Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Lord Our God. The Lord Alone.

RCL Proper 30A
26 October 2014

Saint Faith's Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Focus text:  Matthew 22.34-46

Click here to listen to the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 Eucharist on the 26th.

The summer of 1978 was filled with transitions.  Earlier in the year I had applied to become a postulant for ordination in the Diocese of Colorado and had been accepted to begin my theological studies at Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Nashotah, Wisconsin.  I resigned from my teaching post at Regis High School in Denver, but the Principal asked me to undertake one more task.  Some of the students were going to take an Outward Bound rafting trip down the Yampa and Green Rivers in northern Colorado and Utah.  The Principal thought that I would be a good addition to the two other teachers who were going along to support the three guides.  When I hesitated, the Principal pointed out that (i) I had made the trip some years before, (ii) I was an Eagle Scout who was familiar with 'roughing it' and (iii) I was far younger than the other two teachers.

Within five miles of the departure point for rafting trips, the Yampa River, a tributary of the Green River, enters a deep canyon with treed banks.  As you can well imagine, the canyons make for some wonderful echoes.  As we entered one such canyon, the boys began to sing phrases from various songs.  One of the boys turned to me and said, 'You sing something, Mr Leggett!'  So I sang, but not a song that the boys knew.

From somewhere in my heart emerged a single musical phrase to accompany words that I did not even know I knew:  'Shema!  Shema Israel!  Adonai Elohenu.  Adonai echad!' --- 'Hear.  Hear, O Israel.  The Lord our God.  The Lord alone.'  These Hebrew words introduce the Jewish confession of faith, recited twice every day.  Where I learned them, I do not remember.  Why I chose to sing them at that moment, I do not know.  I only know that the music came from my heart and has found a permanent lodging there.

In today's gospel we hear Jesus recite these words to a crowd that includes his disciples and his critics.  It is important to understand what these words mean, especially in the light of the events of the past week in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and in Ottawa.

'Hear, O Israel.  The Lord our God.  The Lord alone.'  So much depends upon our understanding of the last word in the first and great commandment.  In later controversies Jewish interpreters preferred to translate echad as meaning one in contrast to the teaching of the emerging Christian community of God as Three-in-One and One-in-Three.  But at the time of Jesus it is likely that the word was understand in a different way.

The Hebrew word that we translate as Lord is Adonai.  Jews have used this word for thousands of years to avoid pronouncing the sacred name of God, Yahweh.  So, if we were to hear the meaning of these words as Jesus' audience heard them, then this is what we would hear:  'Hear, O Israel.  Yahweh is our God.  Yahweh alone.'  Not Jupiter.  Not Zeus.  Not Baal.  Not Ahura Mazda.  These gods may or may not exist, but whether they did or did not, we, the people of Moses, the people who follow Jesus, will only confess our faith in Yahweh.  Yahweh alone is our God and to Yahweh we pledge all our heart, all our soul, all our mind.

And who is this Yahweh to whom we are pledging our hearts, our souls and our minds?  This is the God who out of love created all that is, seen and unseen.  This is the God who repented of having destroyed the world by a flood and promised never to do so again.  This is the God who brought an assembly of tribes out of bondage in Egypt and made them into a people.  This is the God who gave this people a vocation to be living witnesses to the holiness of God, the compassion of God, the purpose of God.  From this people this God brought forth a teacher from Nazareth in whom God's creating, redeeming and renewing purposes were made known beyond the boundaries of Israel.

And what does this God command us beyond our loyalty?  This God calls us to love our neighbour as ourselves.  In other words, this God tells us that there are no strangers, no 'others' who must be kept apart from us, who must be persecuted, who must be eliminated.  To act in this way is a form of spiritual suicide, because the so-called 'other' is actually another face of ourselves, another expression of the image of God in whom we are all created.

Last week Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo were killed by men who claimed to be followers of God.  The God they claimed as theirs bears no resemblance to the God of Moses and the God of Jesus.  Nor, it must be shouted from every pulpit in this country, did this God of theirs bear any resemblance to the God of Muhammed, who is known as compassionate, forgiving,  generous.  These men, whether mentally ill or not, have been deceived by those forces of evil that seek to thwart the purposes of God and to destroy the creatures of God.

So, my friends, let us pray for Warrant Officer Vincent and Corporal Cirillo and their families.  Let us pray for the families of their killers.  Let us pray for our Muslim sisters and brothers whose witness to the God of compassion whom they name as Allah will be compromised by the events of this past week --- just as our witness is compromised by Christian violence against Muslims.  But let our prayer lead into action.

Let us love the God of Moses, the God of Jesus, in such a way as makes clear to all among whom we live and work that our God breaks down the walls that human beings erect to keep others out or to keep others imprisoned.  Let us love our neighbours not out of duty but out of wonder, wonder in the magnificent diversity of God's creative love.

This is how we shall best honour the memory of Warrant Officer Vincent and Corporal Cirillo.  Their lives were taken by men who feared the promise of a world in which all God's children shall be free.  Let our lives be witnesses to the God who will inevitably bring that world into being.  For this God has shown us that 'goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death.' (Archbishop Desmond Tutu).  Amen.

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