19 September 2009

Rosh Hashanah.. God is good?

God is good and ready to forgive
Rosh Hashanah message 5770
Given in Bondi Junction
18 September 2009


Tonight we greet a new year. It’s not like crowding into the Opera House steps to watch millions of dollars of fireworks go off on 31 December. The revelry of Trafalgar Square or Times Square is not apparent here. We might wear different apparel than usual, but not the wild and crazy clothing of New Year’s Eve. No, tonight is a night of awe and respect; it’s a night of self-introspection and repair. And, oh, please hear me, it IS a night of celebration. We are rejoicing in the newness that should characterize a new year. And it’s all based on the text of tonight, the Psalm we read early on, Psalm 86. And the key passage is “God is good, and ready to forgive.”

Last weekend I was in Brisbane, and enjoyed the first Brisbane Festival. The highlight was a large fireworks show called “RiverFire.” It was spectacular. The air force supplied a fly-over. I supplied a thousand Gospel tracts to the crowd which gathered almost as early as our crowds in Sydney fireworks displays do. And it was celebratory.
So what will you do to celebrate tonight’s New Year here in Sydney? May I suggest it’s not about resolutions of your own reformation and repair. May I suggest it’s not about revelry and fireworks. Although we hope to have enough to share, it’s not about apples and honey and honeycake after the meeting. It’s about the goodness of God and his readiness to forgive.

Of course, the words ‘ready to’ are not in the Hebrew text. It’s more skeletal than that in the Hebrew.
Other versions simply say, “You are good and forgiving.” Simple. Clear. Honest. But, honestly, is that something to celebrate? Open the Esky for that one?

Maybe we should ask John Della Bosca, who was caught out last month in a sordid affair of lust and lying.
Or we should ask that American congressman from California, who was similarly caught out, But listen to his acknowledgement of wrongdoing. “My offence was engaging in inappropriate storytelling and I regret my language and choice of words.” Seems Mike Duvall a 54-year-old congressman boasted to a fellow congressman, with his microphone still on, during congressional hearings, about an affair with a 36-year-old female lobbyist. He boasted about their sexual activities. But what did he confess? Sin? Infidelity to his wife? Failure to the family? Nope, only that he was boastful and the bragging was wrong. Oy.

I’m not stuck on sexual impropriety as if that were the worst sin.
Should we ask the French Interior Minister? Brice Hortefeux sparked accusations of racism with comments last week about Arabs. He said, “it’s ok when there’s one (Arab). It’s when there are a lot of them that there are problems.” All this caught on videotape during a filming at a Le Monde shooting.
Listen, I’m pretty sure that there are plenty of other sins a man commits. How about all those in the machzor, the traditional Jewish prayer book on this day, for which we repent? Shall I name some? OK, here’s a top 10 list (See the end of sermon, if you are reading online for the complete list/prayer):
1) Passing judgment
2) Scheming against a fellowman
3) Begrudging eye
4) Frivolity
5) Obduracy
6) Running to do evil
7) Tale-bearing
8) Swearing in vain
9) Causeless hatred
10) Embezzlement.

It is interesting to note that these confessions do not specifically address the kinds of ritual sins that some people think are the be-all-and-end-all of Judaism. There is no "for the sin we have sinned before you by eating pork, and for the sin we have sinned against you by driving on Shabbat" (though obviously these are implicitly included in the catch-all). The vast majority of the sins enumerated involve mistreatment of other people, most of them by speech (offensive speech, scoffing, slander, talebearing, and swearing falsely, to name a few).

You might be thinking, “Now wait a minute, I didn’t come hear to have you tell me about sins. I came to hear about New Year and trumpets and to go into 5770 in a new way. I want change, but not religious change.”

Fair enough, and worthy of consideration. But maybe Mr Della Bosca or the French minister or Kanye West are thinking other things just about now.
Embarrassment and shame. All part of the guilt of our sin. And all good. “What,“ you say? Yes, I say, guilt is good. Not only because I’m Jewish and we as Jews dwell often in our sins and the guilt of it. No, it’s because sin should bring guilt, and guilt should bring shame and then sin, guilt and shame should lead to repentance. If you know how bad you are, you will cry out to the God who ever lives to help us and bring us to a good place.

Let’s go back to the Psalm of the night, and see this again.
Psalm 86 reads like promises offered to the most desperate person.

Kathleen Parker, an American journalist I read often, said this in the shadow of the “You lie” comment by Joe Wilson, an unknown American congressman (from her home state of South Carolina), “Across the spectrum of society, people are behaving badly…from the rude tantrum of Kanye West at the Video Music Awards to the profane threats of tennis star Serena Williams when she disagreed with a line call.”
Parker’s conclusions about the unjustified scream in President Obama’s speech end with, “there are myriad ways for a congressman to voice objection to the president's ideas or his colleagues' proposals. But dueling has been out of style for quite some time, even in South Carolina. If our will to self-govern is to prevail, then incivility will have to become equally unfashionable.”

Parker calls for people to behave well, to be civil. And that’s a fair call. But is human reform enough to make a real difference?

Let me put this to you in a personal category. Let’s say you were a habitual liar. Each week you tell hundreds of lies. Some cultural psychologists aver that the averages are as follows:
“Most people lie to others once or twice a day and deceive about 30 people per week.
The average is 7 times per hour if you count all the times people lie to themselves.
We lie in 30 to 38% of all our interactions.
Uni students lie in 50% of conversations with their mothers.
- 80% of us lie on our resumes.
- 70% of all doctors lie to insurance companies.
- 100% of dating couples surveyed lied to each other in about a third of their conversations.
- 20% - 30% of middle managers surveyed had written fraudulent internal reports.
- 95% of participating uni students surveyed were willing to tell at least one lie to a potential employer to win a job, and 41% had already done so.
We are lied to about 200 times each day.” (http://www.geocities.com/changes1611/sins22lies2.html)

Wow, that’s a lot of lying going on.

So let’s say you want to try to get that better this year. How would you go about that? Would you make lists of the lies you told? Would you try to go back and make things right with those to whom you lied, even last week? Would you say you will try harder this year and reform your behaviour? All well and good. And maybe that’s part of the procedure in repair, but King David is helping us understand a deeper and more powerful method of restoration. It’s not about reformation; it’s about repentance.
The first and required way to fix all bad actions, is to cry to God for mercy.
Listen to verse one. Incline Thine ear, O LORD, and answer me; For I am afflicted and needy.

Help-- the shortest prayer ever uttered, and often the most real. O. Hallesby in his classic book, Prayer, takes the first chapter to its full meaning with the word helplessness. We can only really pray when we know how desperate we are to find the God behind or above the prayer. We cannot simply approach him; we cannot earn our way to him. We have no capacity to gain his awareness or qualities enough to warrant his observation. Everything about our relationship with the Almighty is of grace, and in that grace we stand.

Then verses 2 and 3: O Thou my God, save Thy servant who trusts in Thee.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, For to Thee I cry all day long.
Whatever else is going on in King David’s life in this moment, he knows that God alone is the one who can fix it all up.

Again verse 4: Make glad the soul of Thy servant, For to Thee, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
Do you hear the ‘because’ or ‘for’ in each verse? Why should God listen? Because I am needy. Why should God be gracious to me? Because I cry all day long. What is it about making the soul of the king glad? Because David lifts his soul to the Lord.
I like thinking about the reason behind things. Why do we do what we do on Rosh Hashanah with trumpets and apples? Why do I wear certain clothing and travel certain places? What motivates a Family First senator from Victoria to say and do what he does? Motivations are hard to read, almost impossible, and thus we are left with only actions to evaluate.

But inside us, and in our relationship with the Lord, He knows our deepest thoughts and our considerations. He knows our motivations and as such, we can say, “In the day of my trouble I shall call upon Thee, For Thou wilt answer me.”

It all sums up in verses 12 and 13 with
I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And will glorify Thy name forever. For Thy lovingkindness toward me is great, And Thou hast delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
Or the classic codified confession from Moses onward,
Thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.

Do you know this God about whom David was so convinced? Do you know the mercy, the unfailing love and grace of the God of the Universes who can demand so much, who can cause us to see our darknesses and our dark side, and yet offer to us his unfailing love and comfort?

But you might say, "I don’t believe in God," or "I don’t need a God who demands so much." You might be one who prefers a nice God, a polite God, one who forgives …well, actually one who doesn’t expect much from us, and thus doesn’t need to forgive. But then you will miss it, my friend. Only those who know how painfully far we are from the Holy Lord of all the world (Adon Olam) can enter into the life and pleasure of God. It’s another one of those biblical oddities, that only the weak are strengthened; only the poor are made rich.

You might say, “I don’t believe God is good.” You may have experienced a lot of pain and suffering. You may have endured a lifeless relationship, and can only see God in the players who represented him. We all know about bad priests in Catholic churches and schools who ruined the lives of many under them. Many of our people, experienced in the evils of man’s inhumanity to man, endured the Holocaust in Europe and the rejection of others and think, justifiably, that God is either incompetent to save or evil in his own nature.

When we blame God for the things others do in his name we again miss it. When we cast aspersions on the God who made the world and fail to see our own failings, we amplify our need for him. God is so good, and we who ruin his name, who mock his name, who unjustly shame or pain others, we do him a disservice. God is not mocked. It is we who fail. It is we who need him.

Our Jewish people are the ones who should know this the most. Each year, on Rosh Hashanah, we begin again. We look inside again and cry ‘oy’ at the evils we have done. We ask for forgiveness.

God is good, and ready to forgive.
But we fail to acknowledge him. We fail to cry out of our need for him.
Into that scene came Y’shua. He’s the messiah our forefathers awaited. He’s the one who taught us to admit our sins. He’s the one who takes our sins on himself and bears them himself. He had done no violence, according to the prophet and according to the record of the Bible, there was no deceit in his mouth. And it hurt God in his heart to let Y’shua suffer.

But Y’shua, or as others call him Jesus, chose to bear our suffering. He chose to live our lives and take our pain. He chose to be wounded for us, and bring us to the reality of the forgiving God.

When met with a lame man, lying on his pallet, needing help, Y’shua offered depth of help the man found unexpecting. Each of the synoptics record it, “Matt. 9.5 “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, and walk’?
Mark 2.9 “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Arise, and take up your pallet and walk’?
Luke 5.23 “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins have been forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?”

To be healed, to be free, to truly live a life of newness in 5770 or any year, Y’shua extended the forgiveness of sins to the man lying on his pallet. That’s what we need. That’s the only way to have a new year. Not in revelry or reformation. But in repentance and the grace that Y’shua brings.

If you’ve never accepted Y’shua as your messiah, as your Saviour, why not do it now? What a great day to be born again, on New Years, and truly start over?


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Text of Al Khet (Confession of sins on Yom Kippur)
For the sin which we have committed before You under duress or willingly.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by hard-heartedness.
For the sin which we have committed before You inadvertently.
And for the sin which we have committed before You with an utterance of the lips.
For the sin which we have committed before You with immorality.
And for the sin which we have committed before You openly or secretly.
For the sin which we have committed before You with knowledge and with deceit.
And for the sin which we have committed before You through speech.
For the sin which we have committed before You by deceiving a fellowman.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by improper thoughts.
For the sin which we have committed before You by a gathering of lewdness.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by verbal [insincere] confession.
For the sin which we have committed before You by disrespect for parents and teachers.
And for the sin which we have committed before You intentionally or unintentionally.
For the sin which we have committed before You by using coercion.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by desecrating the Divine Name.
For the sin which we have committed before You by impurity of speech.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by foolish talk.
For the sin which we have committed before You with the evil inclination.
And for the sin which we have committed before You knowingly or unknowingly.
For all these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us.
For the sin which we have committed before You by false denial and lying.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by a bribe-taking or a bribe-giving hand.
For the sin which we have committed before You by scoffing.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by evil talk [about another].
For the sin which we have committed before You in business dealings.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by eating and drinking.
For the sin which we have committed before You by [taking or giving] interest and by usury.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by a haughty demeanor.
For the sin which we have committed before You by the prattle of our lips.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by a glance of the eye.
For the sin which we have committed before You with proud looks.
And for the sin which we have committed before You with impudence.
For all these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us.
For the sin which we have committed before You by casting off the yoke [of Heaven].
And for the sin which we have committed before You in passing judgment.
For the sin which we have committed before You by scheming against a fellowman.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by a begrudging eye.
For the sin which we have committed before You by frivolity.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by obduracy.
For the sin which we have committed before You by running to do evil.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by tale-bearing.
For the sin which we have committed before You by swearing in vain.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by causeless hatred.
For the sin which we have committed before You by embezzlement.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by a confused heart.
For all these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us.
And for the sins for which we are obligated to bring a burnt-offering.
And for the sins for which we are obligated to bring a sin-offering.
And for the sins for which we are obligated to bring a varying offering [according to one's means
And for the sins for which we are obligated to bring a guilt-offering for a certain or doubtful trespass.
And for the sins for which we incur the penalty of lashing for rebelliousness.
And for the sins for which we incur the penalty of forty lashes.
And for the sins for which we incur the penalty of death by the hand of Heaven.
And for the sins for which we incur the penalty of excision and childlessness.

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