Tag Archives: Synagogue

Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C (and the Sunday of Christian Aid Week) 24/01/2016

Luke 4:14-21
4:14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.

4:15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

4:16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,

4:17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,

4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

4:20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

4:21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

 

–ooOOoo–

My late mother once when on holiday, attended Sunday worship at a particular Kirk.

It must have been during a vacancy, as there was an elderly retired minister taking the service.

All was going well – up until the time he got into the pulpit.

He prayed the words from Psalm 19: “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.”……

Then said something along the lines of “some people here have told me that my sermons are too long – this will not be the case today…..

…….adding, “Your offering will now be received”, before descending to his place behind the Communion Table.

And that was it!

Sometimes, when visiting a new place, the preacher will perhaps inject a bit too much verbiage into his or her message.  Occasionally, it may just be a wee bit “de trop”, lengthy, and convoluted.

Think of St Paul at Troas – here’s the account of his preaching from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles:

“Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together. And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third storey and was taken up dead.”

(Acts 20 vv 7-9 NKJ)

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When I was in my first Charge in the 1970s, I exchanged pulpits with the Minister of my home congregation on the outskirts of Glasgow.

I was greeted very warmly by everybody, and welcomed back by the Beadle, old Sam, who had known me since I was literally in short trousers.

With dignified ceremony, he carried the Good Buik into the Sanctuary, ahead of me, placed it on the lectern, then – with a respectful bow to me – ushered me into the pulpit, before sitting himself down in the front pew.

We got to the Sermon.  “May the words of my mouth……” and, like Pavlov’s dog, that was the trigger….. Sam dozed off and within seconds was snoring …. in a dignified way, of course.

Well, after my preaching heart, soul, kitchen sink etc etc for a period of time, I staggered across the finishing line.

“Amen” said I…… and, as if by magic, old Sam awoke from his slumbers.  He even had the nerve to say to me after the service, “My yon was a braw sermon, young Sanny!”

asleep3

In today’s story from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus goes home to Nazareth and preaches what could be the shortest sermon in history.  He goes to the synagogue there, is given the Scroll of Isaiah, and he reads from the 61st chapter:

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to    bring the Good News to the poor.  He has sent me to announce release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who have been oppressed; and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” 

Then he sits down, saying: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. 

 

Jesus-Synagogue-Nazareth

That’s it: a very short sermon.

And his audience went “Wow!”

Because of who he was… obviously – Joe the carpenter’s son whom they’d known since he was a wee laddie……..  but also because of this short simple message.

You see, these folks would have been tied up in rules, regulations, red-tape, convoluted complexities.  A barren, calcified kind of faith.

If you like, they were sleep walking through religion. Their eyes were closed in blissful slumberous ignorance as to what the heart of faith really is.

As the Prophet Micah put it “what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Jesus showed them the wisdom from God which exposed their ignorance of God’s wide mercy.

As the hymn tells us:

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea; there’s a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty…

…For the love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind; and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.

(F W Faber, 1862)

 

Before we blame this congregation in the Nazareth Synagogue, what about so many of us? – some are dogmatic literalists, some are legalists, some are so tied up in Church politics that we miss the core message of a truly living, active faith – a faith lived in action.

How many of us are effectively asleep to the injunction and call to love our neighbours as ourself?.

…and that includes  bringing the Good News to the poor,  announcing release to the captives, recovering sight to the blind, and setting at liberty those who have been oppressed

 

This is the Sunday of Christian Aid Week which ends tomorrow on the Festival of the Conversion of St Paul (25 January)

– incidentally, remember the account in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles: Saul, as he was, was stricken with blindness on the way to Damascus… and was made to see the true way with new eyes – brought out of sleep, if you like, by Ananias in “The Street called Straight” in Damascus.

OK – Christian Aid.

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Think back to the floods of just a few weeks ago

“Why do we spend money in Bangladesh when it needs spending in Great Britain?” asked an MP, “It’s tragic for those families and I think we should pause allocating funds abroad for those reasons as well.”

Somebody else added, “What we need to do is to sort out the problems which are occurring here and not focus so much on developing countries. We need to put that right as soon as possible.”

Ukip leader Nigel Farage said: “As our own people suffer, the Government continues to spend £12billion abroad on foreign aid. Wrong.”

But somebody else (Liam Cox) blogged, “I live in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire,” – a place which was very badly flooded in the days after Christmas.

And then he went on to remind his Facebook friends of devastation on a very different scale befalling human beings around the world.

“I’m alive,” he wrote. “I’m safe.

“My family are safe. We don’t live in fear. I’m free.

“There aren’t bullets flying about. There aren’t bombs going off. I’m not being forced to flee my home and I’m not being shunned by the richest countries in the world or criticised by its residents.

He continued: “All you morons vomiting your xenophobia on here about how money should only be spent ‘on our own’ need to look at yourselves closely in the mirror.

“I request you ask yourselves a very important question… ‘Am I a decent and honourable human being?’ because home isn’t just the UK, home is everywhere on this planet”.

Somebody else – interviewed on TV from his devastated home in Cumbria said that one major positive result of the flooding there was how the community came together to help each other – many total strangers.

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Broaden this – community… aren’t we all citizens of one world… with rich and safe, and poor and distressed within the one family of humankind?

We live with an “us/them” mentality.  We view people as right or wrong, good or bad, in or out.  We are impoverished by our lack of vision, captive to behaviours that demean and devalue other people, and blinded by attitudes that folks of different skin tone or culture or gender or sexual orientation or political persuasion are less than children of the living God and don’t deserve to be treated as brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

Christ’s message should prompt us to value people we would sometimes rather ignore; and because to be the church, we must be daring and bold enough to step beyond traditional boundaries to encounter God in radically new ways.

Dare we choose to live into the truth which is at the very heart of the gospel, the truth proclaimed by Jesus when he opened the book of the prophet Isaiah?

If we don’t, we rob ourselves of the incalculable joy of serving the one whose first word and last word is never anything less than love.

Let’s waken up to what we are called to do!

eutychus

Let us pray.  Ever gracious God, as we seek to become moreChristlike in our behaviour and action, enrich and empower us with the simple straightforward truth of the gospel.  Make us bold in our witness so that your love is known to all people.  This we pray in the name of our Saviour and Lord.  Amen.

 

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‘Who does He think He is?’  (Proper 9B )

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William Scott “Scotty” Bowman holds the record for most wins in the Canadian National Hockey League 

Mark 6, vv 1- 5

 

After Jesus healed Jairus’ daughter at a place called Capernaeum –   a short distance from his hometown of Nazareth, a stone’s throw from where he had lived most of his life – it was only natural that he was inclined to go home.

He and his friends climbed the hills to Nazareth, and on the Sabbath day, Jesus began to teach in the synagogue there.  There seem to have been two reactions to his teaching.  Some people were astonished by his wisdom and by his amazing powers; others were angry and jealous and resentful that one of their own had apparently had risen so far above them.

Nazareth was just a small village, and its people were hill people.  They were probably all related, and they certainly all knew each other very well.  Rather than rejoicing in this representative of their own village who was clearly so special, some of them “took offence”.

Nikolai_Ge_Christ_in_the_synagogue_700

 

It does not take much for some people to take offence.  There are those who take offence not because they have been harmed in any way, but because they feel threatened.  And some people feel threatened when other people have better fortune than they do themselves.

–ooOOoo–

One family who won the lottery a few years ago really did intend to continue in their old jobs and their old home, because they genuinely did not want the lottery win to make any difference to them.

To start with, most of their friends and neighbours rejoiced in their good fortune, although others deeply resented them.  However, before long, the mutterings spread.  Things were said like, “Why should they take up one of our houses when they can afford to live anywhere?  Why should they be allowed to work in this factory when they’ve got all that money and there are other people who are unemployed?”

In the end, life became so unbearable for the lottery winners that they were forced to move away into a different area.

 

lottery-ticket-big

 

Some people feel threatened if someone they know well has the courage to move away and seek a better life.  Those that are left behind can begin to feel inferior, although they themselves could with a little effort follow a similar path.  For example, there have been families in the past where working-class parents have been deeply upset if their children choose higher education.

Or, there have been youngsters who have moved away from this rural South West of Scotland, away from the farm or the fishing, to the Central Belt or down South to the big cities, and it sometimes appears as if they have abandoned their heritage.

It can be especially true, perhaps, within ones own kith and kin.  The one person who failed to rejoice when the prodigal son came home again, was the prodigal’s brother. Rather than rejoicing, the elder brother took offence.  He interpreted the event of his younger brother’s homecoming as threatening to himself, and showed a deep jealousy and resentment.

And this is exactly what happened to Jesus in his own village.  “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon.  Aren’t his sisters living here?” said the villagers.  “Who does he think he is?”  And so they rejected him.

 

Alexandre_Bida_Jesus_rejected_at_Nazareth_525_captioned

 

The problem is, anger and resentment and jealousy cause disharmony within a person. They are underlying currents, which act as blocks to God’s love and healing power.  So Jesus found that even he was unable to perform many miracles in his own country among his own kin.

It’s well known that a prophet is without honour in his own country.  It’s also well known in medical circles that you shouldn’t treat your own.  You may be married to a doctor, but he or she will not usually be your GP.  Golfers are well aware that it is tantamount to instant divorce to attempt to teach your spouse to play golf.  And driving instructors rarely instruct their spouse in the art of driving.  Prophets are indeed without honour in their own country.

Yet it’s interesting to note that Jesus was able to heal a few sick people in his home territory.

When the chips are really down and people are desperate, they will turn to anyone who offers hope.  And Jesus was able to work with even a tiny amount of faith like that, faith no bigger than a mustard seed.  God can work within anyone who has an open mind.

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Live Long & Prosper

 

 

A Jewish Blessing and Sci-Fi unite us.  “Live Long and Prosper!”  Amen

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American Jewry

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THE BLOG
Three Ways to Save American Jewry From Extinction
Rabbi Shmuley BoteachOct 04, 2013
By now you’ve heard about the Pew Research poll, published this week, that concludes that American Jewry is on its way to oblivion. No need to wait for Hassan Rouhani of Iran to drop a bomb on us. We’re doing an incredibly fine job of destroying ourselves, thank you very much.

What all this shows is that what my friend mega-philanthropist Michael Steinhardt and I have been saying for years is unfortunately correct. Despite the untold billions that have been sunk into Jewish communal outreach for the last half century, it has barely made a dent in the rate of assimilation.

Here are three ways to give mouth-to-mouth to our dying community.

1. Stop creating a divide between the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds.

Today’s model of outreach is fatally flawed seeing as it necessarily forces a choice on non-affiliated Jews to choose between the Jewish and mainstream worlds. So, a student at University who hangs out with his non-Jewish friends is encouraged to stop going only to mainstream University events and come instead to Hillel or Chabad. I’m not knocking that. We need Jewish organizations that invite Jews in to classes, religious services, lectures, social events, and debates. But far more effective is not forcing the choice on them in the first place. Bring Judaism instead to where they are at. On campus, do colossal events that bring Jewish values, teachings, and wisdom to all students so that young men and women are not forced to choose.

Last week, in collaboration with Rabbi Yehuda Sarna of Hillel at NYU, our organization, This World: The Values Network, staged a huge event of over 1000 Jewish and non-Jewish students that had me moderating a discussion on genocide between Elie Wiesel and Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda.

In a similar manner, bring Judaism to the culture via TV shows, plays, and music that are mainstream and intended for all audiences. Some examples include the new Shlomo Carlebach-based musical ‘Soul Doctor,’ produced by Jeremy Chess, that is currently running on Broadway, the music of Matisyahu, and the TV show I hosted on TLC called ‘Shalom in the Home.’ Like the Kabbalah movement, bring Judaism and Jewish values to everybody instead of just focusing on the Jews. We are not a proselytizing faith, but that is no excuse not to make the Jewish people a light to all nations.

2. Fix the broken and boring Synagogue service.

The overwhelming number of Jews who still step into a Synagogue do so for three days of every year and then swear they will never come back. Sometimes I think we should ban secular Jews from High Holy Day services and shift their attendance instead to Simchas Torah and Purim. But since that’s not going to happen, let’s take the focus off of cantorial recital yodeling, which makes congregants into spectators, shift the teachings away from dry sermons, and focus instead on having services engage the heart and mind. Carlebach-style services that make people sing real spiritual melodies rather than listening to opera is the way to go. Rabbis putting out moral questions between each of the seven readings of the Torah on Saturday mornings is a means by which to influence congregants to apply the lessons of the Torah to their everyday lives, making Judaism relevant rather than aloof. And don’t forget a fantastic Kiddush with fine single malt whisky. Can’t afford it? Build less elaborate buildings and have a more elaborate cholent and sushi.

3. Make the Rabbinical and Jewish day school teaching professions fashionable again.

You basically become a Jewish day school teacher or a Rabbi after your fifth rejection from Harvard Business School. There is no social clout in it and you get paid in cholent beans. How do we change all this? By having AIPAC, Federation, Birthright, and other prestigious Jewish organizations respect Rabbis at their major conventions rather than having them say the blessing on the bread. How do we ensure they can make more money? Take the ten smartest Jewish hedge fund managers and have them create a fund open only to Jewish activists where there money will be managed by the smartest people in the world so that a teacher in cheder will have enough money to marry off his children without having to moonlight as a bar bouncer. The more money Rabbis and teachers make, without putting strains on the communal purse, and the more clout these professions enjoy, the more talent we will attract to those professions that are supposed to be inspiring our youth.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the winner of the London Times Preacher of the Year Award and the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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HMRC

The local synagogue is having their taxes audited. The HMRC inspector goes through the audit normally, and finds nothing wrong with the synagogue’s taxes.

Eager to find something amiss, he looks around and sees the candles burning. “Rabbi Rabinowitz,” he begins, “what do you do with the drippings from the candles you burn?”

The Rabbi quickly replies, “Well, we gather them up and send them back to the candle makers, and once a year they send us a complete box of candles.”

Slightly annoyed at this answer, the tax man makes another attempt to catch the Rabbi on something. He asks, “What do you do with the crumbs and leftovers of the cracker things you eat?”

He is pleased with himself as the Rabbi takes a moment to think it over.

After a moment, the Rabbi replies, “Well, we gather them up, send them to the cracker company, and once a year they send us a complete box of crackers.”

At this point, the HMRC inspector is furious, and the Rabbi knows what’s going on.

In a last ditch effort, the inspector asks, “Okay, and what about the leftover foreskins from your circumcisions? What do you do with those?” ..

Without missing a beat, the Rabbi replies,

“Well, we gather them up, and send them to the HMRC. Once a year, they send us a complete dick.”

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