Returning to G-d
March 19, 2006
I want to extend my thanks to Reverend Wayne and the members of the Metropolitan Community Church of the Chesapeake for extending an invitation to me to be a part of your Women’s Voices series. I recognize many of you from when I was here last year, thank you for honoring me with your presence a second time.
And I must admit, I am especially honored to be a part of this series since I am a nice Jewish girl. Yes, here I stand, a nice Jewish girl, about to be ordained as an interfaith minister, addressing a Christian congregation during the holy days of Lent. I believe one of two things is happening here. Either this Congregation is drinking water out of the Chesapeake thinking it is holy water and being infected with the rockfish bacteria which is eating away your brain cells, OR, and I must admit I lean towards this option, this Congregation knows that G-d’s love is so big and so inclusive and so encompassing, that all who dwell within the loving embrace of G-d have something to share and something to receive. It is this notion that moves me; it is this notion that feeds me, it is this notion that brings me to be of service to you this evening.
I confess that prior to my interfaith journey I didn’t know too much about Lent. The first time I saw ashes on someone I thought to myself, “Gee, I wonder if that person knows they have schmootz on their forehead?” I am soooo glad I didn’t ask. And I heard about folks giving up something for Lent—chocolate, alcohol, sex. But once I started to really study Lent, I found myself amazed at the parallels between Lent and stories and practices within Judaism. Given that Jesus was a nice Jewish boy—I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised.
This evening I will address the topics of faith, forgiveness, and return— noting some of the parallels and intersections between our two faith traditions.
In Judaism, there is what is known as a weekly Torah portion—the first five books of the Jewish Testament are divided into 52 separate parts-one for each week of the year. The Torah portion for this week (which started this past Friday night) covers Exodus 30:11 – 34:35. Contained within the reading is the story of Charleston Heston, I mean Moses, going up to Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from G-d. To refresh your memory, Moses has just led the Israelites out of Egypt, they have crossed the Red Sea, and are now camped at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses climbs the mountain, spends 40 days and nights there, and returns to his people with the tablets.
But alas, the Israelites had grown impatient and doubtful that Moses would return. At Aaron’s beseeching, the Israelites gave him their gold and from that he fashioned a golden calf. The people then danced and worshiped this graven image—this idol—as their G-d. As Moses was returning, he saw what they were doing and in disgust and anger threw down the tablets, shattering them into many pieces. After he calmed down and the graven image was destroyed, he traipsed back up the mountain for another 40 days and nights before returning with a second set of tablets.
One of the first things about this story to catch my attention was the number forty. Does that number ring a bell for anyone? Can you think of other instances in our faith traditions where this number has appeared? There was 40 days for the flood with Noah and the ark. The Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years. There is a period of 40 days spent in preparation and introspection during the Jewish High Holy Days. Jesus went to the desert for forty days where he was tempted by Satan. Jesus was in the tomb for 40 hours before arising. And, Lent is a period of 40 days.
What is a common theme in all of these 40 stories? Moses on the mountain, Noah and the flood, Jesus in the desert and in the tomb? What resonates with me is the notion of faith. Moses having faith that G-d would guide him as he guided the Israelites. Noah having faith that G-d would protect him and lead him to safety. Jesus having faith that his G-d was the only G-d and would bring forth a period of good news and new life.
Faith. Author Ruben Alves writes that “Hope is hearing the melody of the future. Faith is dancing to it now.”
There is the story of an atheist who falls off a 2000 foot cliff. He grabs onto the one twig 1000 feet down. He looks up to Heaven and figures it is worth a shot. “Is anybody up there?” he asks. “Yes, it’s Me, G-d,” comes the response. “Thank G-d for that,” the atheist replies. “Please G-d, help me. I’ll do anything,” “Of course my son. But I have just one request to make.” “Anything G-d,” replies the atheist. “I will save you my child,” says G-d, “but you have to trust Me first. Let go of the twig and I will catch you.” The atheist looks down at the rocks 1000 feet below and looks up again. “Is there anybody else up there?” We can know there is a G-d intellectually, but having faith in
G-d’s love and grace is something else.
As we look at our more contemporary spiritual leaders—Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Theresa, Ghandi—could any of them have achieved a tenth of what they did if they had been lacking in faith? When we lack faith we separate ourselves from G-d.
G-d’s love is never absent—only our faith in it is. As we bring truth to what have been illusions, as we replace fear with love, we have faith that we are healing from the inside out.
Within this healing process many of us seek G-d’s forgiveness. During the Jewish High Holy Days which occur in the fall and during the Lenten season, we ask ourselves, “Where haven’t I been the highest expression of myself? Where have I fallen short of being the fullness of who I am? Where was I not being One with my G-d? Where have I made others wrong in order to make myself right? What are my regrets?”
And you know what I have learned about forgiveness? It’s already there. G-d forgives us with the next breath we take. G-d is the giver of innumerable second chances. More to the point I believe the question is, Can we be open to receive G-d’s forgiveness? Can we truly believe that we are loved by G-d so much as to be worthy of forgiveness?
In Judaism we call this reflective process teshuva. It literally means to return-to become the person we could have been and want to be. When we do teshuva we examine our ways, identify those areas where we are losing ground, and map our return to Godliness, our state of spiritual purity. In the process, we return to our connection with G-d.
It is said that repentance or the ability to return was created before the world was created. That is to say, the idea of repentance, of a person changing themselves and changing their course, is an integral part of Creation—and the world could not exist without it. We know that sincere teshuva has taken place when the same falling short under the same circumstances does not occur.
There are two other aspects of the Moses and the mountain story that I want to address. First, as I said before, Moses destroyed the first set of tablets when he saw the people worshipping the golden calf. He went back up Mt Sinai asking G-d to forgive the Israelites and to reissue the tablets. G-d agreed—but made one change. During the first meeting G-d prepared and inscribed the tablets and gave them to Moses. This second time, G-d instructed Moses to carve and inscribe the stone. This was to seal the partnership with G-d and to let the people know that they must play an active part in seeking forgiveness and in seeking G-d’s involvement in their lives. This is a reminder to us today that while G-d is always present—with us and for us—we must always be doing our part to engage and deepen the relationship.
The second aspect of the Moses story I want to address is—what happened to the fragments of the first set of broken tablets? Were they just left behind? Were they made available on an ancient e bay? After the Israelites constructed the Holy Tabernacle to carry the undamaged tablets, they also put the fragments of the first set in as well. The message here? We must carry our fragments—our brokenness—with our wholeness. Brokenness is part of the global human condition—as we move towards wholeness we still carry our fragments. Our memories of our brokenness help us to be more compassionate, more patient, more understanding, more loving. It reminds us of our humanness so we can extend it to others. It is written that nothing is as whole as a broken heart.
Lent is the process of moving to and through our brokenness to our G-d selves. We have all stood at our own Mount Sinai’s—broken, doubtful, uncertain. And through G-d’s grace and love we are forgiven and given yet another chance. What an amazing wonderful blessing that is.
As we each walk towards our promised land we seek to recognize and respond afresh to
G-d’s presence in our lives and in our world. It is through our faith that forgiveness is always granted and we return to our Oneness with G-d.
Let’s remember on our journey that we have more in common than not, that the grace and love of G-d is available to everyone, and that this love is only a breath away.
Yivarechecha Adonai v’yishmerecha
Yaeir Adonai panav eilecha vichunecha
Yisa Adonai panav eilecha v’yasim lacha shalom.
May G-d bless you and keep you.
May G-d look kindly upon you and be gracious to you.
May G-d reach out to you in tenderness, and give you peace.
© 2019 Bonnie J. Berger. All rights reserved.