Sh’ma Yisrael

“Sh’ma Yisrael”
Mark 12:28-34
Sunday, November 4, 2012 – All Saints Sunday

Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu Adonai Echad

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is your God, the Lord is one…And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

The Shema is a declaration of faith in one God…Faithful Jews are commanded to recite this prayer every morning and every night…(Refer to mezuzah)…It dates to the time of Moses…After recounting the Ten Commandments to the Israelites, Moses gave them The Shema and said, “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. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

In today’s gospel Jesus is quoting from The Shema – the most important prayer in the Jewish faith…We need to remember that Jesus was a faithful Jew…The people to whom he preached were also faithful Jews…The man who questions him in this story is a leader in the Temple…Like all the people within earshot, this man is very familiar with the Jewish Law and the Mosaic Tradition.  This question of which commandment is the most important has been the subject of heated debate for centuries…By the time Jesus shows up, there are over 600 laws in the Jewish tradition.  Many religious leaders tried to determine which the major ones were and which were minor.  This question could have provoked real controversy among the people.  But Jesus’ simple answer summarizes all of God’s laws into two simple commands:  Love God with all you are…Love your neighbor as yourself.

Moses had the right idea…God’s law should be written on our hearts.  We should teach it to our children.  We should discuss it and live it.  We should proclaim it to the world.  Jesus understood this and tried to make it easier for us to live according to God’s Law…By boiling the Law down to these two simple commands, Jesus helps us to live as God wants us to live.  If we take the time to test every decision and every action against these two commands, we’ll be a long way toward living the life Jesus showed us…In our story this morning, Jesus tells his questioner, “You are not far from the kingdom.”  This guy is able to grasp and accept the truth of Jesus’ teaching.  That’s really what we’re talking about here – How to be saints of God…how to grasp and accept the truth Jesus teaches…How to do our best to live faithfully according to God’s call on our lives.

So, just who is a saint?  We get a hint from the gospel today…The qualifications seem to be acknowledging that God is the one true God…And then showing love that flows in two directions…to God and to our neighbor. A saint is simply a person who lives out an intense devotion to both God and neighbor.  But can we recognize a saint?  Not necessarily…at least not at first glance.

Back in the 1920s, a divorced woman worked for a series of leftist periodicals and lived a bohemian life in New York’s Greenwich Village.  In 1927, she became a Catholic, and then led a quiet rebellion within the church to reach out to the poor, the needy and the desperate.  She was a pacifist, an anarchist and a crusader for social justice — not your standard-issue saint!  And yet, her name is being processed these days in the great saint-making machine, even though she said before her death in 1980 that she wasn’t interested.  This woman, Dorothy Day, lived one of the most highly-regarded lives in the modern church…During the depression, Day set up a network of soup kitchens where people could come to eat and sleep…Her Catholic Worker Movement soon spread nationwide.  But Day resisted accolades and attempts to portray her work as anything but ordinary.  She saw herself as a simple woman seeking to live in the gospel — a person who demonstrated nothing more than an intense devotion to both God and neighbor.

But wait a second…not everyone’s a saint.  In fact, most of us are far from it.  What about those who are a long way from the kingdom, or at least on a significant detour?  How did they lose their way?  And how can they find their way back?  Some get lost because they haven’t received good directions from earthly parents or haven’t learned how to listen for guidance from God.  Others stray because their judgment is clouded – they’re driving while drugged, drunk or debilitated by earthly desires.  Others race after big thrills and big money, and risk losing their hearts, souls and minds in the process.  Some simply haven’t heard the message of Jesus in a way that makes sense to them.  And others have seen how Christians behave and don’t want any part of them.

But there’s always hope because God is always saint-searching…The way back to the right path – the kingdom path – always begins at the very same place: At the point where God in Christ reaches across miles and missteps and a multitude of messy human mistakes; at the point where Jesus wraps his arms around the shoulders of wayward, wandering souls and gently guides them back.  Christ doesn’t discard people because they’re moving down an imperfect path…Nor does he disqualify people who have made a mess of their lives before finding the right road…Dorothy Day became quite Christ-like after having had an abortion, a divorce and a child out of wedlock.  God is on a saint search, and it’s not only perfect people who are going to be found.  Sure, there may be some who are born with the natural ability to love the Lord with the all their heart, soul, mind, and strength…24 hours a day…7 days a week…52 weeks a year.  But for most of us, this passion comes only after we discover that God has always loved us and that his love precedes our own.  Fact is…most of us find the Lord only after we have been found by the Lord.

Once upon a time…in a Catholic School far, far away…There was a boy who thought of being a priest…This was not to be, however, because the boy didn’t understand the sacrifice seminary demanded…The boy went on to high school where he once again faced the idea of becoming a priest…This time the boy was selfish and unwilling to make the sacrifice seminary demanded…The boy became a young man and went on to college where he found many new “adventures” and new experiences to explore…Sadly, these new experiences led the young man away from God and God’s plans for his life.  Soon the young man entered the corporate world and began to climb the ladder of success…Clearly, this particular path was too busy to have room for God in it…Fast-forward thirty years…There had been many successes and many more failures; the man’s life seemed full and happy, but something was missing.  One day, a United Methodist pastor invited the man and his family to join his church…Jesus’ message became persistent and began to make sense…The man got involved with church activities and started going to Sunday school…Soon he was reading Scripture and leading music in worship…Then, one Sunday morning, something unbelievable happened…God spoke the man’s name aloud in worship.  From the cross on the sanctuary wall, as clearly as I am speaking to you now, God spoke my name.  This morning, that man, who tried to hide from God for 30 years, that imperfect and sinful man stands before you as your pastor.

We can run but we can’t hide…at least not forever.  God will keep after us until he gets our attention.  All God asks is that we respond with passion…loving him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength…and showing a willingness to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu Adonai Echad  “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is your God, the Lord is one…And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”  To love God with all that we are means to give ourselves over to God’s control…It means testing every choice we make against the greatest commandment.  Does what you’re about to do contribute to love of God and neighbor?  Does your life display love for God and neighbor?  None of us is on a fast-track to sainthood…and that’s OK…The way back to the kingdom path – always begins where God in Christ reaches across a multitude of messy human mistakes…At the point where Jesus wraps his arms around our shoulders and gently guides us back.  We can get a little head start if we remember to pray every day: “The Lord is my God, the Lord is one…and I will love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my strength.  Amen”