(Deuteronomy 6: 4-9)
Shema Israel. Shema Israel the first two Hebrew words of Deuteronomy 6:6- Hear o Israel. These two verses are described by the early Rabbi, Hillel as “the whole of the Torah, for the rest is just commentary.” The Shema refers to the whole of the verse Steve read for us a few minutes ago – Deuteronomy chapter 6 verses 4-9. Perhaps one of the only parts of the Bible that has its very own one-word reference. But these are important words, big words, words that as Rabbi Hillel wrote “are the whole of the Torah.” Words that simply state the most important part of the Bible- the Lord is God and you shall love the Lord your God. Words that juxtapose simplicity and complexity so well. The simplicity of the commandment to love God and the challenge which comes forth from it.
These words serve as a centerpiece for Jewish prayers in morning and at night – at rising and at sleeping, placing holds on one’s days. In Jewish prayer life, when you wake and before you sleep you repeat the words of the Shema, “the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” Repeat twice a day- morning and night. What a beautiful way to frame your day, with the constant reminder that God is your God and you are called to love God. Simple and complex all at once – learning to frame our day in the truth that the Lord is God and we shall love God. That’s one simple and profound way to grow with God.
Will you pray with me?
Holy God – humble us, humble us so that we may hear your words with fresh ears, that we may hear what you need us to hear not what we want to hear. Encourage us, encourage us to listen for your words that offer joy and life. Move your spirit in this place that these words we hear and the meditations we feel may inspire us, may give us comfort, and may give us hope. We ask all these things humbly trusting in you. Sit with us as we recite – “the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. We shall love the Lord with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our might.” Amen.
This week Steve and I are beginning a new sermon series based simply on the word “together.” The idea came from a new ministry that Christian Formation will be launching next week called “Learn Together” which offers us that very simple opportunity to do just that – to learn together. The idea got us thinking about all that we do together as a community of faith, what are those things that we do that build us up together, that make us a unique community? How do those things bind us closer to one another and more importantly to God? So, we’re thinking about those unique things that we as a Christian community do together– the first one being that we “learn together.”
Our scripture reading this morning comes from both the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy and a New Testament parallel from the gospel of Mark chapter 12. When we meet Jesus here in verse 28 of Mark’s 12th chapter keep in mind these two things — first the scribe who approaches Jesus is the FOURTH of a group of religious leaders to question Jesus, the past three have been contentious meetings. Secondly, You’ll also notice that the words Jesus speak echo the reading from Deuteronomy, the Shema. Listen now, children of God, for the word of God which comes fresh to us this day:
You may have seen about 50 brightly colored signs adorning the halls of our administrative building recently, inviting you to Rally Day. Rally Day has taken place at Trinity for years and years, probably decades and decades now. But this Rally Day is a little different, this Rally Day we are starting something new, a new initiative from the Christian Formation Ministry Team. You may have seen it there on the top of the flyers or in your bulletin as the title of this sermon, we are starting something new called a “Learn Together.”
I’m not going to spend my sermon talking about what a Learn Together is, I am only going to invite you to your first Learn Together next Sunday September 11th at 9:30 and give you the chance to find out yourself. So instead of telling you what a learn together is, I’m going to talk about why it even matters that we learn together. Why does it matter that we learn, and why do we do it together – or better yet, how do we do it together?
Learning about God is hard, trust me, I went to seminary for three years. Learning the Greek and Hebrew words that describe God was really hard, learning the –ologies was hard, learning the gymnastics of Paul’s theology was hard. Learning about God is hard. And yet, somehow we are commanded to do it, to learn about who God is and to learn and teach those commandments Jesus gave in Mark 12 and the commandment that is the Shema – Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor. It .is. hard.
If I am being honest, if we’re all being honest, frankly, the thing that might be harder isn’t the –ologies and Greek and Hebrew and complex theological doctrine. Those things can be put on a flashcard and memorized, poured into our brain through repetition studied and figured out. It’s hard but it isn’t challenging quite like the call to really learn about God. To really learn about what God means in our lives, what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves, to really learn how this all works. That, that, is really hard.
When the question is posed to Jesus by the scribe, a dialogue that would be expected to be contentious turns to agreement when Jesus answers rightly, that the greatest commandment is to love God. Somehow the love of God that these two different people – Jesus a theological radical, and the scribe a pious religious authority – share brings them together. The theological party lines are dropped and instead they come to agreement that the most important thing they can do is to love God. Love God…Love God…Love God..
With all your heart as Jesus says – your kardia, the word for heart in Greek. As one of my favorite Professors from Seminary, Markan scholar Clifton Black calls it, your inner compass. How compelling is that? – love God with your inner compass. Love God with that which gives you direction, with that which is always pointing straight, no matter where in the world it is, love God with your inner compass.
With all your soul – your “psyche” as Mark writes in Greek. Not simply your soul but in Greek this would be understood as your whole being, your life your everything – all that you are, all that you believe, all that you do, your very person.
With all your strength – ischyos – your might or your strength. With all that you are able to muster up or figure out. Not just all that you have on a regular basis, but all that you can muster up to do the biggest things, put all that strength into loving the Lord.
And – With all your mind – this one is really interesting. The word dianoias here means mind, but as Dr. Black puts it – “your discerning spirit.” So not just with all that you know but with all that you can discern, all that you can work to figure out, all that you can work to learn – we ought to love the Lord.
Love God with all your heart, your soul, your strength, and your mind.
Anne Lamott, a wonderfully creative, funny, and brilliant Christian writer writes in her book Traveling Mercies — “It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do’. And mostly, against all odds, they do.”
Yes, it is terribly hard to “learn God,” to figure God out, to use all our strength, heart and mind and life to love God. And no, becoming an adult doesn’t make it better, like Annie Lamott said, it turns out there weren’t finite tools that figured it all out for us as adults. “heart, soul, strength and mind” aren’t finite tools, rather they are rusty bent tools that have been through a whole lot. Books and books and papers and papers have been written and they help, yes, by all means, but they aren’t the rusty old bent tools that teach us about loving God.
But thanks be to God, God did give us one another. God did give us a community of curiously minded folks who wonder the same questions, who have similar doubts, who have insecurities just like us, who have experiences of God that we’ve never heard of, who have ideas about God that are new and radical. Thanks be to God that God gave us the ability to learn from one another.
Thanks be to God that God gave us dianoias, a discerning mind, to learn together.
Let me give you an example – last year during Children’s Chapel with the Weekday school I was running low on steam and brainwaves so I opted to read a book about seeing God in nature and then I asked the children to finish teaching the lesson – instead of figuring it out and telling them where God was, I asked them where they see God, and could they come up and show me. And boy did they!! Hands flew up, volunteers raced to the front to draw and show me where they saw God. They left chapel but later that day their teachers came down with sheets of places where they had seen God. And then a week later, a book came down with all the places they had seen God.
Places I hadn’t thought in a darn long time to stop and look for God- the playground, in a map, at the sandbox.
Perhaps it may seem juvenile, but man is it good to be reminded to look for God in places our calloused intelligent minds have begun to forget to look. And gosh, I really am glad that God can use 3 and 4 year olds to open up the heart of this pastor to learn all sorts of new things about God.
In the name of God our creator, our sustainer, and our redeemer. Amen.