Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sh'ma, Israel!

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Homily for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily


In the gospel today, Jesus quotes a prayer from the time of Moses.
Even 2,000 years after Jesus, in a synagogue today, 
that prayer would still be offered and would sound something like this:

Two thousand years later in a synagogue it would sound like this…
                  
(the audio homily above includes the Shema, sung)
Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! 
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,    
with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.    

Jewish people are taught to recite this prayer, the Shema,   
at least twice a day: in the morning and in the evening.    
The scriptures instruct Jewish parents     
to teach their children this prayer at an early age
and observant Jews hope the Shema might be 
the last words on their lips before they die.  

If we don’t have some understanding   
of how this prayer is meant to be the ground,   
the foundation, the formative element of life,    
then we don’t understand the prayer at all.    

The two most important words in the Shema are these:   
“alone” and “all.” Only the Lord, the Lord alone is God.    
The Shema tells us that no one and nothing    
is more important than the Lord.    

No one - not my parents, not my spouse, 
not my children, not my neighbor -    
no one is more important than the Lord God.   

Nothing - nothing I have, nothing I had, nothing I want to have -
is more important than the Lord.    

The Lord alone is to be the center of my life.  
And it’s the Lord who has first claim on my love.  
I am to love the Lord 
with all my heart, soul, mind, and all my strength.    

Is any love left over then for others?   
Indeed, there is!
Jesus reminds us, is this:    
we are to love our neighbor -parents,  spouse, children   
and my neighbors near and far - as we love ourselves.   

What the Shema does is to establish a primary reference point    
for the whole of one’s life:    
that reality against which I discern, plan and choose 
how I speak and act:    
it’s my compass for counsel, wisdom and guidance    
and my standard for judging what’s true and false;    
what’s right and wrong, what’s just and unjust.  

 The Shema reminds the person praying it    
that in the midst of all of life’s complexities and problems    
and all of life’s confusing and seductive voices:    
- there is one voice that never ceases to speak   
to our hearts, our souls and our minds;    
- that there’s a power greater than ourselves always seeking   
to strengthen us in our knowledge of the truth;  
- and that what many may deem as foolish teachings are, indeed, 
wise beyond our understanding.    

All of this has been in my mind this past week
as I've received some feedback that in my preaching
I've not been terribly direct about the choices facing us on election day.

That's true.
But when I look back at my homilies over the last 8 weeks,
I see that I've asked you to consider these points:
- I've asked: how does one “do” the Word of God in a polling both?
- I've asked: do we put more trust in God’s promises   
or in what the candidates have promised us?
- I've asked: what might it mean
to try to think with the mind of the Lord as we decide who to vote for?
- I've asked you to consider the importance of fidelity 
to the gospel message itself  
rather than to those who claim to deliver it,
both in the church and in politics.
- I've asked: what might be the “one more thing” the Lord 
is asking of us that we find difficult to concede?  
- I've spoken of the heart-wrenching pain and the profound peace 
to be found in end-of-life issues;
- and just last week I posed the question:    
with what quality and clarity of vision will we see    
when we enter the polling booth on Tuesday?  

It’s not the preacher’s task to tell you how to vote,    
nor to suggest or hint at that through parsing the issues for you.    
The preacher is responsible for lifting up Christ the Lord,   
through his Body, the Church,    
- as our compass for counsel, wisdom and guidance;  
- as our standard for judging what’s true and false;  
what’s right and wrong, what’s just and unjust;
- as the reality against which we discern, plan and choose 
how we speak and act – and how we will vote.    

In addition to the Shema,  
the Hebrew scriptures give us the beautiful image of Wisdom:
Wisdom as a woman who gathers her family around her table 
to feed them.

Wisdom gathers us here today and offers us spiritual food,
the Body and Blood, the life of Christ in the Eucharist,  
for our nourishment and strength,   
for he alone is the Lord our God, 
he alone is deserving of all of our love.

We might do well to remember the words of the Shema    
as we go to the polls on Tuesday:  

Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!  
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,    
with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength… 
                
(The audio homily above includes the Shema, sung.) 




 
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