This is the text of the sermon I delivered on the morning of the Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. At the bottom you can click to hear the audio recording of the sermon as delivered.
The most popular musical in the country when I was in college was Rent. Perhaps you saw it. It was not as edgy as, say, the Book of Mormon, but it had its moments.
One of its most popular songs was called “Another Day.” It is a paean to the idea of carpe diem, seize the day. You know the idea. Today is the only day we have. Make the most of it.
Such advice usually comes along with the encouragement to live without any regrets. One verse in the song says,
There’s only us
There’s only this
Or life is yours to miss
“Forget regret?” Is that really possible? Can we really live—make choices, form relationships, do important work—and have no regrets? To explore this question, let us turn to the biblical story we just read.
On Wednesday night and Thursday, Jews around the world will celebrate the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which literally means “Head of the Year.”
What distinguishes Rosh Hashanah from every other holiday is the sounding of ancient ram’s horn, known as a shofar. It makes a scratchy, plaintive primitive sound. To hear it is the primary purpose of this day.
Even people can’t make it to synagogue try to hear the sound of the shofar. Rabbis have been known to visit hospitals and sound the shofar in patients’ rooms.
In seminary we read a famous book called The Wounded Healer. Written by Father Henri Nouwen, it was based on an idea of psychologist Carl Jung.
The idea is that effective pastors and therapists draw from their own wounds and pain in order to empathize with another. Their own pain gives them a unique window into the feelings of their patient or parishioner.
I was initially dubious of the idea. Every pain or tragedy or illness is unique. We can never enter fully into another’s feelings.
Over time, however, I realized it is not so simple. I realized that behind my initial suspicion was a unhealthy aloofness.
As I child I could not sit through movies or meals. Sitting through a musical was out of the question.
Yet, when I was seven, my parents decided to take me to see Fiddler on the Roof. Looking back now as parent of a seven-year-old, I would not have been so bold.
Since that first experience, I have been I love with this story. I’ve seen the musical four times and the movie at least half a dozen. It’s one of my favorite resources for classes and sermons on Jewish tradition and history.
Deadly images on television tear at our heart. We wish for the violence in Israel to end.
This land, sacred to three global religions, seems endlessly mired in conflict. Does religion just promote division or hatred? Is it because of its religious significance that Israel remains a place of tension? Or is faith, at its core, a force of peace?
If we listen to most voices in the media and pop culture, we would answer this question without hesitation. Religion is bad, primitive, and dangerous.
We would agree with late writer Christopher Hitchens, who said “The Bible