Partners In ServicePosted: November 2, 2014
Partners In Service
SLIDE 5: SYNAGOGUE CAPERNAUM
At first the followers of Jesus considered themselves to be Jews who believed that the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus. As the years went by and more and more Gentiles converted to the new faith the Roman Empire began to recognize the Christians as something apart from the Jews. In the Northern Galilee about 50 years after the death of Jesus between 80 and 90 A.D., the Synagogues began to expel the followers of Jesus from their fellowship. In the wake of this bitterness the church and the synagogue began to define themselves over against one another – “We aren’t like them.” Jews and Christians began to emphasize what separated them rather than their common heritage. As time went by both church and synagogue became caricatures of themselves and in many ways both of them lost touch with their true spiritual roots to the diminishment of both Judaism and Christian Faith. Perhaps the only authentic words of Jesus in our scripture this morning are in verses 11 and 12: He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
SLIDE 6: LIBERAL PHARISEE
Perhaps if we are humble enough we can find our way back to the roots of our faith. For Jesus was and understood himself to be a Jew, a child of Abraham. In the rich mix of early First Century Judaism he was probably considered a very liberal Pharisee in the mold of Rabbi Hillel. He believed that at the heart of the law was compassion and love. He opposed the use of the law to create a religious caste system in Israel with some people being more holy than others and relegating many of the poorest and less fortunate people to the status of outcaste. Many of the women plying the trade of prostitute in Jesus’ day were simply divorced women or widows who had been left with no other means of support.
SLIDE 7: JESUS OPPOSED THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL
Jesus opposed the commonly held beliefs of his day that if someone was prosperous they were blessed by God and poverty or ill health was an automatic indication that someone was spiritually unworthy. Jesus would be diametrically opposed to the prosperity gospel. Jesus also opposed the wealth and privileges of the priestly families and the profiteering and the collaboration of the Temple administration with the Romans.
SLIDE 8: RESIST FOREIGN OCCUPATION WITHOUT RESORTING TO VIOLENCE
Jesus was also trying to help his people resist foreign occupation without resorting to violence. He advocated passive resistance against Roman oppression: Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
SLIDE 9: ROMAN MILE MARKER IN CAPERNAUM
If you visit Capernaum, the headquarters of the Jesus ministry, you will see a Roman mile marker not far from the synagogue standing in the middle of the village. I can imagine Jesus sitting outside the synagogue responding to some question about what Jews should do in response to a Roman solider demanding that they carry his pack. You see it was Roman law that any soldier could demand that a civilian carry his pack for him for one mile – one mile only. So Jesus said, prove that you are a child of love and carry the pack for two miles. Perhaps if the Jewish people had followed the way of Jesus Jerusalem would not have been destroyed and the Jews subsequently scattered throughout the Roman Empire.
SLIDE 10: GOD IS IN THE MIDST OF YOU
Jesus was a good Jew trying to help his people understand that the Commonwealth of God is in the midst of you, when you stop exploiting one another, fighting with one another and begin sharing what you have with each other. In the feeding of the multitude Jesus was trying to help his people understand that when everyone is welcome at the Sharing Table of God with no discrimination based on class, gender, or religious rules then God is present to us and among us.
SLIDE 11: PARTNERS IN SERVICE
Jesus is saying to us even today we should all be “partners in service.” That is why the Interfaith Mission Service here in Huntsville is such an important opportunity for all of God’s children white, black, Protestant, Catholic, Pagan, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim to cooperate in service to our community. I hope many of you will attend the Interfaith Mission Service event “Exploring Faith Intersections” tonight and tomorrow. The event tonight is free to the public, and the theme is serving together in justice and charity – partners in service.
SLIDE 12: LIGHT BULB JOKES
At the risk of alienating almost everyone, I found a whole bunch of interfaith light-bulb jokes. For instance,
Q: How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Well, it should require about five committees to review the idea first. If each is staffed with half a dozen members, that’s what … 30?
Q. How many Zen Buddhists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A. Two, one to screw it in and one not to screw it in.
Q: How many Unitarians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that light bulbs work for you, that is fine. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your personal relationship with your light bulb.
Finally, Q: How many members of United Church does it take to change a light bulb?
A: All of us for no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey your light bulb is welcome here.
SLIDE 13: DON’T TAKE OURSELVES TOO SERIOUSLY
Sometimes it helps to poke fun at ourselves, so we don’t take ourselves so seriously. The problem with so much religion is people believe they are right and they are unwilling to consider the truth other people or other faiths may have to reveal. Believe me God loves us, but God doesn’t take us too seriously – like Snoopy.
SLIDE 14: WE ONLY SEE DIMLY
So how can we hold true to the truth we find revealed in our own faith, and also open ourselves to different visions of the truth that may be revealed by other faith traditions? First we can remember Paul’s words in the famous thirteen chapter of the Letter to the Corinthians: 12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing God directly just as God knows us!
SLIDE 15: WE SEE GOD WITH A HUMAN FACE
We see God through the reflected light of the incarnation of Jesus – we see God with a human face. But other faiths can offer us other views of the truth, for God is beyond all human attempts of understanding. Look up in the sky and breathe in the wonder of the Universe. We are so small so insignificant we cannot even begin to understand the awesome extent of the physical Universe much less the creator who transcends all that has been made.
SLIDE 16: OM AT THE HEART OF CREATION
From Hindu culture I have come to appreciate the vibration, the energy, the “Om” at the heart of the Creation.
SLIDE 17: AWAKE TO LET GO
From Buddhism I am learning to become awake and to let go.
SLIDE 18: HUMILITY AND OBEDIENCE
From Islam I am summoned away from my arrogance to embrace humility and obedience.
SLIDE 19: TOUCH THE EARTH LIGHTLY
From the Native Americans I have learned to attune my spirit to nature around me – the cycle of the seasons the movements of the sun, the moon and the stars – to touch the earth lightly, and to seek to restore the environment all around us. From Judaism I have learned the grace of Shalom, the roots of our faith, the religion of Jesus, the wonder of Midrash, and finally an appreciation of Sabbath.
SLIDE 20: OUR HOPE IS NOT FOR THIS LIFE ONLY
On this day of Remembrance I would also note that all of these traditions help me to understand that our hope is not for this life only. When one day we let go and lay down this life, God is still with us, we are not alone. Thanks be to God. And so today we remember in hope and not despair. We let go and breathe through our grief and look forward to joy.
SLIDE 21: GOD IS COMPASSION
Jesus revealed to us that God is love, God is compassion, and we are intended to walk with all of our neighbors in peace. Faith is not a competition, faith is a way of life, and we are called to be partners with all people in service to help restore the earth, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, provide for the sick and the elderly, care for the mentally ill and the homeless.
SLIDE 22: PARTNERS IN SERVICE
He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Let us all endeavor to be humble partners in service.