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A Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Arthur M. Suggs

Preached on the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, July 17, 2016

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


The story just read in the scripture lesson (Genesis 18:1-15) is the beginning of a major theme throughout the scriptures. And not only in the Hebrew or the Christian scriptures but in the world scriptures as well. Is anything too hard for God? I will be getting into this a bit later.

First, a Story About the 1965 World Series

The Los Angeles Dodgers versus the Minnesota Twins. The Dodgers ended up winning in seven games, so they won four games to three.

There was a problem, however, in that the Series took place in October. Game One was scheduled for October 6th, which happened to be Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and Sandy Koufax was slated to pitch. Hes Jewish. Actually, Jew-ish because he was sort of nonobservant.

However, tons of pressure were loaded on the poor guy. Do you go ahead and pitch on Yom Kippur, even if youre not observant? In recognition of the pressure that was brought to bear on him and the societal expectations, Koufax, following his own heart, decided not to pitch, even though he was the starter for the Dodgers. He was their number-one pitcher.

Don Drysdale was their number-two pitcher, so he was slated to pitch in Game One. He allowed seven runs in the first three innings, when the manager finally pulled him. As he returned to the dugout, Drysdale uttered to the manager, Walter Alston, a line that became famous, I bet right now you wish I was Jewish too.

Sandy Koufax: A Leftys Legacy

Jane Leavy wrote this book, in which she remarked about the incident:

By refusing to pitch that day, Koufax became inextricably linked with the American Jewish experience. He was the New Patriarch: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Sandy. A moral exemplar, and single too! (Such a catch!)

Koufax, who wasnt particularly observant, had no clue that his decision would carry so much weight then or now.

I believe he was thinking, Im going to pitch the next day. Whats the big deal? We have [star pitcher] Don Drysdale starting, Leavy said in a Q&A with Sports Illustrated in 2002. And in a way, that makes it even sweeter. Yom Kippur is a day of sacrifice. . . . And heres Koufax, whos doing this reflexively, not out of his own great belief but really more in deference to others. So it was a much-greater sacrifice on his part. For a more religious man, it might have been a no-brainer. For Koufax, it was the right thing to do.

My sermon this morning is steeped in Hebrew theology. Its not non-Christian. Its as much Christian as virtually anything else, really, but it is steeped in the heart of the Jewish experience of Hebrew theology.

The sermon actually has a simple point. Its more Bible-study-ish in that Im going to be looking at two chapters of Deuteronomy, 32 and 33, at the very end of the Torah, the end of the first five books of the Bible.

The Context Here Is One of Endings

Its the ending of the Torah. Its also the ending of Moses life. Moses had taken his people all the way through the Exodus, during the forty years of wandering throughout the wilderness. Hes in sight of the Promised Land but dies before getting there, within sight of it, yet never entering it himself. Joshua would take them into the Promised Land in a roundabout way via Jericho and the Walls, and so forth. This is also the end of Israels wanderings through the wilderness of Egypt.

One of the scholars whose work I read on this subject said something I thought was important. He remarked that being a slave, especially for centuries, erodes ones sense as a people. It erodes much cultural identity. And so, after 400 years in Egypt, most of that as slaves, they really werent a people anymore. Any sense of who they were as a nation had eroded away, and it was those forty years in the wilderness that brought back the cultural identity of the wanderers.

Suddenly, here they were, a group of people who are Israelites, the children of Israel. They had no government while they were in Egypt, but finally they could act in a way that was cohesive in the Promised Land.

So those forty years werent just wander-ing around because there was nobody from whom to ask directions. Instead, the years of wandering helped to coalesce them into a people, something that needed to happen before they could succeed in the Promised Land.

Three Points of Moses Final Speech

While the context is one of endings, it is also one of beginnings in the new life after slavery. Chapter 32 is Moses impassioned speech at the end of his life. He had done his job for the people and for God. And so the whole chapter consists of this impassioned speech, which has three main points:

1. The peoples dependence upon God. Remember that this is part of a very long history. Four hundred years earlier was when they had first gone into Egypt to escape drought, only to become enslaved.

The Civil War for us was 150 years ago, and our Revolutionary War was 250 years ago. Just to give yourself a feeling for what it must have felt like for them to think back 400 years, this notion of dependence on God is not at all surprising.

2. Their inconsistent loyalty to God, and Im being kind here.

3. Gods frustration and yet commitment to the people.

Following the end-of-life speech by Moses, we come closer to the point of what this sermon is about. That is, there was a series of blessings. Because there were twelve tribes of Israel, a unique blessing had to be given to each one of them. Some of these are pretty odd, but I wont go into that. These separate blessings for each of the twelve tribes were then followed by one all-encompassing blessing that is for all the people.

The blessings for the twelve tribes of Israel now bring me to the two main themes of the whole story:

The 1st Theme Is Teshuva

Teshuva is a Hebrew term usually translated as repentance. Repentance is not wrong, but its only a footstep in the sand of a dune to describe what the word is really about. Teshuva has much more the sense of returning home. Youve been in a foreign land, things have not gone well, and you are returning back home.

The story of the Prodigal Son is teshuva. Pure and simple, the whole thing is teshuva. Youve been in a foreign land, youre feeding pigs, its not good, youre poor, things are really lousy for you. Finally, you change your mind, and you head back home.

Bear in mind, these Israelites are returning to a homeland they have never seen. Theyve only heard about it from their ancestors, and its 400 years back in memory.

Can you imagine if we heard a story from people at the time of the Revolutionary War? A story about a great place that we will never see, our children will never see, our grandchildren will never see, but maybe our great-grandchildren will see it.

And so we hold onto the story long enough that our great-grandchildren will possibly still cherish that hope. Yes, they return home after these 400 years.

The 2nd Theme Is Atonement

This theme of the whole story is what I would call at-one-ment. Im pronouncing it a bit differently from the way its usually pronounced, atonement, but Im respecting the etymology of the word.

The first two syllables of atonement, at-one, mean that something has been separated. There has been some argument. There have been some fights. Things have been split apart in one way or another, and the atonement is to bring them back together, to restore, to reconcile, to heal the split. This is the story of at-one-ment.

One of the difficulties with talking about oneness and I experience this probably every other Sunday in my sermons is that, when you talk about oneness, people have different kinds of things in mind.

For instance, there's the oneness of restoring togetherness. Say youve got a couple who had an argument, and then they kiss and make up. One of them says, Are we okay now? and the other replies, Yes, were okay. They were arguing, and now its over. A unity has been achieved. Thats pretty mild unity compared with severe discord.

If any of you watched the European soccer tournament that took place recently, there were times when you could see the players on a closely knit team acting in harmony. You could see it, you could feel it, you could detect it when they stopped being individual players, and they were all working together as one team.

Weve seen this many times in team sports, when individuality is suppressed long enough to act seriously as one unit on a team. Its really beautiful to behold such unity in sports.

There is the oneness of lovemaking. Physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual facets come together all in one towering emotion, something that humanity has venerated for all of its days.

And then finally there is mystical oneness. I know many of you have experienced this, when somehow or other somewhere in your soul you begin to feel and detect no separation between who you are and nature, the collection of humanity, and the ever-present divinity. All of those fun-damental barriers somehow dissolve and break down and disappear

These levels of oneness, at-one-ment, are the work of God throughout the history of humanity, which is to bring about unity out of brokenness.

Our Responsibility; Gods Responsibility

In order to arrive at this state of at-one-ness, God does something, and we do something. What we do is to pay attention to the verbs at the very start of this st


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