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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 6/1

          Deuteronomy.  There’s probably no one here who would claim that Deuteronomy is their favorite book of the Bible.  I’m sure I haven’t preached on it very often, if at all.  Maybe all that’s too bad though as there really is some good stuff in there.

          Do you know what Deuteronomy means?  If not I will tell you because you’ve always wanted to know; deutero…two or second; nomos…law; so…second law or in this case second reading of the law, by Moses, a second reading of the Ten Commandments and all that Moses had received on Mt. Sinai from the Lord.  So in other words, Deuteronomy, this second reading of the law is the end of the Moses story and you know that story…

          The people of Israel in slavery to Pharaoh in Egypt, they cry out to the Lord, the Lord hears them and then along comes Moses.  The Lord tells Moses to go to Pharaoh and say to him, “Let my people go.”  But, the Lord also tells Moses, Pharaoh won’t let them go because I’m going to harden his heart; at which point Moses had to be tempted to say, “Why don’t you not harden his heart and save both you and me a whole lot of trouble.”  But, this is the Lord; he sometimes acts in ways that don’t make much sense to us so we go through all the plagues, water to blood, frogs, flies, gnats, hail, locusts and so forth but Pharaoh won’t let them go until the tenth and final plague, the killing of the firstborn except those whose doorposts are painted with lambs blood, the people of Israel who are passed over. 

          Then begins the wilderness wandering, crossing the Red Sea, forty years, lots of complaining by the people as they long for the good old days of slavery.  Moses goes up on the mountain and receives the commandments and the rest of the law, but meanwhile the people are at the bottom of the mountain making a golden calf because they’re not too sure about Moses.  So Moses smashes the tablets of stone with the law written on them, but later, in a calmer moment, goes back up the mountain and it all happens again, the Lord gives Moses the law a second time…but that’s not where Deuteronomy comes in. 

          The journey goes on, the people continue to complain about many things, including a lack of water, a legitimate complaint in the middle of the desert.  Moses asks the Lord what he should do.  The Lord tells him to gather everyone around a rock and then command it to produce water and the Lord says he will cause water to gush out of the rock.  Instead of commanding the rock though, Moses strikes the rock with his staff, twice, and water gushes out.  For his failure to follow the Lord’s instructions exactly though, in another rather fickle moment, the Lord tells Moses and his brother Aaron that they will not be the ones to bring the people into the promised land.  They will die in the wilderness.  That’s their punishment for not trusting fully in the word of the Lord.

          Which then brings us to Deuteronomy.  They finally reach the promised land and are ready to cross over and go in; but Moses knows he can’t go.  So there they are; this is Moses last shot with these people, his last chance to address them; so what should he say?  He decides the best thing he can do is to read them the law and the commands of the Lord again so they don’t forget how they are to act once he’s no longer around and they are in the land.  Deuteronomy, the second reading of the law, is Moses’ last address to these people he has been with for so long.

          Today we have with us five high school graduates ready and poised to enter the promised land of higher education at Northern Michigan University.  Is this my last chance to address them before they enter that promised land?  I don’t think so.  First of all, they’re not going that far, just to Marquette.  And second, they’re all good kids; they’ll be back when they can, and I’ll be glad to see them.

          But what if this was my last chance to address them?  What would I say?   I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t read Deuteronomy to them, again, not that there isn’t good stuff in there, but I don’t think that’s the direction I’d want to go.  Today’s gospel though almost seems ready made for such an address.  It’s a portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, a sermon which presents a good dose of his teaching and today the part about building your house on the proper foundation is good advice for anyone but especially for young people heading into the world of academia where the foundations they have been taught may well be called into question.  The Sermon on the Mount might be a good option.  It’s hard to top the words of Jesus.

          Actually though, there is similarity between Deuteronomy and the Sermon on the Mount because both of them have to do with God’s vision, God’s dream for the world.  We might have a tendency to react against the “law” of Deuteronomy but law is perhaps better understood as instruction and the intent of all of the Old Testament law is to provide instruction for a livable, humane way of life that is focused on love and praise of God and love and care for other people. 

You could say that the Sermon on the Mount, or actually all of Jesus’ teaching for that matter, is his interpretation, his commentary on the instruction of the Old Testament.  He takes on and upsets the accepted ways and power structures of his day, which are pretty much the accepted ways and power structures of our day and he proposes another way; except it’s not all that different from the “law” of Deuteronomy.  It’s still focused on love of God and love of neighbor.  It challenges all the ways that create us vs. them divisions, the strong lording it over the weak, economic arrangements where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. 

That’s what Jesus said, and “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching.”  I assume they were astounded because Jesus wasn’t part of the religious, economic or political elite; he didn’t seem to be anyone who had any authority.  But maybe it was because they hadn’t heard anyone interpret scripture quite this way, or at least they hadn’t heard it in a long time.  Maybe in Jesus’ day the Bible (just the Old Testament at that time, of course) maybe the Bible had it had lost its edge, been flattened and made boring, just a rubber stamp of what the Roman Empire said was true; that does happen.  Maybe they were astounded to be reminded that God has a different vision, a different dream that often doesn’t coincide with what seem to be unchangeable realities of the empire.  Maybe that’s why they were astounded.

If this was my last shot at addressing these graduates, or any of the rest of you, that might not be a bad word.  Be astounded by Jesus’ teaching; be astounded by the Bible; be astounded by the dream of God.  The Bible can be reduced to legalism, it can be reduced to moral niceties, it can be reduced to God’s little instruction book and it is all of those things, but if that’s all it is, it loses its edge, it’s not very interesting, we cease to be astounded.  But think of the Bible as God’s dream; think of Jesus, the living word as God’s dream among us…and be astounded. 

Graduation is a good time to think about dreams.  It’s important to have dreams, to imagine new possibilities.  As one of the speakers I heard a couple of weeks ago said, “A world without dreams is like a bird with a broken wing that can’t fly.”  I hope each of you have dreams about the next few years and beyond.  Some of them will come true, some of them won’t.  But it’s important to have them.  And keep God’s dream in the mix.  Hear the Bible as God’s dream for you and for everyone and believe it’s possible, believe in God’s dream where the dead don’t even stay dead, but there is always hope and new life, surprising new life.

God does have a dream for a transformed reality.  Jesus embodied that dream.  Share in his vision; in the face of many other voices and words, hear the words of Jesus; and be astounded.   


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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