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  • Pastor A.J. Houseman

"The Shema, Listen Up!" by Pastor A.J. Houseman

A call to attention. There’s the fun ones, like in school, a teacher may flash the lights to get all the kids’ attention. Or at camp growing up, the leader would put up the sign language sign for “I love you”, meaning… “I love you, but please shut up”. And everyone else would put it up, too, once they saw and understood.

The understanding? That someone is about to say something important that you need to hear.

Or in churches, have you guys ever done this here? Where someone says “The Lord be with you”, to get everyone’s attention and everyone responds, “and also with you”.

It’s a way to command a room. A way for the audience to understand, That you have something important to say.


The word “Shema” is this word in Hebrew. In Deuteronomy chapter 6, Moses narrates some instructions for the Israelite people on his death bed. Right before they prepare to cross into the promise land at last. God gives Moses these commandments to give to the people.

“Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, so that you and your children and your children’s children may have absolute reverence for the Lord your God all the days of your life” (Deut 6:1-2)

To give this greatest commandment, the one that is above all other laws and ordinances. The thing that the people are to follow no matter what, unconditionally, absolutely. To give this commandment, Moses says to the people “Shema, Israel.”

“Hear, O Israel”, we often hear translated in English. Or listen. It is an imperative verb, a command.

It’s a call to attention, it means, “listen up! This is very important. This is your God’s greatest commandment for you. This commandment is above all else that you have been given so far, this commandment you shall keep from generation to generation. You shall keep in on your lips, you shall keep it on your forehead. You shall bind it on your hand. You shall recite this to your children.” (Loosely Deut 6:6-9)

This is the greatest commandment, “Shema, Israel, adonai elohenu, adonai echad.” “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:4-5)

In Judaism, this is their statement of faith and their greatest prayer, like the importance of the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles or Nicene Creed combined.

If you’ve ever seen a picture or in person, of someone who has a little box with a leather strap on their forehead? Inside this box is the Shema.

Listen Up, people. This is important. This is the most fundamental piece of your faith. This is the center of your prayer. This is the most important thing that God commands you.


In our gospel lesson for today, the Sadducees, questioning Jesus, “what is the greatest commandment of all?” They know what the answer is. They probably have the boxes on their foreheads as they speak. This is the central prayer, the central creed to their faith.

But Jesus takes it one step farther, like Jesus does. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. These are the greatest commandments.”

Jesus gives us this same call to attention, says to us, “Listen up, this is important! These are the things to live your life by. These are the things to keep most holy, most sacred, and most fiercely in your heart.” = God and neighbor. It's the foundation that our faith stands on. It's the guiding principle that leads us out into the world to share faith, hope, and love with everyone.

Shema, Listen up. Are we listening? That is our question for today. To take with you, to mull over, are we listening? Are we listening to the savior of the world, the Son of God, as he calls us to attention with the same words of Moses? This commandment from our God? Are we listening?

Let us go out, guided by Christ and answer this command. Amen.


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