10/2/16 Sermon Rosh Hashanah, The Days of Awe
Paul D. Daniel, Minister
The sound of the ram’s horn is sharp.
It is like no other sound.
It pierces the armor of the heart.
It calls us to pay attention to who we are in relationship with God and all you hold holy and sacred.
It calls us to be in Right relations with ourselves and all others
. As we begin the Jewish New Year of 5777 we are called to reflect and repent for our shortcomings and wrongful deeds.
We begin in celebration as we wish each other, Shanah Tovar -a good and sweet year.
Like most Hebrew words it takes a
paragraph of English words to convey a Hebrew words true
Shaneah Tovar implies a return to our truest and best
It is a journey of rediscovery requiring an inward reflective
gaze of self-evaluation.
We are called to look at the sins we have committed this past
Now, before you start squirming over the word sin, I am using sin here in the manner of H. Richard Niebuhr in his seminal work The Responsible Self.
Sin in this context is more about missing the mark.
It is being out of right relationship.
To live in covenant is to be able to once again to pursue that
which is good and true.
As Niebuhr wrote, it is less about establishing innocence from transgression,
then the granting to the self of the ability to move again towards perfection and wholeness,
towards the actualization by the power by which we are enabled to see God
and to live in his/her likeness”.
For UUs it might be more comfortable envisioning ourselves as being more in touch with that which we find transformative and transcendent in our lives.
Rosh Hashanah calls Jews, indeed all of us back too self and community.
We are reminded and often grow nostalgic for a more innocent time of our childhood when we lived in safe and sacred congregations.
This is a time of great emotion, both joyous and painful, for many
The sound of the Shofar announces the dawning of the New
The High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah are a celebration of
the birth of the world.
These days with their sounds and smells strike the deepest cords of human feeling in Jews.
In the most profound way Jews and many UUs are called back to faith as a communal experience.
It is said that Rosh Hashanah is the mind and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the heart.
Whatever Judaism has to say on God, Man and Duty is enshrined in the prayers and hymns of the ten Days of Awe between and including these Holy Days.
This time is the spiritual epitome of devotion.
The central event is soul searching and repentance for wrongdoing.
This is in keeping with many UU liberal religionists feeling that
there is a need for the community to come together to focus on the
need to improve both as an individual and as a community.
For Jews, the cry for Atonement that occurs during the Days of Awe
culminates in the release and forgiveness granted on Yom Kippur, but, only we are told, for those who are sincere.
God can only grant forgiveness to those who sinned against God.
For, sins committed against another person requires us to beg forgiveness directly from the person harmed.
This is very much in keeping with our Unitarian Universalist ways.
We UUs are called to evaluate our behavior constantly, not just
during these High Holy Days.
However, we do acknowledge, we are ‘only human’ in our ability to follow these rules all the time.
Judaism actually understands this and even expects that we at times will fall short.
When a person of conscious has sinned, they may say,
“I have kept none of the commandments”.
It is not the literal truth or falsity of the statement that concerns them,
but rather the feeling of having betrayed their principles by having committed some sin,
and thus in some sense giving the lie to the notion of themselves as
a virtuous person.
An old story is told of one aged rabbi who went to visit a
colleague in a distant city before the High Holidays.
They had a pleasant visit, and spent many hours talking.
But when it came time to leave, the visitor burst into tears.
The other asked what was wrong.
He replied, I have committed so many sins wailed the first
“I have done such wrong,
I do not deserve your friendship, let alone God’s forgiveness.
“At which the other began to sob, and he said,
“I too am a terrible sinner.
I have not kept the commandments one day of my life.
” And the two of them comforted one another, and gave each
other strength for the days of repentance yet ahead.
You see, central to these holidays is Teshuva, repentance and turning back to righteousness.
Bringing ourselves and all others in community back into right relations.
It is also everyone’s responsibility here at this fellowship to do that not just the Board and minister.
It is a letting go of the past with its associated pain so that one can embrace a righteous, hope filled,
Our duty in this place and time is to reflect on our lives,
where we are in contrast to where we want to be.
This is about liminal time between what was and what might be;
between summer and fall; regret and repentance; guilt and
Teshuva is filled with the power of sacred repentance,
renewal, and return.
It offers us the possibility to change the direction of our lives.
It is now, in this moment that we are redirected back to a relationship with something that is beyond ourselves.
Our yearning for our higher selves can be satisfied but only if we are willing to do the
work of restoration and renewal.
This work calls us to articulate our deepest sense of that which is holy, immanent and transcendent.
Not an easy task when we must enter the depth of our being
filled with hope but blocked by the reality of our misdeeds.
Our hearts are pained by such an encounter with our misdeeds.
Karl lung would say this is the meeting we must have with our shadow side, with our evil, destructive intentions.
We must make this unconscious side of our being conscious if our egos are to gain any control over the untamed side of our nature, a place of offensive and hurtful behavior.
Ironically, Teshuva calls for self-acceptance, a coming to
terms with our misdeeds, failings and frailties.
It is our desire for renewal that moves us from our old selves and empowers us to embrace the new reborn self.
We are propelled through the gates of repentance that now stand open to us.
The Gates are open only for a short time.
The “Book of Life “is open but once a year and remains so only during the Days of
This is our time for action and repentance, truth telling and
Now is the time to confront ourselves if we intend to
return and grow.
When the Book of Life is closed for another year our remaining misdeeds, not atoned and forgiven, remain for another year to pull and weigh us down and hold back from right relationships and our truest selves.
The universe waits with open arms, but we must enter with a
This is an ageless and timeless story of humanities yearnings for connection. It is our passage from brokenness into wholeness and blessing. The only whole heart is the broken and wounded one.
Only when we know the road map of our own existence can we
know another and be healed.
This road is stony and difficult to travel but we are reminded that Teshuva is in every act we
perform. It is a journey taken with the first heart felt and truthful step within. It is a new devotion to living fully in right relationship.
It is a word an At-One-Mint with humanity and the Holy.
It is through Teshuva that we become as one with humankind in freedom, righteousness, and
As the door, now opens, challenges us to have the courage to begin again in love and walk thru the door of hope.
Shanah T’ovah, may you have a Good and Sweet
May it be so!