Parshat Ahrei Mot-Kedoshim Sermon Saturday Morning 2012

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Parshat Ahrei Mot-Kedoshim
Sermon Saturday Morning
1.      Shabbat Shalom
2.      When you hear the words, “God loves you!” what comes to your mind? My colleague, David Wolpe in Los Angeles likes to start his lectures with the phrase, “God loves you!” because it is a phrase that makes Jews squirm.  This is just not the way Jews talk about God.  When we hear “God loves you!” we immediately think of Christian evangelists on television who say it just before reminding their listeners that Jesus died for their sins.
3.      There is no reason, however, that a Rabbi can’t proclaim to his congregation, “God loves you”. After all, God brought us up out of the land of Mitzrayim with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. God gave our people food and water in the wilderness and gave us the Torah on Mt. Sinai. God led us to the Promised Land and helped our people settle that land. God was there when we battled the Philistines, the Persians, the Syrian Greeks, and the Romans. God was with us in our exile, protecting us from random death and violence.  God helped us reestablish the State of Israel in our own day, protecting Israel from invasion and terrorism. God has blessed us with safety and prosperity in this country.  There are so many reasons to thank God and to proclaim that in all God does, God loves us.
4.      Of course, we who live in the modern world, in the shadow of the Holocaust, struggle to find God’s love after this extraordinary catastrophe in our history. Millions of Jews died wondering why God had forsaken them; wondering if they were being punished by God; wondering how a loving God could cause such pain and suffering. There are some who look at their own personal lives and do not see a loving God at all. They see only a life filled with suffering and disaster, death and despair. If this is God’s love, they want no part of it anymore.
5.      I can’t explain why there is suffering in the world. I don’t know why bad things happen. I can get as angry as anyone else when I see injustice in the world and wonder where God is in all of this. I pray to God, I cry out to God, I even, at times, scream at God.  What I do know is that if God were an angry and punishing God, then anger at God would be punished. But God loves us, and God understands our pain and hurt.  Even when we hate God, God still loves us.
6.      God gives us the laws of this Parsha, laws relating to sexual love, laws relating to atonement, laws relating to how we must love others. God does not give us these laws because God is some kind of a bully; “Do as I say or you will be punished”. God gives us commandments/Mitzvot as an act of love.  The late Rabbi Sydney Greenberg once wrote, “A good parent does not say to her child, ‘do whatever you want;’ that is not a loving parent, that is an abdication of the parents duty. A good parent says to a child, ‘I love you very much and I don’t want to see you get hurt so here are the rules to live by and to help you get along in the world.” In the same way God does not let us fend for ourselves in trying to build a better life on this planet. God loves us so much that God gave us the Torah as a guide to help us live meaningfully.
7.      The real focus of our Parsha, however, is not to show us how much God loves us, but to ask the question, “How do we express our love of God?”  We can see easily what God has done for us. What then do we do for God?  How we answer this question cuts to the very heart of what it means to live a Jewish life.
8.      First of all, how important is it for us to take time to show our love of God? How often do we show our love? Three days a year? Once every six months? Monthly? Weekly? Every day? When we want to show our love of God what do we do?  Recite the Shema? Daven Shacharit? Come to shul early? Study Torah? Attend a lecture? Read a Jewish book? Give Tzedaka? Help a neighbor in need? Do we express our love of God privately or do we express that love publicly. Which do you think God prefers?
9.      Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, once wrote about how his pregnant wife woke him up in the middle of a snowy winter night to ask him to get her a chocolate bar with almonds.  Recognizing this as one of the legendary cravings of a pregnant woman, and wanting to be a good husband to her in this moment, he got dressed and drove out into the snow to find a candy machine that had the required candy bar. He returned with the candy some time later and his wife was a bit embarrassed about sending him out in the snow but she was also grateful for his understanding.
10.  The key to this story was that Rabbi Kushner himself understood what he had done as something extraordinary. For the time it took him to retrieve a candy bar, he was no longer Rabbi Kushner, he was an extension of his wife, making the effort to  fulfill her desires.  His own ego was gone and the only thing important in that moment was his wife’s needs.  He did not go out in the snow because she nagged him, or threatened him or embarrassed him. He went out because of his love for her.
11.  Any of us who are or were once married, understand this. It is an act of love to do whatever is necessary to fulfill the needs of our spouse. Yes that means washing the dishes, taking out the garbage, being supportive in a difficult time and writing a love note for no special reason; all of these are the ways we show our  partner that we are prepared to put aside our own needs and desires just to make our partner happy.
12.  When we are asked, then, what are we prepared to do to show our love of God, well, we already know what we need to do. Can we put aside what we want to do and fulfill in that moment what God wants us to do? If we are in a hurry and we see someone who needs a helping hand how can we show, in that moment, our love of God? When we are watching the news and we see something that is not right or fair, can we get up out of our chair and write the letter, make the donation, and attend the rally that will bring about real change in the world?
13.  When we are sick and then have a complete recovery, do we go on with our lives and not express our thanks to God for our healing? Do we have to be thankful to God? I don’t think that God heals us because God needs the expression of gratitude. But if we want to show our love of God, shouldn’t we do it anyway? If we want to live a good life, shouldn’t we make the time to go to synagogue and listen there for God to tell us what a good life is all about? Rabbi Jack Riemer tells a story of a man who tells his Rabbi that he does not need to come to shul to talk to God, God is everywhere and so he can talk to God wherever he may be. The Rabbi replied, “It is true that you can talk to God anywhere but perhaps you should come to shul because God wants to talk to you!” If God loves us enough to listen to us when we are in need, shouldn’t we show our love of God by listening to what God wants from us?
14.  An unknown soldier once wrote the following poem:
I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.
15.  It seems that sometimes God loves us and we don’t often realize that love until the day is over and we have time to reflect on the course of our lives.  But when we do have the time for reflection, do we also reflect on the importance of expressing our love to God? Do we realize how blessed we are and do we respond to the blessing with love? How do YOU express your love of God? How can you incorporate that love into your life?
16.  May God bless us with divine love every day we are alive and may each day present us with new ways to express our love to our Creator.  Let us never forget that among all people, we are most richly blessed

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