“Those who know their mission and work earnestly to fulfill it are really alive.”
In this sermon, delivered on March 16, 1969, Rabbi Olan, the preacher, turns preaching on its head, and says that it is what we do, not what we preach, that sends our message to our children, to our community, and to the world. The Prophets of the 8C BCE “described God’s call to Abraham with the command ‘and be thou a blessing’. He was no longer to live only for himself—his whole existence [was] to become a blessing to other people.” The Prophets taught that all of Abraham’s descendants, all of us, have been enjoined not just to worship, but to carry a mission to the world through the example of how we live. Rabbi Olan calls this “a new idea… thrust into history”: that the purpose of our lives is to better the lives of others.
Rabbi Olan distinguishes between the Christian mission, which is one of evangelism and conversion, and the Jewish mission, which is one of what he calls “declaration”: that there is one “God of the Universe” and that the one God enjoins us to “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly”. Only when we do that, rather than just preach it, will we be “a light to the nations” as God intends.
Rabbi Olan recognizes that there have been many “missions” through the centuries. Even the Bolsheviks and the Nazis thought that they had a mission. But for him, the true mission, God’s mission, is social justice, mercy, and humility. “Each [person], as each nation, is born to be a light unto the world.”
*Written by Frances M. Olan and Lionel S. Joseph*