Reformation Day – October 31 2021

Posted on November 2, 2021, Pastor: Pastor Lara Forbes

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October 31, 2021

Reformation Day 

Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Mark 12:28-34

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Grace and peace to you from God, our creator, and from our savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

On any given day – and probably most days, we’re inundated with noise of some type: news announcers, listening to music, the white noise of going from one place to the next, the thoughts in your head as you try to cram as many things as possible into a day – because if you don’t get it done today then you have to try and figure out how to do it tomorrow – and tomorrow’s already full. Right?

When it gets to be too much, things fall through the cracks – including God, family and friends who aren’t right in our immediate circle, and sometimes even ourselves. And it’s hard to put things back in some kind of order and figure out what or who to listen to.

This challenge isn’t unique to us. The noise has changed throughout history, but people have always struggled to cut through it.

When the book of Deuteronomy was written, the Israelites were near the end of their time wandering in the wilderness. So, the words Moses preaches here were to a group of people that didn’t actually experience the Exodus.

But they grew up seeing and hearing about the disobedience of their ancestors – so they knew why the previous generations weren’t allowed to enter into the Promised Land. And they’d also grown up with God’s teachings and the Ten Commandments as part of their lives.

But they weren’t perfect, either. They knew who God was and what God had done for them and that God was always with them, but they still needed a lot of reminders about how to live.

And in verse 4, God clearly established again that God alone should receive their worship and praise. And the words that Moses spoke became a prayer that became part of their daily prayers.

The first part of it is the most familiar: Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad.

And the entire prayer is called simply, The Shema, because the first word of it in Hebrew is Shema, which means “to hear” or “to listen.” And that one word reminded the people who heard it that God heard the Israelites’ cry for deliverance from slavery in Egypt, and that God listened to them.

But more than that, that one word also reminded the people who heard it of the entire instruction for how God wanted them to live: that they are to love God, to make sure their children know that they love God, to make God’s love visible in the world, and to make their lives a testimony to that love.

That one word, Shema, carries a lot with it.

For people today who are devout Jews, this prayer is the first thing they say when they wake up in the morning, and the last thing they say at night. And they believe that when they recite the Shema, that they receive the kingdom of heaven.

Remembering that God listens to them, and receiving the kingdom of heaven, begins and ends their day. And living according to God’s instruction happens in between. It’s part of who they are.

For us, as people who follow Jesus, we remember that he not only recited that prayer and named the commandment to love God above all else, he expanded it. And when he answered the scribe in today’s Gospel reading, only the word “hear” or “listen” is the command.

The rest is simply, “You will do these things” in the sense that “because God is who God is, you will love God and you will love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s a way of living that always embraces God and our neighbor and ourselves in love.

The love we have for our neighbor and ourselves is an expression of God’s love that’s active within each of us. It’s part of who we are. But God doesn’t instruct us to live this way only with other people who love God, or only with people that we know or get along with.

Because when we truly love God, we also love our neighbor as ourselves, regardless of who it is. And vice versa. One doesn’t happen without the other.

Today is the day we remember that Martin Luther took a hammer and a couple of nails and put some stuff on the doors of the church at Wittenberg. When Luther spoke out against the Roman Catholic Church over 500 years ago, the consequences were huge.

At that time, the Church, together with the Holy Roman Empire, controlled a significant part of the world and speaking out against either of those powers just wasn’t done because it usually resulted in going to prison or being executed.

But Luther openly rejected several of the Church’s teachings and practices, most notably the claim that people could buy their freedom from God’s punishment for sin. He refused to recant, and was excommunicated and condemned as an outlaw.

All this happened because Luther listened to God’s love – the grace that saves us – and what it means for our lives. The power that it has to guide and transform who we are and what we do – the way we treat each other and ourselves, the way it orders our lives when we listen to it.

Because when we listen to it, we live in response to it. And we come to understand that we can’t love God without also loving our neighbor as ourselves. And loving our neighbor as ourselves means more than just doing something for someone and then walking away. Or saying, “Yeah, I deserve that 72-inch flat screen TV….”

Loving our neighbor means living in a way that recognizes and honors the value of other people, and loving them simply because God made them.

Loving ourselves means acknowledging the part of ourselves that we keep hidden from the world, and remembering that God loves us anyway simply because God made us.

There are times when doing either one of those takes a monumental effort.

But in seeing others and ourselves that deeply, not only do we love God, we make sure our children know that we love God, we make God’s love visible in the world, and we make our lives a testimony to that love. The “noise” of daily life gets muted, and instead of falling through the cracks the important things, including ourselves, come into sharper focus.

And we’re reminded over and over again, that God not only sees us but that God also hears us – and that God loves us.

We don’t do any of this perfectly – we don’t listen or love perfectly, we can’t. And we need reminders to do it throughout our lives, sometimes lots of them. But our ability to do it at all, our ability to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, begins and ends with God’s love – that’s what we listen to – because that’s who and what God is. Thanks be to God! Amen.