Anti-semitism, history, bible, complicity, and response

Anti-semitism, history, bible, complicity, and response

In the wake of the murder of 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue

I have been thinking a lot about the eleven people who were killed and six wounded in the shooting at the synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh last Saturday, and about the ideology behind the gunman.  It just fills me with grief.

It is so uncanny that anti-semitism is still with us, given the two millennia of Christianity in the West.  Jesus and all the disciples were Jews, so were most of the people in the early church. 

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Hannah’s song

Hannah’s song

Sermon on 1 Samuel 2:1–10, for October 28, 2018, Pentecost +23 B.  Audio will be available for several weeks here.

Hannah prayed and said,
“My heart exults in the Lord;

my strength is exalted in my God.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in my victory.
2    “There is no Holy One like the Lord,
no one besides you;

there is no Rock like our God.
3 Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;

for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
4 The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength.
5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.

The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
6 The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low, he also exalts.

8 He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,
and on them he has set the world.

9    “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness;

for not by might does one prevail.
10 The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered;
the Most High will thunder in heaven.

The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king,
and exalt the power of his anointed.”

We just heard Hannah’s song.  It is the song of a mother about her son.  It seems intimate and personal, but it is much more.  The reason we have this song is that Hannah’s son is Samuel.  He will play a pivotal role in Israel’s history.  Samuel will eventually be the person whose decisions and actions will transform Israel from being a tribal confederacy into a monarchy.  He will one day anoint Saul, Israel’s first king. 

Then, after Saul’s utter failure, Samuel will anoint Israel’s second king, which will turn out to be David, Israel’s greatest king.  We know this song because of the significance of Samuel.  Centuries later, this song will become the basis for another song: Mary’s song, the Magnificat. 

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The Christlike part of Christian

The Christlike part of Christian

Sermon on Mark 10:35-45 for Oct. 21, 2018, Pentecost +B  The Audio will be available here for a couple of weeks. 

Mark 10:35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

You have probably heard the truism that “history is written by the winners.”  Certainly, the story of Christopher Columbus we learned in school was not written by the native Arawaks of the Caribbean islands, none of whom survived Columbus.  We only know of it from journals and letters of the “winners.”

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Amos’ Rant, Jesus’ Question, and the Disciple’s Incredulity

Amos’ Rant, Jesus’ Question, and the Disciple’s Incredulity

Sermon for Oct. 14, 2018, on Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 and Mark 10:17-31  Audio version available here (for several weeks)

Mark 10:17-31

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

In their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, neuroscientist Andrew B. Newberg, and co-author Mark Robert Waldman, discuss exactly what the title says: that words can change our brains.  Negative words can damage our brains.  Positive words improve our brains. 

This is one of the reasons I am so thankful for Jesus, which will become clear in a minute. 

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Sermon on Matt. 8:5-13 for Oct. 7, 2018, World Communion Sunday   Audio here

Matt. 8:5-13

  When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him 6 and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.”  7 And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.”  8 The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed.  9 For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.”  10 When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.  11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,  12 while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.

Sometimes I hear people say, “My father always used to say…” — and then they say something wise or useful that they learned from their father.  I learned a lot from my father too.  Not so much by what he told me, but by his example.  I learned by how he lived.  He was always respectful to my mother.  He valued her intelligence and skill.  He helped out in the kitchen, both in food preparation and in clean up.  As I was growing up he was always honest.  He was disciplined.  He was both kind and firm in his convictions.   And now that he is old, he is still all of those things.  That is what he taught me, not by repeated expressions, but by his life example.

Jesus’ Teaching by Example

In the same way, we learn from Jesus by his example as much as we do from his teaching.  We notice what he did with his time, where he went, the kinds of people he spent time with.  For example, though Jesus never taught meditation, he meditated.  He did not tell us how to treat women, but he treated women with dignity and respect.  He did not tell us who we should keep company with, but he was always with the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed and the impure and invited them to his table. 

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