Worship Script - April 18, 2021

Psalm 25

In a variety of ways, I’ve struggled with what to share in our service today. I didn’t want to preach on a text in a way that felt like appropriation and I didn’t want to feel like I was talking at you about Judaism.

So I’m going to do my best to share some of what I have learned about Judaism that has been helpful to me, recognizing that I’m a life-long Christian, trained at a Christian seminary, who works in a Christian Church. I am not offering a Jewish perspective, but hopefully, instead, a

Christian appreciation of the Jewish faith.

For some of you, some of what I say may sound very basic--you already know or believe it. For others of you, it may be radically different from what you’ve heard, especially in a church. In both cases, I pray the Spirit moves to speak to each of us.

As a starting place, I will share my assumption that the church (universal) does not have a great track record with Judaism. For many Christians, Judaism and the Old Testament are what was and in that respect have been disregarded. For many, the Christian profession of Christ, and the Jewish lack thereof indicates that Jews are going to hell. Many Christians blame the Jews for the crucifixion, and then somehow extrapolate that Jews are the enemy. The list goes on. Said differently, the church has a history of failing to respect and understand our Jewish history and our Jewish neighbors, and we have a responsibility to acknowledge both hard-heartedness and hate in current assumptions, and to work on building bridges of compassion and understanding with our Jewish neighbors.

For me, the beginning of that bridge is learning. The more we learn about those who are different from us, the easier it is to have compassion and empathy and find connection points in our relationship. Additionally, the more we know someone, the harder it is for us to fall victim to stereotypes and prejudice that might otherwise impede true understanding.

When my childhood friend, Teresa, told me she was Jewish, I literally had no idea what that meant. Nor did I know I should have been more curious and asked more questions. But when I got to college, I took an intro to Judaism class with Rabbi Chaim Seidler Feller and I began taking notes, reading, and studying. He was a reform Jew, and I gradually learned what that means since I also didn’t know there were various branches of Judaism. And I had a sweet classmate named Leila who was orthodox and graciously sat down with me to answer my questions and to tell me about her faith and traditions.

There were others in my class who shared, and then in my world religious class, and then more in my class on the conflict between Israel and Palestine, and still more, years later, when I traveled in the Middle East. I’ve had a lot of years to learn about the Jewish faith and amazing conversation partners, both Jews and Christians, to draw me into deeper dialogue and understanding. And, in learning more about their faith, I’ve also been motivated to learn more about my own. I’ve come to see that learning about Judaism is to learn about Jesus because he was a Jew. Jesus was never Christian. He never went to church. He was a Jew and he faithfully went to the temple. And throughout his teachings, we can find his reliance on the Jewish scriptures--for they were his scriptures.

I know there are Christians who think the Old Testament is archaic and useless to Christians, but it is part of our canon, part of our religious book for a reason because it’s part of us and our tradition. I’ve been thinking about it like a river….a river that starts as one and then forks to become two (actually, three, since Islam is another branch of the river, we’re all part of the “Abrahamic tradition”--we all have Father Abraham at the beginning of our tradition). So this river starts as one and then branches into two--what would become Judaism and Islam, and then much later the Jewish branch branches again and one branch remains Judaism and the other becomes Christianity. In that way, some of our traditions are the same. The earlier we go, the more we have in common. And then we have much more shared history with Judaism, and then once they diverge, they travel their own paths forming distinct patterns and paths. And that Christian river over the years branches and branches and branches--almost like spider veins. =) But that’s a message for another day. =)

What’s important to know is that we are who we are because of our beginnings and this rich history that precedes us. Christianity doesn’t come about in a vacuum, we are part of something much more significant. And that something is Judaism.

I’ve learned a lot over the years. And there are a variety of things that stand in the forefront of my mind that come from the Jewish traditions and I thought I would share some of those with you today. Judaism pays attention to lots of details, many of which foster both mindfulness and faithfulness. These are a few of my favorites:

● The kippa or Yarmulche is the cap that Jewish men wear on their heads. It’s a reminder of humility--one that God is above them.
● The mezuzah is an ornament placed at the entrance to a home. In it is a piece of paper that shares from the book of Deuteronomy reminding the Israelites to love and serve God alone. The presence of the mezuzah is to remind a resident of the covenant with God and to let visitors know it is a Jewish household following Jewish laws and customs.
● Sitting shiva is a time of intentional mourning after burial. Family and friends are called to gather, share stories, comfort one another, and to grieve. Often they were prescribed clothing as a visible marker of the grief they bear.
● Sabbath is honored much more deliberately than in the Christian tradition. There is an intentional disconnect from worldly things (in the most orthodox families there is no use of cars or technology, and there is to be no act of cooking or baking (only warming if necessary). And there is an intentional connection to God.
● Jews have an extreme reverence for the name of God. They don’t write it out--they often omit letters and won’t speak the names of God because the scriptures tell them God’s name has power. For the scribes who write the scrolls of scripture by hand, they are to pause before and after writing the name of God to say a prayer--God’s name is held with that much esteem.
● Within the Jewish faith, there is a strong emphasis on storytelling. It is a priority for high holy days and festivals--digging deep into the rich history of Judaism and the Israelite people to remember the work God has done. It is not a short-sighted faith.
● And, finally, (though this is certainly not an exhaustive list, just my “best of” list), and possibly my personal favorite: Midrash--which are the books of exegesis from rabbis through the ages. Basically, they take a piece of scripture, a story, and various rabbis reflect on it and write about it. In some formal texts, you’ll find the canonical piece, the scripture, in the middle of the page and the midrash--the exegesis--the study and explanation around the outside of it. It’s a dialogue, Rabbis writing different perspectives and learnings from a certain piece of scripture. It’s a rich reminder that the biblical texts are not stagnant or rigid, but they are meant for interpretation, dialogue, and continued study.

There is much for us to learn from our Jewish neighbors, and much to appreciate about our shared history. It breaks my heart to know our Jewish neighbors still suffer such vile hatred, violence, and racism, including at the hands of Christians. I want us to keep learning, to keep listening, and to keep delving into dialogue that we would all continue to grow in our understanding of our great and majestic God