commandment was chiseled) they had failed to obey a very basic instruction Moses had given them: worship God alone… no others. Is that so hard to understand?
But, while Moses was with God on the mountain, they became impatient with God and Moses and made that Golden calf and began worshipping it… saying, “this is the god who saved us.” That ticked God off!
(Makes you wonder how our impatience can lead us to sin, doesn’t it.)
When Moses gets word of this, he is mad… I mean, really mad. In an act of anger, maybe rage at the sight of God’s people flagrantly worshipping a metal idol… Moses throws down the two tablets with the words of the commandments and smashes them to the ground. He was mad because they had made the Lord mad.
The people of Israel were living up (or should I say down) to their reputation as a stiff necked and stubborn people. People who you doubt will ever change… knowing who they are.
Moses was ready to give up on them, but not the Lord. A second set of tablets are prepared and they are given a second chance which leads to our text today where Moses is explaining what the Lord wants from his people:
“So now, O Israel, what does the Lord require of you?
Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways,
to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all our soul,
and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you for your own well being…”
They are given a second chance to obey. But don’t stoop there. Read on in the text. There is more
God wants more than obedience. How many of us grew up thinking that this is all God wanted from us: Obedience… a list of things to do (go to church, read the bible) and things not to do (do not steal, tell lies, live immorally)… and if we could check off that list and God would be pleased and everyone is happy.
But read this text again. That is not what God wants. At least not all of what God wants. You want to know what the Lord wants? What the Lord really, really wants?
Listen again to what Moses says the Lord wants: “Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your hearts, and do not be stubborn any longer.”
That might sound familiar.
Later Jeremiah would tell God’s people to do the same thing: once again we find them stubbornly disobeying and disappointing God. He even envisions a day when God will put his law within them and write it on their hearts.” Ezekiel, preaching to God’s stubborn people sees God removing their hearts of stone and replacing with a new heart and new spirit.
Do you hear what all of them are saying about what God wants, what God really really wants?
More than obedience. The Lord wants nothing less than our inner transformation… God doesn’t want outward obedience as much as God wants inward change that is then reflected in outward ways of living.
The spiritual giants have understood. Those of you reading Richard Rohr will recognize this spiritual goal. For example, Rohr says that the reason to read scripture is not for information or analysis or even to defend our moral positions or preconceived ideologies. The gift of the Bible is not for intellectual or “small-self” coziness, but for divine transformation…The Bible invites us into a genuinely new experience of God… The trouble is that we have made the Bible into a bunch of ideas- about which we can be right or wrong—rather than an invitation to a new set of eyes…”
Or another way to say it: the goal of reading Scripture and engaging in spiritual practices is to open the way for God to do heart surgery on us…The Lord knows we are a stubborn, stiff necked people… we are his children after all and the Lord knows us well.
And the Lord will always love us and seeks our well being. He also loves us enough to want us to change.
I was reading this text and the old Billy Graham revival hymn came to mind: “Just as I am”… you know it. I bet it is the favorite of some of you. And for many, it has led them to faith in Jesus:
“Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
And may I say that there is nothing wrong with that. We preach that kind of amazing grace all the time in the church.
But as I read this text from Deuteronomy, I realize it is incomplete in terms of what God wants for us and from us. God loves us enough to accept us “Just as I am”… but God also loves us enough to not leave us “as we are.”
Our relationship with God only begins with acceptance, “Just as I am”… but what God really wants is to transform us… to do some heart surgery.To change the way we think, feel and act from the inside out.
The sophisticated theological words for this are “Justification and Sanctification” .
Justification is “Just as I am”…
Sanctification is “Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me, melt me, mold me, fill me, use me”
My favorite explanation of sanctification comes from Frederick Buechner:
“In the tale of Beauty and the Beast it is only when the Beast discovers that the Beauty really loves him in all his ugliness that he himself becomes beautiful.
In the experience of St. Paul, it is only when a person discovers that God really loves him in all his unloveliness, that he (or she) starts to become Godlike.
Paul’s word for the gradual transformation of a sow’s ear into a silk purse is sanctification, and he sees it as the second stage in the process of salvation.
Being sanctified is a long and painful stage because with part of ourselves we sinners prefer our sin, just as with part of himself the Beast prefers his glistening snout and curved tusks. Many drop out with the job hardly more than begun, and among those who stay with it there are few if any who don’t drag their feet most of the way.
But little by little–less by taking pains than by taking it easy—the forgiven person starts to become a forgiving person , the healed person to become a healing person, the loved person to become a loving person.
God does most of it. The end of the process, Paul says, is eternal life.”
I think Moses would agree with Buechner. A sign of a circumcised heart for Moses is that it becomes a loving heart… someone with a love for justice… who actually cares what happens to the widow or the orphan and the poor… who treat the aliens, strangers or immigrants in their land as they would wish to be treated… after all, at one time they had been immigrants in Egypt…
Jesus seemed to be saying the same thing. He said the great commandment is to love God and neighbor… neighbors even like those Samaritans…
So, what God wants and what the world needs are not people with answers, but people who are transformed and changed by the Lord. That’s the goal of faith.
You are invited this lent to a journey of such transformation.
We have chosen a book by John Ortberg called, “The Life you’ve always wanted” to guide us. The title has made a couple of us twinge because faith isn’t about what we want, it is about God’s desire for us. Of course, God wants our well being… which likely matches with what you want.
We’re going to study his book. You are invited to read the book, participate in a study of the book should you choose.
If you choose this as a Lenten activity, you will learn what transformation is… what God desires for us and of us… and you will learn many of the spiritual practices or activities that mature Christians have found helpful to them as they seek to be transformed.
In the coming weeks, I invite you to remember that God does love you, just as you are. You will never lose God’s love. But remember God also loves you enough (and parents will understand this) not to leave you as God found you. To leave us stuck in our sin would not be love.
Of course, what God is asking of us is not easy. But don’t get too discouraged. God will be patient and kind with us. God doesn’t expect us to change overnight.
The Lord just wants us to be on the road toward transformation.
I would leave you with this word of encouragement or a piece of wisdom I learned while I was training for the half marathon. I remember when Anna first asked me to run that with her, I was sort of overwhelmed. I was not a runner. 13.1 miles? No way? How in the world would I ever run a half marathon? It would take transformation and a very different understanding of who I was and how I lived. But I love my daughter so I wanted to try.
Months later, after training with others, Sharon, Joe, Anna, my niece Christy and I went to a Team in Training banquet on the night before our run.
The keynote speaker was someone named John “the Penguin” Bingham who started running late in life and is known for coming in “last” or at the end.
He was very inspirational and funny.
After the run, Sharon gave me a gift which is a magnetic bumper sticker we keep on our refrigerator. Here is what it says. It is a quote from “the Penguin”:
“The Miracle is not that I finished, but that I had the courage to start.”
May I leave you with that thought as we begin the season of Lent and as we consider practices that might lead us to a deeper relationship with God that results in the transformation of our spiritual lives.
The miracle is not that you finished, but that you had the courage to start…and to take time in your life for spiritual training… where one step at a time, you seek to grow closer to God with a desire to be transformed by God. The miracle is that you loved God enough to give it a try.
For if you want to know what God wants, what God really, really wants… it’s not much more complicated than that! Amen.
 (Wishful Thinking, pp. 85-86)