Our God is the one God,
and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your being, and with all your strength.
These are the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-9,
also known as the shema.
It’s called the shema because in Hebrew the text starts,
Shema, Yisrael! Which is Listen, Israel!
In the Jewish tradition, people know
the Shema by heart
like people in the Christian tradition know
Jesus’ prayer by heart.
The Jewish people put the shema on their doorposts;
they speak it over their children before they go to bed.
In the Orthodox tradition, Jewish men put
this Scripture in leather cubic boxes
and bind them to their foreheads and arms
with straps during prayer time.
They press upon themselves
the importance of this commandment.
Love God with everything you are!
Love God with everything you have!
This commandment is the heart of our faith.
Listen! To the words of Leviticus that Jesus recites.
Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourself.
This phrase is a direct quote from the book of Leviticus.
In Leviticus, there’s a thorough list of ways to love your neighbor.
At the end, this phrase stands as the capstone statement.
Love your neighbor. There’s how to do it.
Hear the context. Hear the list.
Listen; Leviticus 19:9-18 reads:
“When you reap the harvest of your land,
you shall not reap your field right up to its edge,
neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest.
And you shall not strip your vineyard bare,
neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard.
You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner:
I am the Lord your God.
“You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely;
you shall not lie to one another.
You shall not swear by my name falsely,
and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.
“You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob them.
The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night
until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf
or put a stumbling block before the blind,
but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
“You shall do no injustice in court.
You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great,
but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.
You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people,
and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor:
I am the Lord.”
“You shall not hate your sibling in your heart,
but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor,
lest you incur sin because of them.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge
against the children of your own people,
but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
Have you heard that passage before?
What do you notice about it?
I invite you to respond aloud, in person and on Zoom.
One of the fascinating things about
the Hebrew Scriptures is that neighbor-love
is always related to action or inaction.
In the case of the prophets,
the prophets seek out the rulers to point out their inaction.
Care for your neighbors, they cry out.
You are not doing enough for the poor and the widows!
Love is not about smiling more or being warmer and fuzzier.
There’s something about your neighbor’s well-being
that is bundled up with love.
Love isn’t soft and flimsy.
It’s fierce and tough.
It requires truth.
You cannot love what is fake.
You love what is real.
What follows after Jesus names love of God,
others, and self as essential is silence.
No one dares to ask any more questions.
Silence sweeps through the crowds.
Silence remains the only appropriate response
to this intensive kind of love.
Listen, people of God!
What is most important?
To worship God? To adore? To make sacrifices?
No. It’s not about honor,
about worship, about adoration.
It’s about love.
Love God with all your essence,
your conscience, your vitality.
How long has it been since the challenge and the beauty
of the love gave you pause? Undid you?
Caused you to change course and reorder your life?
We often talk about God as an all-knowing God.
It seems we talk less about God as an all-loving God.
Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Perhaps the problem is we are following Jesus too closely.
The problem is that we don’t love ourselves.
How do we dwell with the all-loving parts of
God and ourselves? We get so hung up on our own mess-ups.
How do we love the cracked parts of ourselves?
Reclaim your stories.
Love your faults and foibles.
Then love your neighbor.
Love moves us forward.
It’s not about feeling bad.
It’s about hearing truth,
our own and others’.
And loving ourselves
and loving our neighbors anyway. (1)
You cannot love something that is fake.
You can love what is true.
In yourself. In others. In God.
Listen deeply so that you might hear,
so that you might love.
Readily agreeing with Jesus,
the religious teacher responds,
“Well said, Teacher.
You have truthfully said that God is one
and there is no other besides God.
And to love God with all of the heart,
a full understanding, and all of one’s strength,
and to love one’s neighbor as oneself
is much more important
than all kinds of entirely burned offerings and sacrifices.”
You are not far from the kindom of God.
I love that. Jesus is saying,
You are really close.
You get it. You have one more step to go.
Go and do likewise.
That’s why there is silence.
There is nothing more to be said.
Only action can follow.
Go and love.
Go and let yourself be loved.
Love is here.
With all its rigor and resilience,
waiting to embrace you.
Go. Love. Be loved.
It will change everything …
(1) This section is a paraphrase from the podcast “Pulpit Fiction.” It comes from episode number 454, which is entitled Proper 26B (OT 31).