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Bamidbar Sermon

Let’s begin not with Jewish tradition but with some observations about other religious traditions.  In the Muslim tradition, Mecca is the most important city.  This is where Muhammad first proclaimed Islam.  The fifth pillar of Islam states that everyone who is able must make a pilgrimage, at least once in their lifetime, to Mecca.  This is called the Haj and it is the largest pilgrimage celebration in the world.

Hinduism as well has several holy cities to which people make pilgrimages.  Christianity has the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was crucified and Bethlehem where he was born.  Visiting these places, walking in Jesus’ footsteps, is an enormously important act for believing Christians.

By contrast we still can’t find Mount Sinai.  Perhaps that is part of our tradition’s intention.  No place should ever become overly venerated.  Ours is a search for truth rather than a search for a destination.  Perhaps we can even say that the journey is more important than the direction.  Our religion was proclaimed in a wilderness, in a desert.

Truth and revelation were not revealed at some place that we can find, but in a non-descript, deserted revelation.  This is the notion about which I have been reflecting.  It is the notion that we can find truth anywhere and everywhere.

It is of course ironic that I say this only two days after marking Jerusalem Day and in a congregation that has so many employed in the real estate business.   Yes we have a holy city that is worthy of visiting and a holy land that is central to our people.  This came later in our tradition, not too much later, but after the Torah.  The land of Israel is not the origins of our religion.

Israel’s declaration of independence states:  “The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people.  Here their spiritual, religious and national identity was formed.”  As much as I love Israel this is not accurate.  We were born in the desert, in the wilderness.  Israel is extraordinarily important.  It is important, however, because it is our home.

Home provides comfort and security.  The problem is when we look to our home to provide all truth and revelation, when we place everything, every hope and prayer, in a few places.  The beauty of our tradition is that every place can be holy.  Every place is a source of truth.  If you can find revelation in the desert then it can be found anywhere.  One small example.  This evening we are celebrating the achievement of our confirmation students.  These students met for three years at Mario’s Pizzeria.  In the basement of a local restaurant we discussed and debated questions about God and tradition.  There, in the least likely of places, we uncovered truth.

Perhaps part of the power of the desert is that the small things are most prized.  You have to search carefully for water.  There truth and meaning are not taken for granted.

We spend our lives building our homes and planning vacations to destinations that we hope and pray hold promise.  But promise and truth are to be found in unexpected places.  We learn the most in the places where we don’t seek it.  It is in the unplanned places where we find meaning.  We have to only be open to this possibility.  Every place, every moment is potentially filled with meaning.

That is the message of the midbar, of the desert.  That is the meaning of this week’s portion, bamidbar.  May we always find meaning—everywhere and anywhere.


Thank you, this sermon will help me to understand Bamidbar 21 and to preach this Sunday in the north of Sweden.
Leif Nordentorm
Pastor in Church of Sweden