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Etz Chayim – the ‘Tree of Life’ – is the Hebrew name of Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue.
Bible readings: Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20
We are truly living in historic times. In the Jewish narrative we have as a leitmotif, our Freedom from Egyptian bondage. The Jewish People have encountered many more evil Pharaohs and lived under oppressive regimes that perceived them as a natural resource to be quarried and then left on a slag-heap, a sore on the eye that requires banishing from memory. Many peoples of humanity have been down-trodden in such ways. Some were obliterated from the planet. Others were too numerous to be denied. In 1989 we witnessed the crumbling of the Soviet empire. The anti-communist revolutions of Central and Eastern Europe, the Revolutions of 1989, freed countless peoples from their Pharaohs and task masters. Now, in the land of the Pharaohs and the neighbouring regions, peoples are revolting against injustice, against perverted systems - that seek wealth and might for a few and result in poverty and oppression for the masses. The current day Pharaoh of Egypt, along with his fellow Arab dictators stand at a precipice.
How is it that individuals can, time and again, subvert the rights of their fellow human beings? Why is it that the call of Isaiah and the ancient Hebrew Prophets, the call of Jesus that we have heard in our reading from Matthew, the call of the Prophet of Islam and the prophets of all faiths for the rights of the individual are not heard?
Do not despair, for the call is heard. It is heard by the peoples but only on occasion, do they realise that they have more power than those who would seek to deny them their human rights.
On the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and every city, town and village of Egypt, there are individuals who make up the Peoples of Egypt. Democracy allows the individuals their voice. Shame on those whose only desire is to see it and the individuals who will create it fail. I do not believe that there are democratic nations that seek war for its peoples. There are nations with failed democracies who slide into war and conflict, often civil war, but that is only when individuals or small groupings seek to cease power from the people, denying pluralism and individuality. Otherwise, economic and social sense provides a simple logic that says that we will do better at peace with our neighbours than at war.
Do not fear democracy in Egypt, only those who seek to pervert it - and they are few. Believe as Mahatma Gandhi did that, “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” Now is a time to acknowledge that those who are good utterly outnumber those who are evil. Let us come out and support them. Let us take the risk to be active and joyful in our support of humanity. The Psalmist warned of putting trust in humanity. Yes be warned when we don’t have the humility of trust in God, a belief that urges us to create a humanity that celebrates is diversity and thus is a humanity to trust.
We must not be complacent. In our own society, although less acute than in others, there are still those who are down-trodden, who are needy and who live in poverty. Can we bring our offerings of the heart before God and not heed the words of God’s desire? The prophet Micah (6:8) stated: People tell you what is good, but what does the Eternal One require of you? Only to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
In our liberal understanding of our faiths, it is not enough to wait for a messiah or the second-coming of one. It is up to us to revolt every day. To acknowledge God’s presence in our lives and the demands that humility places upon us. To free the captive and keep faith with those who sleep in the dust. This is the challenge that we as the Christians and Jews of Oaklands Gate are facing. Will we sit by, idly content to watch the revolutions of the world on our TV screens, consumers of history. No, let us make history every day of our lives. Let us wake up and thank God for our lives, in prayer and then go out and thank God with our deeds.
This Shabbat, this Sabbath has been one of enlightenment in Oaklands Gate. I am humbled by the confidence in both our communities to honour Sue and me with the privilege to preach in each other’s place of worship. I sincerely hope that we have repaid your faith in us as religious leaders of our communities. Sue is a special leader and together with her and I hope other religious leaders in Northwood we will have the confidence to fulfil God’s will and the word of our sacred scriptures. That is a confidence born of a deep faith in God and the prophets of our peoples; and in you, our sacred congregations who we know will join us in this holy endeavour.
Architect of the world, author of her story, grant us all the courage to participate in the world’s design, to join in the unfolding of her story.
Adonai Oz l’amo yiteyn – Eternal God, grant your people strength.
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