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The Shema

Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
 

Bible Readings

Deuteronomy Chapter 6:1-9 These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (This is the Word of the Lord—Thanks be to God)

Mark 12: 28-34 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." "Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. (This is the Word of the Lord—Thanks be to God)


A Scribe came to Jesus and asked him which of the commandments was most important. Jesus responds by reciting the words of the Shema

'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength."

As an observant Jew, Jesus recited this combination of confession and prayer to God twice a day—during his morning and evening prayers. Still today the Shema is the first prayer a Jewish child learns and a pious Jew would want it to be found on their lips at death. The word "Shema" means 'Hear' and that is the first word of the prayer. The prayer was developed as a summary of the whole of the Jewish law. The prayer is taught to all Jewish children by the parents and thus emphasises the responsibility of parents in passing on the faith to their children. The Shema is the central focus of Jewish worship. (See further, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Deuteronomy 11:13-21, Numbers 15:37-41)

Jesus then goes on further with the commandment 'love your neighbour as yourself.' This means that we should extend to our neighbours the same self-centered love and concern we all harbour for ourselves. Historically, the 'neighbour' referred to in Leviticus 19:18 specifically meant "the sons of your own people." But Jesus had expanded the definition of 'neighbour' far beyond those borders (see Luke 10:25-37), erasing national and ethnic self-centeredness as well as excuses for limits on loving one's 'neighbour.'

When we love God with all our soul, we will succeed in integrating our faith into all of our being. We cannot can not compartmentalise our "religious life" from the rest of our life if the love of God has entered into your soul. Now we may not have texts of the Bible placed on our doorways as do the Jews, (see below Mezuzah) but the reasoning behind this practice is sound. Real faith is not a quick visit to church on a Sunday for an hour, a kind of 'Dry Clean Christianity.' Christianity is a way of life, a 24 hour, seven-day-a-week blueprint to approach and respond to life."

As Christians this passage is a call to more commitment and dedication to our faith, in every area of our lives. It is said that eighty-eight percent of people know their astrological signs with half of the entire population reading their horoscopes at least once a month. Wouldn't the world be such a better place if 88% of the people were starting their day with the Word of God, not the alignment of the stars?

Increasingly people have an insatiable longing. We will all be dissatisfied if we seek to satisfy ourselves on the trivia of this world , which leads only to a hungry soul and an inability to love God and others. Relying upon scenic vacations, pleasurable pursuits, career accomplishments, human exploits or anything else can only lead to a longing need, our lives will be empty like a cold and damp hollow cave. We were created for God and our hearts will remain restless until they find their rest in God. And so in the answer that our Lord gives to this question, we have his listing of the priorities of life.

Number one priority is to begin with God. When you are troubled, when you do not know what to do first, when you feel you do not have enough resources to handle something, or are puzzled and bewildered, start with God and love him. When we are wrapped up with the problem look to God who will lead us through the puzzle, the problem and the pressures that confront us. We are to start with God's thinking, with God himself. This turning to God must embrace our

Heart, Soul, Mind, Strength

I was waiting at a car park the other day and it was full. So I was waiting there for a car to go out so that I could be let in and there was a young man who was at the barrier allowing the cars in and out. He looked at me and I looked at him and then said so what do you do for a living.? There is always a terrible moment at times like these when I think should I say child catcher, or astronaut or something, anything but Vicar. Then I owned up, because dog collars are dead give aways. So that was it—open season on religion, 'Go on then why do you believe the world was made in seven days ?' He said, I answered that I was a confirmed believer in evolution. So then we moved on 'Why are all you religions fighting all the time if you believe in God.' I began to notice that cars were coming out of the car park, but I wasn't getting in. Which meant that either he was really interested or he thought he had me on the ropes and he was moving in with the really big questions. 'Listen' I said, 'I could try and answer all your questions but the bottom line is that it is up to you whether or not you believe in God. I can not do that for you. If you want to have faith and trust in God then that is something which I would recommend but you must do that for yourself and you may have to accept that there are things which you will learn only after time.'

Is this true? Do we love God and then seek to understand him.

Perhaps for some people it is more heart than mind, for others the emotional response comes as secondary to the need to understand with the mind. I would guess that for most people faith comes from the heart as our emotions are gripped and then you begin to feel moved by the truth your mind comprehends. The important thing is that real faith lays hold of all these things, our emotions our wills, our minds and our bodily strength. This means that we observe the truth, allow the truth to touch the emotions, then to challenge and move the will, and finally to engage the body. There is apparently in a park in Brussels a sign

  • In German the sign says: Picking flowers is prohibited.
  • In English: Please do not pick the flowers.
  • In French: Those who love flowers will not pick them.

It seems to me that in this sign lies the heart of a question for us all. What is our motivation for doing God's will, obeying God's commands? Is it fear of authority? A desire for God's approval or the approval of others? Or love? Surely the reason why we seek to be obedient in our faith is because we have known the love of God, which melts our hard and self-centered hearts. As we know God loves and seek to return that love so we strive to follow his commandments and love our neighbour also. In the words of 1 John 4:19: "We love, because he first loved us." Amen.

Additional Information The Mezuzah

On the doorposts of traditional Jewish homes today (and many not-so-traditional homes!), there will be a small case commonly known as a mezuzah (Heb.: doorpost), because it is placed upon the doorposts of the house. The mezuzah is not, as some suppose, a good-luck charm, nor does it have any connection with the lamb's blood placed on the doorposts in Egypt. Rather, it is a constant reminder of God's presence and God's commandments. The commandment to place mezuzot on the doorposts of houses is derived from Deut. 6:4-9, the Shema. In that passage, God commanded the Jews to keep His words constantly in their minds and in their hearts, by (among other things) writing them on the doorposts of their houses. The words of the Shema are written on a tiny scroll of parchment, along with the words of a companion passage, Deut. 11:13. On the back of the scroll, a name of God is written. The scroll is then rolled up placed in the case, so that the first letter of the Name (the letter Shin) is visible (or, more commonly, the letter Shin is written on the outside of the case). The scroll must be handwritten and must be placed in the case to fulfil the commandment. The case and scroll are then nailed or affixed to the right side doorpost on an angle, with a small ceremony called Channukat Ha-Bayit (dedication of the house). A brief blessing is recited. Why is the mezuzah affixed at an angle? The rabbis could not decide whether it should be placed horizontally or vertically, so they compromised! Every time you pass through a door with a mezuzah on it, you are supposed to kiss your fingers and touch them to the mezuzah, expressing love and respect for God and his commandments and reminding yourself of the commandments contained within them. As the mezuzahis hung on the door, so Jews acknowledge the presence of God in their lives. We see that this doorway marks sacred space—a place where people believe in love, respect, and peace—a bridge to God.

 

Bible Notes and Readings for 5th November 2000

 

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