25 September 2014

What's new in the new year: A study in newness and trumpets



By Bob Mendelsohn
Given in Bondi Junction, Sydney
1 Tishri 5775 (26 September 2014)



For the audio mp3, click here


L’shana tova to each of you gathered here today in Bondi Junction as we share together in the feast of trumpets, the blowing of the shofars and the consideration of things new.
When I was a kid, we started the school year about now, so we had new clothing or at least one item which was new, and certainly some new #2 pencils and a new notepad or such. By the way notepad was a stack of papers stitched together, nothing electronic.
So I went to synagogue and it felt new, even though I had been going the entire year before, there was a ‘new beginning’ feel to the whole experience. At least for awhile. Then the sameness crept in and I began remembering why I found it a bit of a drudgery.
Now here I am 5 decades on and wondering if you have something similar going on. You might be thinking, ‘Wait, I already sang that song last year,’ or ‘Two years ago I prayed that same prayer’ or ‘When do we get to the lunch already?’
But if you will allow me, I believe Rosh Hashanah is the time in our calendar when we hope to find answers to life’s bigger questions. The questions of forgiveness and repair, of a world gone mad and gone bad, and we wonder at times aloud, and more often under our breath, if God even cares about our situations and if He can see us and see to us in 2014 or 5775. It’s a Jewish question. It’s a universal question.
We wonder if God notices the killings and beheadings. We wonder if God watches the news as much as we do with horrors in Syria and Iraq. And we worry that which is overseas and came to us one week ago in a major raid by federal police on soon-to-be terrorists might cause God to notice.
Beyond the governmental difficulties, we wonder if we will find a new or better job this year. Will we find satisfaction in relationships? There are concerns to sort out in the difficulties of life with others, with whom we are not reconciled or finding a place to live which we can actually afford.
Life gives us questions and not many answers, and then when the answers do come, they don’t seem to satisfy, so we long for something restful, something conclusive, something that will long matter into the long night.
That’s the hopelessness of the king in Ecclesiastes. Those words we read are painful to read. “All things are wearisome; Man is not able to tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing.”
Into that situation, Yeshua does speak, and His words found in Matthew chapter 11 ring loudly today and every day.
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”(Matthew 11.28-30)
Here we see Yeshua teaching us that if we want conclusion, or rest, or satisfaction, we won’t find it in buying the latest iTunes Lady Gaga hit or by joining the club at the RSL. We won’t find it by purchasing the best outfit in the Fashion Festival or if our footy side wins this weekend (Go the Swans).
The activities of God and the plans of God bring conclusions; everything else brings more questions.
I speak often with people who want to philosophize, some who actually work in that field at uni. Last night over dinner, I was speaking with a long-time friend about the considerations of life. He asked, “Why do people kill each other?” The context was Iraq and ISIS. We spoke about ideology and money. It seems as though many people who don’t have much money think that money is the answer to their woes. To be fair, if you have more money, you are able to purchase more answers to life, in a courtroom or in a doctor’s surgery, or in a restaurant queue. However, money, when you have plenty doesn’t actually satisfy the longing of a soul. They talk about people who win the lottery here and there who still are unhappy and eventually divorce their mate. Some of the richest people in the world are the ones who live in depression. We don’t have to look further than Hollywood celebrities who are found in hotel rooms, having committed suicide and yet they had all the popularity and the wealth that people without, so often long.  
King Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes and he wrote on this particularly: “a man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor so that his soul lacks nothing of all that he desires; yet God has not empowered him to eat from them, for a foreigner enjoys them. This is vanity and a severe affliction.” (Eccl. 6.2) Earlier in Proverbs Solomon wrote something equally frustrating about gaining wealth, “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, Cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. for wealth certainly makes itself wings like an eagle that flies toward the heavens.” (Prov 23.4-5)
So it’s not really money that flies away, but the satisfaction that we think will come when we gain it all.
My friend and I last night decided that money didn’t satisfy. He gave me an example of a mafia don who lives in Sicily and who has millions, and probably billions of dollars, but who lives like a peasant. He’s over 70 years old and rakes his own leaves. He is seeking to find meaning in life, and cannot find it – not with power that he wields and not in money… The powerful man is lonely though he can have any woman and any junior respond to him in any way. The answer he seeks is not found in power or fame or riches. He’s looking for something new, and maybe you are as well. The don is looking for peace. Where might it really be?
We spoke about ISIS and they have plenty of money, but they are seeking satisfaction in conquest, and in making the world an Islamic state. You know they will not be satisfied with Syria and Iraq. They want to dominate worldwide. But that ideology is long shown as dead and their methods of conquest are so savage that even the most ardent Muslim would have a hard time agreeing with their tactics and methodology in the 21st Century. Ideology will not bring us closer to our peace we seek. Where is that to be found?
The answer might be as close as our shofar and the blasts we heard today.
The major symbol of Rosh Hashana is more than just a primitive trumpet. During the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashana, notice there are three distinct sounds:
1.              Tekiah ― one long, straight blast
2.              Shevarim ― three medium, wailing sounds
3.              Teruah ― 9 quick blasts in short succession
I borrow some from a meditation from Rabbi Shraga Simmons of Aish and from Rabbi Paul Sall of Congregation Shuvah Yisrael, Bloomfield, Connecticut, a messianic rabbi. Simmons says,
The Tekiah Sound
“Rosh Hashana is the day of appreciating who God is. God is all-powerful, the Creator, the Supervisor. In short, God is King of the Universe.
But for many of us, the idea of a "king" conjures up images of a greedy and power-hungry despot who wants to subjugate the masses for his selfish aims.
In Jewish tradition, a king is first and foremost a servant of the people. His only concern is that the people live in happiness and harmony. His decrees and laws are only for the good of the people, not for himself. (see Maimonides, Laws of Kings 2:6)
The object of Rosh Hashana is to crown God as our King. Tekiah ― the long, straight shofar blast ― is the sound of the King's coronation.”
In the Garden of Eden, the rabbis teach that Adam's first act was to proclaim God as King. We eat a round challah today to remind ourselves of the crowning of the king as well.
Rabbi Sall a US messianic rabbi, says, “ The tekia reminds us that when we remember that the Holy One who himself laid out the heavens and the earth is sovereign over creation, we can be kept from idolatry, fear, and self-centeredness. The awareness that he sits upon the throne of the world means that we don’t have to bear the weight of that world on our own shoulders. “
Maimonides adds one important qualification: It isn't enough that God is MY King alone. If ALL humanity doesn't recognize God as King, then there is something lacking in my own relationship with God. Part of my love for the Almighty is to help guide all people to an appreciation of Him. Of course this is largely an expression of my deep caring for others. But it also affects my own sense of God's all-encompassing Kingship.
In other words, a selfish man hears the shofar and says, in a post-Enlightenment fashion, “I’m related to God the Creator.” But a biblical person always wants to bring others along to hear the shofar, to meet the Almighty, to know God. Evangelism then is a very Jewish concept and a proper response to knowing who God is and being under His lordship.
The Shevarim Sound
Rabbi Simmons says of the shevarim: When we think about the year gone by, we know deep down that we've failed to live up to our full potential. In the coming year, we yearn not to waste that opportunity ever again. The Kabbalists say that Shevarim ― three medium, wailing blasts ― is the sobbing cry of a Jewish heart ― yearning to connect, to grow, to achieve.
Rabbi Sall of Connecticut says, “The modulated wail of the shevarim sounds almost like the bleat of a suffering animal. It serves as a reminder of the suffering in the world. The world is in a state of disrepair. Despite our best efforts there is a potentially disheartening reality that the present state of the world does not seem to be improving.   Our hope therefore is not in our own efforts and abilities alone, but rather in the faithfulness of the Sovereign. “
You might be wondering why we remind ourselves of this. We know suffering. We see suffering each day. We try to dull ourselves of that suffering with drinking, with entertainment, with noise of the music in our ears and our iPads. Please don’t make me listen to suffering. Please let me escape, we cry. But the shevarim keeps us hearing. The world is broken. The world needs repair. Where is the answer? Where is there rest and peace and comfort?
The Teruah Sound
Simmons says, “On Rosh Hashana, we need to wake up and be honest and objective about our lives: Who we are, where we've been, and which direction we're headed. The Teruah sound ― 9 quick blasts in short succession ― resembles an alarm clock, arousing us from our spiritual slumber. The shofar brings clarity, alertness, and focus.”
I agree, we have to hear that alarm and repent and come clean with God. The shofar sound pierces us with sharpness and like a machine gun which doesn’t allow us to get out of the way from the next bullet, the sounds, at least one of them, will certainly affect us. Lord, you have my attention. Lord, you got me. I was wrong. I repent. I’m sorry. I apologize. Please forgive me.
But now, besides all this about my own situation, we mustn’t get away from the alarm we are to sound to the world as well. Hey, world, wake up, the Messiah has come. Hey, world, wake up, you are lost in your trespasses and sins. You are broken. The fix is nearby.
We have battles each day. Will another government official knife the prime minister Tony Abbott, like happened under Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd? Whom should we trust? There is a battle to get onto the trains. There is a battle to survive the city. There is a battle with the media. We want the truth, and they only tell their side of the story to sell more papers. This was certainly true in the Israel/Gaza conflict recently. We wonder when the battle will end.
Into all these situations Yeshua’s voice which said, “Come to me” and he would give us rest, shouts all the louder. When we don’t know where to go, Yeshua gives us a clear location in Himself. If we don’t have rest, if we are travel weary and exhausted in trying to find the meaning of life, Yeshua says, “Come to me.”
Not only a rest as in a weekend in Bali or a couple weeks in a Fijian island. He says, “I’ll give you rest for your souls.” That’s deeper than a massage can ever touch. Rest for our souls is the satisfaction of knowing Him personally.
Andrew Murray, the South African / Scottish preacher from 100 years ago, wrote many little books with devotional content, and one of my favorites was “Abide in Christ.” In that book he talks about being drawn to Yeshua and being in Him. Only in Him is there human satisfaction. He was right then, and we know that because Yeshua is right, for Murray and for you and all who are far off.
Yeshua said, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” We have to admit we are worn out trying. We are done trying to be the best person in our family. We are done trying to make everyone happy at work. We are done trying to make sense of a senseless world. We need answers, and we need them now, and we want real rest. Where is that found? Yeshua says, “come to Me.”
But that’s not where it stops. Yeshua goes on to say, “Take my yoke and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble.” There is a learning process, and we have more rest to gain as we learn about Him and as Murray says, “Abide in Him.” Getting saved is great, and the greatest decision a person ever makes in life, and then we have to remain, to stick with it, to learn and to grow, and to bear fruit which remains. How do we do that? Learn together, pray together, grow together, and take Yeshua’s council, His instructions, His life in you. And what do we gain then? “You will find rest for your souls.”[1] This same point was drawn from the prophet Jeremiah but that’s for another study.
For now, let’s listen and learn. The shofar blasts away and it’s more than a tune. It’s more than a decoration to our Rosh Hashanah services. It’s life if we listen. It’s fulfillment if we have ears to hear. It’s our resting place, if we are headed in the right direction. Yeshua said, “Come to me.” That’s where our souls can honestly find rest. And there we find newness of life. There we find meaning. There in 5775 and every year we can have purpose and meaning and life abundant.
Will you come to him now?







[1]       From the Word Biblical Commentary: Matthew 11.29
The meaning of the preceding verse is now made more precise. The invitation to come to Jesus is an invitation to discipleship, that is, to follow him and his teaching. “Yoke” is a common metaphor for the law, both in Judaism (m Abot 3:5; m Ber 2:2; cf IQH 6:19) and in the NT (Acts 15:10; Gal 5:1). When Jesus invites people with the words “take my yoke upon you,” he invites them to follow his own teaching as the definitive interpretation of the law (see on 5:17–20.). The same point is stressed in the next clause, “learn from me.” As Wisdom calls to obedience of Torah (cf Sir 24:23; 6:37), so Jesus similarly calls to a discipleship of obedience to Torah but, as always in Matthew, the Torah as mediated through his teaching—hence, “my yoke” (cf 23:8, 10). The cognate verb occurs in 28:19 together with the emphasis on keeping true to the teaching of Jesus. A dimension of personal commitment to Jesus is clearly implied (Maher, 103). The reason people should take Jesus’ yoke and learn from him—note again, “from me”—is articulated in the (“because”) clause that follows: “because I am meek and humble in heart.” The words “meek,” and “humble,” are found together in Jer 26:6 and Zeph 3:2. Jesus is referred to as “meek” elsewhere in Matthew (and in the NT) only indirectly in the quotation of Zech 9:9 in 21:5, although the cognate noun “meekness” is applied to Jesus in 2 Cor 10:1. Being “meek,” Jesus is also similar to Moses (Num 12:3). (Jesus describes his disciples as “the meek” in 5:5.) The word “humble” is also applied to Jesus in the NT only here. The word “meek” and the phrase “humble in heart” appear to be essentially synonymous. The contrast here, as in the preceding and following verses, appears to be between Jesus and his primary rivals, the Pharisees. Many of the latter exhibited an extraordinary pride, loving places of honor, special titles, and in general the authority they exercised over others (see 23:5–12). This demeanor had the effect of disqualifying them as true interpreters of Torah. In contrast, despite the overwhelming significance of his person and his mission, Jesus comes meekly and humbly as a servant (cf the Servant of the Lord in Isa 42:2–3; 53:1–12) and thus shows himself to be more worthy of trust than are the Pharisees. The final clause offering rest is couched in OT language identical in wording to Jer 6:16 (except for Matthew’s aÓna¿pausin to agree with v 28, where Jeremiah has aJgnismo/n, “purification”; the MT of Jer 6:16 has margo®a{, “rest”) and close to Sir 6:28 (which, however, lacks “for yourselves”). What Yahweh promised in the Jeremiah passage, Jesus now promises to those who come to him and follow him in discipleship: he will give them rest for their souls, ie, a realization of a deep existential peace, a shalom, or sense of ultimate well-being with regard to one’s relationship to God and his commandments (cf the “rest,” of Heb 4:3–10). In light of the rejection of Jesus, it is worth noting that following the invitation in Jeremiah are the words: “But they said: ‘We will not walk in it.’” This promise of rest relates directly to what is elsewhere in the NT called “salvation."



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