Shema Yisreal multi-media art by Laddie John Dill
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NRSV)
This is (part 1 of 3 parts) of the Shema. It is the first piece of the Torah that a child learns in the Jewish tradition, and it is one of two prayers that is specifically commanded to be recited each day, in the morning and the evening.
It is a prayer- part of our Holy Scriptures- that I have loved for a long, long time.
The Shema calls us to community and makes us accountable as bearers of tradition: When I was a young adult, I began a career in Christian Formation, and this prayer was my credo. The Shema directs us to teach our children about God in every instance in which God’s glory is revealed…. to keep the mystery and grace of God before us at all times.
And the Shema is a deeply personal prayer. It invites us to love God with all that we have- our heart, our souls, our bodies, our minds.
The evangelists knew the Shema and, in the Christian tradition, it remained as the core of The Way:
Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”
Mark 12:30-31 The Message (MSG)
Eugene Peterson’s take on the Shema in his paraphrase of the Bible (The Message) offers a different way to understand our total commitment to loving God. I like his words, “passion, prayer, intelligence and energy.” That’s how I want to live with and love God- with everything I’ve got.
I’ve been moved this week by two specific initiatives that invite our passion, prayer, intelligence and energy. These are invitations that ask us to focus on two specific issues that are vital in building God’s Kingdom of justice, mercy and peace. I commend them to you for prayer and engagement.
1. ENDING RACISM
Following is a letter from The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Gay Jennings inviting us, in the Episcopal Church to dedicate our prayer and worship on Sunday September 6, 2015 to ending racism. Our own UBE chapter in The Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania will be hosting a service at St. Paul’s (Harrisburg) on Sunday that will include the commemoration of the life and legacy of our notable saint, the Reverend Alexander Crummell. Canon Annette L. Buchanan, National President of UBE and Bishop Baxter will be preaching and celebrating.
Other congregations in our diocese are asked to participate in End Racism Sunday and to lift this essential justice issue up in prayer.
The text of the letter from the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies follows:
September 1, 2015
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
On June 17, nine members of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, were murdered by a white racist during their weekly bible study. Just a few days later at General Convention in Salt Lake City, we committed ourselves to stand in solidarity with the AME Church as they respond with acts of forgiveness, reconciliation, and justice (Resolution A032).
Now our sisters and brothers in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church have asked us to make that solidarity visible by participating in "Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism Sunday" on Sunday, September 6. We ask all Episcopal congregations to join this ecumenical effort with prayer and action.
"Racism will not end with the passage of legislation alone; it will also require a change of heart and thinking," writes AME Bishop Reginald T. Jackson. "This is an effort which the faith community must lead, and be the conscience of the nation. We will call upon every church, temple, mosque and faith communion to make their worship service on this Sunday a time to confess and repent for the sin and evil of racism, this includes ignoring, tolerating and accepting racism, and to make a commitment to end racism by the example of our lives and actions."
The Episcopal Church, along with many ecumenical partners, will stand in solidarity with the AME Church this week in Washington D.C. at the "Liberty and Justice for All" event, which includes worship at Wesley AME Zion Church and various advocacy events.
Racial reconciliation through prayer, teaching, engagement and action is a top priority of the Episcopal Church in the upcoming triennium. Participating in "Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism Sunday" on September 6 is just one way that we Episcopalians can undertake this essential work. Our history as a church includes atrocities for which we must repent, saints who show us the way toward the realm of God, and structures that bear witness to unjust centuries of the evils of white privilege, systemic racism, and oppression that are not yet consigned to history. We are grateful for the companionship of the AME Church and other partners as we wrestle with our need to repent and be reconciled to one another and to the communities we serve.
"The Church understands and affirms that the call to pray and act for racial reconciliation is integral to our witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to our living into the demands of our Baptismal Covenant," reads Resolution C019 of the 78th General Convention. May God bless us and forgive us as we pray and act with our partners this week and in the years to come. In the words of the prophet Isaiah appointed for Sunday, may we see the day when "waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water."
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings
President, House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church
2. ENDING GUN VIOLENCE
A second invitation came to me this week in the form of an on-line mini-course being offered on Church Next. This internet resource will feature 4 short lectures by Episcopal bishops Eugene Sutton (MD) and Ian Douglas (CT) and will offer opportunities for cyber-dialogue and reflection. Bishops Sutton and Douglas are leaders in the Bishops Against Gun Violence (www.bishopsagainstgunviolence.org) and their talks are titled
The Unholy Trinity (Sutton), Violence and the Bible (Sutton), A Theology for Challenging Gun Violence (Douglas) and Christian Responsibility (Douglas).
In publicity materials for this free course, Bishop Sutton says,
“This course is not about repealing the Second Amendment. It’s about examining the roots, causes, reality, and our response to our increasingly violent and tragic age, and offering ways for Christians to take action.”
I know that in my Christian walk, I have been searching for a way to respond beyond my own prayers to this epidemic of violence and the tragedy of senseless deaths that increase week by week- sometimes day by day- in our country. While I was in Salt Lake City at our General Convention I was proud to march with many of our own deputies and thousands of others against gun violence and I intend to join the Bishops Against Gun Violence once I am consecrated. I hope that this invitation to enroll in the Church Next lecture series will serve to engage others- in body, mind and spirit- in this important social justice issue.
To find out how to register for the class, use this link:
I thank God every day for the gift of a strong body, an active mind and a passion that could only be the Holy Spirit inside of me, drawing me to action.
I pray that we might, together, use our bodies, minds and spirits to praise God, as the Shema calls us, and to be agents of God’s transforming love.
Love in Christ,
P.S. Here are some additional resources for Ending Racism:
(ECCT editor's note: the litany by Bishop Adam J. Richardson, referenced in the linked document, may be found here)
These collects from the Book of Common Prayer may also be appropriate for use:
Almighty God, who created us in your image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.