I heard a Rabbi tell a story from the Middle Ages about a young lad who wanted to be a blacksmith. He apprenticed and worked hard at a reputable smithy and learned the necessary skills. He decided because he was meticulous, to make a step-by-step list of his duties: the bellows, lifting the sledge, hitting the anvil, shaping the metal. He eventually took a position in the smithy of the monarch. But, for some reason, he didn’t perform very well and was dismissed. He went back to his old mentor and together they went through the list. After a time of thinking the mentor looked at the apprentice and said that he’d forgotten to put on the top of the list how to ignite the spark for the fire; it seemed so obvious; who thought it needed to be listed down?
Abraham Joshua Heschel, a prominent Jewish theologian of the twentieth century, talked a lot about light and was a leading light in the fight for civil rights in the ’60s alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; he spoke against nuclear armament in the ’70s and ’80s, and was prominent in seeking justice for those mired in poverty. He believed in the wholeness of each human being and that we have a symphony together to finish—an image I’ve always appreciated.
One of the stories that I believe is attributed to Heschel is the one that asks about what God does when gathered with the angels when God gets up in the morning. The angels gather with God and God asks the question, “Where does my world need healing today?” And the angels respond, receive their orders for the day and off they go. The healing of the world is God’s primary agenda item. Tikkun Olam, a Jewish phrase, meaning “the healing of the world.”
Some years ago, I used to subscribe to Tikkun magazine. Rabbi Michael Lerner was the founder of the magazine and has stood, in the line of Abraham Joshua Heschel, as a prophet and an ally with others for the healing of the world. I stopped subscribing because I couldn’t keep up with all the magazines I was receiving. But from time to time I look at the website to see what they were doing. They embodied 3 strategies, which I’ve always appreciated: Revolutionize Spirituality for transformation and the healing of the world; Shift Discourse, which means apply interpretive lenses to social issues and facilitate dialogue; and Take Action by building bridges, activating communities for visionary social change.
I’ve always appreciated those three strategies and have tried to apply them to ministry. I’ve appreciated them because they seem to me, at least, part and parcel of Jesus’ ministry. He revolutionized the spirituality in which he was immersed to truly live the laws about loving God with body, mind, heart and soul AND loving our neighbours as we love ourselves. Jesus crossed divides and built bridges, transformed communities, engaged in a discourse that was challenging and prophetic, and took action by living up to what he believed even to die on the cross. He believed in servant leadership and activating people for change to live out God’s Kin-Dom of compassion, peace and justice.
A symbolic act of this revolutionizing spirituality, encouraging discourse and taking action revolves around the story of Lazarus. The literal meaning of Lazarus is “God has helped” and is derived from Eleazar. Jesus brought Lazarus out of the tomb in spite of the fact he’d been in it for 4 days. It’s a remarkable story on so many levels, and as is always true with John’s Gospel, can’t be taken at face value. One of the layers of meaning in this story is to point to God’s greater desire for the world: life, healing and wholeness for all. Jesus is an agent of this life, healing and wholeness.
And as I said last week, part of John’s message is that we see the garden of God’s creation with new eyes—transformed eyes; eyes that see light; eyes that see compassion; eyes that see injustice and a call to action; eyes that see with the heart. In this time of COVID-19, we need to see differently: with hope and compassion, with open eyes through our hearts seeing into the heart of God’s love and compassion. As incarnational beings—as beings with a body, we take care of the world and each other however we can in this time. We take care of each other and participate in Tikkun Olam—the healing of the world.
I end this sermon with a body mindfulness prayer from the Jewish tradition:
Aware of our eyes, we say: God, Bless our eyes that we may see clearly.
Aware of our ears, we say: God, Bless our ears that we might hear with compassion and clarity the cries and pleas of those who are suffering.
Aware of our mouths, we say: God, Bless our mouths that we may break the silence of complacency and speak truth.
Aware of our hearts, we say: God, Bless our hearts that we might open our hearts to those who seek shelter, the victims of injustice, violence and oppression.
Aware of our legs, we say: God, Bless our legs and our feet so that we might travel each step firmly and with courage, wherever you call us to go.
Aware of those who are working under difficult circumstances, we send God’s blessings to health care professionals in all levels, grocery store clerks and those in the supply chains, and others keeping supply chains of essential goods we need available to us, leaders and all who are going above and beyond.
I pray that we all find our place in healing the world.