Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
This week most of our students went back to school. Back to school season helps make social media shine. Most of the year social media is relegated to making cheap political points, but for back to school we get to see picture of children being forced to smile as their parents mark the beginning of a new school year.
When I was a child, the night before the first day of school was a night of little sleep. I would get anxious about the day ahead, wondering and fretting about what the new year would bring. The first day of school, though was mostly great. It was a day of little work and a day of little or no homework. During college and in graduate school, I would look forward to the first day of school, because it was the day you would get your syllabi and would learn how many books you were supposed to read, what the attendance policy was, and when your exams would take place. It was a day of learning the ground rules and figuring the routine of the year.
As our students went back to school this year, they likely spent their first day learning about the rest of the year. Learning when they go to recess, when they eat lunch, learning about homework policies, learning the names of their classmates, learning how to work with their new teacher, and learning the class rules. Each teacher does things just a bit differently, so each year students learn the new rules of the class and have to navigate new waters. Some of it is, of course, familiar, but there are different rules and customs that follow each teacher and class.
Sometimes it takes a while to adjust to the rules, but these class rules are things that you can rely on throughout the year. And if you pay attention to the class rules you will excel through the year.
Today, I want to share with you some class rules. Today beings the first week in our new message series called teaching and learning. As we are all getting adjusted to the back to school season, we are going to focus on teachers and students and how we all can participate in learning and in teaching.
When we think about teaching and learning, it’s easy to assume that once you graduate you’re finished. That graduation is the culmination of many years of work. While, this is true to some extent, graduation is also the beginning of a life in the work world that requires adaptation, teaching, and learning.
God also knows the importance of teaching and learning, and today I want to tell you about some class rules that God has given humanity as a way of living.
Many years ago, there were these people called the Israelites, and these people listened to God calling them. In a way, they entered into a learning relationship with God. God promised to be their God and their teacher, and they promised to be God’s people and God’s students. Since these Israelites were just like every other human, they needed some class rules to help guide their lives and their learning. One of the most important of these rules is known as the Shema, and this is what I want to share with you today. I think that not only was it an important class rule for the Israelites, but it can help people today in all that you do. We find this in Deuteronomy 6:4 and following.
4 Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord![a] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength.
God gives these Israelites many guidelines to live by, but this is, arguably the most important. God says, listen, eyes up, get ready to learn. You have only one God. Now if you are a Christian, this kind of is just a given, but in the landscape in which the Israelites lived there were other people groups who believed in other gods. So, there would have been pressure for the Israelites to gain influence or to fit in by worshiping other gods. This is not too different from today, our gods have different names: popularity, money, prestige, followers on Instagram. But God says, listen, you only have one God, the Lord.
And you will love God with your heart, your being, and your strength. This idea of love is not just emotional love, but it also captures a sense of dedication and service. You will serve and dedicate yourself to God with your whole being. But that’s not it, God has some specific rules and guidelines about how to live this commandment through your life. God continues:
6 These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. 7 Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol.[b] 9 Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates.
When we think about class rules at school, they are something we attend to first, and then they just slip into the back of our minds. But God tells you that this commandment to love only God and serve only God is so important that we must constantly be teaching it and learning.
We need to teach it to our children. If your children aren’t learning at home, they are going to learn somewhere. God knows that if parents don’t teach their children about God, they won’t learn about God. They won’t learn the love and deep grace that God desires for their lives. God knows that if our children don’t have a safe place to learn, other things and other influences will teach them.
This is one of the reasons I love and support the Boys and Girls Clubs in Meigs County. In our county, there are very few options, beyond school, for children to have a safe and supportive environment in which to thrive. On top of this, often parents might be working multiple jobs and long hours to just provide basic needs, and children don’t have a learning environment where they can thrive. This is not saying that they have bad parents, but life is hard and the club offers families a safe place for their kids to learn and grow.
Children don’t know they are loved on their own. Without someone to tell them the stories, children will never know how important and special they are to God. Science has shown that when children do not have a nurturing and safe environment ther can long lasting impacts. Children in such conditions can find it difficult to form healthy attachments, they can have long lasting deficits in the brain and physical development. All this happens because a child hasn’t been in a loving environment. God wants more for our children.
Children need space where they can feel love and where they can experience God; this is part of what God is trying to tell us in this command. God is telling the Israelites and us, that we have the responsibility of teaching the most important things to our children. We have the responsibility of teaching them that God loves them. We have the responsibility of teaching them that they are valuable. We have the responsibility of teaching them that they can rely on their community and on God. In the rules that God gives us, it is very clear that this is your responsibility and this is my responsibility.
By establishing these class rules, God is trying to tell you to keep your focus on God and to teach each other and children about the love of God. There is nothing more important than this. All summer long, I have walked through the halls of the church and seen the smiles of children. And I know that because of this church and the Boys and Girls club, they are experiencing love—they are experiencing the love of God.
This whole learning and teaching adventure, is not only for teaching children. God knows that you and I need to continue in this learning too. So God tells us to talk God and the way God loves us all the time. Specifically talk about God when you are sitting around your house, and when you are out and about. Talk about God while you lying down and when you are getting up. Tie this commandment about loving God on your hand and on your forehead so that you never forget. And write the commandment about the loving God all around your house.
God knows that you and I need a reminder, because we have a tendency to put other things before God. If you walk into a school classroom, you likely find the class rules written on the wall as a daily reminder to the student. That’s why God tells us to talk about the love of God all the time. God knows that you and I get distracted, so God tells you to put reminders all around us about the love of God. When I need to reminder something, I need I reminder. If God were giving us these class rules today, in addition to telling you to write the love of God on your hand and your forehead and in your house, God might also tell you to set a reminder on your phone about the love of God. Hey Siri, remind me that that God loves me and that I love God.
Even with great reminders, we all know what happens come spring. As the trees begin to bloom after a dark winter, the students begin to forget the rules; as the days start to grow longer, we begin to get a little slack when it comes to homework; as the winter frost melts away we have a tendency to get a bit lazy. And when it comes to God’s class rules that we have been talking about there is no difference. God knew that even with teaching our children and constant reminders about God’s love, that this laziness was temptation, and there would come a point in life where it would be easy to just forget about serving God. So, we have one more warning in Deuteronomy 6:10
10 Now once the Lord your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to you—a land that will be full of large and wonderful towns that you didn’t build, 11 houses stocked with all kinds of goods that you didn’t stock, cisterns that you didn’t make, vineyards and olive trees that you didn’t plant—and you eat and get stuffed,
God knew that these Israelites were going to get lazy. They would be in a land of plenty. With wonderful towns, houses stocked with everything you can imagine. Plenty wine and olives. God knew that there would comes a day when they eat and get stuffed; truth be told, this kind of sounds like many of our homes. God knew the people would get fat and happy and lazy, so God gives them this warning:
12 watch yourself! Don’t forget the Lord.
As we think about this back to school season, I think this is perhaps the best advice we can have. “Watch yourself! Don’t forget the Lord.” Have you been serving God lately? Have you been teaching the children about the love of God lately? Have you been talking about the love of God lately? Have you been investing in the lives of children lately? Or as spring gave into summer, have you forgotten the class rules? Have you gotten a little lazy? Has the day come when you’ve eaten and got stuffed? If so, “watch yourself! Don’t forget the Lord.” Set yourself a reminder that you are loved by God. Set yourself a reminder to love God and tell others about God.
Decatur, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.