It’s a Way of Life Not a CompetitionPosted: February 3, 2013
SLIDE 3: WE CAN’T GO BACK HOME
“Don’t look homeward angel.” Though it is not reported in any other gospel Luke tells us that the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus and his ministry. Indeed, he was unable to perform any mighty deeds there. If we don’t believe in the healer or the medicine, we probably won’t get well. That is still true today. According to the story, the people of his home town very nearly incited a riot accusing Jesus of blasphemy and almost threw him over a cliff. And I’ve seen the cliff, and if wouldn’t have been pretty.
The people who knew us when we were children, are unwilling to see in us anything special. But more than that, Luke sees in the rejection of Jesus in Nazareth an explanation for why the church was unsuccessful generally speaking in evangelizing the Jews. For the most part Galilee did not join the Jesus movement, and by the time of Luke, those who were followers of Jesus were being expelled from the synagogues in Galilee. This of course led to bitterness.
SLIDE 4: HOUSE OF PETER
If you visit Capernaum today, you can see the excavated house of Peter. It was a fairly large house with several rooms, including a gathering place that appears to have been used by a small house church. But we should note, that Capernaum did not convert to Christianity, but rather remained steadfastly Jewish until the fifth century, after the Empire had converted to the Christian Faith, and the Romans moved gentiles in to take the place of the Jews.
SLIDE 5: PROPHETS LIVE ON THE EDGE
Whether the attempt to destroy Jesus actually occurred we do not know. Certainly, this story foreshadows the crucifixion of Jesus and then the persecution of the early church. Prophets usually live on the edge, because they speak the truth that others do not wish to hear. Sometimes doing the right thing means suffering the animosity of others.
SLIDE 6: JESUS BELIEVED THE HEART OF THE LAW WAS LOVE
What I would like to draw out from our story this morning was a mistake of the early church. Jesus never intended to start a new religion. Jesus believed that at the heart of the law was love, and he was calling the Jewish people to a new level of faithfulness to love. As a result, Jesus rejected the religious caste system that had grown up around the purity laws. He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He taught people to welcome everyone to the Table, to share and to practice non-violence. He advocated for justice for the oppressed, the poor and women especially. He was calling people to embrace a higher standard of Judaism. He did not believe he was inventing Christianity.
SLIDE 7: FOLLWERS WANTED TO SHARE THE EXPERIENCE OF JESUS WITH OTHERS
When the followers of Jesus experienced him alive after his death, and they found themselves empowered by the Holy Spirit, they had to share their experience with others. Jesus was alive in them. And as they began to live that reality of the life of Jesus in them, they continued his ministry of healing. They continued to share the teaching of Jesus. They continued his ministry of feeding whoever was in need and eating with the outcastes. The followers of Jesus still considered themselves to be Jews. They still attended the daily prayers in the Temple. But they also began a daily Sharing Table, where anyone who showed up was fed, and as part of the communal meal they broke bread, drank wine and remembered Jesus.
SLIDE 8: SHARING FAITH WITH GENTILES
It took several years and some real controversy, but the early church began preaching to and sharing their faith with gentiles. Within forty years the church was growing by leaps and bounds among gentiles, while for the most part the Jesus movement was being rejected by Jews. It is possible that the church’s popularity among Gentiles turned off the Jewish audience.
SLIDE 9: CONVERSION BECOMES COMPETITION
Sometime during the second or third generation of believers, the church began to understand its mission to convert gentiles and supplant Judaism. We begin to see Christian writings referring to the church as the New Israel in competition with the Old Israel and every other religion on the planet. By the time of the writing of the Gospel of John we have statements like, John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
SLIDE 10: INTOLERANCE
The church even developed a strain of anti-Semitic intolerance. And when the church entered into its unholy alliance with the Roman Empire under Constantine, we begin to see the beginnings of the persecution of Judaism and other religions in the name of Christ. The church’s intolerance became the model for Islam. Much of the radicalism in Islam can be attributed to an attitude of competition and absolutist fundamentalism. Some followers of Islam believe Allah commissioned the Prophet Muhammad to supersede all other religions, and it is the mission of their faith to bring all other people under the rule of Sharia Law and the Caliphate.
SLIDE 11: TOLERANCE – PHOENIX AFFIRMATIONS
If we are going to undo the damage to the world of faith perpetrated by the church under Constantine, we the followers of Jesus today, need to find a new way of tolerance that recognizes and learns to live in peace with other religions.
At the Sharing Table on Thursday Evenings we have been studying Eric Elnes’ the Phoenix Affirmations. Affirmation number one speaks to the very issue we are contemplating this morning.
“As Christians, we find spiritual awakening, challenge, growth and fulfillment in Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection. While we have accepted the Path of Jesus as our path, we do not deny the legitimacy of other paths God may provide humanity. Where possible, we seek lively dialog with those of other faiths for mutual benefit and fellowship.
“We affirm that the Path of Jesus is found wherever love of God, neighbor, and self are practiced together. Whether or not the path bears the name of Jesus, such paths bear the identity of Christ.
“We confess that we have stepped away from Christ’s Path whenever we have failed to practice love of God, neighbor, and self or have claimed Christianity is the only way, even as we claim it to be our way.”
SLIDE 12: OUR WAY BUT NOT THE ONLY WAY
This First Affirmation is profound. It claims the way of Jesus as “our” way but not the only way. Many paths lead to God and our path is a way of life, not a competition. This affirmation is also an encouragement to share our faith, not in an attempt to convert others, but in respectful, loving dialogue. We affirm we can learn from other people and other faith journeys. We can share our community of faith, so that others might be encouraged to find a spiritual home.
SLIDE 13: EVERY INDIVIDUAL DEFINES THEIR OWN FAITH JOURNEY
We do not claim to be the only church. We do not claim be the only path to God. We do try to welcome everyone. We try to be a fellowship, where we pray with and for each other, and we offer mutual aid as we are able. We do claim to be a community of faith where we honor every individual’s right to define the terms of their own faith journey. We also recognize not everyone will be comfortable with our worship or our less structured expression of the faith. We try to practice a way of life not a competition.
SLIDE 14: PROFOUND RESPECT AND HUMILITY
Wherever there is profound respect and humility there have been wonderful interfaith relationships. I have known a couple of Rabbis who have had very close relationships with Catholic Priests. Jeffrey Ballon and the Catholic Priest in Punta Gorda were golf partners. Jonathan Miller and Ray Dunmyer in the Birmingham 8 were good friends. And so I am reminded of a story about an old Catholic Priest Father O’Brien and his friend Rabbi Goldstein. The two clergymen were walking along the street one day and when they stepped off the curb a truck came along and almost hit them. They both fell back on the side walk. As they got up the Father O’Brien noticed Rabbi Goldstein move his hand in front of himself, and he exclaimed, “Rabbi you just made the sign of the cross!”
“Sign of the cross?” questioned the Rabbi. “No I was just checking.”
“Checking?” asked the Priest.
“Yes, spectacles, testicles, watch and wallet.”
SLIDE 15: AMBASSADOR MUHAMMAD ZAMIR
Three experiences I had in Bangladesh help to illustrate the concept of mutual respect and many paths to God. When we were in Bangladesh we were hosted by Arch-Bishop Joseph Marino who is the Papal nuncio, the Vatican Ambassador, in that country. Joe hosted a dinner for us and Ambassador Muhammad Zamir, who is the Minister of Information in the government. Ambassador Zamir is an educated, well-spoken and liberal Muslim. More conservative mullahs have issued fatwahs calling for his death.
As part of our investigation into how different people connect with God, we asked Ambassador Zamir to describe his experience in prayer. He talked about how he centers, quiets his mind, listens and then if he is very still he experiences God’s presence as peace and light. When Ambassador Zamir finished his description, Joe Marino’s face lit up as he said, “that’s the same experience I have in prayer!” When we can listen with humility we can acknowledge the pathways to God of people who are different from us.
SLIDE 16: FATHER EUGENE HOMRICH
Another experience in Bangladesh was meeting Father Eugene Homrich. Father Homrich was sent into the jungle of Bangladesh in 1955 as a missionary to a tribal people who still worshipped the forest deities. When he arrived the tribal shaman asked him why he had come. Father Homrich answered, “to share my faith with your people.”
The tribal priest told him to get out, or he would die. That night God appeared to the shaman in a dream and told him to convert to the new religion. Father Homrich has been there ever since – over 55 years. He has started a school, a home for unwed mothers, a medical clinic and he has helped the people of the jungle to adopt agriculture that has brought them a more healthful diet as well as a new faith. Respectfully sharing our faith can make a difference.
SLIDE 17: HUMILITY, RESPECT, MANY PATHS
One more experience I would like to share. The students at Father Homrich’s school put on a delightful program for us. And I took this picture of Arch-Bishop Marino and the local Bishop Ponen addressing the children. If you look in the background on the wall is a picture of Jesus in the lotus position. When we are humble and respectful we can acknowledge the multiplicity of pathways to God. The way of Jesus is a way of life, not a competition.