Would that more in the Christian world had heeded Augustine. Worse than the forced conversion of the Jews of Minorca was to come, much worse.

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1 JESUS THE JEW January 24, 2010, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Luke 4: Michael Lindvall, The Brick Presbyterian Church in the City of New York Theme: Jesus and Christian faith are both rooted in Judaism. May we welcome your word in Holy Scripture as warmly as did Nazareth at first. May your word be to us good news; may it release us from our captivities; may it enable us to see that to which we were blind; may it free us from our oppressions. And now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen. Jesus began his ministry when he was about 30 years old. Just before, he prefaced that ministry with two powerful acts. He submitted to baptism by his cousin, John. Then he retreated to the Judean wilderness to face temptation at the hands of the Great Adversary. Only then does he begin to preach and teach and heal and he returns home to do it. This is where the Bible passage that Stefan read picks up the story. Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee. And where in Galilee does he go? He goes from synagogue to synagogue. From Jewish synagogue to Jewish synagogue. When he comes at last to the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth, we are told something of the content of his message. He begins by reading from the Book of Isaiah. That would be the Jewish Bible. After the reading, he rolls up the scrolls and sits down to preach as was the custom and says, Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. With those words he hints that he is the Messiah, a very Jewish term that means Anointed One. Could it be clearer? Jesus (a then-popular Jewish name), was raised in a Jewish home in a Jewish village. He grew up to be a Jewish rabbi. He began his work by preaching in Jewish synagogues. He preached sermons based on Jewish Scriptures. And he hints that he s the Messiah of Jewish expectation. It s precisely with this last the Messiah part that trouble begins. You need to know that this story, the story of Jesus first sermon does not end with the sermon - 1 -

2 itself. It ends with the response to the sermon, a response that was consummately conflicted. In the next several verses we hear that all were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. (Just what every preacher secretly longs for.) Then a few verses later we hear that they drove him out of town and wanted to hurl him over the cliff. (Just what every preacher secretly fears.) The dividing question that day is the dividing question today. Is Jesus the One, or, as others would later ask should we wait for another? In this sermon, I want to explore the relationship between Judaism and the new faith Jesus the Jew would initiate Christianity. This is a timely question. In New York, we live side-byside with Jewish friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members. Many of you know that there s been tension between some Presbyterians in this country and some in the Jewish community over Presbyterian statements about Israeli policies toward Palestinians. And finally, Brick Church is in the midst of a four-week adult study program called the Children of Abraham, focusing on the great religions that count Abraham as spiritual ancestor: Judaism, Islam, and our faith, Christianity. There s no way into the matter of Judaism and Christianity without a little excursion through the landscape of history. So buckle your seat belts, this is going to be an historical quarter-mile dash. First, as I have already affirmed, never doubt that the Christian story begins with a very Jewish Jesus. He preaches as a Jew, but with a radical and fresh perspective. He preaches on Jewish turf, almost always to Jewish listeners, in the language of most Jews at the time. He calls Jewish disciples, and he ends his ministry in the Jewish capital of Jerusalem. He was executed by Roman and Jewish authorities in collusion. As Christians, we believe he was raised from the dead, but even resurrection was a Jewish, albeit a controversially Jewish, hope. After his death and resurrection, his dispirited followers, alive with his Spirit, told his story to all who would hear. At first, nearly all who listened were also Jewish. For decades, probably until about the latter decades of the first century, Christians as they came to be called, considered themselves to be a kind of Jew Jewish and Christian at the same time. They visited the Temple in Jerusalem until - 2 -

3 the Romans leveled it. They went to synagogue on Saturday and then they met with other Christian Jews for a second, Christian, service on Sunday evening. These Jewish Christians did not think of themselves as members of a new religion. They believed that their Judaism was fulfilled in Jesus, but they were still quite Jewish. The crisis came with two stages. Stage one: Let s say a non-jew, a Gentile, wants to follow Jesus. At first, nobody could quite imagine such a thing, but then, just a few years after Jesus death and resurrection, it actually started to happen Gentiles wanted to follow Jesus. So here was the question: does this Gentile who wants to become a Christian also have to become Jewish? Does she have to keep kosher? Does he have to be circumcised? Does a Gentile Christian have to obey Torah? A lot of the followers of Jesus said yes to follow Jesus you also have to Jewish. But some said no to be a follower of Jesus does not mean that you have to become Jewish, at least not in the traditional sense. The most famous advocate of the you don t have to be exactly Jewish point of view was, of course, Paul. Paul was himself a Jew, a very Jewish Jew, a Pharisee no less. But ironically, Paul the Jew becomes the Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul s call is to bring the story of Jesus to the non-jewish world. And it is Paul, especially in his long and complex Book of Romans, who wrestles mightily with today s question what does it mean to be Jewish and what does it mean to be Christian, and how do the two relate? The second stage of the crisis unfolds 30 or 40 years later, toward the end of the First Century. Remember, the temple has been destroyed and Jerusalem is in ruins all because of the Romans, Gentiles of course. In the angst of those waning years of the First Century, it seems that many synagogues began inviting their Christian members to leave. As you might imagine, the parting had a sharp and painful edge. My point is that it was not until decades after Jesus that his followers began to see themselves as a new and distinct faith. Suddenly there are Jews... and there are Christians. The relationship between Jews and Christians over the next 2,000 years will be a complex saga tolerance and intolerance, friendship and hatred, deep respect and - 3 -

4 mass murder. There will be the thriving and beloved Jewish community of 17 th Century Amsterdam. There will be Auschwitz. There will be Spain s expulsion of the Jews in There will be the brilliant and prosperous Jewish community of New York City in the 20 th Century. Several centuries after Christianity exploded east and west, north and south, it became the faith of the majority. Jews were islands in a Christian sea. Too often, Christianity, the formerly persecuted religion of Jesus, became the persecutor of others often of Jews, who seemed stiff-necked holdouts. All Jews were identified with that power elite in Jerusalem which had participated in the death of Jesus. Of course, such an idea forgot that Jesus was a Jew, forgot that his mother was a Jew, that all of his disciples were Jews, that most everybody in the New Testament was Jewish! Let me unpack this history with an obscure but intriguing event in history. The year was 418, the place the Mediterranean island of Minorca. Relationships between the Christian majority and the Jewish minority were tense. Wild rumors, a riot, a burned synagogue in the town of Magona. It ended with entire Jewish community coerced into baptism. This event would cause something of a stir, in large measure because of what one man, Augustine St. Augustine, wrote about it. Augustine was, of course, the greatest Christian thinker of the age. The early 5 th Century was not an age of toleration, and Augustine was hardly a proponent of interfaith harmony. Augustine had approved of the emperor s destruction of a huge pagan temple of Carthage some years earlier. Augustine took a hard line with Christian heretics. But when he came to this matter of the forced conversion of the Jews of Minorca, Augustine responded in a very different way. He argued that in an Empire that had just recently become officially Christian, Jews should be unimpeded in their religious practice. Why? Because, Augustine said, their religious practices devolved from a unique author: God the Father. Augustine noted that the same God whom Christians worshipped was himself the source of Jewish Scripture, Jewish tradition, and Jewish practice. Thus, God himself, Augustine insisted, wanted Jews to remain Jews. (1) - 4 -

5 Would that more in the Christian world had heeded Augustine. Worse than the forced conversion of the Jews of Minorca was to come, much worse. In the fall of 2007, I attended a speech at the 92 nd Street Y. The speaker was Elie Wiesel, the famous Jewish scholar and writer. Wiesel is also a holocaust survivor. His most famous book is called Night, a briefly horrific account of his memories of Auschwitz and Buchenwald when he was an 11 year-old boy. Wiesel s topic for that October evening was Jesus the Jew. He began by speaking of his long friendship with Jean-Marie Lustiger, the French Roman Catholic cardinal who had just died. Lustiger had been born a Jew, was hidden from the Nazis by a Christian family, converted to Christianity, and became a priest and much-loved bishop. But Lustiger also continued to identify himself as a Jew, a Jew who was a Christian. In fact, Kiddush was said at the cardinal s funeral. To understand this, Wiesel took a long Jewish look at Jesus that October night. He concluded his reflections with words something like this, Jesus was born a good Jew, lived his life as a good Jew, died a good Jew Modern Jews do well to attend to what he taught. On the other hand, Wiesel said, what his followers have done in his name is another matter. What does all this mean to you and me here today, Christians in New York, 2010? I think we are called to live our Christian faith with respect to Jews in at least three ways: 1. The first is honest confession. Christians must acknowledge the long and painful history of anti-semitism. Equally important, we must turn away from every whisper of it. We must reject every hint of anti-judaism everything from the theology in which we believe to the jokes we laugh at. To participate in any form of anti-jewishness is to offend our Lord Jesus who was himself Jewish and who taught us to love our neighbor. 2. Secondly, we are called to boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have very good news to tell a world hungry for good news. That good news is centered in Jesus Christ. Here, of course, we depart from our Jewish friends. But the - 5 -

6 message must be clear and unambiguous none the less Jesus is the One for whom Israel, indeed all humanity, longs for. He is the Anointed One, he is the Messiah. 3. Finally, and here s the nub of this sermon this clarion proclamation of the Christian good news need never demean Judaism. Our faith does not deny, or displace, or devalue Judaism. Remember Paul, the Jewish Apostle to the Gentiles, who insists that once God makes a promise, it is good forever. God made a covenant with the Jews and that covenant stands. Remember Augustine s famous witness doctrine, his 5 th Century insistence that the continued thriving of Jewish faith effectively witnesses to the truth of Christian faith. And, finally and mostly, remember that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, was a Jew. The nearest neighbor to the church I served back in Ann Arbor was the University of Michigan s Hillel organization a large ministry to Jewish students. Its director, Michael Brooks, and I became good friends after Hillel offered us the use of their building for our Sunday School when our church s education wing was being remodeled. In turn, we offered Hillel the weekday use of the church parking lot. But our friendship went deeper than shared meeting rooms and parking spaces. At a lunch in the student union one day, Michael said the most memorable thing to me ironic, deep, koan-like. I ve been thinking about the remark ever since that day. Michael Brooks and I were talking candidly about Judaism and Christianity when he quipped, You know, Michael, if Christianity had not happened, it would have been necessary for us Jews to invent it. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. (1) Paraphrased from Paula Fredricksen s excellent Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism. Doubleday,

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