Summary: What is it that makes for a strong Christian Community? Moses identifies three underpins of the Church -- The Family Incubator, The Word of God and the assurance of God’s gracious love.
Pentecost 2 A
Deuteronomy 11:18-21; 26-28
Underpinnings for the Church of God
I would guess that’s not a word that you use in your everyday vocabulary. More customary is the use of other words with similar meaning; words like “foundation” or “groundwork” or “building blocks.” Any of these words, especially “foundation”, can be used interchangeably for that word “underpinning”, but not exactly.
You see, properly speaking, an underpin is “a foundation introduced for additional support to what’s already there or when a previous support is about to be removed.” You might say it’s the stuff behind a foundation’s strength or a more basic source of support when something else is about to give way or be taken away. And that’s what Moses was trying to secure for God’s people.
A new era was about to begin in the life of God’s people, in a new environment; and with a major change. For 40 years the people of Israel had wandered in the desert as a closely knit community, moving from camp to camp. It was like a vast extended family and support system that was always available to admonish, to encourage, to guide and to build each other up in the way to go. That would suddenly change. The people would populate the lands they would be given and establish permanent residences situated in widely separated areas. So Moses set about the task of relaying the underpinnings of the community that would bind them with one another and most importantly to their saving God, even after this support was gone; the first being the family incubator.
This, of course, had always been in place, but it was going to be even more important now. The extended family of the worshiping community would be less present. It would still be there, but in a lesser role by necessity. More responsibility would fall to the parents in transmitting the faith to the next generation. And in many respects one can see this being repeated in the life of the church today.
Not too long ago, recent enough for some of you to remember; the church was the focal point of community activity. People gathered at church, not just for worship, but for social functions, picnics, celebrations and the like. It wasn’t unusual for people to make an entire day of it on Sunday, not just an hour. The congregation was essentially and sometimes quite literally an extended family as it was in the days of Moses.
To the grief of some this not nearly so much the case now, and in many ways I can sympathize with that. Yet in other ways I’m glad it’s not. The Church was very self-focused. It’s mission of making disciples was somewhat overlooked as we took care of our own. The fact that our people are less focused on “doing” church and more focused on being out in the world can be a good thing, except for the fact we’ve left out another underpinning of the people of God, an essential underpinning that can’t be forgotten – the Word.
As it was then, so it is now. As we are sent out into the world to fill the land God has given us with the message of His gracious love, best seen in Christ; the primary mission field and training ground is the Christian home. The Church can help. In fact that’s the proper role of pastors and teachers of the Word as God spoke through Paul in Ephesians 4. They are to “equip the saints for service and the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). It is to the families, and primarily to parents, though, that the words of our text today are spoken. “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the LORD swore to give your forefathers.”
That’s more than bringing them to the church for instruction. That’s important. The Bible tells us in Romans 10:17 that “faith comes from hearing the message.” We gather on Sunday’s to be strengthened and built up by God’s Spirit in saving faith. But a Sunday School class or Sunday morning sermon can’t catch your son or daughter at every “teachable moment” when their heart and mind are open to hearing what God’s Word has to say about that specific circumstance. A class can’t be there when something happens that makes them think, as parents can.