AMDG February 20, 2015 JMJ
Last Friday, I had the honor of preaching at Sabbath service at Temple Emmanuel. I thought you might be interested in my sermon.
You honor me, Rabbi Davidson and congregation, with this gracious invitation.
To be in this venerable, historic temple for Sabbath is a gift for which I am most grateful.
Not that I’m surprised. Hardly . . . you see, since my arrival here in New York a half-dozen years ago, I have found the embrace of the Jewish community to be extraordinarily friendly.
Among the first to embrace me were your own Rabbi David and Sylvia Posner, so I feel at home here. At least I’m not the only one with a skull cap!
Temple Emmanuel . . . as a seven-year-old boy at home in Ballwin, Missouri, I was proud that I already knew a Hebrew word, Emmanuel, and what it meant, “God-with-us.”
I was envious when a visiting priest came to the parish whose name was Father Emmanuel, and wished I had such a luminous name . . . one that no other Irish kid had!
Emmanuel . . . God-with-us! How you should beam with joy and forgivable pride to belong to a temple with such a radiant title!
The advances in friendship between us Jews and Catholics this past half-century prompts us all to praise God. Lord knows it was long overdue. It’s a providential friendship that is especially cherished and appreciated here in New York, the metropolis dubbed the “capital of the world” by Pope St. John Paul II.
We’d have no trouble listing evidence of our enhanced friendship these recent decades: theological conversations and agreements; settled and respected inter-religious organizations; cooperation in community and international efforts in charity, service, peace, and justice; diplomatic relations between Israel and the Holy See; the celebrated visits of four pontiffs to Israel . . . the list goes on . . .
Might I suggest that perhaps our most telling exhibit of friendship comes in our mutual awe at the truth behind that word Emmanuel, and our conviction that both the Catholic and the Jewish families are bonded most intimately by our faith in the confession that, yes, you bet your life, “God-is-with-us.”
Religious scholars far brighter than me, both Jewish and Christian, observe that Israel’s belief that “God-is-with-us” – – Emmanuel – – was of earthquake proportion in the human drama.
To people who had concluded that the deity was totally beyond us, incomprehensible, aloof, radically and exclusively other, the Jews countered, Emmanuel – – God-is-with-us!
To a world that wondered if God could even care, be concerned, console, or cry, Israel replied, “Yes – – He-is-with-us!”
To tribes that based their creed only on what the divine could produce, do, achieve, or work magically, a god who could be bribed, manipulated, and flattered, the Hebrew tribe responded, “He simply is – – He-is-with-us!”
To residents of this planet who figured that all was arbitrary, that life was a big mess totally uncontrolled, that we were victims of a ruthless universe and a fickle deity, Israel countered, “No, God-is-with-us,” and history is really “His-story.”
Emmanuel . . . God-is-with-us!
Here, at this pivotal corner of Fifth Avenue, overlooking a park called Central, in the shadows of titans in finance, communications, government, science, art, museums, wealth, education, healthcare, entertainment – – life! – – here stands a temple with the name tag Emmanuel, God-is-with-us!
What unites you and us is not only the deep-down conviction that, “Yes He is!” but the imperative that we show this world, not only in such structures as this temple, but in our lives, that God-is-with-us!
As God-is-with-us in Israel, in the Law and the prophets, in the covenant, in our faith and tradition, and, as we Christians add, in Jesus Christ, so – – and here’s the imperative – – we show a skeptical, fatigued world, by our lives, by our communities of faith, Emmanuel! We dare the world, “If you doubt that He-is-with-us” – – as we hear a lot of you do – – “watch us! Because we bear within His presence, His life!”
How dare we! But, we do . . . Rabbi Davidson just said as much in his compelling call to worship this Sabbath evening, “Churches and synagogues offer a gospel the world needs to hear: God stands with us . . . the divine spark burns within us . . .”
There it is again . . . Emmanuel:
Fifteen blocks south of here stands another church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. (There they’d be complaining that I had already preached too long!)
A couple weeks after my arrival, an inter-religious group of clergy thoughtfully hosted a welcome luncheon for me, the new kid on the block. After the meal, the pastor of Christ Church Methodist on Park Avenue rose to toast me.
“Timothy,” he began, “we at Christ Church Methodist are mad at you!” Oh, oh, I thought . . . now what? I’ve heard that New Yorkers could be “in-your-face-blunt,” but, this already . . . ?
He continued: “A while back a benefactor arrived from out of town at Penn Station to visit me about a potential $1 million gift. He told the taxi-cab driver to take him to Christ Church . . . and the cabbie took him to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”
“Cabbie,” the millionaire protested, “this is not Christ Church!”
The driver barked, “Listen, buster, I don’t know nothin’ about religion. All I know is that here in New York this is where Christ lives!”
I believe God does dwell at St. Patrick’s; I’m convinced He dwells here at Temple Emmanuel, at John the Divine, at the Abyssinian Baptist, at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian, and yes, at Christ Church Methodist!
Wherever His people worship in faith, spirit, truth, and love, Emmanuel! God-is-with-us!
Now, listen-up folks: this is an attacked message, because a good chunk of our world concludes that God does not dwell with us, and, if he does, it sure isn’t in synagogues, churches, or mosques.
Such doubt is understandable, not only because our individual sin prompts people to consider our claim of Emmanuel as shallow and hollow, but because hideous actors who star in today’s headlines and news-alerts make toxic claims that their acts of hatred, violence, prejudice, division, and oppression are from God.
Anybody who claims that to behead, bury-alive, rape, vow to exterminate, to bully, shoot, bomb and burn another of God’s children, is an act of religion, is a pervert, in the literal sense of the world.
The God who claims to be Emmanuel has revealed that His will is for peace, healing, amity, mercy, love, and reconciliation. To claim otherwise is a nauseating, mortal slander.
Our sacred duty, those of us who dare to claim that our religion is Emmanuel, “God-is-with-us,” do not only denounce such obnoxious perversion, but we demonstrate to a world found in microcosm on Fifth Avenue that God’s People – –
Welcome, never turn away,
heal, never harm,
embrace, never push aside,
raise up, never knock down,
act with mercy, never machetes,
offer bread and wine, not bombs and kerosene.
For as Yahweh spoke to Moses, as recorded in Exodus 25, your scripture passage designated for this very Sabbath:
“Build me a sanctuary so that I may dwell with you! . . . There, I shall come to meet you, from the throne of mercy . . .”