Rabbi Mark Shapiro – September 22, 2019

To view the sermon click HERE

I have a long memory.

                        For example, I remember the original Howdy Doody show on television.  It was the 1950’s.  I was a little boy.  I loved the show.
  I even remember being overwhelmed with excitement when my parents arranged for little 4-year-old me to be on the actual TV show.  I remember getting all dressed up.  My heart was beating in my ears as I sat in the front row of what was called The Peanut Gallery.

                        Speaking of TV, I also remember the man who did the local weather when I was a child.  His name was Percy Saltzman, and he told us all about the weather every day using a piece of chalk on a squeaky chalkboard.

                        Which is not exactly how it’s done today with computers, graphics, and colors of all kinds.  What’s more here in Springfield the television weather comes with certain titles.  We watch what’s called THE STORM TEAM that brings us what’s called FIRST WARNING weather.

                        Yes, it’s the storm team with first warning weather.

                        Even when the sun is shining and there is not a cloud in the sky…The storm team with first warning weather.

                        It’s as if something is about to go wrong.  Impending doom.  First warning because it seems as if trouble is coming.  Break out the umbrellas.  Grab your snow shovel.

                        It’s this tone of foreboding and warning that goes along with the Jeremiah passage we just heard from Scripture.  We are in Chapter 8 of the Book of Jeremiah where Jeremiah gives voice to his worries about the sorry state of Judah. 

This is The Storm Team a la the Bible!

My joy is gone, grief is upon me… 

Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land… 

The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.

For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt…
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there? 

O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, 

so that I might weep day and night…

Taken from Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

This is difficult material.  Stormy weather.  Jeremiah is overwhelmed and grief stricken. 

My joy is gone, grief is upon me… 

O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, 

so that I might weep day and night…

And here’s my question for today:  Do we need this recitation of gloom? 

To say the least, this doesn’t feel like a passage for summer and sun.  If anything, it sounds like a message for the dark days of winter and slush.  There is no smile here; only a frown. 

Is this why you come to Church:  to read Jeremiah and be depressed or do you come to Church to be inspired?  What is supposed to happen when we gather together for worship?

Storm team and warnings or something much different?

On the one hand, what happens here on a Sunday morning doesn’t necessarily connect to one of those yellow smiley faces.  That’s not how the world works.  Outside the sanctuary doors there are drugs and poverty.  There are broken families.  There are children who don’t talk to their parents and parents who don’t talk to their children.

General Motors workers are on strike.  There is a whiff in the air suggesting war with Iran or, if not war, then something violent and unhappy.  Drones over Saudi Arabia.  Interest rates going down slightly.  Inflation, economic stagnation – You tell me which will take place. 

An election in Israel.  We’re not sure yet who has won. 

And don’t forget climate change.  We’re not sure how hot our blue green home will become next year or ten years from now.

I’m reminded of the tourist who goes to his travel agent and asks about a new place to explore for his annual vacation.  The agent grabs a globe and starts pointing to various countries.  They all have fine climates, but one has experienced a hurricane; another suffers under a dictator; another has problems with petty crime. 

After swirling the globe around a few times, the tourist asks the travel agent, “Mister, maybe you’ve got another globe?”

Storm team.  First warning.

My joy is gone, grief is upon me… 

Ouch.

You can’t really come to Church without having read the newspaper or heard the television news.  It’s easy to understand if you walk in here bearing the weight of the world upon your shoulders.

Except I don’t believe you come here to have your worst fears confirmed.  You may not expect a comic routine from me or others up here, but you also don’t expect King Lear or Hamlet. 

Here’s a secret.  That’s not what the Church wants to offer you either.

How do I know that?

Because I have looked down the line at the rest of the passages from Jeremiah this year.  And here is something fascinating.  The Jeremiah passages generally don’t remain as somber as this morning’s. 

Next week, for example, another Jeremiah text will be read.  Except get this.  The verses will be from Chapter 32 of Jeremiah where, despite the fact that the Babylonians are at the gates of Jerusalem about to destroy the city, Jeremiah buys some Jerusalem real estate.  Not only that, he proclaims that, although the land may seem worthless right now, there will come a time when the people will reclaim Jerusalem.  There will be a time when they build homes and plant vineyards in peace.

That’s next week, but only a few weeks later we will return to Jeremiah to hear him promise that God will create a new covenant with the people.  God will remember their sins no more.  God will forgive them.

And only a week before Advent, Jeremiah Chapter 23 will be read.  Jeremiah will announce God’s promise, “I will gather the remnant of My flock from all the lands…I will raise up a true branch of David’s line.  He shall reign as king…and do what is just and right.”

Doom and gloom will give way to better times and hope.

The frown will change to a smile.

The slouch and bended shoulders will be replaced with heads held high and eyes that shine.

And I know why that will happen.  And so do you.

The clouds will clear because ultimately that is why you and I come to worship.  We come to this place precisely because it is a sanctuary.  It is a safe place.  It is a place that knows all about the pain of the real world, but it is also a place in which we refuse to let that world have the final say.

The sanctuary protects us.  The sanctuary holds our dreams gently. 

Picture this if you can.  In every synagogue in the world towards the front above the Ark where the Torah scrolls are kept there is a small light.  Now the light could have various names.  It could be called the small light or the little light or the fragile flame.  But listen to this.  The light is called the NER TAMID, which means THE ETERNAL LIGHT.

How unexpected that really is.

In days of old, the light would literally have been nothing more than a tiny flame.  The breath of a child could have extinguished it.  But here’s the point.  It was still called the NER TAMID/ETERNAL LIGHT because it was believed nothing could blow out the light.  Tiny as a small flame, it was strong because God was strong.  It was eternal because there was and there is something in the universe that protects and guides all of us at our best.

So what are we doing here in this sanctuary?

Even if the Church doesn’t have a literal Eternal Light, we are here because we do believe that there is something powerful and persistent afoot in the world.

Call it hope.  Call it light.  Call it God. 

When we are hungry, there is a place to turn for nourishment.

When we are lonely, there is a place for community.

When storm clouds threaten us, there is a place for shelter.

I believe that is the magic of our being together. 

We can’t remedy the world’s problems sitting here, but we can summon the strength and faith here to do the hard work there outside.

You don’t really have to come here for that purpose.  Lots of very good people care about our world and almost never pray or come to the sanctuary.  Which is wonderful for them and for us.  But lots of good people also do almost nothing for the world and never come to pray either.

You and I are different.

We come here because what we do here builds us up.  The vision of a better world touches something inside us.  The talk about goodness and the stories of Jesus help us believe that dreams are not foolish.  People can change the world today because we have learned about other people who made a difference in eras gone by.

I like being here.

Actually, I love being here.

I love the music and the wording and the pageantry and the history and the kindness.  I love the fact that we slow down in here.  We pause and take a breath.  We even greet each other.  We care.

It’s not perfect.  Some days I may not like one of the choir’s melodies.  Some days I wish we had another reading.  But ultimately that doesn’t matter because, taken as a whole, the service creates an alternate reality.  The service says we matter and God cares. 

I think the service smiles.

Not a feeble smile.  Not a frightened smile.

No, the service shines light on us that makes us feel comfortable and comforted.  The service embraces us and tells us we are connected.

What more could I ask for on any Sunday morning?

*************

Do you remember one of the self-help books that came out many years ago?  It had the perfect title…. I’m OK.  You’re OK…

To be honest, I don’t remember what specific advice the book gave, but I do remember that title because that title communicates the secret of our sanctuary.  We come here because, when all is said and done, the service whispers…I’m OK.  You’re OK.  We’re all OK. 

What a beautiful and positive teaching. 

I’m OK.  You’re OK.  We’re all OK. 

When we are here, that is how I feel.

That is what I believe.

What a gift. 

I’m OK.  You’re OK.  We’re all OK. 

So may it be today and whenever we gather together in this holy place.

AMEN.

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