For the Narrative Lectionary Preacher: Deuteronomy & Talking about Law

This is going to be a tough week Narrative Lectionary preachers.

We get a whole bunch of law this week, or should I say, THE LAW.  If we needed any more proof, Deuteronomy literally means “Second Law.” What’s a preacher to do, knowing that people are showing up, expecting to hear gospel?

I suppose we could go the historical route and talk about how Exodus and Deuteronomy aren’t sequential.  Or we could certainly talk about what it means to pass faith onto our children.  Or perhaps talk about the “Letter versus the Spirit” of the Law.  These are all great topics….and will make great sermons.

But there’s another sermon to preach, one that’s harder, but perhaps one that addresses all the law-talk our listeners are hearing these days.  There’s a lot of talk lately about laws; presidential candidate debates are in full swing and there’s all kinds of talk about things like the budget, abortion, and economic policy. Another shooting at a school has people talking about gun laws again.  Yes, those are tricky subjects, and I wouldn’t blame you if you avoided them altogether.  Yet there is something in the text this week that might be helpful here for your listeners, if you would allow me to share.  Maybe this is a good week to talk about Law with people.

Most of the law-talk in our society is prescriptive; it’s offered as a solution to a problem, a remedy to an illness, or THE answer to THE question.  The thing is, when our law-talk takes a prescriptive tone, differing opinions and convictions emerge, and as so many of us are seeing and struggling with, divisions emerge.  Our law-talk leads to a whole lot of walls being put up, name-calling, and separation.

Our text suggests something different in these 10 Commandments.  God’s Law is different; it’s descriptive of a relationship – the relationship between Israel and God, and the relationships within the community.  God’s Law doesn’t provide answers and it doesn’t solve our problems. It just offers a way of living, interpreting, and wrestling with what we know as the “Greatest Commandment” named at the end of our text: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might.”  And you probably found yourself reciting the following in your head, “And the second is like this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:39)  To get at this further, you might even want to include verses 5:29-33.  It describes the vision of the life God intends for us (and for our neighbor too, I would add).  God loves us, and loves us enough to give us a description of what life should look like….the Law.

It’s this “Law of Love” that describes just how important God values our lives, as well as the lives of those around us.  God gives us this law as a gift, because our lives are a gift….and maybe that’s the good news among all the law-talk this week.

I wonder if it might not be worth raising the question to our people: “What would it mean to be ruled by God’s Law of Love?”  Would we see the Law as something that shapes how we live in relationship with God and others, or rather as solution of how to live despite the presence of those same relationships (or our denial of them)?

There’s something else to be asked among all the law-talk today, and it addresses this reality: most of our listeners – and us as well, perhaps – wonder what sort of world we’re leaving to our children.  I wonder, as we consider if God’s Law of Love is worth following ourselves, maybe the answer lies in the question: “Is it worth passing onto our children?”

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