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Deuteronomy 6: Teach Your Children, Share Your Community’s Story
The sun shone and sparkled on the sea, and the sand was warm and scratchy underfoot. We bit into warm, freshly bought doughnuts as part of the joy of a family holiday. Menacingly, a dark shadow hovered over the beach. In a flash, the brazen seagull grabbed the last half of my daughter’s doughnut straight out of her hand. Tears flowed. My husband chased the bird away. My son responded to his sister’s tears by giving to her half of what he had left.
This incident happened a few years ago, but it is part of our family ‘folklore.’ I wonder if you have similar stories. We remind each other of it: ‘Do you remember when…?’ My then traumatized daughter is now able to remember it and laugh too. It is a story of family love and life and is retold with affection. It reminds us of time spent relaxing together. It shapes our experiences when we’re back at the beach or being approached by hungry gulls. My daughter is now the one on the offensive, ready to chase the birds away, extracting her revenge on each one. She has learned from her experience and won’t be caught unaware again.
What’s important is that it is our family’s story; it is part of the collection of particular events that makes our family what it is. No one else shares that exact same experience. In retelling the story, we are marking out important things that are just about us; it’s a story of love and protection with some humor thrown in as well. Our family stories are gathered and retold, reinforcing the things we see as important and binding us together in shared experiences.
Read Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Verses 4 and 5 are some of the most famous verses in Deuteronomy, if not the Old Testament, and are picked up and repeated in the Gospels and in some Anglican liturgy. What makes them so important? There is some debate about exactly what these words mean and it is a tricky bit of Hebrew to bring into English, but what it seeks to create is a sense of entirety . This is your focus: the Lord our God and Him only. The whole of yourself is encompassed as you respond to Him in love. In all that you’re thinking about, in all that you do and with all of your energy, you should love the Lord your God.
Moses passionately reminds the people of God to keep the things of God before them. Have them so close to you, he says, that you bump into them when you walk around, when you go in and out of your houses, when you sleep and when you wake up. In other words, keep these words front and center. With those who are most precious, at points of change and transition, at endings and beginnings, keep these words close. Make them your goal, your aim and your focus.
There is a lot of scholarly debate as to whether the instructions about tying the words on your hand and head was meant to be taken literally or was simply an exaggeration in order to emphasize how important this was. Either way, it shows the desire to keep these words entirely present and something that you would ‘trip over.’
Read Deuteronomy 6:20-25
As noted above, the stories families tell and repeat to one another again and again shape their experiences, their values and their love for each other. Although the emphasis here is on passing on the story of faith to the next generation, it’s important to remember that the ‘household’ group at this point would not have simply been two parents and their two or three children. The ‘household’ was much broader, multi-generational, maybe with several married siblings living together, sharing child-care and also including slaves who fulfilled different roles within the household. All are drawn into this responsibility to share the love of God for His people, tell the stories of faith and redemption and draw each new generation into the faith.
It’s also important to remember that historically, children have often been marginalized and more-or-less ignored. At this time in history, we know that societies in the wider geographical area engaged in child sacrifice and, even for the people of God, children were essentially the property of the father. We know that they were highly vulnerable in Israelite society as Deuteronomy repeatedly instructs the people of God to care for the orphan. A child without a father would have very limited resources and be at risk of exploitation. And yet, in this context, we have here the spoken words of a child, albeit in an imagined sense.
It is the child’s words that prompt the recounting of the story of salvation and brings the people together as they share their particular story of what God has done for them. Other nations might have their own stories, but they are the ones who have been saved from slavery in Egypt and brought to this new land. And so, they share with the children the story of faith rather than a theological statement, knowing that stories are engaging, dramatic and will transform.
Questions for Reflection
  • Stories have a profound effect on us. Do you have stories that you share with family or a particular group of friends? It might be that these some stories have become negative for us and in these cases, it might be helpful to pray through them, maybe with someone you trust. They might be really positive and encouraging stories that have helped us to live positive and courageous lives, in which case spend time giving thanks for the blessing of these people in your life.
  • What might be the stories that come out of this current pandemic that as a family or group of friends you will be remembering in years to come? How might these be shaping you?
  • Who shared with you the story of faith? Pray and give thanks for them.
  • Are there things that you can do to make sure that you are more aware of God’s word in your life, so that you are ‘tripping over’ the word each day?
  • In the midst of busy lives, it can be difficult to respond to children’s questions, if appropriate, is there a way this week, where you can respond to the needs or questions of a child or group of children more intentionally?
A Prayer for this Week
Heavenly Father, thank You that You have given us a story to share that shows us Your love through the way that You have saved us from slavery to sin. Thank You that You also bring us into community, a community that is shaped by a shared story that speaks to everyone, from the youngest to the oldest. Reveal to us this week new ways of encountering Your story and how we can also share this with those around us. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Jenny Corcoran
Chaplain to the Bishops of Canterbury
The Rev. Dr. Jenny Corcoran
The Rev. Dr. Jenny Corcoran is the Chaplain to the Bishop of Dover in the Diocese of Canterbury and Local Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury. She grew up in Bristol, England, and then earned a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Music and English Literature from the University of Lancaster. She worked as a youth and children’s minister at a large evangelical church near London before getting her Master’s of Divinity from St. John’s College, Nottingham. Jenny completed her Ph.D. in Old Testament Studies and Practical Theology at the University of Nottingham. The title of her dissertation is A reading of Deuteronomy as a model of continuity, adaptation and innovation for contemporary discussions of Anglican liturgy . While working on her thesis, she served in various parish roles in the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham and as Chaplain and Professor of Practical Theology at St. John’s. Jenny is married to Dan, who is also a priest in the Church of England, and they have two young children.