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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - No God but the Lord Alone

Robert Barron - No God but the Lord Alone

Robert Barron - No God but the Lord Alone

Peace be with you. Friends, we are on very, very holy ground with our Gospel today, because someone asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment. So, we're going to hear not just from a rabbi, not just from a prophet, a merely human figure. We're going to hear from Christ himself, the Word made flesh. What is the single greatest commandment? And so we better listen very carefully. Well, he responds the way really any devout Jew of the first century or indeed a devout Jew of today would respond. He responds with the famous Shema. That's a prayer derived from the sixth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy.

Look it up, please, everybody, when you have a chance. Get out your Bibles. Deuteronomy chapter six. And you'll find the Shema. Let me say it to you in the lovely Hebrew: "Sh'ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ecḥad". That's the beginning of the Shema. Here's what it means. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone". "Sh'ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ecḥad". It's the fundamental statement of Israelite religion. And it's the commandment that Jesus identifies as the most basic. In a way, everything else in the Bible, everything else indeed in Christian life, is a footnote to the Shema. And from it follows a basic moral imperative. Listen. Therefore "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul... and with all your strength".

There's our religion. There's the faith. Pious Jews in the Old Testament were enjoined to recite the Shema morning and night as they rose and went to bed. In many ways, the Christian practice of morning prayer and evening prayer follows from this custom. They were to recite it as their last words. They were to enjoin it upon their children. Indeed, the Bible says to drill it into your children. They were to carry a parchment containing these words in a little box on their forehead. That's how central, how unavoidable, how indispensable the Shema was. And as I've been saying, it holds huge importance for Christians in the measure that Jesus himself, when asked, identifies this as the most fundamental command.

Okay, so what does it mean? Well, Shema, that opening word, it means "listen". Hear, hear, O Israel. Don't just rush past it. It's very important. As I've said to you a hundred times, the great program of modernity and all of us, whether we want to or not, whether we know it or not, we are immersed in the assumptions of modernity. Autonomy. Self-direction. "Auto-nomos", I'm my own law. I tell you what I think. I tell you what my values are. How important today that my voice is heard, that you listen to my story. Now there's something to that, don't get me wrong. I'm not completely bad mouthing all that. But nevertheless, that is not, that is not the assumption of the Bible. The opening word is not, "Hey, listen to me. Hear my voice". The opening move is Shema. Listen.

Adam's problem was he didn't listen to the command of the Lord and from that inattention followed the sin that destroyed the world. Abraham is the founder of the holy people Israel. Why? Because he listened. Because he heard a higher voice, a voice beyond his own autonomy, beyond his own self-assertion. He listened to a higher voice. Shema, listen, listen. Hear, O Israel. "Sh'ma Yisrael". Israel, you know what it means? "The people that wrestle with God". I love that. It's so good. What's the trouble with secularism? I'll tell you exactly what it is, it's a bracketing of God. Even if I believe in some kind of vague first principle, I don't take God seriously. I just maybe vaguely acknowledge his existence. But Israel, this people that listened to God's voice then became a people that wrestled with him.

That great image of Jacob wrestling with the angel. That's what it means. That you take God and God's demands with such seriousness that you wrestle even when you don't understand them. Even when it's not making sense to you, you wrestle with God. Don't give in to the blandness of secularism that brackets God. No, no. Hear, O Israel. Paul says the Church is the new Israel. So all of us followers of Christ, we're meant to be wrestlers with God too. So "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God". God.

As I say, you can look at God philosophically as a prime mover or a first cause, an abstract principle. The Bible's got no trouble with that. The Lord your God, Adonai, the Lord. The Lord. That means the commander. That means the one who is commanding your will. The one who wants to have a directive role in your life. The one to whom your will and your plan should be submitted. God is not satisfied to be in the deep background of one's life. No, no. Hear, O Israel, the Lord, your God. What's it like to be a servant of this divine Lord? That's biblical religion. You know, think of so much of modernity predicated on people like Isaac Newton or Thomas Jefferson or maybe Ralph Waldo Emerson in our setting, where God at best is a distant deist force. That is not the Bible. Hear, O wrestlers with God. The Lord, your God. That's now to be in the right relationship.

Now what do we hear about the Lord, our God? The Lord is one. The Lord is Lord alone. Everybody, this is of such decisive significance that we got to spend a little bit of time. Is it a statement abstractly and philosophically of monotheism? Sure. That there's one God. I mean Israel bequeathed to the world, bequeathed to our Western culture certainly, this belief in the unity of God, the unicity of God. So at the theoretical theological level, very important claim of monotheism. But can I follow Joseph Ratzinger here, the great theologian who became eventually Pope Benedict XVI. Ratzinger claims that the unicity and unity of God is not just a theoretical statement. It's of enormous spiritual and existential import.

Now why? When you say, 'hear, listen, O wrestlers with God, the Lord your God is one,' that means that there's no competition. That means that nothing else can possibly be construed as absolute. That means no country is God. That means no politician is God. That means no political power is God. That means no human being is God. That means nothing in nature. That means the universe is not God. There's only one God and that's the Lord God. You know, in some ways our version of the Shema we recite every single Sunday. When we say, "Credo in unum Deum," I believe in one God.

See friends, in a way the whole spiritual life hinges upon this. What do you worship? What's God to you? What's of highest value? It can't be anything other than the Lord God of Israel. It's a statement of enormous clarification spiritually speaking. Okay, now from all of this, Listen, O wrestler with God. The Lord, your God is one, following from that is this great ethical or behavioral implication, that we must love the Lord our God. How? With the entirety of our being. With the whole heart.

What does that mean? The heart's the seat of the passions and the emotions. With every emotion in us. With our whole soul. What's that? That's the highest spiritual dimension of the person. That's the spiritual dimension that organizes the whole of the self. That must be directed to God. And with all of our strength. That means every gift that I've got, every capacity I've got, should be directed to God. Now I know there's an objection that comes naturally to mind. Well, I mean, how do you do that? Unless you become a Trappist monk who's just utterly, utterly devoted to God every single minute, how could you possibly respond to this? Isn't it unrealistic? I mean, can't we give God some time and some of our energy, but not all of it.

Well, here's the solution. Remember I've said this many times as a theoretical observation, but it has enormous behavioral implication. That God is not competitive with us, is not competitive to the world. See what I mean? So here I am. There's this camera in front of me. There's lights around me. If I go outside, there's the city of Santa Barbara and then there's the planet earth and there's other planets in the universe. And I guess then there's God too. Well, no, that's precisely the wrong way to think about it. God is not one of the beings within the world. God's not one thing among many, but as Aquinas says, God is "ipsum esse".

That means he's the sheer act of 'to be' itself. God is that infinite source from which all of created matter and energy and objectivity comes. Therefore God's not competing with creaturely things for space on the same background. No, no. God is that which, listen, lies behind and shines through all things. So, I'm attending a baseball game and I'm finding it beautiful and entertaining. Terrific. But, if I've got the Shema in my mind, I've got this prayer in my mind, I see the beauty and the enjoyment of that game as coming from, even now, a divine source. God's the creator of all things. More to it, the beauty of that game anticipates the fullness of beauty that I'll experience in heaven. I sit down for a good meal and I'm enjoying it. Terrific. It comes from the creative hand of God and the enjoyment of that meal is an anticipation of the banquet of heaven. I fall in love with another person. Terrific.

And I see that person with all of her beauty and all of her qualities coming from God. And then she becomes for me a sign and a symbol of the ultimate love that I'll experience in heaven. Do you see what I'm driving at? I can love the Lord, my God, with all my heart and all my soul and all my strength because I see God and I appreciate God and I love God in and through all things. It's not a zero-sum competitive game. But once I get the implication of the Shema, yes, indeed, the whole world now lights up with this spiritual luminosity. Spend some time today. Deuteronomy chapter six. Lord Jesus, what's the greatest commandment? There it is. "Sh'ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ecḥad". "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is Lord alone". And so love him with everything you've got. Your whole heart, your whole soul, and all your strength. And God bless you.
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