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23rd Sunday after Pentecost — October 31, 2021

Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Ordinary 23B; Proper 26

Thanks to this week’s guest writer! Gail Henderson-Belsito is the associate minister at Caldwell Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C.

Early in our marriage, my husband and I lived in a townhouse complex in Stamford, Conn. Our new neighbors Seth and Dinah and their infant daughter Sarah welcomed us warmly when we moved in. Our eldest child was born less than four months later, and the two little ones played together as often as possible — except for the hours between sundown on Friday and sundown on Saturday. During those hours, Seth, Dinah and their children celebrated Sabbath with great joy. Dinah made sure that all the food needed for their day of celebration was prepared ahead of time. They donned their best clothing and walked to the temple for worship every Saturday. Their Sabbath rituals and traditions were the highlights of their week.

Their faith affected every aspect of their lives. In their kitchen, there were two dishwashers, two sets of dishes and two sets of pots and pans so that meat and dairy foods would remain separate. At their door was a mezuzah – the scroll containing the words of the Shema found in Deuteronomy 6:4. And every time, Dinah opened the door to enter or leave her home, she kissed her hand and touched that mezuzah.

When Dinah’s father died, she explained how I needed to honor her mother and pointed out who I could and couldn’t touch when I entered the house to sit shiva with her family. When kids’ birthday parties were planned on Saturdays, Dinah patiently explained why her children wouldn’t be able to attend.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)

We Presbyterians resist being told what to do when it comes to our faith. We have been known to protest religious rules, regulations and expectations laid on us by popes, bishops and priests. We are good at explaining the tenets of our reformed traditions and beliefs — but loathe to be told how we can or should use our bodies in worship and our other faith practices. The stereotype of being “the frozen chosen” is not too far from the truth for some of us.

This passage in Deuteronomy 6 reminds us that there is more to the practice of faith, more to being part of the family of God than simply head knowledge. There is more to faith formation and reformation than mere information.

Through Moses, God told the people – and us – to keep God’s words in their hearts. Have often do we invite God’s Word to travel from our heads to our hearts?

They were to recite God’s words to their children and talk about them all the time and everywhere. How can we recite words we have not read and do not know by heart?

They were to bind the words on their hands and foreheads. In other words, their sacred Scripture was meant to be visible to them and to those who saw them by wearing the signs and symbols of their faith. How is the word of God visible to us and to others when they see us?

Seth and Dinah’s deliberate and joyful celebration of their faith prompted me and my husband to take our family faith practices more seriously — then and now. We read the stories of Scripture together and recount God’s daily faithfulness to us — praying always that God’s word will reshape us and transform us day by day.

On this Reformation Sunday, we can celebrate our faith and feel the joy of having our faith move from our heads to our hearts, from our hearts to our lips, and from our hands out into the world Jesus died to save. May God’s word continue to form and reform us today, tomorrow and always.

Questions:

  1. When have you been in the presence of someone whose faith practices challenged you to deepen your own practices?
  2. How might you engage in one of the faith practices found in Deuteronomy 6:7-9?
  3. Have you ever memorized Scripture and recited it to someone else? If so, what did that feel like? If not, what do you imagine that would feel like?

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