Lectionary- reflections

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.

Lectionary Reflectionary: Syria

By Rev. Mindi

 

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. ~Luke 14:25-33

 

The lectionary isn’t always this timely, but it does seem to happen now and then. As we are on the verge of war with Syria, I wonder if we have truly weighed the cost. Having lived in Oklahoma for almost three years, we came to know many families who had a loved one serving in Iraq and Afghanistan; sadly, I knew many children through the preschool I worked at and later in the public schools whose parent had been killed in action.

Have we truly weighed the cost as a nation considering war? We have seen the bodies of children after the chemical weapons attack; how many more bodies will be added to that from our strikes? For surely we cannot guarantee a school or daycare or homes will not be destroyed. We cannot guarantee more children’s bodies will be added to the pyre. What kind of deterrence will missile strikes make? Or will it just make a new generation of people in another land hate us?

I could go on and on. But Church, we’re the one that needs to weigh the cost:

What are we holding on to when we don’t speak up against war? Fear of rocking the boat? Fear of offending those who have served before?

What is possessing us that we step out of the conversation and instead stick to preaching personal salvation? A false sense of security that we are doing the right thing and not becoming political?

If we truly are to carry our cross—the instrument of death—what is it that we need to put to death to follow Jesus?  Is it our fears? Our need to fit in? Our need to keep the “peace” with the people around us even if it means the silent majority outside of our relationships will suffer?

My mother and stepfather love bumper stickers. My mother has lots of peace-related bumper stickers on her car. She has twice been almost run off the road because of her bumper-sticker statements. Once I was in the car with her and two men yelled from their truck on the highway, showing her their dog tags, and then violently turned their car into her lane. My stepfather, who did two tours in Korea and Vietnam, proudly has "Veterans for Peace" bumper stickers on his truck. He also has had threats, but not quite as severe.   

Peace is not the easy way out. Peace is hard. Peace is the way of the cross, to meet the world's violence with nonviolence. Peace is the way of Jesus, who calls us to put away the sword. 

We need to sit down and weigh the cost—in other words, we have to stop being wishy-washy. Are we going to stand, or are we going to be silent?

Church, we need to stand up and demand that our leaders seek peace. There is still time to call your Senators and Representatives. There is still time to have prayer vigils for peace. There is still time to work with other peacemaking organizations and join up in your local community.

There is still time for peace.  Maybe, just maybe, this time can be different. We can actually weigh the cost of our silence and weigh the cost of war, and say, “no more.”

Choosing the Better Part -- A Lectionary Reflection

At one level the three lectionary texts for this week have little in common. Amos is a strongly worded statement of judgment and call to justice. Colossians presents a hymn of praise to the Christ, the one who bears the image of the invisible God and is the first born of creation, through whom we have reconciliation with God – and if Christ’s efforts aren’t enough, the author (named here as Paul) will fill in the gaps with his own suffering on behalf of the letter’s recipients. Finally, you have the famed story of Mary and Martha, in which Martha becomes just a bit peeved with Jesus for not telling Mary to get back in the kitchen. And yet, perhaps there is a thread, mostly invisible that ties these texts together. They are a call to embrace the better part, it is a reminder that we should listen for the voice of God and not get so distracted with the business of life that we miss what is important – whether is justice for the poor, praise of the one who has reconciled us, or just resting and listening quietly. What do you hear as you contemplate each of these statements?

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