Theme – Hear O Israel: Shema
(First in a Series of Six Sermons)
Texts – Deuteronomy 6:1-9, James 1:19-27, Matthew 13:10-17
June 23 and 24, 2018
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
In this sermon series, we explore one of the most famous and important prayers contained in the Bible. To this very day, devout and orthodox Jews repeat this prayer twice daily. This prayer is called the Shema, and in the five weeks to come, we will focus on the Hebrew word for LORD, which is Yahweh, then on the Hebrew word for LOVE, then on the word for HEART, then on the word for SOUL, and finally on the word for STRENGTH.
Today we focus our attention on the first word of this famous prayer, the word SHEMA. As our little video clearly showed, the word SHEMA is a Hebrew word full of meaning. It is often translated to hear or listen, but it’s more than just sound waves entering your ear. Biblically, to shema is to listen and to obey. Listening and obeying are two sides of the same coin. Shema is about giving respect to the one speaking to you and doing what they say. In this sense, real listening takes effort and action.
Shema at 410 North Main The best I know to illustrate the meaning of shema involves my dear bride, Debi. Imagine that! (Story of Debi 25 years ago out for a walk, picking up a Waseca Shopper newspaper off a sidewalk, taking it up into a “little room” in our house, sitting down, opening up the paper, and a bat flies out! I hear the kind of a scream that led me to think one of our children had died. The words were something like, “Larry come here!” Of course I responded in record time, I threw open the door, I bravely threw a towel over the bat and took her by the hand, and rescued her. Then, like the coward I am, I sent our son Nathan up there with two tennis rackets to deal with the unwanted fowl.
The word Shema in my house on that day included no less than four thoughts1)Hear the scream / sound waves entering my head. 2) Pay attention to the scream. 3)Respond to the one who is screaming. 4) Respond now to the scream.
Shema in the Old Testament includes on the one hand people living with the premise that God is hearing them cry out, God is paying attention to their crying out, God will be responding, and God will be responding in an ongoing and generous and wise manner. On the other hand, we see that the very covenant relationship between Israel depended on Israel listening, listening closely, and obeying the commandments and the statutes if they were to continue to enjoy God’s special treatment.
Leah cries out for help, and God (shema). In Genesis 29, we read that when the Lord saw that Jacob loved his wife Rachel but hated his wife Leah, He chose to open Leah’s womb but close Rachel’s. Leah cried out to the Lord, he heard (the word is shema) her cry, and he responded by giving her a son whom she called Simeon. The name Simeon in Hebrew is shim’on, which means that God heard her prayer.
At Mt. Sinai, Israel’s very future depended on them (shema) In Exodus 19, God thundered down from Mt. Sinai that if Israel shemas him, that is to say if they listen and obey his covenant, then out of all the nations on earth, they would be his treasured people, they would be to him a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Their listening to and responding to God’s Word would change their hearts, it would make them a people that would be different than all other peoples on the face of the earth. Shema in the Old Testament carries with it the idea of listening, paying attention to, and responding.
Shema in the New Testament is also all about both hearing and doing the Word of God.
Our Epistle Lesson for today teaches us that Hearing without doing is (worthless). James says that hearing but not doing the Word of God is like a man who looks himself in the mirror, then walks away and immediately forgets what he looks like. James goes on to say that the one who claims to be religious but spends his days slandering and gossiping and tearing down people with his words, that religion is worthless. His baptism and confirmation certificates, to quote an old saying, wouldn’t be worth the price of the piece of paper they are written on.
James reminds us today that religion that is pure and undefiled in God’s courtroom is the religion that visits the orphans, the widows, sick, and those in prison. Religion that is pure and undefiled is the religion that cares about the basic needs of others, it cares about the social issues of the day, it cares about those who are struggling with all kinds of troubles, whether those troubles are self-inflicted or not.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who desire to love their neighbors as much as they love themselves, but many days they don’t know where to start, they don’t know who needs their help the most, and they aren’t always sure if their helpfulness is actually helping. And so they cry out in a regular way for God to give them wisdom from on high. They understand the first safety net for folks in danger would be a circle of family and friends, the next safety net would be local Christian congregations near and far, and the third safety net would be local, state, and national government. Often they are tempted to throw their hands up in the air and to let everyone else fight their own battles and to adopt the attitude that says “you made your bed, now lie down in it.” But the apostle James keeps poking them, reminding them that in fact hearing without doing the Word of God is worthless.
Finally, today, in our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus would teach us that Our very (blessedness) depends on seeing and hearing what God is wanting us to see and hear. Jesus would teach us today that we are the little children to whom he has entrusted the secrets of the kingdom. Those who keep on resisting Jesus would be losing what knowledge they have. This is why Jesus spoke almost always in parables and short stories – to give grace to those who were looking for grace and to show mercy to those who had ears to hear.
Our very blessedness in life has to do with listening to God’s Word and refusing to let it go in one ear and out the other. It has to do with being still on a regular basis and working hard to listen, to actively listen, to use the language of the 1941 hymnal, to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of God. Shema has always been true, in the language of Jesus, that blessed are they who hear the Word of God and hold onto it, treasure it, keep it. That’s another way of saying, to use the language of David, that blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, blessed is the one who sin is covered, blessed is the man against whom the Lord count no iniquity. Another way of saying, in the language of Psalm 1, blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, blessed is the woman who does not stand in the way of sinners, blessed is the person of all ages who delights in the law of the Lord, and on this law he meditates day and night.
The kingdom of God is like a nation whose people are less and less paying attention to the God of their parents and grandparents, more and more they feel like something is missing. But it’s also like little and big Christian congregations all across the country side who operate with the premise that their covenant God is hearing them cry out for mercy and guidance, he is paying close attention to their crying out, He is responding to their cries, He is responding in a regular way to their crying out. And because of all that is true, these folks are more and more appreciating that they are the favored and the redeemed people of God, they are more and more delighting in the forgiveness of their sins, more and more contented to be swimming in the waters of their Holy Baptism, more and more reveling in the eating and the drinking of the Lord’s Supper, less and less do they feel like something is missing.
Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
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