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“Hear, O Israel”: Sermon 11/4/2018

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Pastor Debbie Spangler

Sermon Text: Deuteronomy 6: 1-9 (Mark 12: 28-34)

If Mom or Dad wanted to get my attention, instead of beginning with Debbie (for example: Debbie, will you please stop playing your music so loud?)---beginning, instead, with Debra Diane (Debra Diane, will you please stop playing your music so loud?!) Notice the tone of voice was always different too. That usage of my full name meant I’d better listen! Gladys Herdman, in the play “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”, uses a different tactic to get the attention of the shepherds (and the audience) by shouting: “Hey, Hey, unto you a child is born!”

In Deuteronomy 5, Moses introduces the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel. He emphasizes how important they are---that the Israelites should follow all the commands of God: “Walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you.”  And why?  “So that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land you will possess.”

In chapter 6, Moses begins with the words: “Hear, O Israel”. This is known as the “SHEMA” which is Hebrew for “hear”. This has become the Jewish confession of faith, still recited daily today by pious Jews. The first “Hear, O Israel” gives instruction: “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.” 

We are to obey His commands. We know the Ten Commandments: You shall have no other gods before me, you shall not make idols, you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, honor your father and your mother, you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor, and you shall not covet.

The second “Hear, O Israel” is the confession: “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.” Monotheism, the belief in only one God, was a distinctive feature of Hebrew religion. Many ancient religions believed in many gods. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was the God of the whole earth, the only true God. This was an important insight for the nation of Israel because they were about to enter a land filled with people who believed in many gods. Both then and today, it is easy to place our trust in many “different gods” such as fame or fortune. God is the only true God. We are to love God, think constantly about His commandments, and live each day by the guidelines in His Word.

We are to love God with all our heart, all our soul and all our strength. The Hebrew word “leb” (heart) often functions metaphorically for the seat of the emotions and will but equally often it refers to the “mind” or the seat of thought. Here it serves comprehensively for one’s inner being including the heart and mind. The Hebrew word “nepes” means “throat or gullet” but the word is used in a variety of metaphorical senses: appetite or desire, life, the living being, the whole self. Here the word refers to one’s entire person. The Hebrew word “mod” rendered as strength is best captured by a word like resources, which includes physical strength but also economic or social strength, and it may extend to the physical things an Israelite owned: tools, livestock, a house, etc. Moses is calling all Israelites to love God without reservation. He begins with the inner being, then moves to the whole person, and ends with all that one claims as one’s own. This is the yoke of the kingdom—covenant commitment rooted in the heart, but extending to every level of one’s being.

Moses finishes his instructions with this: “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 homes and on your gates.” And why? Because living God’s way is so important.

Many Jews take these verses literally and tie phylacteries to their foreheads and left arms. Some also attach mezuzot (small wooden or metal containers in which passages of Scripture are placed) to the doorframes of their houses).

The Bible provides so many opportunities for object lessons and practical teaching—it would be a shame to study it only one day a week.

The environment in which we raise our children is so important: Former Hollywood bad boy Martin Sheen says that watching his son Charlie Sheen lead a similarly decadent life fills him with remorse. He worries that he learned to be a father too late. He particularly regrets his failure to share his faith. He says, “I never lost my faith but I felt for a time that I had outgrown the church. Now it is a bone of contention in my soul that I did not share my faith with my kids, as my parents did with me. It was a source of grace when I needed it.”

Now, let’s contemplate our Mark 12 passage. The group of religious leaders who had gathered around Jesus had been asking him all manner of questions. One of them asked: “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” By Jesus’ time, the Jews had accumulated hundreds of laws—613 by one historian’s account. Some religious leaders tried to distinguish between major and minor laws, and some taught that all laws were equally binding and that it was dangerous to make any distinctions.

Obviously, Jesus quoted directly from Deuteronomy 6 is his response: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Perhaps Jesus wanted to make sure that the people understood about the whole being when he separated out the heart and the mind.

Then Jesus added another part: “The second is this: love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”  This comes straight out of Leviticus 19: 18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”  (Incidentally, the next verse says this: “Keep my decrees.”)

When you love God completely and care for others as your care for yourself, then you have fulfilled the intent of the Ten Commandments and the other Old Testament laws. According to Jesus, these two commandments summarize all God’s laws. Let them rule your thoughts, decisions, and actions.

Jesus only partially affirms what the teacher of the law has said. The teacher had assumed a superior position from which he passed judgement on Jesus’ teachings: “Well said, teacher. 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 (mind) and with all your strength (notice the teacher left out “soul”), and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Jesus puts things in proper perspective as the final arbiter of the interpretation of the law and, what is more important, as the one who knows who is near or far from the kingdom of God. This teacher of the law is not far from the kingdom. He is not in---that is, he has not fully chosen God’s rule for himself—but he does not have far to go. The answer effectively silences the teacher. To be “in the kingdom” one must do more than simply approve of Jesus’ teaching; one must submit entirely to his authority and person. Can he (teacher of the law) and can we ourselves submit entirely to his authority and person? Do we?

Let me conclude with this story from Jewish psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. When he was arrested by the Nazis in WWII and put in Auschwitz, the infamous death camp, he was stripped of everything: property, family, possessions—and a manuscript he had spent years researching and writing on finding meaning in life. The manuscript had been sewn into the lining of his coat.

“Now it seemed as if nothing and no one would survive me; neither a physical nor a spiritual child of my own,” Frankl wrote. “I found myself confronted with the question of whether under such circumstances my life was ultimately void of any meaning.”

A few days later, the Nazis forced the prisoners to give up what little clothing they wore. “I had to surrender my clothes and in turn inherited the worn-out rags of an inmate who had been sent to the gas chamber. Instead of the many pages of the manuscript, I found in the pocket of the newly-acquired coat a single page torn out of a Hebrew prayer book which contained the Jewish prayer: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one God. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

“How should I have interpreted such a coincidence other than as a challenge to live my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper?” Frankl later reflected  on his ordeal in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”: “There is nothing in the world that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions, as the knowledge that there is meaning in one’s life…he who has a “why” to live for can bear almost any “how”.  Our why?  To live for and to love God.