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Hear O Christian

Matthew 22:34-46

The Rev. Jon Roberts

25 October

2020

Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Whose Son Is the Messiah? 41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied. 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, 44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ 45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

The Pharisees & Sadducees tempt Jesus, by James Tissot, 1902

Hear this O "Christians." The Lord is our God. The Lord is one.[1]

The importance of teaching our children how to pray to God cannot be overstated.
Once upon a time a woman invited some people over for dinner. At the table she turned to her six-year old daughter and said, “Would you like to say the blessing?” The girl replied, “I wouldn’t know what to say.” “Just say what you heard mommy say,” the mother answered. The daughter bowed her head and said, “Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?” “God is great, God is good let us thank Him for our food. By His hands we all are fed, thank you for our daily bread.” “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Did you learn these prayers when you were a child? Do you still pray this way? Are they being passed along to the children today? Sometimes a generation can forget to teach its children to pray. Why is this? Do we no longer believe God is good and God is great? Do we no longer pray our soul to keep? Maybe, we no longer look for His kingdom to come. Sad.

There is another children’s favorite prayer, one that is ancient. It is so ancient that it retains the original language into which it was spoken. It goes like this:

Sh'ma Yisra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad

Translated to English, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. It is in Hebrew of course, reading right to left and it is the fundamental prayer that all Jewish children must learn. It is also set to music which makes it more appealing for the children to learn. You can go on Youtube and find several videos that show you how. All you have to do is listen. Children are taught to sing the prayer when they wake up and when they are going to bed. It is also to be repeated at will, any time of the day. It is the prayer for the newborn and the prayer before one takes their last breath. Obviously, it cannot be overstated how important it is to teach the children this prayer.

Jesus was taught this prayer as a child. We may imagine that as he said it, or sung it, he must have known he was singing to the choir. It was about him, after all. He was the unrecognized Lord of Israel. Throughout the day we can hear him pray, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” The key to understand this prayer is the verb at the beginning. “Shema” means to listen. Listen O Israel. The prayer is intended to call you out and steer your focus to God and only God. Oh, how children can become distracted and lose their way. For this reason, it is why they need to pray. I wonder how much they listen to the adults versus listening to God?

As Jesus is nearing Jerusalem at the end of his earthly ministry, St. Matthew the evangelist wants to provide credentials, as if Jesus needed any. The challenge comes from two types of Jewish leaders: the Pharisees (the liberals of their day) and the Sadducees (the conservatives of their day).[2] One espoused a new fangled type of theology about our spiritual existence that can transcend and leave the body into an afterlife. The other believed in a rigid rebuttal, abhored by any thought of a resuurected life, angels or spirituality. The laws of Moses is all that is needed. Perhaps Jesus’ prayer was, “Lord, why did I invite all these people to your kingdom?” But the answer is in the verb: Listen. Caiphas and Annas, the high priests responsible for the Sanhedrin’s hasty, illegitimate conviction of Jesus later on, would not listen. They were Sadducees. The Pharisees were not much better off, harassing Jesus and challenging his rabbinic credentials wherever they could. On this occasion, they asked him what is the greatest commandment. It was again, a dastardly trap. If he sides with the left or the right, they got him!

Too far to the right, like the Sadducees wanted him, would mean that he could not be able to claim to be the Messiah. The extreme of this for Jesus is self-denial as God. He could not be resurrected later on. He could not go down to hell to release the captives from bondage. Too far to the left, like the Pharisees wanted him to go, would mean that he rejected the importance of worship inside the temple. The extreme of this for Jesus is self-worship away from God. If you are really good, you can be better than everybody else, promoting your own deification. Neither of these positions are recited in our children’s prayers. “God is good, God is great.” We are not God, but Jesus is. He alone is worthy of our heart, mind and soul. “I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” We need Jesus to watch over us and teach us his ways so we can actually love others; even those we wonder why we invited for dinner.

When you learned these prayers did you ever think they would be applicable as you got older? They become part of your memory when you say them over and over and that is good. There will be times when you don’t know where God is because you are lost and afraid. There will be times when you are riding too high above everybody else and you need Jesus to reign you back in. No doubt, Jesus was frustrated with people living in fear and pride, or at least this is what they were teaching the children of God. So, Jesus, what is the greatest command by God?

You are to love your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and the second is like unto it, you are to love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commands hang all the laws and the prophets. When we pray, we are looking up and we are looking out. There are too many looking in. They don’t know what to pray because they cannot get past today. When you teach fear or pride, you cannot pray, “Our Father.” When you are so caught up in only your own situation, you cannot live the way God wants you to. Pharisees and Sadducees were self-serving people, who owned these two techniques to promote their ideologies. May we never fall into such a trap. Heaven’s no! Lord, let us not fall into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
One final note about loving your neighbor as yourself. When you love your self it is to be done the right way. You love yourself by clasping your hands together, perhaps going down on your knees, closing your eyes, taking a deep breath and saying those simple prayers, the ones you were taught as a child. In such a way, you are actually imitating the way Christ prayed. Be an imitator of Christ. Be a child of God. Do not let your motives spring forth from deceit or trickery as it does for the Pharisee or the Sadducee. Be careful when around those who come to you with “flattery or the pretext for greed, as St. Paul wrote. God comes like one who tenderly cares for His children.

Jesus asks us the same question as he did those before us, “Who do you say is the Messiah” and “Whose Son is he?” He is the one who gives us our daily bread. He is the one who lays us down to sleep. He is the one who forgives our trespasses. They are in the Shema. God taught you these prayers at an early age so that you would keep His commands. Now, all the law and the prophets rest on you to go and teach others.
Hear this O Christians. The Lord is our God. The Lord is one.

[1] Deuteronomy 6:1-8
[2] Matthew 22:34-46
[3] 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

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