Where you find the Word, you find God
A sermon preached on Deuteronomy 30:11-14 by Pastor Jonathan Were at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Sioux Falls, SD on August 4, 2019.
“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the Word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so you may obey it.” (Deut. 30:11-14)
This sermon means to give you two things to take home. One is meant to take home in your mind, to make life sweeter for you. And the other is meant to take home in your heart, to make life sweeter for others. Because our text points us to both law and gospel. Here in Deuteronomy it ends by saying, “...the Word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so you may OBEY it.” But in the New Testament, Paul quotes these same words in Romans 10, but ends it differently, “The Word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is the Word of FAITH we are proclaiming.”
1) God seeks you through his Word
We’ll start with the thing to take home with you in your mind. And that thing, that truth, is this—God seeks you; you don’t seek God, he seeks you. You, specifically.
This is a radical teaching. When grey-haired Moses bellowed out these words that I just read, people must have been shocked. They must have been scratching their heads, “You don’t have to try to do something extreme, like climb up the highest mountain or sail across the ocean, to get God’s attention?” As Moses said, “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it.” This must have had people scratching their heads. Because every pagan religion of that time insisted that you, the human being, had to seek out your god and do something to get connected with him. Think of Elijah and his showdown with the prophets of Baal. How the prophets of Baal keep dancing, trying to get Baal to send fire down to burn up their sacrifice. And when nothing happens, they take knives, make slices on their own bodies, let the blood flow. Why? Because that’s how they thought it worked—human beings had to do something to get their god’s attention. Or think of the Trojan horse. Do you remember why the Greeks built it (I mean, the religious reason they built it, not the sneaky reason the built it)? As a gift to the goddess Athena, to get her attention, so she would give them safe travels back.
And then here comes Moses and he says, “No, that’s not how it works between the real God and human beings. The real way it works is that God seeks you. By getting you and his Word to cross paths. As Moses said, “No, the WORD is very near you, it is in your mouth and in your heart.”
Which is all backwards. God seeks after us? That’s backwards, since we need God, he doesn’t need us. We desperately need him, as the article entitled “Our Desperate Need” in this month’s Forward in Christ says. Without him we can’t live, can’t even breath. Without him we will most certainly die and suffer eternally in hell, for we are by nature sinful. We have tons of reasons to seek him, but he has no reason to seek us (less than no reason because of our sin). And yet the fact is, God seeks us! By having us and his Word cross paths. And in that Word, there we find God. A God who says, “If you are a sinner, you’re my kind of person. For I am a God who wants to forgive your sin through my Word; I am a God who loves sinners, takes care of sinners, saves sinners. In fact, that is why I sent my Son into the world.” And what does John, in his gospel, call Jesus? “The Word”, the “Word made flesh,” who came into our world and sought our salvation by dying and rising again for us.
God seeks you. YOU. He means to be close to YOU, up close and personal, with YOU. Guys, you know one of the ways you can tell that a girl is really in to you? If, when you are out to eat, she says, “Oh, this is so good, you have to try some.” And instead of pushing her plate towards you so you can get some with your fork, she feeds it to you with her fork, or maybe even her fingers.
Because that is a very personal thing. Not the food necessarily (that’s more social than personal) but the feeding. The mouth. Very personal. And what does Moses reveal about God to us? He wants to put not food but words in our mouth. “The Word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” God seeks you through his Word, and he means to be so close to you, closer to your than your best friend, closer to you than your next thought. “The Word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” And in the Lord’s Supper, he takes that one step further, with Jesus Christ coming to you with his true body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine, the price of your redemption, coming to you, your mouth, giving you forgiveness and salvation so real you can taste it.
This is the thing to take home in your mind. This is the sweet thing–God seeks you, he wants you. You. Nobody else can take your place as far as God is concerned. It’s YOU he wants. How can you be sure of this? Your baptism. At your baptism he called you BY NAME, adopted you into his family, promised you heaven, for that is where God lives and so will all who are his family by faith in his Son. You.
Now, if you know anyone who avoids God’s Word, you can tell them, “Hey, God wants you, is seeking you. He wants to have you and his Word intersect continually. Why do you keep avoiding him? Do you realize that if you keep avoiding God, one day, you will get what you want–God will start avoiding you? And on that day, your nerve endings will burn like fire, your darkest emotions flood you, and the last thing you will hear is the “click” of a very large lock, as the door to hell is shut forever. And you are on the inside. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Because God is seeking you, right now, through his Word. Why don’t you come with me to church? After all, these days you can’t even go to Wal-mart and assume you will make it back home OK.”
2) God sinks his Word into your heart
This sermon means to give you two things to take home. The first is the truth that God seeks you, not the other way around, seeks you, it has to be you, through his Word. Take that home in your mind, think about that every so often; it’s meant to make your life sweeter. The second truth to take home in your heart will make life sweeter for others. The second truth is that God sinks his Word from your mouth into your heart–and that makes a difference that others will notice.
This is what happened for a 28 year old woman named Melody, whose two defining characteristics were that she was a curious person and she was always tired. Tired of being overweight. Tired of being stressed about money. And tired of just being tired. She thought she needed a spa vacation. So she took one. It helped. While she was on vacation. But two days after she had gotten back, she was as tired as ever, even more stressed about money, since she really could not afford a spa vacation, and eating too much because she was stressed.
That night, lying in bed, crying a little, she heard that voice again. It said, “You are such a loser.” And that terrible chant, “Smelly Melly with the jelly belly!” Her chest tightened. Because she recognized the voice. It was the voice of Regina Lacey. The most popular and meanest girl in middle school. These cutting words were still in the soundtrack of her heart, which was one of the reasons she continued to be overweight, stressed, and tired.
In church that Sunday, she heard the pastor read the words, “No, the Word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so you may obey it.” And that caught her attention. Because she was not just a tired person, she was a curious person as well. She thought, how do words get into a person’s heart?
And just then the pastor asked in his sermon, “And how does God’s Word get into your heart?” And, as pastors tend to do, he answered his own question, “The Holy Spirit personally carries them into your heart and finds the right place to leave them. In your heart. It’s called ‘faith.’ But what it is is words, God’s words, finding a permanent place in your heart.” The pastor paused, and then added, “This is why we need to keep hearing the Word of God over and over, because there are a lot of other words, wrong words, lying words stored up in our hearts.”
Melody immediately thought of Regina Lacey’s words, “You are such a loser. Smelly Melly with the jelly belly.” Words that were stored up in her heart 14 years. 14 years! The pastor had said, “This is why we need to keep hearing the Word of God over and over, because there are a lot of other words, wrong words, lying words in our hearts.” And this 28 year old woman exclaimed to herself, “You’re right! You’re absolutely right!”
Except she did not say it to herself. In her excitement, she accidently said it out loud. Which is not something we Lutherans normally do, actually respond during a sermon. But this sermon is different, you see. Because you have lying words stored up in your heart as well, just like Melody, just like me. Men, one of the most common lies men store up in their hearts is, “I’m not measuring up. I’m a disappointment. I have to do more.” One of the common lies women tell themselves is something like, “When I get thinner and more organized, then I’ll be happy. I’m not good enough the way I am.” Are you aware of the lies you are telling yourself, or that Satan, whom Jesus once called “the father of lies”, is slipping into your heart? Of course, you know what the grandpappy lie of them all is? It sounds either like this, “I’m good enough for God so he will take me to heaven” or it sounds like this, “I’m so bad there’s no way God could forgive me and take me to heaven.” Either way, it is the grandpappy lie of them all—and the one that will damn us.
But God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, means for us to throw out the lies stored in our hearts and replace them with the truth of his Word. Truths like, “God says I am A-OK, good enough, perfect in fact, because he wrapped Christ’s perfect robe of righteousness around me at my baptism. This is a good reason for striving for excellence in what I do without finding my worth in what I do.” Telling yourself Truth, like, “The deepest kind of happiness there is, the one the Bible calls ‘blessedness’, is already mine by faith in Christ. So I’m going to deal with my disorganization and weight—but from a position of strength and happiness.” And the grandpappy truth of them all–“For it is by GRACE you have been saved through faith, and this NOT FROM YOURSELVES, it is the GIFT OF GOD, not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Melody started telling herself these things, under her breath this time, but still, she spoke them to herself, because that’s where God puts his words, in our mouth. And it’s the Holy Spirit who then sinks them into our hearts, as we say in the meaning of the 3rd Article of the Apostles Creed, “But the Holy Spirit called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” As the week went on, Melody got better at recognizing the lies stored in her heart, got better at rejecting them, got better at replacing them with the true words, God’s Words.
And people noticed this. Not in an, “Wow, you’ve had a total make-over!” kind of way. But in a subtle way. Because instead of being so stressed and focused on herself, she was a little calmer and more focused on whomever she was talking to. She had a different vibe, a different energy. Because that’s what happens when the God who puts his words into your mouth also, by the power of his Spirit, sinks them into your heart. As Moses said, “The Word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so you may obey it.”
This sermon meant to give you two things to take home. The first, the beautiful fact that God seeks you, YOU, through his Word, and keeps on seeking you through his Word/Sacraments. The second, the beautiful fact that when the Holy Spirit sinks the Word into your heart by faith, this changes you. In a way that makes life sweeter both for you and those around you. Amen.