Tuesday night there was a vigil organized by Congregation Beth Israel – many of you were there – a vigil to grieve and honor those eleven lives at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh who died at the hands of an anti-Semitic terrorist. Before the vigil I got a call from a leader at the Walla Walla Synagogue asking me if I would be among those who spoke. It was just so touching to me, the invitation and the trust it showed reaching across religious lines at this time. I’m really grateful to Rachel my partner in helping me use my role as a Christian clergy person in a responsible way here. Now, many of you were at the vigil, so forgive me, because you’ve already heard most of what I’m going to offer today, but I feel I have to share here in this sacred time what I shared at the vigil. This will set up the focus we’ll then have this month, until Advent in December: The focus will be on uprooting from our understanding and practice of Christianity anti-Semitism and perhaps other weeds of bigotry. I’ll say a little more about that today, and then that will be the focus of our Wednesday night Bible study at 6:30, this Wed. Then next Sunday’s sermon will be a full treatment of how anti-Semitism has gained root in Christianity and how we can pull it out. Then the last two Sundays in November I hope to use this sermon time for the positive project of strengthening a sound and faithful Christion conviction that is at peace with other faiths. Sound good? In responding to this act of terror, as with any atrocity, it touches me as a human being, and as someone who loves God and who loves humanity. This violence touches me also as someone who has married into a Jewish family, and who is glad that my partner and I are raising our child so that she is connected to her Jewish roots as well as her Christian roots. But if I am to speak publicly, I speak as someone who has been called into Christian ministry in the service of this church and the Church universal. And as such it’s best for me to not do a lot of talking. Rather, it is best to do a lot of listening and bearing witness to the pain and the strength of my dear siblings in the Jewish community.
In bearing witness, the heart breaks open.
If I am to use my voice may it be to join with the cries of lamentation
If I am to use my voice: May it be to join with those ancient songs of prayer that lay the pith of the soul bare before the Holy One – those ancient songs of prayer and law and prophecy that have carried the Jewish people through so many terrors. May I sing with those songs of soul survival, those songs of covenant, songs of love, songs of resistance in the face of oppression; those song of great faith in the power and mercy of our Creator, great faith in the promise of that day when we all shall beat our swords into ploughshares; those Hebrew Scriptures that compel us, until that good day comes, into solidarity with all who suffer under injustice.
It is no mistake that this terrorist was particularly enraged by Jewish humanitarian organizations that are aiding the refugees fleeing violence and poverty in Central America. It’s no mistake that this week as seen also a white supremacist murdering African-Americans. And before that yet more bombs mailed to those cast as the political “enemy.” It’s no mistake that these connections have been made by so many Jewish folks I have heard from these days, including from the chair of the board of the Walla Walla synagogue who spoke at the vigil. It is awe inspiring to witness how many Jews in this time feel compelled into solidarity with others who are also the targets of hate. And even more faithful than that: it seems like it was no mistake that it was a Jewish doctor and a Jewish nurse who treated the shooter, even as he continued to spit his hate at them.
And so, if I am to use my voice: May it be to join that struggle for healing and justice. But if I am to do that, as a Christian, I must repent. I must repent of the ways my Christian religion is so easily twisted into the service of anti-Semitic sentiment, hostility, and atrocity. And it is my duty to call on my fellow Christians to do the same. It is our task to tear out these weeds of hate from the roots. The Christian religion has been perverted by White Supremacy, perverted by nationalism, twisted into the worship of a god of war rather than the God of all Creation. The God of all Creation, our true God, knows no boundaries between nation, nationality, language, color, gender, sexuality, creed. All people are children of God. And so, if I am to use my voice: May it be to speak a word of peace. A word that troubles as it comforts: Peace! Peace
That, my friends, is our task. It’s central to our call as a community of Jesus followers in this day and age. Part of that task is what we’ll be doing these coming weeks: Being very clear about how anti-Semitism lurks in Christian belief and practice, Being very clear about repenting and reforming, by the grace of God, Being very clear about what it looks like to be free of chauvinism, what that reformed faith and practice is. I want to emphasize above all a spirit of Grace … and I also want to emphasize relationship the kinds of relationship we cultivate. Being intentional about this, in the spirit of Grace. Cultivating relationships across religious boundaries, that’s very important in this time. We can be intentional about that. But also critically important is cultivating relationships with folks who may be susceptible to messages of hate. Folks who are nursing a hard grievance. Folks who may be looking for someone to blame for the resentment they feel. They need to know the love of God that we receive and share here. So let’s go and be the church that our times call for. Both humble and courageous. As always, I give thanks to God, Whose universal love and grace I have come to know through Jesus.