New Year thoughts 5776
Given in Waverley
1 Tishri 5776
14 September 2015
A bit of biblical history and perspective
You see, the Bible lists 7 times, really three seasons of dates, in which He has set up an appointment to meet with the Jewish people. Those are Passover with three dates then, Pentecost 7 weeks later, and finally this season, which moderns title the High Holidays, which culminate in the festival of Tabernacles or Sukkot. Those 7 appointments or appointed times (moedim in Hebrew) were so important that God spends much ink and time with those in the record of Torah and throughout Jewish history.
Of course, we usually gather with family and friends during Passover for a Seder or two, and we might notice the Shavuot celebration with a blintz or piece of cheesecake, but Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? They get very special attention. Even Sukkot takes a back seat to these two appointments. Why is that? I suppose it is all about the next holiday Yom Kippur and the requisite honor, respect, and fear, which it honestly engenders. If we don’t get it right; if we fail to repent well or fail to live in just the right way, then we are not guaranteed another year in the system. If that be so (and I’m not so sure this hypothesis is true, that it’s all up to us at all anyway), then we must get this holiday today, Rosh Hashanah, right. In other words, starting well gets us to a good ending. Starting poorly leads…well, to places we don’t want to go.
So what do asylum seekers and refugees have to do with Rosh Hashanah? The Salvos report, “There are an estimated 42.5 million people displaced by persecution and conflict in the world. This breaks down to 15.2 million refugees, 26.4 million internally displaced persons (people who remain displaced by conflict within their own homelands) and 895,000 asylum seekers.” The UN lists higher statistics.
UN stats England’s The Guardian reports, “There are currently more than 250,000 unprocessed asylum applications. ... Germany has an ageing population and one of the lowest birthrates in the world.”
Syria, Russia, Iraq, Afghanistan…the numbers are staggering. “During the year (end in June), conflict and persecution forced an average of 42,500 persons per day to leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere, either within the borders of their countries or in other countries.
Developing countries host over 86% of the world’s refugees, compared to 70% ten years ago.”
What do these people want? When do they want it? They want freedom. They want a new life. They want the bombs and the machine guns and the terror to stop. And they have heard that this is available in America or Germany or Turkey (which hosts more of these displaced people than any other country worldwide), and they uproot their families to get this freedom. They walk miles and days. They suffer loss. We only have to remember the final scene of “Fiddler on the Roof” and we will have heartache on their behalf. As Tevye and the rabbi say final farewells, and the question is posed to the rabbi, “Wouldn’t this be a good time for the Messiah to come?” The rabbi answers with “We’ll have to wait for Him, somewhere else.”
If you have been reading or watching the news of late, hear the plight, see the photos, imagine the smells and pains of each scene ‘over there’ and don’t have a tinge of compassion and aching in your heart, you need to check in with heaven and get some right there. Those people could be our people and although Australia’s promise to welcome another 12,000 beginning in December is wonderful, amidst the millions, what are 12,000?
Jarryd Hayne and the Jews
This morning is Monday in Australia and concurrent with our service is the playing of American gridiron. It’s the first weekend of the season over there in the professional ranks. Fortunately for new Aussie fans of the sport, Jarryd’s team, the San Francisco 49ers, will be playing in the US on Monday night (tomorrow morning for us here) and thus we have no conflict at all. Jarryd, as some of you will know, is an Aussie, and the former Origin and Parramatta Eels star fullback, is giving a US gridiron career a shot this year. We don’t know if he will play in the season opener against the Minnesota Vikings, but his first appearance will have commensurate hype and hopes for all Aussie sports fans. His Twitter feed has been active with well-wishers and his own comments about this new career step he is taking. We only wish him the best.
Accusation here, [ Apology here ] and My blog about it all then ]
Jarryd made it clear that he intended no harm and his clarification was way faster than Hillary Rodham Clinton’s apology about her email scandal. I think Jarryd would use today, Yom Teruah, as a day to make things right with all people, and as a believer himself, to make things right with God, too. We wish him only the best in his new career, although New South Wales could have really used his skills in Origin three this year.
Maybe you heard the entire buzz about this shemitah business. Maybe you have bought books, sent out email and tweet warnings about selling off your stocks and bonds investments, as the world is about to experience another 7-year cycle downturn. There is much Internet noise about the year of Jubilee and although some are very sure, and filled with prophetic heraldry, not everyone is on board with their conclusions.
For instance, Chabad, the keepers (by their own raised hands) of all things Jewish say this, “As mentioned above (not all the Jewish tribes represented), though, today the Jubilee year is neither designated nor observed.
And now for the answer to your question: “When is the next Jubilee year?”
We eagerly await the day when G‑d will bring our entire nation back to our homeland—including the ten “lost” tribes—and we will again resume observing the Jubilee year, as well as so many other mitzvot which we are incapable of performing until that awaited day.
Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson “
[Davidson's comments ]
How are you going to start/ resolution?
With those three issues in the news in mind, and with our own clothing, tunes and prayers today reminding us that we are making today special, what is it about new life that we really want today? I performed a Google search online to find out how others are recommending starting new lives. That included quotes from Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, (“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”) and JK Rowling (Another quoted her “When J.K. Rowling said, ‘Rock bottom is the solid foundation on which I built my life,’ she hit the nail on the head. Sometimes you gotta sink down to the depths to find the energy to skyrocket back up.”) and about 500 unnamed or unknown others who have other recommendations on starting over. Funny to me was how many references there are online to forging a new identity altogether, and basically going walk-about with papers.
But this idea of starting over is a huge concern in relationships and in botany and in the birth cycle and such. How do we actually begin new life?
Religion tells us many things, and our prayers this morning highlight some of those. For instance, “Avinu malkeinu Chaneinu va’aneinu, Ki ein banu ma’asim. Asei imanu Ts’daka vachesed V’hoshienu.”
We have no good works in ourselves. Save us.
What about this confessional prayer from today’s liturgy “Master of all worlds! It is not on account of our own righteousness that we offer our supplications before Thee, but on account of thy great compassion. … What is our goodness? What is our virtue? What our help? What our strength? …What can we say to you, Lord our God and God of our fathers? Indeed all the heroes are as nothing in thy sight, the men of renown as though they never existed. The wise as though they were without knowledge, the intelligent as though they lacked insight. Most of their actions are worthless in thy sight. Their entire life is a fleeting breath. Man is not far above beast, for all is vanity.”
That doesn’t sound like a start over, does it?
Did you hear how many of our prayers today highlighted the royal King of Kings? So many began with the word Melech or King in English. Why? Because during these 10 days we call on Him who is above all to make things right, to judge righteously, and to cause to bring on the earth His will, even in our feeble lives.
We remind ourselves of His sovereignty in prayers and song, and in the round challahs we eat. In the cycle of life in the apples and honey. Much of what we eat is round today, as the challah which tells us of the crown of the King. God will be judge and we will be found wanting.
“Wait, wait just one minute,” you say. “How is that going to help us start over and get new life?”
How does this work?
The Bible makes it clear that in order to start over, we have to end the previous section. We have to die in order to be born again. We have to bury a seed before it can die and break forth to bring up a new plant. Starting over actually requires the death of the previous thing.
Note how the Apostle Paul records this in his letter to the believers in Rome. “We were buried with Yeshua by baptism into death, in order that, just as messiah was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)
The Apostle Rabbi Shaul says that in order for the believers there to experience newness of life, they have to undergo a burial of sorts. He uses the image of the baptism or mikveh. That makes sense to me.
Each Friday when I was practicing Orthodox Judaism in my late teenage years, I would attend to the mikveh, the ceremonial pool in the synagogue, where I would ritually bathe. I would ready each week to meet my Sabbath queen, and be clean. I remember the rabbi telling me once that I had to remove all the filth of the week from me so that I could start over with a clean slate. I really liked that imagery.
I guess it’s the removal of dirt in the mikveh, and in the expanded version, removal of sin and its commensurate death in the waters of baptism, that Rabbi Shaul had in mind when he calls the Romans to walk in newness of life. Once the old is removed, the new is free to live. And we are free to experience the newness of life when sin is removed. So how does that work for you? You have to admit your sins and your sin nature. You have to agree with God that you are a sinner, that you need His grace and forgiveness. Then you can be ushered into His kingdom and grace.
Sometimes people are prevented from experiencing this reality. Even the best of people fail in this sometimes. Let me explain a couple ways we miss it.
As a Jewish person, we often consider three things to be religiously valid at this time of year: repentance, prayer and good works or charity. T’shuvah, t’filah and ts’daka. Fair enough. Those are all good things and I call us to practice them faithfully. But that said, when we call on God, and ask Him to forgive us on the basis of our good works, we are not really asking for grace at all. We are actually asking Him to reward us with our paycheck in heavenly terms of forgiveness. We earn things. We merit salvation that way. It’s as if God is not a Forgiver or a Generous One, but rather that He is seen as a formal heavenly accountant who counts our good efforts over against our bad efforts and says, “Yup, column A exceeds column B and thus you can be forgiven.”
But that’s not even close to the biblical understanding of forgiveness and grace. Grace is favor extended to us without merit. It is not to be taken lightly, to be sure, but it’s not a reward for good behavior. It’s favor. It’s unearned. It’s not a benefit you deserve. It’s God’s kindness based on His love and the mercy He shows those who believe in Him. And in His Son Yeshua.
Because of what Yeshua did, in dying for us on the cross, as a korban, as a sacrifice, all our sins are washed away. His blood accomplishes what no human effort ever could, the forgiveness of all humanity, one by one, whoever believes in the Divine Sacrifice of Yeshua Hamashiach. What an awesome gift! What a sacrifice! What love!
So what prevents our new life living? One of two things. 1) Trusting in our own righteousness as if it can merit and earn God’s favor or 2) dismissing the whole thing as irrelevant and treating God as if He didn’t exist at all. Good luck with that one. If you dismiss God, don’t be surprised when He dismisses you. And that’s not going to leave you in new life at all, but rather in same-old-same-old. I don’t wish that on anyone.
God is good and awesome and King and worthy of all our love and attention today and every day. One of my favorite authors and Bible thinkers is a Scottish man from 100 years ago. His name is Oswald Chambers. In his book, My Utmost for His Highest, in the page labeled 13 September I read this yesterday:
“Surrender is not the surrender of the external life, but of the will; when that is done, all is done. There are very few crises in life; the great crisis is the surrender of the will. God never crushes a man's will into surrender; He never beseeches him, He waits until the man yields up his will to Him. That battle never needs to be re-fought. Surrender for Deliverance. "Come unto Me and I will give you rest." It is after we have begun to experience what salvation means that we surrender our wills to Yeshua for rest. Whatever is perplexing heart or mind is a call to the will - "Come unto Me." It is a voluntary coming.
Surrender for Devotion. "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself." The surrender here is of my self to Messiah Yeshua, my self with His rest at the heart of it. "If you would be My disciple, give up your right to yourself to Me." Then the remainder of the life is nothing but the manifestation of this surrender. When once the surrender has taken place we never need "suppose" anything. We do not need to care what our circumstances are, Yeshua is amply sufficient.
Surrender for Death. John 21:18-19. ". . . another shall gird thee." Have you learned what it means to be bound for death? Beware of a surrender which you make to God in an ecstasy; you are apt to take it back again. It is a question of being united with Yeshua in His death until nothing ever appeals to you that did not appeal to Him.
After surrender - what? The whole of the life after surrender is an aspiration for unbroken communion with God.” Do those thoughts bring you to Him?
Do you choose to surrender to Him just now?
If so, please write me online or here in the sanctuary, let me know that. Raise your hand or talk to me in a few moments and say, “I’ve just surrendered to Messiah. Now what do I do?” And we will find a group with whom you can walk this out.
You are like those refugees seeking new life. You are like Jarryd Hayne trying to find a new team with whom to share victory. You are nearing a culmination of emptiness in the 7-past-years. But now you are making it right. You are not alone. This can be a real new year for you. With challot and t’filot and with songs a-plenty, and with eternal newness of life in your heart.
What joy! What strength! What victory! Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift. Amen!