Judaism

Advent and Anti-Semitism

By Rev. Mindi

And so it happens. As we turn the page on the end of another year in the Revised Common Lectionary, we turn to Advent. Darkness coming out of light. Waiting for the Messiah. And a lot of theologically challenging Advent carols begin to enter our hearing, not to mention this year’s complicated Year A readings from Isaiah.

 

I grew up in a very liberal American Baptist congregation. It was one of the founding churches in the Welcoming and Affirming movement.  When religious liberty was challenged by school sponsored prayer or “motivational speakers” hired by some of the more fundamentalist churches in town to come into the schools and the lure us to their after-school programs, our church stood up for all people, for all religions and for those of no religion or belief in God.  I went to a liberal arts college and studied under professors for whom the conservative Christian body would warn me not to take classes with, and attended a fairly liberal, welcoming church during college.

 

But I was stunned as I sat in my Old Testament class, first semester of seminary, when my professor dared to talk about the Hebrew Scriptures, the passages from the Prophets, especially Isaiah, and talk about early Christians putting Jesus back on the Scriptures when they wrote the Gospels.  How the early Christians went looking for Jesus in the Hebrew texts and found certain passages that they borrowed from to fashion fulfilled prophecies about the Messiah, and that the Jews had other interpretations for those passages, especially the Suffering Servant songs in Isaiah, and the young woman with child in 7:14. I had always, always interpreted those scriptures to be about Jesus. I had never thought of them any other way.  I felt the foundation of my faith crumble out from under me.

 

After coffee with my professor and chatting with other seminary friends, I began to rebuild my faith. I also began to study the scriptures in context. Funny how we chose that one verse in Isaiah 7 about the young woman conceiving and naming her child Immanuel and not the rest of that passage, where the child is to eat curds and honey—never heard of that being Jesus’ early diet, nor the rest of the references to Assyria, nor chapter eight’s references to Immanuel.  In fact, it’s pretty clear that the verses used to prove Jesus as the Messiah by the Gospel writers and early Christians were plucked right out of context.  But as my professor said, there are certain attributes we ascribe to Jesus that the early Christians saw in the Hebrew texts about God, or about the coming Messiah, an idea in Jewish theology that came later.

 

So as I plan my preaching for Advent, I have three options: one, to continue to preach Jesus as predicted by the prophets, and thus risk perpetuating an anti-Semitic stereotype that somehow the Jews just missed Jesus and we got it right, appropriating the language and ideas from another religion to fit our own; or two, to just preach the Gospels and avoid all references to the Hebrew Scriptures (a very difficult task) and avoid any reference to prediction or prophecy; or three, to tackle this head-on and read them while acknowledging how they have been used in Christian theology and history.

 

I’m going with three. We as Christians need to acknowledge that while we claim the Hebrew Scriptures as our own, we have taken certain Scriptures out of context, misappropriated concepts and ideas about the Messiah and Israel’s future to fit Jesus into a box that was neatly pre-determined by God. We need to look at our hymns that have taken the Scriptures out of context, sometimes even changing the Scripture to fit in rhyme and verse, and replacing “God” with “Jesus.”  We need to acknowledge that this is part of our tradition and history with Advent. Not ignore it, and not go along with it, but to acknowledge, to look to other ways to see Jesus as our Messiah, and to recognize our need to rethink the Advent season and what we teach, sing, and say.

 

So rejoice! Advent is almost here. Darkness is coming out of light. We are waiting for Christ to enter our world in a new way and into our lives by remembering Christ’s coming before. But let us not buy into the myths of the past. Let us not continue to appropriate without acknowledging our history of anti-Semitism within the church and our ignoring of our Jewish friends’ interpretation and understanding (and historical context) of these same Scriptures.

Elegy for a Doctor

By Gregory J. Davis

As long as you have life and breath, believe. Believe for those who cannot. Believe even if you have stopped believing. Believe for the sake of the dead, for love, to keep your heart beating, believe. Never give up, never despair, let no mystery confound you into the conclusion that mystery cannot be yours.

~ Mark Helprin

We lost a dear colleague this week to sudden unexpected death. Dr Joe Pulliam was not only a brilliant physician but a warm, wise man blessed with a passion for patient care, inexhaustible energy in applying himself to that passion, and a sense of humor. While such attributes are what we wish to see in our doctors, we don’t always do. In this southern community in which people speak highly of those who have recently left us, the accolades about Joe are all true. His influence on and example for his students, resident physicians, and colleagues is indelible.

I take comfort in that influence and example. In this same week of the Boston Marathon bombings and their aftermath, comfort is in short supply. I do not have the solace of religion such as that of many of my friends and colleagues. My secular Judaism offers no answers to the Big Questions that abound in my mind today, but it does at least allow me the privilege of pondering those questions. 

I do know that in ways small and large, Joe’s influence in all of us who were fortunate to know him confers upon him an immortality of sorts, and therefore I feel more comfortable saying “all of us who are fortunate to know him,” the present tense seeming more appropriate. When engaged in the lifelong study incumbent upon us as physicians, Joe’s intellect will be there. When a gentle word comforts a frightened patient or family member, when a smile appears on someone’s face while working at the microscope, when an unsolicited kindness manifests itself, Joe will be there with us. One of the highest orders of gifts we humans can confer upon another is Zachor, to remember.

As his friends and colleagues, Joe Pulliam’s life and example are woven inextricably into who we are and whom we aspire to be. 

RECLAIMING THE FAMILY OF GOD

Us, not ThemHere, not There Now, not Later

A Sermon by Doug Sloan, Elder Terre Haute Central Christian Church Sunday, May 6, 2012

I want to begin by thanking Dianne Mansfield and Phil Ewoldsen for their participation in a very important and successful meeting that took place yesterday, Saturday, May 5, 2012 at Central Christian Church in Indianapolis. This congregation [Terre Haute Central Christian Church], through its board and elders, is one of four congregations [now five] sponsoring a resolution to change the ordination policy of the Indiana Region. Elders and representatives of those four congregations met with the pastor and an elder of the Oaktown congregation, which has deep reservations and sincere concerns about the resolution. The meeting was serious – most of the time, we are talking about a gathering of Disciples – and spiritual. I came away from the meeting feeling hopeful. New ground was broken and a path was cleared for similar conversations elsewhere in the region that involve congregations with the same reservations and concerns as Oaktown.

Also, I want to thank my wife, Carol, for “encouraging” me to stop and think and – in this case – step back ten yards and punt. I can’t help wondering how much better off the history of the church and how much easier Christian theology would be if Paul had been married. Imagine the difference there would be in all of Christianity if Paul had been married to a woman who had looked at him with equal amounts of disdain and concern and said, “Paul, honey – KISS.*”

Being family is not always easy.

My father was quiet and laid back. My mother was gregarious and active. My younger brother, Dennis, was a jock. I was not. In high school, I was in choir, plays, and on the speech team. Dennis ran cross country and played trombone in the band – with band, especially marching band, being more for social enjoyment than satisfying any musical ambition.

Dennis also liked to ride his 12-speed bicycle. Dennis and his riding buddies thought nothing about jumping on their bikes and pedaling from New Castle to Muncie and back between lunch and supper. Muncie is approximately 25 miles north of New Castle – a round trip of a good 50 miles. You have to understand, they would return from these little jaunts with no signs of having exerted themselves.

One day, a trip was planned to our Uncle’s house on the southwest edge of Muncie – and I decided to join them. How hard could it be? The trip to my Uncle’s house was a great ride – we took county roads and stayed off the state highways. We had a nice visit with our Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Kenneth and our cousin Joy Ann and her boyfriend, Phil – and the girl who lived next door to Phil.

Well, the time came to return home. We jumped on our bikes and started pedaling home. A few miles south of Muncie, it happened – my lack of experience with long-distance bicycle rides caught up with me and hammered me with the great-granddaddy of all leg cramps. Every muscle in both legs, above and below the knees, tightened into an unbreakable searing knot. Whatever fantasies I ever had about being “the man of steel” – this wasn’t it. The ride came to a screeching stop in front of someone’s house – to this day, I don’t know who those poor people were. Dennis knocked on the door to ask to use the phone to call our parents. Meanwhile, I had hobbled to the porch to get out of the sun where I promptly collapsed in excruciating pain which I expressed without restraint at the top of my lungs. Eventually, my father arrived and took me and my bicycle home. I never took another bicycle trip with my brother – and my brother has never harassed me about it or held it against me.

Being family is not always easy.

I hear that it has been this way for a long time.

When King David died, the crown went to his son, Solomon. When Solomon died, the crown went to his son, Rehoboam.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of an encyclopedic book titled, “Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History.”

Rabbi Telushkin has this to say about King David’s grandson: "Rehoboam has three bad traits; he is greedy arrogant, and a fool." (p. 84)

From I Kings 12, here is a summary of what happened after the death of King Solomon. King Solomon had imposed high taxes and forced labor to build the temple. After the death of Solomon, the people approached Rehoboam and asked, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now, therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” Rehoboam told them he would have an answer for them in three days. His father’s advisors, who are older, suggest kindness and moderation and thus gain the eternal allegiance of the people. The younger advisors, who had grown up with Rehoboam, suggest a ruthless denial of the request. Rehoboam listens to his younger advisors. When the people return in three days, Rehoboam informs them that he will be even tougher than his father. And the people said, “We’re outta here.” [Hoosier translation of the original Hebrew] Ten of the twelve tribes form their own kingdom and Rehoboam is left with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The ten tribes name their kingdom, “Israel.”

208 years later, Israel is destroyed by Assyria. 136 years after the destruction of Israel, most of Judah is exiled to Babylon.

Here is the rest of the story. When the Assyrians destroyed Israel, some of the people escaped to Judah, formed their own province in the north of Judah and called it Samaria.

Take a breath and change gears – we are jumping to the United States in the 1860s. Think about the animosity between the North and South just before the Civil War. Now, think about that animosity between the North and South and no Civil War. Instead of Civil War, there is only the constant animosity. That is the relationship between Judah and Samaria in the first century during the ministry of Jesus. Back to the United States; what kind of stories do people in the north like to tell about southerners? What kind of stories do people in the south like to tell about those damn yankees? It was the same way between Judah and Samaria. Remember the animosity and the stereotyped jokes that had to have existed the next time you hear the story of the Good Samaritan or the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

NRSV John 4:7-21 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, .....and Jesus said to her, ..........Give me a drink. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, ..........How is it that you, a Jew, ...............ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, ..........If you knew the gift of God, and ...............who it is that is saying to you, ....................‘Give me a drink,’ ...............you would have asked him, ...............and he would have given you living water.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. ..........Where do you get that living water? ..........Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, ...............who gave us the well, ...............and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?

Jesus said to her, ..........Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, ...............but those who drink of the water that I will give them ...............will never be thirsty. ..........The water that I will give ...............will become in them a spring of water ...............gushing up to eternal life.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, give me this water, ...............so that I may never be thirsty or ...............have to keep coming here to draw water.

Jesus said to her, ..........Go, call your husband, and come back.

The woman answered him, ..........I have no husband.

Jesus said to her, ..........You are right in saying, ....................‘I have no husband’; ...............for you have had five husbands, ...............and the one you have now is not your husband. ..........What you have said is true!

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, I see that you are a prophet. ..........Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, ...............but you say that the place where people must worship ...............is in Jerusalem.

Jesus said to her, ..........Woman, believe me, ...............the hour is coming when you will worship the Father ...............neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

Two interesting observations about this story.

The first observation is this: Jesus would go the synagogue of whatever village he was visiting. The custom of the day was to invite such a visitor to participate in the worship service. This gave Jesus the opportunity to share his message. Yet, only a couple of stories exist about his synagogue visits. All of the other stories about his ministry – about the teachings and interactions of Jesus – take place outside the synagogue.

The second observation is a question and a challenge: With whom did Jesus interact? Go home and explore the four Gospels; start with Mark, then Matthew and Luke, and finally John. With whom did Jesus interact? Here is a hint: anyone. The early church heard this message and followed it.

NRSV Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ..........Get up and go toward the south ...............to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went.

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, .....a court official of the Candace, .....queen of the Ethiopians, .....in charge of her entire treasury.

He had come to Jerusalem to worship .....and was returning home; .....seated in his chariot, .....he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

Then the Spirit said to Philip, ..........Go over to this chariot and join it. So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ..........Do you understand what you are reading? He replied, ..........How can I, unless someone guides me? And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.

The eunuch asked Philip, ..........About whom, may I ask you, ..........does the prophet say this, ..........about himself or about someone else?

Then Philip began to speak, and .....starting with this scripture, .....he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

As they were going along the road, .....they came to some water; .....and the eunuch said, ..........Look, here is water! ..........What is to prevent me from being baptized?

He commanded the chariot to stop, .....and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, .....went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

When they came up out of the water, .....the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; .....the eunuch saw him no more, .....and went on his way rejoicing.

But Philip found himself at Azotus, .....and as he was passing through the region, .....he proclaimed the good news to all the towns .....until he came to Caesarea. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

The eunuch, because of his incompleteness, would not have been allowed to participate in certain acts of worship at the temple in Jerusalem and there were parts of the temple where he would not have been allowed to enter.

Both of these stories were clear messages of inclusiveness to and by the early church. Additionally, a very clear attribute of the ministry and message of Jesus and the conduct of the early church was that ministry and message occur out there, not in the synagogue. While ministry and message are public, they are not to be overtly offensive, not in-your-face abuse, and they do not demand change as a requirement to hear the message or to receive ministry. Change can occur and it happens through the resurrection and transformation that is experienced when the ministry and message of Jesus is embraced and internalized.

We speak of being children of God, of being in the family of God. We speak of how this includes everyone, that it is a global perspective. We gladly talk about having an open table where all are invited. Really?

We are open and affirming – we welcome anyone regardless of sexual orientation. What about the homophobic? They, too, are children of God.

We happily talk about welcoming all regardless of race, color, or ethnicity. What about the racist, the Neo-Nazi, the KKK? They, too, are children of God.

We would welcome attorneys, judges, police officers, prison guards – anyone involved with law enforcement. What about the car thief, the burglar, the robber, the home invader, the child molester, the rapist, the murderer? They, too, are children of God.

Would we welcome the invisible people? The illegal immigrant, the homeless, the people who have chronic mental illness and are receiving little or no mental health service? They, too, are children of God.

Being family is not easy. There are 4 terrible prices to be paid if we truly accept and embrace this radical ridiculous notion that there are over 7 billion of God’s children on this planet.

1) If we accept each other as real brothers and sisters, then we are going to have to overlook a lot – and that includes stupid disastrous bicycle rides. For example, just in this room, it means affirming that in our worship service, there are no mistakes. [I have lost count of how many times this act of grace in worship has saved my butt.] When applied globally, the price to be paid is: There is no “them”, only us.

2) If we accept that we have 7 billion brothers and sisters, then we lose “there.” The Republic of Congo is not there, it is here. Syria and Iran and Pakistan are not there, they are here. Mexico and Venezuela are not there, they are here. They are as much here as we are in this room.

3) If we accept that we have 7 billion sisters and brothers, then we lose “later.” If Dennis phones from his home in Churubusco saying that he has an emergency that requires me to be there, I’m outta here. I know – We know – that the same is true between many of us in this room. It should be true for all of us who are here – all 7 billion of us. How do we respond “now” [?] – because “later” doesn’t exist.

4) The most terrible price to be paid is that in the presence of evil, we cannot be silent and still. In the presence of evil, we are called to shout, “This is wrong!” and we called to move against it. Evil exists. Evil is when a person is murdered, abandoned, or excluded from their rightful place in life because of prejudice or ignorance. Evil is when people are treated as “them” “there” and we decide that their need for justice or compassion can be dealt with “later.”

Consequently, if we accept that we have 7 billion siblings – and if we accept that “we” are “here” “now” – then we are going to settle our differences in vastly different ways. We are going to settle our differences as family. We are not going to settle our differences as winner-take-all antagonists and not as an act of conquest. We are going to change the way we intervene in conflicts and feuds – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in harmful practices such as genocide and slavery and exclusion based on prejudice and ignorance – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in the oppressive practice of living in empire instead of community – and we are going to intervene.

Being family is not easy.

My apologies to those who have already heard this story. I am telling it again because it is the only one I have to end this message.

At one point during his short troubled life, my son, Chad, was arrested and incarcerated in the Greene County jail. Having neither the emotional nor financial resources to pay his bail, I rationalized it as an example of “tough love.”

At 4 o’clock in the morning there was a knock on the front door. There stood my brother, Dennis, with Chad. Chad had phoned Dennis, who at the time lived in Muncie. Dennis had made the 3-hour drive in the middle of the night, from Muncie to Bloomfield, and bailed Chad out of jail and brought Chad home, and then Dennis made the 3-hour drive back to Muncie.

My question to Dennis was something along the line of “What were you thinking?” My brother’s response to me was “What else was I to do? He’s family.”

Being family is not easy. The Good News is that there is no other way than – all of us here and now – be the family of God living in the Kingdom of God – and respond to each other one-to-one with generosity and hospitality and healthy service – and as a community provide justice and compassion – and that we be and live and share the Kingdom of God by embracing and exuding the unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God.

Amen. _________________________________

* In this case, KISS = Keep It Short and Simple

Sukkot: We All Dwell in Booths

My favorite American holiday is Thanksgiving, and we are now in the midst of my favorite Jewish holiday, Sukkot; in many ways, they are versions of the same holiday. Sukkot (“booths” or “tabernacles”), is of the three biblically mandated festivals along with Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot, the latter two being celebrations of our freedom from slavery and the giving of the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew bible) to the Jewish people. The sukkah is a flimsy structure, open to the wind and stars, and is so constructed and used during the seven days of the holiday to commemorate our temporary shelters during our wandering in the wilderness for 40 years after our liberation from Egyptian bondage. It is also an integral part of this autumn harvest festival, this “Jewish Thanksgiving,” in that it brings to mind the structures ancient Israelites slept in out in the fields during the harvest season. During the seven days of this important holiday in which we find ourselves, we’re commanded to be mindful of our dependence upon nature and our partnership with it. Most of us are now far-removed from our agrarian roots, so it is all the more important to be mindful of where our food comes from and the web of nature and individuals who bring that food to our table, beginning with the procurement of seeds, the sowing of them, caring for crops, harvesting, transportation, and preparation of food. How many of us think, as we walk into Kroger or Meijer, how utterly dependent upon one another we are to survive? Sukkot brings us back to the basics, to remembering, to pondering this foundation of interdependence upon nature and each another.

We take our meals outdoors when we are able during this holiday, even sleeping outside if we’re so inclined, and we create opportunities to fulfill the commandment of hospitality, of receiving ushpizin, “guests,” symbolically figures from Jewish history such as Abraham and David, but in reality our neighbors and friends. In doing so, we slow down from the frenetic nature of quotidian life in order to once again become mindful, to truly encounter and acknowledge one another and the ephemeral nature of life as once again we stand in the midst of autumn as a segue into winter.

I pondered the nature of this holiday as I drove westward into the sunset yesterday on the Western Kentucky Parkway, the sun peeking below the clouds and bringing into sharp relief a gorgeous, 3-D panorama of orange-purple-red on the undersurfaces of those clouds. As I enjoyed the view, it was made all the sweeter for me knowing just how fleeting the sight would be. Perhaps such is an apt metaphor for this holiday and for life in general. We all dwell in fragile structures: our communities, our houses, our bodies themselves. This holiday reminds us to be attentive to all, to acknowledge one another as part of a whole greater than the sum of its parts, and to remember not only to welcome guests but that, no matter our station in life, citizenship status, or the material of our dwellings, that we, too are guests in this life and should behave as such: kind, courteous, and mindful of all those around us.

Chag sameach, a joyful holiday to you.

Circularity and Linearity...or Vice-Versa

We have come upon the Jewish High Holidays again. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, began at sundown on September 28 (the Jewish calendar is a lunar one, and days begin at sundown); ten days later is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The ten days between are known as the Days of Awe, when Jews are supposed to contemplate the past year and areas in which they have fallen short, resolving to do better with the coming year. It is also a time to seek forgiveness from those whom we think we may have wronged through our actions or inactions. Such apologies are meant to be given sincerely, and in turn we are commanded to accept such apologies sincerely offered. I was thinking about the circular nature of our Jewish calendar as I flew home from Dallas to Kentucky, the yellow-green tobacco patches, the picket fences, and the ant-sized horses gamboling below. The browning of fields and just-turning leaves are harbingers of autumn just ‘round the bend,  as was the full harvest moon just a couple of days ago.

We seem focused on the linear, always marching forward in our culture, and yet it seems to be good to pause and reflect on the circular nature of time. In our temperate Eden of Kentucky, the browns, reds and yellows of autumn are followed by the white and grey of winter, after which the green and white of spring erupts, after which green summer comes. The never-ending cycle of renewal in our celebration and in our calendar should give us pause from the single-mindedness of linear pursuits, of the next job, the next task, the next duty. And yet, in the midst of such dedication, ambition, or dare I say obsession, the seasons of weather, of life, of even geologic time goes on. Winter follows autumn, mountains rise and fall, only to rise again over millennia. Perhaps we can take a certain comfort from such, realizing that a balanced view of linear progression and the circularity of time might enrich our lives. Yes, we have to work to survive, but yes, too, we have to celebrate the coming ‘round of celebratory seasons to truly live, just as we have to function as individuals; and yet to truly live, we must also acknowledge a whole greater than our individual selves, be that whole family, community, religion, or other entity. Balance and process, we must strive to live in that dynamic and healthy zone between the myth of American rugged individualism (which, let’s face it, never existed: we’ve always been interdependent upon one another in one context or another) on the one hand and being subsumed by the collective on the other.

So it’s the Jewish New Year, not the raucous celebration of the secular New Year, but an acknowledgment of the birth of the world. Following shortly thereafter, it’s the Day of Atonement, a day in which, examining ourselves, we realize that as individuals and as a community we have a long way to go, that it’s always process, and an end result is not forthcoming. That acknowledgement, however, does not give us license to abstain from constantly attempting to improve ourselves and our community.

Such were my thoughts as the plane descended to Bluegrass Field, to my Commonwealth of Kentucky. And even in the midst of celebrating the coming of the holidays, just around the corner from those holidays is my favorite Jewish holiday, Sukkot, the “Jewish Thanksgiving,” of which I’ll write later.

Let us celebrate linearity and circularity in our lives, both needing and leavening the other.