Thursday, March 22, 2018

Path of the Prophets (Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz) -- A Review

PATH OF THE PROPHETS:The Ethics-Driven Life. By Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2018. Lxiii + 286 pages.

When I read the Hebrew Bible, as I do regularly, I do so with a particular lens in mind. That lens is Jesus. That might be expected of me, as I am a Christian. Most of the commentators I read to help me interpret the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh are Christians as well. While they seek to be fair to what Christians historically call the Old Testament, they too have a Christian-informed lens. Of course, if the publisher is a Christian publisher, then it would be expected that these biblical scholars would keep the Christian audience in mind. While all of this is understandable, it would be wise to approach these texts, at least occasionally, in conversation with Jewish interpreters. Such conversations might shed new and different light on the subjects at hand. With that in mind, I offer these thoughts on Rabbi Barry Schwartz’s book The Path of the Prophets: The Ethics-Driven Life.  

Rabbi Schwartz, who serves as the director for the The Jewish Publication Society and is the rabbi of Congregation Adas Emuno in Leonia, New Jersey, has written an enjoyable, thought-provoking, and revelatory book. While the intended audience might be Jewish, I can say, as a Christian pastor, this book will speak important truths to Christians as well. This wonderfully written book explores the ethical implications of the spiritual life in conversation with eighteen persons found in the Hebrew Bible. The sub-title of the book would seem to be a play on Rick Warren's best-seller—The Purpose Driven Life—but I think is a much better book. It is theologically rich and spiritually inviting. The point revealed by the subtitle is that we are called as the people of God to live an ethical life in partnership with God.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Protesting Children -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Last week, across the country, students walked out to protest the unwillingness of governmental leaders to take seriously the problem of gun violence in the country. These nonviolent protests, which included a major rally in Washington, DC, raised awareness of the problem of gun violence, called for solutions, and stood in solidarity with the victims and survivors of the Parkland, Florida shooting (and all the other school shootings, which seem to happen with greater regularity). Martin Marty takes a look at these protests (and counter-protests) in this week's edition of Sightings, asking the question of whether these students are too young to protest. I invite you to read, but also to take into consideration what these protests might signal. We have been talking a lot of late about Millennials (there is a Millennial-Boomer divide). What needs to be noted is that these protesters are, in the main, part of an as yet unnamed generation. Might this be their political awakening? It's too soon to know, but it's an interesting question to contemplate as you read Marty's thoughts (from an era prior to my Boomer era). 
Email us
Protesting Children
By MARTIN E. MARTY   March 19, 2018
Students at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa, join countless peers across the country in staging a school walkout to protest gun violence | Photo Credit: Phil Roeder/Flickr (cc)
Editor's Note: We are offering a new course—"Religion and the Media"—for adult, continuing education students in downtown Chicago. Classes will meet on Monday evenings beginning March 26. Toward the end of the course, students will have the opportunity to write a short, Sightings-style essay; the course is therefore recommended for aspiring Sightings contributors, bloggers, and other public commentators on religion. Click here to learn more, and register!
“How Young Is Too Young for Protest?”—an article by Stephanie Saul and Anemona Hartocollis in the New York Times published the day before the March 14 protest marches against gun violence in a great number of American high schools—posed questions which concentrated less on gun rights and more on the role of children on all sides of the guns-and-schools controversy. While formal religious arguments and incidents rarely make headlines, this incident has helped reveal fissures within the public where religious and ethical concerns were, and are, prime. These have to do with all the standard issues, and public attitudes by people of all ages. But this time there were good reasons to focus on concerns about children protesting, many of the young being prohibited from holding demonstrations.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

God the Vindicator -- A Lectionary Reflection for Passion Sunday

Isaiah 50:4-9A New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
    the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
    wakens my ear
    to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
    and I was not rebellious,
    I did not turn backward.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
    and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
    from insult and spitting.
The Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
    he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
    Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
    Let them confront me.
9a It is the Lord God who helps me;
    who will declare me guilty?

                We have reached the penultimate moment in the Lenten journey. Christians, at least in the West, will be observing Palm Sunday, or perhaps Passion Sunday. I have always approached Palm Sunday with a bit of unease. After all, the triumphal nature of the day is fleeting. So, perhaps focusing on the Passion is more appropriate, even if we might regather on Friday to hear again the passion story. The reading from Isaiah 50, which forms the third Servant Song, has been read by Christians, along with the other Servant Songs, down the centuries as descriptions of the suffering Jesus experienced as he went to the cross. While the fourth Servant Song is the most revelatory when it comes to the Servant’s suffering (Isa. 52:13-53:12), this Song offers insight into his experience as one who was struck and bruised, but vindicated. In this reading for Passion Sunday, we hear this promise of vindication, making clear that the attacks on the servant are not the last word.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear (Matthew Kaemingk) - A Review

CHRISTIAN HOSPITALITYAND MUSLIM IMMIGRATON IN AN AGE OF FEAR. By Matthew Kaemingk. Foreword by James K.A. Smith. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018. Xiv + 338 pages.

                It didn’t take long after Donald Trump became President, that his administration began taking steps to limit travel to the United States from predominantly Muslim countries in the name of homeland security. His presidential campaign had capitalized on Islamophobia, which has taken hold in America over the past two decades. It’s not only in the United States that fear of Muslims has driven political debates. Anti-Muslim sentiment is even stronger in Europe, where far-right populist parties have been pushing the debate. Violence has broken out across the continent as Muslims experience marginalization and persecution, leading to violent responses on their part. That fuels violence in response. Things are not quite to that level yet in the United States, but we can see the possibilities being present, especially with a President who has a penchant for anti-Muslim talk (despite his love for the Saudis). With fear running rampant, and attempts being made to limit Muslim immigration, how should Christians respond?

                There are Christians who want to welcome everyone with open arms, while others fear that too many Muslims will corrupt Western culture. This is a common theme in Europe, where Muslims make up a greater proportion of the population than they do here in the United States, where Latino immigration has been a bigger target. In Europe, polices of tolerance and openness has led to right-wing backlash. For Christians the question is not one of tolerance, but of hospitality. How hospitable should a nation be? And are their limits to hospitality? Further, one needs to ask the question, from a Christian perspective, does hospitality rule out evangelization of Muslims? These are not easy questions to answer, and Christians have taken a variety of positions ranging from full embrace to exclusion.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Christ’s Priestly Work - A Sermon for Lent 5B

Abraham and Melchizedek 

There were Greeks who came to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. They went up to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and they said to him: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (Jn. 12:20-21). As we continue our Lenten Journey, with Palm Sunday on the near horizon, is this not our request as well? Don’t we wish to see Jesus?

The author of Hebrews introduces us to Jesus in the form of the great high priest who sympathizes with us in every respect. Hebrews tells us that Jesus has been tested as we have in all things, but is without sin (Heb. 4:14-15). Priests serve as mediators between God and God’s people, bringing sacrifices, prayers, and supplications to God on our behalf. No one takes up this responsibility unless God issues a call, as God did with Aaron and Aaron’s descendants. 

God called Jesus to be our high priest, but he isn’t a descendant of Aaron, which makes him a different kind of high priest. According to Hebrews, he is a priest according to the “Order of Melchizedek,” who is  a priest forever. As our high priest according to the Order of Melchizedek, “he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:20-25).