Posts Tagged Jesus

Putting God to the test – The Rev. Dr. Molly Marshall* – Baptistsnewsglobal.com

The study of the Hebrew language did not come easily to me. Perhaps it was because I waited until my final year of seminary to take it; perhaps it was because it met at 3 p.m.; perhaps it was because I sat near a window; perhaps it was because our professor was so bored teaching at this elementary level — I am sure I can come up with some other excuses. I did pass, even making an A, but only because I memorized the Book of Jonah, a particular interest of our instructor.

As I have been teaching my way through Exodus with my Sunday school class, I certainly wish I had loved the Hebrew language more. I am sure that particular nuances elude me, yet translations do capture the richness of the narratives. Specifically, I want to know more about the issue of “testing.”

Exodus itself is a patchwork of stories, which were gathered and edited over many years. These stories are complex reflections on how God’s purpose will be accomplished with flawed human actors, and how human choices will impact the character of the divine. Wandering, while being led? It is very hard to map how the wilderness journey transpired, and clearly the people made the trek more difficult through obstinacy and lack of faith.

The wilderness was a dangerous place, and the way God through Moses led was open to suspicion. A frequent refrain of the congregation of Israel was, “Have you brought us out here to kill us?” Moses usually deflected and suggested that their complaint was against God, not him (Exodus 17:2). Because he claimed to be sent by God to shepherd this people, he had to take the heat. He was a convenient target — like our pastors.

God tested the people, and the people tested God. Neither seemed pleased about this abrasion in their relationship, yet it was an unavoidable reality as a covenant was being forged in a context of peril. Could God trust the people to follow the appointed leadership of Moses? Could the people trust that they were accompanied by God’s own presence? Their insistent question was, “Is the Lord among us or not?” We can only imagine the ways in which that same query is being voiced in the daily heart-rending devastations.

They found themselves at Rephidim without water, and once again God provided through an unexpected means. God instructed Moses to take his staff, the one he had used to turn the Nile into blood, was now to provide life-giving water. God’s own presence was in front of him at Horeb, and through Moses’ action of striking the rock, abundant water flowed. The place where this occurs portrays testing and quarreling, Massah and Meribah, and becomes a cautionary note about how not to behave toward God. Israel’s remarkable lack of faith was on display in full force.

It seemed that Moses believed that God had the right to test the people, but they should have refrained from testing God. After all, God has prerogatives that do not belong to human beings. Brueggemann says that this text warns against a utilitarian view of God, in which the divine “is judged by the desired outcomes for the asking community.” In other words, human measures should not presume to assess the adequacy of God. Dictating how God must respond reduces the sovereign one to our level, a risky proposition, indeed. While immanent among us, God is also working in ways that transcend our comprehension.

Jesus’ own experience in the wilderness raises this theological question once again. When the devil tempted him to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple in order to prove his identity in a spectacular way, Jesus quoted, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deuteronomy 6:16). The rest of the verse is “as you did at Massah.”

This faith venture is not easy, and we are beckoned to trust what we cannot see. Walking by faith and not sight produces a bit of anxiety, even for the mature in Christ. We echo the treasured words of Thomas Merton in Thoughts in Solitude:

“My Lord, God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.”

Thankfully, the one who was seen and touched by earliest believers, the very sacrament of God’s presence with humanity, walks just ahead of us, marking out the pathway. It is this reality that leads Merton to conclude his prayer with these words:

“Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

*Dr. Marshall spoke at the Hamrick Lectures at First Baptist Church of Charleston. I place great store in her theological thinking and her Christian leadership.

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Give your tongue a rest and listen with your heart, Sparks says

“Is there anywhere in the Bible that shows Jesus laughing?” asked the Rev. Susan Sparks at the beginning of the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Chautauquan Susan Hughes had stopped Sparks after her presentation at the Interfaith Lecture Tuesday and asked the question.

“The short answer is no, not in the Gospels; there is nothing about joy,” Sparks said. “But in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, there is a phrase used several times, ‘and the Savior laughed.’ ”

Sparks took a short diversion from her sermon topic, “Check Your Weapons at the Door.” The theme was angry words and the Scripture readings were James 3:3-5, Proverbs 18:21 and Psalm 141:3.

Sparks and her husband were on a motorcycle trip near Yellowstone. She was wearing an open face helmet and momentarily took off her glasses, and a bug hit her in the eye. It hit her eyelid, but “it felt like a meteor coming at me. I was not pleased and I am sure the bug was not happy either,” she said.

They stopped at a Cody, Wyoming, hospital to get her eye looked at and she noticed a large sign at the front door: “Check Your Weapons at the Door.”

“Is that sign for real?” she asked the nurse looking after her,

“Honey, this is Wyoming,” the nurse said. “You have no idea what people come in packing.”

The sign was important to keep people safe in the hospital, Sparks said.

“There is a lot of talk about weapons today — nukes, drones, WMDs, AK-47s — that we need to seriously consider checking at the door,” she said. “But there is a more dangerous and equally scary one that each of us has. We are all packing heat with our personal WMD — the human tongue.”

In Proverbs 12:18 it says “rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” We are all familiar with the damaging power of words, Sparks said, that can sting like bugs at 70 mph. They tear apart families, cause jealousy and anger, and lead to prejudice and racial slurs.

“Fifty-two percent of young people have been bullied online,” she said. “These words are spoken and written because the fingers are the extension of the mouth. Hurt-filled words that are spoken, written, texted or tweeted are part of an arms race that must stop.”

In the letter of James, he tells his readers that a bridle in the mouth of a horse can control it, and that a great ship is guided by a small rudder.

“So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits,” Sparks added. “There has to be a way to bridle the tongue, to check our weapon at the door along with other, dangerous, human-made weapons.”

The first way she suggested to check the weapons is to take responsibility for what you say or write.

“I know that pasta is done when I throw it against the wall and it sticks,” she said. “When we treat words like that, they always stick. I wish we had autocorrect for the tongue.”

One day Sparks was texting a parishioner and thought she had sent: “Our prayers are with you. You have family in NYC.” When she checked the message, it read, “Our prayers are with me, you have family here not.”

The parishioner had a sense of humor and wrote back, “I pray my pastor will master autocorrect.”

There is no autocorrect in life; we can’t take things back and we will be held accountable, Sparks said. As baseball player Willie Davis said, if you step on people in this life, you are likely to come back as a cockroach.

The second way to check our tongues, Sparks said, is realizing there is power in shutting up.

“We need to take a Shabbat, a rest, for our mouths and listen,” she said. “We think by the inch, talk by the yard and show people the door by the foot.”

Author Stephen Covey said that we don’t listen to understand, we listen to reply.

“I know that from my training as a trial lawyer, I was always looking for something to say that was sparkly, intelligent or would win the argument,” Sparks said. “But we do this naturally in our own lives.”

If we only listen to reply, we are only listening with our mouth, she said. If we listen to learn, we are listening from the heart.

“Let’s give our mouths a Shabbat,” she said.

The third suggestion was that words can change the world for better or worse. As an example, Sparks told a story of being in a pre-operating room with her husband, who was awaiting back surgery. A doctor entered the cubicle of the patient next door who was waiting for surgery and said: “You are going to hate me after this operation. This is the most painful surgery I do.”

In contrast, her husband’s surgeon came in and said: “Let’s do this. You will be taller and stronger because of me.”

She also shared the story of a father playing catch with his son in a local park. The small son had a glove about the size of his head. The dad would throw the ball and it would drop to the ground. The father kept moving closer and throwing the ball, and it kept dropping to the ground. Finally, he walked up and put the ball in the glove.

“That was great, good for you,” he said to his son.

“What an indelible footprint that dad made on the flexible psyche of his son,” Sparks said.

People are hungry for love and affirmation and every word has an impact on them. We can change them and the entire world with our words, she said.

“Do your words lift up and leave people better than you found them or are they WMDs?” Sparks asked. “We can get all worked up packing heat, making the tongue a destructive weapon, or we can make it a tool for healing and change the world for the better. Check your weapons at the door.”

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An Apostolic Care Act – Bill Leonard* – Baptist News Global

Bill LeonardFirst a confession: As a result of recent healthcare debates, Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress got me to listen to Jesus in a way I’ve not listened before. And apparently I’m not alone.

On June 9, representatives of some 34 diverse religious groups signed onto a letter urging senators not to cut Medicaid as a lifeline to those with health needs. (Medicaid funds 64 percent of nursing care patients and 54 percent of childbirths in the U.S.)  The document declares: “Access to affordable, quality health care should not and cannot be a privilege; it is a requirement rooted in faith to protect the life and dignity of every person.” Signers include NETWORK, a Catholic justice lobby; the Islamic Society of North America; the Union of Reformed Judaism; and denominations such as the Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Presbyterian Church USA and the National Council of Churches. (No Baptist communions are listed.)

I’ve long been haunted by the 10th chapters of Matthew and Luke, passages in which Jesus sends out his first apostolic reps, the Twelve (Matthew) and the Seventy (Luke). They are lessons in gospel minimalism, the first inkling of how Jesus understood and enacted his witness in the world, trusting those folks to help take the Story on the road. Teaching new generations of seminarians compelled me to consider the calling Jesus extended, the message he instructed them (and us) to declare, and the messengers’ inevitable vulnerability.

In classes and ordination services, I’ve warned would-be ministers that the “sent ones” are vulnerable from the start. Jesus advises: “Don’t take purse, shoes, a change of clothes, or an ATM card [postmodern update]. Depend on God’s Beloved Community to sustain you.” He even throws in: “And when you are arrested.” Not if, but when. That alone should scare a bit of the persistent hell out of us. I even got the part about their message: “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven [God’s New Day] has come near.’”

But after years of making a big deal out of Matthew/Luke 10, I mostly missed the depth of the passage, the first element of Jesus’ commissioning. “He gave them authority,” Matthew writes, “over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and cure every disease and every sickness.” Going out, they are to “cure the sick, raise the dead [?], cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” Jesus demands that they confront human suffering as readily as they declare God’s good news!

Holy Obamacare! Two thousand years later, our nation confronts questions over caring for those who need healing from “preexisting conditions,” require cleansing from years of chronic pain — physical, mental, spiritual — and those whose demons of alcohol, opioids, or arrogance need to be cast out. No, we can’t raise the dead, but can we keep folks from dying too soon, or get them to hospice so they can die with dignity?

We still don’t know what our government will do about the Affordable Care Act, but we do know that from the very beginning Jesus mandated an Apostolic Care Act of all who would follow him, who would work for and with people who are suffering, overlooked, and underserved. Whatever else, the Jesus Story has both physical and spiritual implications.

National health care conversations and controversies force us to reexamine our own churchly mission and ministry. What if health care legislation becomes so draconian and human need so great that churches have to initiate or expand community clinics, not because Obamacare is repealed, but because Jesus requires it? Even that won’t be enough. A friend reports being in a meeting where someone declared that if churches would only do their duty, health insurance wouldn’t be necessary. To which my friend responded: “When you start doing surgery in the fellowship hall, call me.”

Some Christian communities are responding with their own initiatives. Medi-share is a Christian based program that asks participants to select the monthly amount they wish to contribute, and, if they do not need it themselves, to contribute it toward the care of others persons in the system. The needs of participants are published online and contributions to their health care are funded to them directly from Medi-share. I don’t know how effective this is, but it illustrates a faith-based alternative.

My own hesitancy to claim Jesus’ first-century healing admonitions inured me to the depth of his concern for persons’ physical well-being and its continuing imperative. He won’t let any of us off the hook. At the end of Matthew 10 Jesus sweeps us up with a minimal mandate for all disciples: We may be unable to hit the road for the kingdom, heal the sick, cleanse lepers, cast out demons, or get arrested for the gospel’s sake. But we can all give “a cup of cold water to one of these little ones” in the church and the world.

Indeed, in behalf of the “little ones,” we may even need to get prophetic. In Prophecy without Contempt, Cathleen Kaveny says that prophets provide a “kind of moral chemotherapy … a brutal but necessary response to aggressive forms of moral malignancy.” Should legislators link healthcare cuts with tax breaks for the rich, some prophet might remind them that Original Sin is a preexisting condition.

*Dr. Bill Leonard spoke at the Hamrick Lectures at First Baptist Church of Charleston. He speaks with a clear voice.

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Religion in an Age of Intolerance – Linda K. Wertheimer – Author, Faith Ed

Q&A for Dr. Mitch Carnell’s blog – from Linda K. Wertheimer, author of Faith Ed, Teaching about Religion in an Age of Intolerance (Beacon Press) ; www.faithedbook.com

Hmer 2

  1. How can those of us in different faith traditions effectively communicate with one another?

Answer: “We can learn from some of the techniques teachers use when giving lessons about the world’s religions. In Modesto, Calif., for example, all high school freshmen take a required course in world religions, and the beginning lessons include instruction on how to speak respectfully when talking about an unfamiliar faith.  Don’t start out by saying, “Gee, what your religion does sounds strange. Why would you do that?” Instead, say something like, “That tradition sounds interesting. Could you tell me more about it?”

Show interest and curiosity, not derision. Some people are brought up in a religion that teaches that their faith and religious path is the only way. It’s fine to believe that, but when meeting a person of another faith, realize they may feel the same about their faith. It can be very offensive to a Jew when a Christian says what I heard throughout childhood: “You don’t believe in Jesus? You’re going to hell then.”

I belong to a multi-faith book club of Jews, Christians and Muslims. Each month, we read a book, typically related to one of the three faiths, and discuss it. We have an appointed discussion leader and some ground rules. We always speak with respect about all faiths. We avoid being judgmental. We can express our opinions about the book, but we don’t criticize the traditions of another faith. Our goal is to learn about each other.  The more we can look at people of different faiths as an opportunity for learning, the better. The biggest problems come when we look at different religions as the “other.” There should be no “other.”

  1. As a Christian, what is the most important thing I should know about Judaism?

Answer:  Let me first preface my answer with a caveat. Yes, I am Jewish, but I am not a scholar of Judaism. I’m expressing my personal opinion, which may be different than that of other Jews. I can’t pinpoint one important thing, but it would be good for all Christians to truly understand that Christianity in fact sprung out of Judaism. Jesus Christ was a Jew. Christians and Jews have similarities in some of their beliefs. The Jewish holy book, the Torah, is the Old Testament. Genesis is Genesis, the same book of the Bible, for both of us. Where our religions differ is on the place of Jesus in our faiths. To Jews, Jesus was a minor prophet. He is not a part of our teachings. So know that we have much in common, and yes, we have big differences, too. When it comes to basic values, we share a lot, including, of course, the Ten Commandments.

Hmer 1

  1. As you know my passion is for civility in the Christian community; however, my greatest desire is for a much broader approach to include other faith groups. What suggestions do you have for me in this regard?  Think local would be my biggest suggestion. Judaism has three major branches, Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. It’s impossible to find one figure for Judaism. I’d reach out to other houses of worship in your community and connect with the religious leaders there. Many communities I visited have interfaith councils made up of different clergy. That’s always a great place to start to make connections. These councils sometimes sponsor public events, such as interfaith Thanksgiving services; talks on what happens when we die and what different religions believe; and community break fasts after Yom Kippur or community iftars at the end of Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims. Book clubs, too, are a great way to bring people of different faiths together. To me, whether the rabbi is current or retired doesn’t matter. Find the person ready and willing to form an interfaith partnership.
  2. In the larger Christian landscape membership is on the decline in the United States in favor of an increasing category called “Nones.” Is this a problem in Judaism and if so what can we do?

Yes, Jewish leaders are just as worried about losing Jews to the “nones” group as leaders of other faiths.  Jewish organizations have been reaching out to the younger generation in a variety of ways, including with social activities and long-established trips to Israel for young Jews. For those interested in this topic, I recommend a new, fascinating book by Katherine Ozment, Grace Without God.

  1. Is, Faith Ed being used as a discussion in other faith groups?                                                                                                                                                     Faith Ed has grabbed the attention of many different faiths. Since it came out in August 2015, I have given talks at churches of many denominations; Jewish temples of different branches; and interfaith groups. Adult education groups at churches have invited me to speak, and I have led discussions with them about the experiences of religious minorities in our country. We also have talked about some Americans’ fear of their children learning about Islam or any other faith that is not their own. It has been heartening, though, to see how many people of different faiths care about improving their own religious literacy and their children’s understanding of different religions in our country and world.

Many church groups I’ve spoken with see this topic as a social justice issue. They are distraught about the growing Islamophobia in our country. They also are upset about the anti-Semitic incidents I describe in my book and the incidents that have happened since then. Jewish and Muslim groups naturally already had those concerns. I have more talks this fall with interfaith groups, so I see these conversations only continuing to grow. At the front of my book, I include a quote from Mahatma Gandhi from his book, All Religions Are True. Where do I see these conversations going? I hope people believe what Gandhi did so fervently: “I hold that it is the duty of every cultured man or woman to read sympathetically the scriptures of the world. If we are to respect others’ religions as we would have them to respect our own, a friendly study of the world’s religions is a sacred duty.”

 

 

 

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