Listening, together, to the voice of the God who is One

Victor Frankl

An outline of Duncan’s sermon this morning

Today Duncan shared further thoughts on ‘the Shema’, verses from Deuteronomy which he explained were central for faith and life to Jewish people, including Jesus:

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.  (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

Duncan reminded us that these words have been repeated morning and evening, and sometimes in between as well, by Jewish people down the centuries – they would have been familiar to Jesus from childhood. So fundamental are these words to practising Jews that it is common for the Shema to be worn in a patch in an armpit, with an arrow pointing towards the wearer’s heart,

The daily foundation of repeating these words, and reflecting on them prompts and encourages Jews to work out the implications of these words for day by day living.

The six million Jewish people who were murdered in the Holocaust would have had these words on their lips and hearts in their final moments.

Sh’ma Yisra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.

(Hear, Israel, the Lord is Our God, the Lord is One)

Duncan quoted from Victor Frankl’s book Man’s search for meaning  in which he describes his experiences in Nazi Concentration camp. (Victor Frankl is pictured above.)

Shortly after arriving at Auschwitz, Frankl was stripped of his most precious possession – a manuscript containing his life’s work, which he had hidden in his coat pocket.

As he realised that he was extremely unlikely to come out of Auschwitz alive, he began questioning whether his life, in those circumstances, had any meaning at all. He writes:

an answer to this question with which I was wrestling so passionately was already in store for me….This was the case when I had to surrender my clothes and in turn inherited the worn out rags of an inmate who had already been sent to the gas chamber….. Instead of the many pages of my manuscript, I found in a pocket of my newly acquired coat one single page torn out of a Hebrew prayer book, containing the most important Jewish prayer, SHEMA YISROEL.

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 concluded:

Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man [humanity] as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschqitz: however he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright with the….Shema Yisroel on his lips.

Duncan acknowledged that the Shema was the bedrock of Jesus’ teaching, but he didn’t want to rush headlong to that teaching. Rather, he wanted to linger a little longer on the words of the Shema in their Old Testament setting.

‘What is it about the Shema,’  Duncan wondered ‘which has inspired so many through the most trying of times, and has provided such meaning and purpose to help survive even the most despairing of circumstances?’

Duncan shared three reflections on the Shema

Hear o Israel: God is not silent

The Shema begins not with a theory about God, but with a message about a God who speaks to people with whom God is in relationship.

The Shema addresses each one of us, as it did to Israel, centuries ago. ‘Listen  to this message! Make it part of your living.

The Jews start and end each day with the Shema.  What, Duncan asked, do we start and end our days with?

He pointed out that the words of the Shema in Deuteronomy are being spoken by Moses to the Israelites as they prepare to enter the Promised Land of Canaan after 40 years in the wilderness. We recall that Moses himself had encountered God at a burning bush in the desert.

Moses embodies the experience that Shema calls us to – of hearing the call of God, and responding (albeit in Moses’ case reluctantly) to the implications of that call for our lives.

In Moses case, obedience meant leading the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, towards the Promised Land.

The lesson of the Shema for us, Duncan says, is that God is not silent. God communicates!

God speaks in Scripture, in nature, in community, in the silence of our hearts.

The Shema invites us to listen up, to pay attention and, like Moses and like Jesus, to follow where God calls us.

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God…: ‘Our God’, not ‘My God’

Duncan drew our attention to the fact that the Shema doesn’t speak of My God, but of Our God. We tend, even as Christians, to be so individualistic, sometimes seeing no further than ‘What does it mean to me?’  But the lesson is that we hear God best in community.

The old phrase insists that ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ In a similar way, Duncan suggested, we need to hear God in community if we are truly to listen to God. We need one another!

Jesus had the same emphasis on our need of one another: ‘Our Father,’ his model prayer begins. Not ‘My Father.’

‘We need one another,’ Duncan continued. ‘I am never going to be able to fulfil my God-given potential without the presence and support of others.’

The fact that each of us was given a name badge this morning, personally written for us by one of the Nightlife young people, emphasised the ‘us-ness’ of our meeting together as church.

‘The Shema this morning is encouraging us to go deeper in our relationships and fellowship together.’

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One: one God, love-focussed

Duncan referred to a news story this week of archaeologists in South America finding the bones of over 200 children who had been ritually sacrificed in the distant past.

One of the theories explaining this massacre was that the people, in order to appease the god, had decided to offer children as sacrifice.

When Moses issued the Shema, he knew that all the nations around Israel believed in multiple gods who together shaped the destiny of the local population.

Only if the various gods were kept happy would a good and peaceful and prosperous life be assured. But of course life didn’t always go smoothly – it never does. And so the reality of life in the ancient world was dominated by confusion and fear as people sought to placate the gods.

Sh’ma Yisra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.

(Hear, Israel, the Lord is Our God, the Lord is One)

In contrast, the Shema speaks of One God, Yahweh, who is the God of the whole world, who speaks and wants to focus people’s lives around love.

 

And so the Shema encourages us to hear God, who has been faithful to God’s people Israel down through the centuries, and who demonstrated that faithfulness most fully by sending Jesus in love.

Sh’ma Yisra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.

(Hear, Israel, the Lord is Our God, the Lord is One)

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