This week, I am visiting family in Philadelphia. While sitting in a café, the table next to ours was engaged in a conversation that I could not ignore. The first person said, “When you give a sermon, it must not be for an imaginary audience. A sermon must be given for the real world.” My father and I, both rabbis, smiled at each other and continued eating.
The person on the other side of the table continued, “Do you know who is one of my biggest inspirations? Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel!”
At that point, I leaned over, and said, “I’m sorry for interrupting, but is there any chance that you are in the business of religion? We heard you speak about sermons and Heschel, and we are both rabbis.”
Yes, they were pastors, and yes we were rabbis, and yes, we were speaking the same language.
Religion must not live in a bubble or simply in our hearts and minds. Religion must live in our real lives and on our streets.
Noah does not simply tell the people how he feels about the world. He acts upon it and builds an ark.
Ibn Ezra explains Noah was righteous—in his deeds and wholehearted–in his heart.
Noah lived in the real world, and because he did, he saved the world.
Thousands of years later, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel also lived in the real world. Heschel spoke of radical amazement. Each day we arise, each breath we take should not be taken for granted. He writes, “Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually.”
A family dinner in a café, a conversation with the person on the airplane, an interaction with a neighbor or the person you sit next to the in sanctuary–each is a moment of radical amazement.
Radical amazement may seem far away, but when the sermon is given in the real world, it appears right before your eyes.