Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Lottery - A Sermon about Realizing our Blessings for Yom Kippur Morning

Lucy has all sorts of good things going on in her life, a loving husband and children, a comfortable apartment, a job she enjoys doing, but she focuses her attention on her financial accounts. She has enough to have a nice retirement already, just maybe not lounging around a pool in Hawaii for months on end each year or for annual exotic cruises with her whole family. Lucy’s not poor, but not rich either. What she is most is discontented.

She often prays that she will win a lottery and her problems will be solved. One night, she dreamed, as she had so often, of checking off all of the Powerball numbers. An angel appeared in her dreams. The angel said to her, “Lucy, I’ve come to grant your wish. You will win a lottery. All you have to do is help a person, to whom I will introduce you, figure out how to live without all that you have in your life. You will know of whom I speak when you see them.”

The next day, Lucie was excited. Who would this person be? Where would she meet him or her? When? Maybe at the coffee shop? She went first thing in the morning, ordered her favorite latte, and sat by the front window, looking out at the sidewalk of the downtown street as swarms of people walked by.

There were people walking dogs, some with two or three. There were people pushing strollers. Some people dressed smartly in expensive tailored suits or fur coats. Others wore uniforms. She wondered to or from what jobs they headed. Some people smiled. Many didn’t. More than a few talked on their phones or texted as they walked and almost ran right in to others doing the same. It was cold outside. You could see everyone’s breath.

Lucy came to enjoy watching the people outside, staring out the window, forgetting all about the people inside.

A woman sat down at the table next to Lucy. She wore several layers, two scarves and a woolen hat. She held a mug of coffee in both of her hands, warming them by its heat. She coughed. It was not the excuse me sort of cough, not a little cough to get your attention. It wasn’t a normal cough either. It was a deep raspy, this person is really sick, sort of cough, the kind of cough that gets people concerned about their own health and gets them to move away. A man on the other side did just that a few moments later.

Lucy noticed briefly and turned back to looking at the people walking down the street. The woman coughed again, then again and again in succession. That got Lucy’s attention.

“Are you alright?” Lucy asked. “Do you need some water?”

“No, thanks.” She paused, “need to go to the doctor I think.”

She coughed again, this time so loudly that everyone turned to stare.

“Do you have a doctor?” Lucy asked.

“No. Can’t afford a doctor. Can’t afford much, have to pay for food and a place for me and the kids to live. Nice man bought this coffee for me. Saw me sitting outside. I guess I was shivering.”

Lucy didn’t take long to realize that perhaps this woman was the one about whom the angel was speaking. “Okay,” she thought to herself, “I’m supposed to figure out how to help her live without all that I have.

“Have you tried going to a clinic or the ER to have them check out that cough? Maybe there is a free clinic, I could help you find one.”

The two talked for a while longer. The woman finished her coffee. Lucy gave her money to pay for a bus ride to the hospital. The woman wouldn’t accept anything more. Then she left.

That night, the same angel appeared to Lucy in a new dream.

“Did you see her?”

“That woman today, the one with the cough? I helped her go to the hospital.”

“No, Lucy. That was nice of you, but she’s not the one.”
In the days that followed, Lucy met several other people whom she was sure were “the one:”
·      There was the older man whom she helped with his groceries and
·      The construction worker with two broken wrists in casts who needed help fixing his coffee.
·      There was the homeless woman for whom she purchased a hot chocolate and talked about her life’s story.
·      There was the mother battling a debilitating illness who was tearing up while on the phone as she spoke to her sister about her children’s future.
·      There were the teenage boys talking about how people treated them differently because of the color of their skin.
·      Then there was the woman who was worried about losing her job and not being able to support her children and
·      The wealthy man who worried about losing his wife and children because he was constantly working.

Each night, she dreamed. Each night, the angel told her, “No, not the one.”

From each person, Lucy learned. She became better at talking with people and gained a better understanding what makes life meaningful. Lucy stopped praying to win the lottery.

One day, as Lucy looked out the window at the people passing by, she saw her face reflected in the window as she had every time. But this time, she stopped and looked at herself. She looked a bit more confident than she had, kind and welcoming.

Lucy thought about her own life. How lucky she was to have a loving family. How lucky she was to have health, to have worked for years at something she enjoyed, to have a comfortable place to live, to be able to come and have a warm coffee and watch people walking by. How lucky she was that she could help others.

Lucy smiled at herself in the window. It was then that she knew for sure she had seen “the one.” And at that moment, she also realized that she had already won the lottery.

Last night, as we recited the words of the Kol Nidrei prayer, we remembered our ancestors who were forced to say, “Yes,” when they meant, “No.” That is a simple statement, but implies so much more. How thankful are we not to live in such a time and place wherein we are threatened because we are Jews? How thankful are we that we have the opportunity to follow the path of our choosing, to not repeat the words of Moses, “Let my people go,” with a painful longing in our hearts.

This morning, we read in the Torah that the ability to follow the proper path is within our ability, not over the sea, but within us, like looking at our own reflection to find the solution to our problems. May we each turn ourselves in the best direction for us.

Today is a day for Heshbon Nefesh, an accounting of our souls. Most days, we look around us. We take note of others. We think of things beyond us. We look through windows at others, sometimes kindly, sometimes critically.

On Yom Kippur, we take the time to look at our own reflection, to appreciate what we have in our lives, to realize what we lack, and to look along the path that we have taken and the path that lies before us. Are we heading in the right direction? If not, where must we turn? How do we turn?

Again, it is not across the sea. Those answers are within each of us. We can turn. We can begin the process of T’shuvah. We can renew ourselves.

This day, we reflect and consider.
This day, we remember.
This day, we seek to understand the pain of others.
This day, we seek to understand our own pain.
This day, we are mindful of the blessings that we have in our lives instead of simply focusing on what we lack.
This day, we seek forgiveness for actions we should not have taken and for our inaction when we should have acted.
This day, we promise to do better.
This day, we reflect and consider the many times before that we have promised to do better.
This day, we renew our promise.
The Jewish Tradition tells us that when we look at our image, we’re seeing something else. Looking at our reflection, we’re seeing an image of God looking back at us. We see our parents and grandparents too, every one of our ancestors in some way. And are we that different from others, others whose image, like our own, is also the divine image?

This High Holiday period:
·      I spoke about priorities we would like to see in our lives, in our homes, and in our communities.
·      I spoke about how our tradition sees us as both being present now and present in the distant past. We were there and then, just as we are here and now facing challenges, going on journeys. Hineini, here I am. Hineinu, here we are.
·      I spoke about how we are all created in the image of God, how we are all like each other, how we can potentially see our reflection in others who make us very uncomfortable, and how all of us have the capacity to perform T’shuvah, to turn and move in a better direction. And today,
·      I spoke of seeing our own reflection, of Heshbon Nefesh, an accounting of our souls, of looking at ourselves and our lives, of realizing our blessings.

May we be mindful of our true priorities in life,
May we face our challenges with dignity and courage,
When we look upon others, even those who are difficult and problematic,
May we remember that we are tainted with some of the same faults for we are all B’tselem Elohim, created in the image of God. And
Whenever we look at the world around us,
May we not forget to consider the reflection that we see in the window, mindful of who we are and thankful for the blessings we have in our own lives.

G’mar Chatimah Tovah.
May you be sealed in the Book of Life for a good, sweet, and happy New Year.

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