When You Seek For Blessings Upon [Your] Children
November 11, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Remember These Words In Your Hearts
1. Today we dedicate the service to "The Blessing Of The Children." In [Japanese] society right now it is the time of The Seven-Five-Three Festival.* Many people will bring their children to the temple and ask for the happiness of their children. Even in churches we similarly pray for blessings upon our children. After all, everybody wishes for the happiness of their children. However, not only do we pray for blessing, we also need to know the meaning why children are blessed and why we wish for the blessing of happiness upon them. For that reason then I would like for us to remember in particular the words from Deuteronomy chapter six and beginning with verse four which was read in the first reading today; because in this passage we have the word of God to which we must always give heed as we pray blessings upon our children.
2. It is written like this. "Hear, oh Israel. Our God, the Lord is one and only one Lord. As for you, love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Remember these words which I command today, and repeat them to your children, when you are sitting in your house, when you are walking a path, when you are going to sleep, when you are getting up, talk with them of them. In addition, bind them on your hand as a sign, attach them to your forehead as a reminder, and write them on the pillar of the door to your house and on the gates," Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
3. When [people] wish for the happiness of their children, there is something that they must always without a doubt pass down to them. [God] commands them to "Repeat them, and talk with them of them." What are they passing down? What are they teaching them and talking [about with them]? We think we must pass down many things to them and we think we must teach them a lot. Yet ultimately it comes down to just one thing. It is this, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." Jesus said this is the first commandment (Mark 12:29). This is the very first fact, no matter what we leave behind, that we must pass down to our children and to the next generation. When we wish for blessedness upon the children, we must teach them before everything else, at the very first, that [we] are to love God. We must pass on a lifestyle of loving God to the next generation of people.
4. Yet, as we are teaching, we must not focus our attention on the children alone. The children's problem is also the parents' problem. Every generation is formed by the previous generation. The text says in verse six, "Remember in your hearts these words which I command you today." To whom is [God] speaking here? Who is supposed to remember them? It is the parents who are being spoken to here. It is the adults. It must start with the parents first. They themselves must take [the words] in in order to tell them [to their children]. They must first take ownership of them for themselves in order to pass them down. Unless the parents love God, they cannot teach the children to love God. Unless the parents respect God, how will the children come to respect God? Unless the parents become true worshippers, how can they teach the children to worship God? Unless the generation in the church now truly loves God and becomes worshippers of God, how will loving God be communicated to the next generation? We must first engrave upon our hearts the fact that the Bible says "remember these words in your hearts."
Love The Lord!
5. With that then, first of all, I would like for the adults who are here to get a firm grasp of the subject matter which has been commanded [them], which would be this: How are we to understand the meaning of "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength?"
6. The first important thing in understanding this statement is the truth that the expression "to love God" was not widespread in the Orient of antiquity at all. It is the same as the word "to love" not typically being used with respect to the gods celebrated all around in this country. Furthermore, the word translated as "to love" here is the word also used between husband and wife, parents and children, and sweethearts. Examples of them are more widespread. In the scriptures seeing between God and a human that kind of personal relationship which is illustrated in the relationships of parents and children, husband and wife, is a unique point. A clear distinction must be made between the religious understanding that says, "Any object of worship will do. It is the believing hear that counts," and the faith in the God of the Bible which declares, "Love the Lord!"
7. And then the second important thing in understanding this statement is the setting and the situation in which the statement was given. We are reading "Deuteronomy" from the Old Testament scriptures. Moses' sermons are recorded in Deuteronomy. In a way, they are sermons which can also be called Moses' final words of testament. The location is the eastern bank of the Jordan River. Moses finishes his life on that land, [then] Israel crosses the Jordan and enters into the promised land. They have already departed from Egypt and forty years of time have gone by. As for those forty years what kind of days were they? We can see in the Book of Numbers the details of their progress. But, let's keep looking here instead at how it is told in the Book of Deuteronomy.
8. In chapter nine and beginning in verse six, the following is written. "Keep in mind that it is not because you are righteous that your God, the Lord, is giving you this good land, and allows you to obtain it. You are a stubborn people. You will recall and must not forget that in the wilderness you provoked your God, the Lord, to anger. You have continuously rebelled against the Lord since the day you departed from the country of Egypt until you came here to this place." That's right. The scripture says they "continuously rebelled against the Lord."
9. Though they are like that, it still says to them, "Love the Lord your God." It's the statement we just read shortly ago; therefore, it's pretty amazing. It wouldn't be a mystery had [the Lord] given up on [them] long ago. It wouldn't be a mystery had [he] quit being "Your God" [to them] long ago. Yet, the Lord was still willing to give them the promised land, the good land, and to give them new lives. In giving them new lives, [the scripture] states, again, "Love the Lord your God." Thus, it is also a call out to them to "Return back to the Lord your God." Since the Lord is right now your God and since he continues to be your God, thus, [he says] "Return to the Lord God and love the Lord God."
10. Even though it is commanded that way to "Love the Lord your God," the act of our loving the Lord doesn't come first. The love of God, who is always and ever willing to be "your God," comes before it. The love of God, who is still calling out and pardoning sin and accepting rebels, comes first.
11. Furthermore, this love is nothing other than the love of the God who would soon send Jesus Christ into this world and let [him] be crucified as the atonement for sin. Later the apostle John would put it like this. "We did not love God, but God loved us and he sent his son as the sacrifice that atones for our sin. Here is where love is," (First John 4:10). That's how God loved us first. Thus, we too live loving God. That's exactly where our happiness and blessedness lie. That's exactly where our salvation and deliverance lie. Therefore, we will remember this in our hearts, and teach them to our children over and over, and keep giving them.
We Must not Forget
12. But, here in this passage it also states, "In addition, bind them on your hand as a sign, attach them to your forehead as a reminder, and write them on the pillar of the door to your house and on the gates," (verse eight). Devout Jews still literally observe this. They put into the little boxes the scripture passage of Deuteronomy chapter six from verses four to nine, as well as other verses written on paper, and attach it to their forehead and forearm. It surely does have some meaning that way. But, the important thing is the meaning in the exhortation. Why does the scripture say, "You must bind it to your hand, attach it to our forehead, and write it on the posts and the gates?" It is probably because we are foolish. It is probably because we easily forget.
13. We easily end up forgetting how we are loved with great love, how the Lord is our God with great love, how the scripture says "Love the Lord your God" with great love. People are foolish in that regard. Even though the Lord leads one out of Egypt, even though he leads one into the promised land, people end up forgetting, even though he has done great things to that extent. [People] end up forgetting [even] those grace-based commands. That's why [the scripture] must say, "Bind it on your hand. Attach it to your forehead. Write it on your door posts and gates."
14. Even Jesus, who revealed the love of God with his very own body, knew beyond a doubt that we are so foolish. Therefore, Jesus also said the following. "This is my body on your behalf. Practice this this way as a memorial to me." After he said that, he passed the torn bread. I'm sure you know it. It is the events from the last supper. "Practice this this way as a memorial to me." -- Because we'll end up forgetting, if we don't put it to practice. -- Because [we] human beings will even end up forgetting that Jesus tore his own body and handed it over, even though he did inasmuch.
15. Therefore, the church has been practicing the sharing of bread as it memorializes Jesus. That is the Lord's Supper. [The church] has been practicing it over and over, for two thousand years. That's why a Lord's Supper table is placed in this sanctuary as well. There is a cross to the back of it. What's more, the holy supper is not a mere "sign." Through the work of the Holy Spirit, Christ is present in it. Christ actually touches us and in the real world of reality we repeatedly partake of the grace from Christ's atonement. Unless we do that, we'll end up forgetting. Therefore, we must remember while in this place. While partaking of the body and the blood of Christ, we must remember. We must remember the love of God. And, we must remember the call to live loving God.
16. We, who easily forget the love of God and are foolish, pass on and tell our children, who, like us, easily forget and are foolish, that [they are to] "Love the Lord your God." Thus, as one might suppose, it means that we are to call the children to baptism and we are to call them to the Lord's Supper. And, it means that we are to teach them that they must not distance their lives from the table of the Lord's Supper.
*Shichi-go-san Festival is the festival for boys and girls of three, boys of five, and girls of seven, which are very important ages to the Japanese. On November 15, children of these ages dress up and are taken to a Shinto shrine by their parents. Prayers are said, pictures are taken, chitose candy (literally one thousand years of age candy) is given to the children.