The Shema

A sermon by Pastor Michael Pahl on January 13, 2019, called “The Shema.” It is the first in a series called “Reading the Bible with Jesus.” The sermon is a reflection on the opening of the Shema, the daily Jewish prayer, found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which Jesus called the “first commandment” in Mark 12:28-34.

Here is a written excerpt:

James Tissot, Jésus dans la synagogue déroule le livre

It’s no surprise to anyone, then, that when the adult Jesus is asked what “the first and greatest commandment of the Law” is, he replies with the Shema. That’s what everyone would expect, because that’s what every Jew grew up confessing every single day.

Shema, Yisrael! “Hear, O Israel!”

Pay attention, everyone! This is important!

“The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!”

“The Lord” here is the word “Yahweh,” the holy name of God revealed to Moses: God is Yahweh, the “I Am,” the “One Who Is.” Jews do not say the name “Yahweh,” but replace it with “Adonai” in their Scripture reading, which means “Lord.”

Yahweh, the God who simply is, the one from whom all things exist, the one in whom we live and move and have our being—this is the only true God there is.

We make gods out of all kinds of things, many of them good things—our idols are not just wood and stone, but also money and power and technology and sex and more. As the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8, there are many such “gods and lords” in our world, but for us as Christians there is only one true God, our Creator, and one true Lord, Jesus Christ, from whom and through whom all things exist.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

We are to “love” God with every dimension of our being: heart, soul, mind, strength. We are to be devoted to God with everything that we are and do. All things owe their existence—and therefore their allegiance—to God. All of us, every one of us, and all of creation, in all its dimensions—all is from God and all exists for God’s purposes.

The Shema, then, Jesus’ “first and greatest commandment,” is about undivided devotion to our Creator. And in Jesus’ day, no one would have disputed that this is indeed our highest calling.

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