What God Wants [From Us]
1. This year as well they have run on TV the vibes on many people going out for their New Year's visit to the shrines. They all go out bringing with them their many wishes [for the New Year]. I think that what most likely is on their minds is "What do I wish for? What am I seeking for [from the spirit world]?" Yet, we are gathered here and we are listening to the word of God [saying], "Now, what does the Lord your God seek of you?" [What does God want from us?] We need to consider this matter first of all.
Thou Shalt Obtain Blessings
2. So now, what does the Lord our God want from us? We can see in verses twelve and thirteen, as many things are listed, but the conclusion comes at the very end. It is that we are to get blessings.
3. This word which is translated as "blessing" in the New Interconfessional Version of the Japanese appears over and over, actually more than six hundred times in the Bible. Let's take a look at one of the most impressive passages from among them. Please open to Genesis chapter one and verse four. "God saw the light and it was made good." Here it is translated as "good." This is the story of the creation of heaven and earth. It is the passage that when God created this world, he pointed to each thing one by one and said that "he made it good." Even the words in Deuteronomy, come later, can translate as "that you obtain good things." Anyhow, whatever about this, I think that that clearly points to what blessing means as per the Bible. Blessing refers to living in acceptance of things within the good graces of God, that in the world which God created as a good thing we receive the good things that God created and receive them within his good will and in accordance with his intentions. In a true sense we can and should live with enjoyment of this world as a good world. That is really what God requires of us.
4. As you know, the words in Deuteronomy are sermons from Moses, which came into being as a sermon [series] spoken through Moses just before the Israelites went into the promised land. We see how that the Israelites were given the land of Canaan and were to live there in the land and that this was all given for them that they might obtain the good things in the land and that they might obtain blessing and happiness. For God to fulfill the blessings to be sought by the ones who were supposed to have them in this world, they were given the promised land. It was so to speak Israel's mission to turn [the land] into a blessing. And it is the mission of the church today to turn [things around] to blessing. The Lord requires that we obtain the blessings: [seize by faith the good that is there and convert it to blessing; take the land and churn it into butter].
Thou Shalt Fear And Love God
5. But, put in another set of words, God's requiring this of Israel might also mean that [some] humans do not obtain blessing. Even though this is a world that God created and called good, people in a real sense do not live in acceptance of this good world of creation. Instead they're into things visible to the eye, they're overinvolved with their neighbors, but that causes so much tragedy and sorrow. And why is that so, do we really know? How should a person really acquire his or her blessings and happiness?
6. Several assumptions for our true acquistion of happiness are written in the passage we read today. The main focus of them is on that we must fear the Lord and we must love the Lord. In particular, the main subject in Deuteronomy is on loving the Lord. I'd could also state that this is the main message in the Bible. The idea of "loving God" is not found in the other religions of the different neighboring lands that surrounded Israel. We might understand that even by considering the religious situation in Japan. Is there anybody going to the Shinto shrines for their obligatory New Year's visit saying, "O dear God, I love you God with all my heart, with all my spirit, and with all my strength!" I don't think there are. That's the way it was in the world of Canaan, too.
7. Moses told the Israelites who were trying to live in such a Canaanite world as described above to "Fear the Lord, love the Lord." He said that because true human contentment is found in loving God. It is found when we love the Lord with all our hearts, with all our souls and with all our strength.
8. Yet, we should not understand loving the Lord as merely an emotional thing to do. What the text is saying here does not imply that we just take a liking to God. Were that so then thirty-four chapters of Deuteronomy would be not be necessary. One page would be enough for that. The reason Deuteronomy does have thirty-four chapters is that specific situations are written in it of how they should live out their lives in the land of Canaan. Thus then the act of loving is [comprised of] specifics. Those already married ought to know that the act of loving and living together in mutual love is not just an emotional one. When we love, when we live loving one another, it is a lifestyle that includes specific behaviors. It is the same in the faith relationship with God and man or with God and woman.
Thou Shalt Worship God
9. So, what specifically do we do to love the Lord? For one, it means that we are to serve the Lord. The text in verse twelve says, "Love the Lord and serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." So what does it mean to serve God? Actually the first meaning the phrase "to serve the Lord" has in Deuteronomy or even in the historical accounts that come after it is to worship the Lord. It is a worshipper and a worshipping people that is given in the imagery of the servant [of the Lord]. So, it is found related to worship many times in Deuteronomy.
10. If we ask why activtity related to worship is in the text here, it is because in the Canaanite world into which the Israelites had entered, there was already an indigenous cult of worship to Baal. Baal worship was the worship of an agricultural deity. It was a worship that sought for a good crop and prosperity. In other words, it was a worship in which human desire and aspirations were placed at the forefront.
11. The Baal worship in Canaan is quite related to us. The religious situation in our country is very much akin to that of the Canaanite world. Therefore, even the worship we offer can quite potentially lead to subtlily becoming a reflection of anthroprocentric aspirations of humanity. When that happens we lose interest on the issue of "What does the Lord require of me?" A baalization of our worship is likely to take place. What can I get out of [my] Christianity? What can I get from church? What do I get out of showing up in worship services? People interested in that alone will wind up not being a worshipper anymore, especially when their wants are not met. Supposed Christians like that do not love the Lord, nor do they serve Him either.
12. We love the Lord because he loved us first. Our loving response for his graciousness, in that the Lord has loved us and that the Lord has forgiven us, is worship. In response to the Lord's love, we serve Him. The Lord loved us and called us [to himself]. That's why we respond to his call, we lovingly serve him and worship the Lord. God wants that we be true worshippers.
Thou Shalt Harken Unto The Lord Unto Obedience
13. So secondly, loving the Lord means we are to obediently listen to the Lord. The scripture says, "Keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord that I command you today," (verse thirteen). Wherever the words "commandments" or "statutes" appear in the text, there will be some people who will come right off that "This is legalism," "That's so Old Testament." That's ridiculous though. In the fourteenth chapter of The Gospel According To John, even Jesus himself has said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments," (John 14:15). The Holy Spirit was sent so that we might truly be able to live in accordance with the word of the Lord.
14. Legalism means to set aside the fact that we are to love the Lord but instead must walk the straight and narrow on the law alone. Compliance with the commandments without loving the Lord is legalism. But, the opposite is also possible. Though claiming that we love the Lord, yet if we could care less about what the Lord requires of us and when we have no willingness at all to be obedient unto the Lord, then we're not really loving the Lord, are we?
15. In the garden of Eden there were all kinds of trees that looked good and yielded good things to eat. The people were supposed to take great pleasure in eating from them. They were supposed to enjoy themselves. But, in the midst of the garden of Eden, there was a tree from which they were not to eat. That showed a commandment of God. God had a commandment in the garden of Eden. As persons created by God they were required to be obedient unto the Lord. Precisely because there was a tree from which they must not eat that it was possible for the garden of Eden to be the garden of Eden. When the forbidden tree was lost, humanity also lost its garden state. Right this year, we want to listen fast to the word of the Lord. God is looking for us that we become cleansed by the working of the Holy Spirit and become an obedient submissive people whose stubborn hearts have been taken away.
16. Well, as we've seen above then, the Lord gave Israel the promised land and in it he required them to fear the Lord, and live with love for the Lord. The Lord was looking for a people obedient unto the Lord, worshipping him in truth. That is, [he required this of the people], that he might build a people who knew true happiness. He did this so that while they were among the various nations of people they would be a sign pointing to the gracious and good will of God. "O Israel! Now what does the Lord your God seek from you?" We ought to be happy. God is looking for that. While we're in this dark world as a people who truly love the Lord, God is looking for us to be a sign that points to the blessedness and happiness of the kingdom of God.
* Motomeru means: to seek; to request; to demand; to want; to wish for; to search for; to pursue (pleasure); to hunt (a job); to buy.