Pastor’s Perspective – November 2023
“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. 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 houses and on your gates.”
Deuteronomy 6: 4-9
This passage of scripture is known as the Shema, or to directly translate the term, “to hear.” Hearing in the Jewish context also means to obey or take action. The Shema is the central oath of the Jewish people. It affirms the commitment of every Jew (and later every Christian) to the Lordship and unity of God, as well the love that we offer to God.
Most of us have heard the affirmation of the Shema in Jesus’ answer to the question, “what is the greatest commandment?” Jesus responds by quoting the Shema, “love the Lord your God with all your (being)” and adding Leviticus 19: 18 “love your neighbor as yourself.”
This double dose of ‘agape’ love is the core of biblical Judeo-Christian living. While we disagree on Trinitarian principles, the core identity of a grace-filled, salvific God who seeks the unity of divine love with love for our neighbors binds us and separates us from the way that the world operates.
It is very easy to talk about loving God and each other, but as many of us understand from our own daily struggles with anger, it is much more difficult to live in the love that we hear about in Sunday sermons. Our problem is that we often ignore the secondary instructions of this passage.
Living in covenant with God and each other is difficult. It is hard to live in self-giving love. It must be practiced and affirmed daily, hourly, and for many of us, moment by moment. How does one forgive seventy times seven? We need to be repeatedly reminded of our responsibilities to forgive, we must practice grace, and we must get the incentives correct thru communal affirmation.
This is what the second part of the Shema articulates. It tells us how to create an agape community. Teach it. Preach it. Share it. Say it. Pray it. Sing it. Write it. Post it. Ink it. Tie it. Frame it. Enshrine it. Do it in the daytime and at night. Don’t be afraid of repetition, but tirelessly wash, rinse, and repeat.
Too many Christians believe that we have said it enough. Too many believe that our children understand what it means to be followers of Jesus. Too many of us believe that we know enough, or pray enough, or share enough to make a difference. We are nowhere close to the level of Holy Spirit saturation that discipleship and spiritual growth demands.
So, what can we do? Just do what the scripture says. Tell the story. Share God’s love. Remind your children of the great love of God, share about Jesus and His life-giving sacrifice. Tell the story of God’s great and persistent love and God’s mercy for the broken.
You will fall short of the mark. As will I. That is part of the great love and mercy of God given to us. It is why we need each other. We affirm. We correct in love. We remind each other of the goals that are too grandiose to accomplish on our own. We gather around the incredibly naïve and gloriously childish assertion that God loves us and wants us as a partner in changing the world. If we do this, we will embrace the work of the Kingdom like a child, learning to love and follow the example of our Father in heaven. Let’s show the world that the love of God is written on our hearts.
Thankful for the journey,