Healing a broken world

Good morning, Friends!

Is it just me, or does anybody else think that the world has gone crazy? In the last few weeks, we saw a rash of violence and acts of terror, both here in our own country and around the world. A dozen pipe bombs were sent to different leaders. An African-American couple were shot to death in a racist attack at a Wal-Mart – they were just minding their own business, the shooter had initially tried to get into a church, but the doors were locked.

And of course there was a terrible shooting at a Jewish synagogue last weekend. Among the people who were murdered were:

  • two brothers who were ushers – one of them was disabled and worked for Goodwill.
  • a Little League coach
  • an 87-year-old accountant
  • a 97-year-old church secretary
  • a couple in their 80’s who’d been married for 60 years
  • a doctor who pioneered in the treatment of AIDS
  • a woman who did research on how kids learn and develop, who lost her husband to cancer 2 years ago
  • a dentist who was married to a Catholic woman and helped other mixed-faith couples get ready for marriage

One of the members of the synagogue was an 80-year-old survivor of the Holocaust, who was sent to the same concentration camp where Anne Frank died. He was caught in the crossfire between the shooter and the security officers, and he was able to identify the shooter to the FBI.

From what we know, both of the shooters and the guy who sent the pipe bombs were motivated completely by hate. Hatred has always been around with us, but it feels like it’s at an epidemic level right now.

We want things to get better, and so much of the time we feel helpless. But we’re not helpless! I’m going to read this morning from the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament – the part of the Bible which our Jewish sisters and brothers also claim.

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then God’s righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

– Isaiah 58:6-12

OK! Every now and then I like to have a pop quiz. I know you’ve all been working hard all week, and I know that every one of you all’s been studying your Bible for hours every day. So, I want to give a quick test, so you can show off how much you know. This’ll make you proud. It’ll make you all feel good.

The subject of today’s quiz is going to be Hebrew vocabulary words. More than half the Bible was written in Hebrew. I’m sure you’ve all been laboring mightily over your Hebrew grammar books this week.

I can tell you’re all just on fire with excitement about this. Seriously, I think that we all know a lot more Hebrew words than we think we do. For example, who can tell me what the word Amen means? It means “truly”. Whenever Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say unto you,” he was saying, “Amen, amen, I say to you. . .”

When we say Amen at the end of a prayer, we’re saying, “May it truly be so,” or “May it come true for us.”

Here’s another Hebrew word: Shalom. What’s it mean? It means peace. Actually, it’s a little deeper and richer than that. Shalom means complete harmony. It means wholeness. Shalom is a kind of joyful peace, a dynamic, vital peace, a peace that includes truth and justice and rejoicing. It’s a pretty important word.

Or here’s another Hebrew word: shabbat. What’s it mean? It means Sabbath. “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath” – a shabbat – “to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your man servant, or your maid servant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. . .” (Exodus 20:8-11)

Maybe you can put two Hebrew words together. Shabbat shalom is a Hebrew greeting you hear frequently on the sabbath. You hear people say it all the time in Jewish neighorboods. “The peace of the sabbath be with you,” or “Have a peaceful and restoring shabbat.”

There are lots of other words in Hebrew which we know and recognize. You probably know the Hebrew word rabbi, don’t you. What’s it mean? It means teacher. Teachers are called rabbi. If you read the New Testament, rabbi is one of the names people called Jesus. Jesus was a teacher.

Maybe you know the Hebrew word for priest? It’s kohen. If you ever meet a Jewish person whose name is Cohen, or Kahane, or Cone – like Moses Cone – it means they’re descended from a priestly family. They trace their ancestry back to the Levites, who served in the Temple as the kohanim, as the priests.

You might have heard about Pesach – that’s Passover. And you’ve probably heard about Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. Jews celebrated Yom Kippur back in September. See? You already know a lot of basic Hebrew.

The word beth means “house”. Lechem means “bread”. So, beth lechem means what? Bethlehem – the House of Bread. Jesus, who called himself the Bread of Life, was born in a city called “the house of bread.”

In Hebrew, the word bar means what? Son. A mitzvah is a commandment. So when a boy becomes bar mitzvah, it means he is a “son of the Commandments.” He’s considered old enough to understand and to obey the commandments of God.

Why are we doing all this? We’re doing it, this morning, because I want to talk about a Hebrew word which probably is not familiar to us. I want to give us a word, an idea, which may help us to say something which we already know.

The Hebrew word for today is tikkun. It’s a word that means “to mend, or repair, or to heal.” It’s a central idea in Jewish thought. It’s usually found as a part of the phrase, tikkun olam, which means, “to heal the world.”

Jews have always been deeply concerned for tikkun. A concern for healing, for mending, for repairing the world are as characteristic of Jews, as a concern for quiet and simplicity are characteristic of Quakers.

I bring this up, partly because in the last few weeks the news has been dominated by hatred and violence. All over the world, people have been fighting each other. Everywhere you go, religious and political leaders have been screaming at each other. It’s painful, and it’s discouraging, because people have been working for so many years to try to build peace. I hope that all of us are finding time every day to pray earnestly for peace.

Tikkun, the healing of the world, is something we do at different levels. The first level, the primary level, has to do with obeying God’s commandments.

When Jews read the Hebrew scriptures, the torah, they see a whole variety of commandments. Some commandments are positive things God wants us to do. Others are negative commandments, things we should not do. Altogether, there’s a total of 613 commandments, or mitzvot, in the Hebrew scriptures.

The first level of tikkun has to do with simply obeying the commandments. Just doing them, faithfully, is a lifetime of work. You can spend your whole life, learning the commandments and trying to live them.

But then there’s a second level, a deeper level. The Jewish rabbis teach that the world we know is a shattered place. It’s broken, and the sparks of God’s original goodness are hidden in the world’s shattered fragments.

You don’t have to look very hard or study too much to understand this. Everywhere we look today, the world seems like it’s falling to pieces. But every time we perform a mitzvah, the Jewish rabbis tell us, every time we obey a commandment, we are lifting up one of those tiny sparks.

When we work well; when tell the truth; when we honor our parents; when we say a blessing and give thanks for all the things of everyday life; when we eat a meal, or give thanks to God; any time we do one of these things, we are contributing to tikkun olam, the healing of the world. We are lifting up the sparks towards the Source of all light. We’re repairing the broken fragments of God’s creation.

It’s a wonderful idea. As we go along about our business every day, we’re not just “getting the job done.” We’re not just “doing stuff.” We have the opportunity, in countless small ways, to rebuild the world, to make it better, just by living out the commandments of God.

Tikkun can also be lived out at an even deeper level. Not just when we give to the poor, but when we work to remove poverty – that’s tikkun. Not just when we read about what God has done, but when we build schools, when we give books to people and help them learn to read, that’s tikkun.

Tikkun has to do with our career choices. Does the work we choose build up the world, or tear it down? Are we helping God, or are we just helping ourselves?

Collecting food for COAT, which we just did today, is tikkun. There are plenty of folks in our community, and plenty of kids, who would go hungry if someone didn’t help.

Tikkun is teaching kids about good sportsmanship and playing by the rules, and being gracious to the other team when you win. It’s about bringing light and laughter to the community, through the theater and music. It’s about preserving the world that God made, and it’s about helping people live healthier lives. There is no shortage of places for us to begin!

Any place where we can encourage each other. Any place where we can gather up the broken pieces, any place we blow on the little sparks, and try to make a light.

Any place we can bring hope. Any place we can share with people the joy of trying to be close to God. Any place where we can build bridges, but especially where we can build bridges between people who aren’t talking to each other. That’s tikkun. That’s healing the world.

I know that all of this may sound strange to some of you, but please remember that Jesus was a Jew. He knew all about tikkun. In fact, healing the world is what Jesus is all about.

Jesus said that when we welcome a child, or welcome a foreigner, that God’s kingdom just came closer. So, let’s do that.

When we feed the hungry, when we do any work of charity, God’s kingdom is near. Jesus, the Jew, said that when we bring an offering to the Temple, if we remember that another person has something against us, we need to set our offering down, and go and be reconciled, and then come and pray, and God will listen to us.

Over and over, Jesus greeted people with shalom, with peace. Shalom means more than peace. It means to recover our harmony. It means to be balanced. It means to be centered in God, which is something Quakers also know about.

Jesus said that people who are peace makers, literally rodfei shalom, those who follow peace and pursue it, as the core of their lives – people who follow shalom will be called sons and daughters of God.

Not the hate-mongers. Not the people who spread lies and fear. Not the people who slander each other – the word for slander in Hebrew is lashon hara, which literally means “evil talk.”  But the people who follow shalom will be called sons and daughters of God.

It feels as though we can do so little in today’s world, to fight back against the hurricane of violence and hate in every country, in every level of leadership. But God reminds us that our job has always been tikkun, the healing of a broken world.

This week, I listened to an interview, with a rabbi from the Jewish community in Pittsburgh. He said that after the shooting, the rabbis and leaders all checked in with each other. Some of them went to the hospitals, where they were needed.

Someone asked if they all canceled their services for the day. But he said, “No. We all went to our synagogues, our places of worship, to pray. Prayer is a commandment. This is what we do. We’ve all been hurt. But just because this has happened, doesn’t mean we need to stop praying. This is what we do, to help rebuild the world.”

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