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You Got This
A sermon preached by the Rev. Kit Lonergan on May 25, 2014

KGL+

Sermon

Christ Church Andover
Easter 6, Year A
May 25, 2014

Click for the Easter 6 readings

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together always be acceptable in your sight, O God our strength and our redeemer. AMEN.

Jesus is saying good bye to his disciples. It might not seem like it, but ever since his resurrection, he has been saying good bye to us once again. It actually seems even harder this time around for his disciples to say good bye to him. Last week they kept asking him where he was going, and just how they would know where to go, what to do, without him. In a straightforward way, Jesus told them, ‘You got this—you don’t realize this yet, but you know me, and you are faithful, and it will be alright. You don’t realize that you got this, but you do.’ This week, Jesus hasn’t even take a breath from the gospel last week, and continues to tell us that while he is leaving again when he ascends to God (which we observe this coming Thursday), he is not leaving us alone. You got it, he tells us. I trust you, he tells us. And if we aren’t ready to trust ourselves, not to worry, because he has told us what to do in the commandments, and he will leave us with an Advocate, the Spirit, to continue to inspire us and bring us closer and closer to God. And that is the purpose—to gradually understand that Jesus is in the Father and we in him and him in us—that we are bound to God through Jesus.

An article circling around the interwebs and especially among clergy of all faiths caught my eye this week as I was thinking and praying about this gospel. It was the story of Richard Epstein, a 74-year old psychiatrist from the Potomac, Maryland area. He had made headlines in the Washington Post and other news outlets for the feat he had accomplished—or rather the mitzvah, the joyful following of the commandments—he was days away from completing. Epstein, over the course of eight years, was writing the final verses of a perfect Torah scroll.

If you have seen a Torah scroll, it is a large double bundle of rolled specially prepared parchment, inked with thousands of tiny, centimeter tall, Hebrew letters from a quill made with a turkey feather. The Torah contains the first five books of the Old Testament, the ones, in the Jewish tradition, thought to be penned by Moses himself. It is extremely rare to have someone not a professional attempt, nevermind complete, a full Torah scroll. The doing of such a thing is taken very seriously. The writing of the name of God must be perfect, or the whole piece of paper is deemed lost, and must be buried according to tradition (just as we here at Christ Church never throw away a consecrated wafer or wine into the trash or down a plumbing system, as it is a symbol of Christ, the name of God cannot be thrown away or burned, but buried as a symbol of respect). Epstein practiced for two years under a master scribe to ready himself for this effort.

But there were three particular things about this story that kept popping up as I prayed with the gospel this week.

First, it was about how Epstein described his immersion into this project (if one can even call it that—it’s more of a spiritual practice or prayer practice than anything else). “I feel like basically the Torah wrote me, more than I wrote the Torah — that it really shaped me,” Epstein said. “When you write, you go so much slower than you think, and especially when you’re writing the Torah. It’s wet and it’s gooey.” Following tradition, he not only would pray and offer money to charity before sitting down to write (in Jewish custom, doing one commandment, or mitzvah, should lead to doing another one), he would speak each word that he would write out loud, and then each letter in the word before he wrote it. That painstaking process helped him appreciate the biblical precepts in a way he never had before, he said. He found that he was thinking more deeply about the familiar stories and even dreaming about the passages he had written that day. Epstein put it this way about his writing: “If you are getting close to the Torah, you are getting close to the author of the Torah, who is Ha-Shem [God]”. [Washington Post]

Jesus always reminded us that his commandments were less about obedience and more about getting to know the mind of God and how God envisioned God’s people. Jesus tells us to love the commandments. Few people ‘love’ commandments. Few people ‘love’ obedience. And perhaps what Jesus was asking of his disciples, and now of us, was not obedience, but immersion into God’s story. Those here who have been participating in the Bible Experience not only ‘know’ the stories, but, I would bet, also find themselves immersed into them, into the communities that they defined. They don’t tell us what God wants at every turn, but they remind us that God is never finished with us, always inviting God’s Word to continue to live and inspire.

Second, in order for Epstein to ensure that he would honor the name of God, Ha-Shem, in his writing and not make an error, in each column, he would write the name of God first, and then fill in the rest of the scripture around God’s name. In a short youtube video of his process, you can see God’s name punctuating the space, and Epstein carefully writing around it. It was God’s name anchoring the rest of his writing, the rest of the commandments, creating the open space for what came *of* God after naming and honoring God in Godself.

Imagine what might become of our lives, of our spirits, of our faith, if we, as disciples, did the same? If we would pen God first and then fill everything else in around that name, that direction, that impetus. In his address to the Athenians in our first reading, Paul tells them that they are so religious, they will worship anything, including a god with no name. He explains that Christians worship a God they know, a God they have connection with, and, in one of the most beautiful lines of scripture, a God ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’. Not something that comes from the outside, but the intimate knowledge of God which defines us, which makes us who we are, and gives us our very lives.

Third, Epstein did none of this process totally alone. He had his sofer, his scribal master check every line of his work. He engaged with the text with his rabbi at his Chabad. And most importantly, his community helped him write the last letters of this scroll. Last Sunday, each member of his community touched the tip of the feather of his quill for one letter each—old, young, new and longtime member, everyone—and helped him write the words of God for this gift to the community. When he was finished, they played music and danced and sang and paraded the Torah dancing together down the street as a full community. The mitzvah of Epstein was not just for him. It was for all.

You will not be left alone, Jesus tell us. I would not do that to you. You have my commandments, he says. You are intimately connected with the Father through me, he says. You have each other and the Spirit, he says. You got this, he says. Those are all signs of my love, my presence and that I dwell among you and will continue to do so for the rest of time. AMEN.

Last Published: May 27, 2014 9:31 AM