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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

All Contents ©2004-2007 Stuart Dauermann - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Monday, September 25, 2006


This is a sermon prsented Erev Rosh Hashana, September 23, 2006, at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA. It is based on the for the first Day of Rosh Hashana, Genesis 21 and 2 Samuel 1-2, which speak of Sarah and Yitzchak, Hagar and Ishamel, and Hannah and Samuel.

Hagar, Sarah, and Hannah, three women, and Yishma’el, Yitzchak, and Shmu’el, three sons. Different people with different destinies, but all of them had one thing in common. All experienced the mercy of God.

The Hebrew term is for “compassion,” sometimes translated “mercy,” is “rachamim” and it is related to the noun “rechem” which means womb. In groping for a word to describe God’s merciful compassion, the Hebrew tongue settled on this comparison.

God’s mercy toward us may best be approximated by thinking of the bond a woman has for the child of her womb.

And all three of the women in our readings had that strong bond with their sons: a bond which caused them to seek out what was best for them. Hagar wanted her son to survive and thrive, Sarah wanted her son to inherit free of the interference of an alternate heir, that is, Ishmael, and Hannah loved and doted on the son who became hers in her older age through God’s mercy shown to her.

And if you will think for a moment about these women and what they felt for their sons, you will understand just a little bit about God’s mercy.

The prophets remind us, however, that God’s mercy is even greater than a woman’s mercy toward the child of her womb. “Can a woman forget her child at the breast, not show pity on the child from her womb? Even if these were to forget, I would not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15).

Nevertheless, remembering the compassion a woman has for the child of her womb is a good way of remembering the compassion of God.

Now compassion very much like mercy. We might think of compassion as a feeling, an inner response, literally a “feeling with” someone. it is a deep form of sympathy and empathy. But compassion often leads to mercy. If compassion is one’s inner response to a beloved other, then mercy is what one does—or what one refrains from doing—toward that other.

I want to look with you for a moment at mercy.

Who deserves God’s mercy?

The answer is, no one. Mercy means receiving the benefit you do not deserve instead of the negative consequences you DO deserve. I will say it again. No one deserves God’s mercy: if they did, it would not be mercy.

Paul picks up this argument in Romans chapter nine, when her reminds us of what God told Israel through Moses. He says this:

15 For to Moshe he says, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will pity whom I pity." 16 Thus it doesn't depend on human desires or efforts, but on God, who has mercy.

Now my point is this: mercy is undeserved, and it is something God does.

Now I will ask you a question about God’s mercy. When we stand up and protest that some individual or some class of people does not deserve God’s mercy, what is wrong with our thinking? Two things: first of all, of course, they don’t deserve God’s mercy—no one does. Secondly, a big mistake we make is the underlying assumption behind such conduct. We are really usually saying, “That person/those people don’t deserve mercy because they are not like me,” or in other words, “They don’t deserve mercy, but I do.”

Our tradition and the Scriptures remind us that this mentality is entirely off base. It leads to all sorts of self-congratulation, and abuse of others. We learn to love ourselves and people like us, and to hate people unlike us. We see “our kind of people” as candidates for mercy, and see “their kind of people” as obviously candidates for wrath and destruction.

But it is not that simple.

And every year at Yom Kippur, our tradition confronts us with the story of Jonah, who wanted to deny mercy to the Assyrians, the terrorists of his day, and implacable enemies of Israel. Jonah wanted to deny them the mercy which God wanted to extend to them. Is it not a wonder that the Jewish people have kept alivve and intact a Scrripture which repeatedly confronts us in ways we prefer not to be confonted? And is it not a lesson we need to learn at this time of year, that we are not entitled to seek the mercy of God ourselves when we categorically deny it to others.

I like to quote Lesslie Newbigin, who says that we must not spend our time postulating the possible fate of other people—nor their status as candidates for God’s mercy or not. He points out how many of Yeshua’s parables and teachings highlight the element of surprise and the unexpected at the final judgment. Many who are first will be last, and the last first. Things are not as they appear.
During this season when we are supposed to be seeking the mercy of God, I want to leave us with some challenges.

It is important that during these Ten Days of Awe, we all get in touch with the fact that we do not deserve God’s mercy,

It is important that during these Ten Days of Awe, we all get in touch with the fact that we need God’s mercy, because what we deserve is very unpleasant.

It is important that during these Ten Days of Awe, that we all get in touch with the fact that that we need to be very careful about denying mercy to others, for to deny mercy to others is to pretend we deserve it ourselves. We do not.

This is the time of year for us to beseech God for His mercy toward us and toward our people, and to dig deep down to find the humility and the grace to extend mercy to those to whom we normally deny it.

Our attitude should be as found in this very familiar High Holy Day prayer.

Our Father our King
Be gracious unto us
And answer us
For we are wanting
In good deeds
Deal with us in covenant mercy
And save us