Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Shema

As usual we were welcomed warmly by Pastor Brad this fifth Sunday in July. “Good morning… This past month we’ve been looking at our big God… bigger than our troubles and our pain." He then introduced today's theme, the Shema, the central prayer in the Jewish prayerbook and the first words that children in Israel would learn when they first learned to speak.

1. Wednesday August 1 the Capital Campaign Group will be meeting here at the church.
2. The Harvest Festival Group will meet Thursday to evaluate this year's event.
3. August 11 is the Twig 5K Run. Our church has traditionally run a water station at this event and we welcome volunteers to help. It's a great way to meet folks in the community.
4. Women’s Retreat this year will be Sept 14-16

Darlene, Ken and Chuck led worship this morning. Chuck introduced the first song by reading Luke 8, a story about storms. The song they sang was called Master of the Wind. After the worship time, the trio sang If That Isn’t Love while the offering was taken.

Today’s Scripture reading by Gwen was from Mark 6:30-34 and 53-56.

There were three birthdays today, so we sang Happy Birthday for Gail, Nancy and Violet.

The prayer time included prayer for those who are grieving the loss of loved ones.

The Shema

As Christians we say that we want to love God and love people and serve the world. These words come from the Old Testament. I want to unpack what these words mean, to love God and love others and serve the world.

Given to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 6:4-9

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 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. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

This was the central text for all of Israel. Wisdom began here: Love God with all your heart and soul and strength. The way you do this is to write them on your doorpost and on your foreheads and walls.

The Hebrews believed you should be willing to die rather than worship another God. Jewish martyrs would recite the Shema even as they were being executed. At its core was One God who made everything. All other tribal peoples had regional gods and when you moved you fell in step with the people of that region worshiping the god of that region.

"I want all of your heart, not just part of it but all of it. I would like to have exclusive rights to your heart," God is saying. 

Jewish men would recite the Shema twice a day. A Jewish man would put on a prayer shawl and more... it was an important daily ritual. 

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one...

This was the most important thing, and the only thing that can get you out of saying it is death.

Why was reciting these words so important? They believed these words were the answer to the great questions of life. How should I live my life? What is wisdom? What is important in life? Why are we here?

In our day, conventional wisdom says that when it comes to values, when it comes to what matters, when it comes to meaning and goodness, you've got to think for yourself.

Brad then told a story about the president of Yale's introductory speech to a new batch of undergrads. “We cannot supply you with a philosophy of education any more than we can supply you with a philosophy of life…” In other words, the university has nothing to offer as regards basic life guidance. "We have facts, we have history, but as for learning how to live, you have to figure that out yourself."

The people of Israel practiced a rather counter-cultural approach. Prov 3:1-5 states:

My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, 2 for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. 3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding...

He is a very big God that we worship.

“Hear, O Israel, listen….” This is Torah, this is law, this is wisdom. This was not a set of legalistic rules. They represented life and death.

Brad told a story about a boy who was swept to sea in a riptide. The father then tried to help and swam in for the son, and also got swept to sea. Despite his strength he made no progress toward shore. The father’s brother who knew the terrain swam out to a sandbar and said, “Come to me.” The shortest route to safety seemed to be to swim toward shore but was actually to swim parallel to shore, a counterintuitive solution.

A rabbi asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart...” affirming the Shema… but then added to it, which was an utterly audacious act. It would be akin to Brad adding to the Apostle’s Creed, only more than that. 

Jesus alone has authority to add to the Shema. "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love God, love people. That’s the whole deal.

Jesus’ love for people is an unconditional regard for others, helping them to become the kind of people God wants them to be. Everyone, everyone you meet throughout the day… the people you live with, the people in the next cubicle and the people at the checkout lane at the grocery store. Life is about loving people.

Wisdom is arranging your life around these two things… Loving God with everything you’ve got and loving your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus re-defined loving God. In the Old Testament it meant following Torah. In New Testament it means following Jesus, listening to Jesus, studying what Jesus taught, being pre-occupied with Jesus and striving to  become like Jesus.

This is wisdom: to live your life in such a way that when it comes to an end, and it will, God will look at it and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done.”

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