Reflections on the Torah Portion for this week's sermon:
I have to tell you it was truly awesome—in the most authentic sense of that word—to have so many gathered for a simple Shabbat dinner tonight. There was an energy to having folks together breaking bread and celebrating Shabbat, veteran members and new members, young and not-so-young, blessing children and blessing each other. And I want to thank, again, Amy Harrison, Marisa Robinson, Jenn Steinberg, Jan Goodman and Sybil Schwartz for their efforts putting it together.
We gathered to make Shabbat, and that’s how our Torah portion begins too. The portion begins: “Vayakhel”, he gathered. Moses gathers everyone to create the mishkan, the tabernacle. Everyone is invited to participate, just as everyone was invited to participate in tonight’s dinner. And yet the first instruction is not where to put this item or that item, or how to assemble this component or that component, or even what materials to use. The first instruction is to observe Shabbat, just like we’re observing Shabbat now.
Seems like an odd way to begin a project, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we get right to the nitty-gritty of how to create this sacred space? Not unless we know why we’re creating it. The space—and the project to create the space—has to reflect the values of the community. It’s all well and good to invite everyone to participate; surely that builds community. AND, community will be that much more meaningful if we can articulate our values.
So it was tonight and the energy in tonight’s Shabbat dinner. To be sure some of that awesome energy was the size of the group; but I don’t think that was the whole of it. It was the reason we were gathered. There wasn’t a complex agenda; it wasn’t about the food, as delicious as it was, or about celebrating one group or individual over another. It was, fundamentally, about coming together and making Shabbat. Not honoring folks. Not for a specific program. No gimmicks, no schtick, just celebrating our values. That’s it. But that’s all it has to be, too.
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? And yet, how often do we forget that our values drive our purpose, and not the other way around. We do a lot of dinners, and programs; we have a lot of meetings and conversations. Each one is wonderful and attracts a different kind of person, but our purpose isn’t to have programs, and dinners, and meetings and conversations. We don’t fill the space for its own sake. Our purpose to come together is to celebrate and support each other, to worship together, to learn together, and to make a difference in the world. Those programs, meetings, dinners and conversations are what goes into creating meaningful engagement with each other—all of each other, not just one or another group.
In the book Ministry Is A High Calling: Aim Low, the author, Kurt Schuermann talks about walking a bride-to-be and her mother through the sanctuary to prepare for an upcoming wedding. They went off by themselves to discuss whether it was a good space or not, and came back and asked if he could move ‘that thing’. That thing was the cross at the front.
Now, we don’t have that specific issue, but the ikar of the story is relevant. When we gather only to nourish our own selves, only to satisfy our own wants and needs, we forget our values, and the space becomes just another space, no matter what it may mean personally; real empowerment becomes impossible, because the space is too crowded with individual wants and desires. When we come together because of shared values, then we can actually create the space to live those values, and all our contributions—from staff to volunteer, organizer to contributor—are held as good and equal and valid.
We gather—we gather to celebrate Shabbat. We gather to celebrate each other. We do it together, by creating that space for one another. We lift our voices together to share our values. May it always be so.