Thursday, February 27, 2014

Forgive Us Our Anti-Semitism -- Alternative Lectionary for Lent 1 (David Ackerman)

Christianity, unfortunately, has a horrific legacy of anti-Semitic/anti-Jewish activity.  Much of this is justified by appeal to Scripture.  Texts like the ones chosen for these readings by David Ackerman in his Beyond the Lectionary: A Year of Alternatives to the Revised Common Lectionary have powerful messages that can speak to us today, but because they also seem to encourage anti-Jewish sentiment they need to be read with great caution.  Texts like these rarely appear in the Revised Common Lectionary -- and you can see why -- but if we're willing to be wise in our interpretation we can hear a Word from God in these texts and avoid blaming the Jews in the course of our preaching and our study.  These texts require careful handling, and a recognition that we have been complicit, even if inadvertantly in these activities, but then that's part of the message of the Gospel reading from Matthew.


Lent 1

“Forgive Us Our Anti-Semitism”

Call to Worship:  Psalm 25:16-18 NRSV

One:  Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.

Many:  Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress.  Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.

Gathering Prayer:  We come together today to turn to you.  We have done much wrong and perpetrated much injustice in your name.  Help us to look to you now so we might change our ways and do what we can to right the wrongs of the past.

Confession:  We confess, God, that we have harmed our Jewish brothers and sisters in so many ways.  We have misinterpreted the Bible to justify our own hatred and bigotry.  The legacy of our violence is painful for us, and we come to you today asking your forgiveness.  Transform us, so that we might work diligently to bring an end to anti-Semitism throughout our world.

Assurance:  God shows steadfast love and compassion to the chosen people of Israel, and out of love for us, God gives us mercy beyond our deserving.  Let us show our thanks to God by working for a world of justice and peace today.  Amen.

Scriptures:      Amos 2:4-8, 13-16 – “Judgment on Judah & Israel”
Galatians 5:2-12 – “Against the Pro-Circumcision Faction”
Matthew 23:27-36 – “Against Religious Leaders”

Commentaries and sermon ideas are available in Beyond the Lectionary.

Reflection Questions:

  • Amos 1:3-2:3 lists a series of judgments on nations.  These judgments rise to a crescendo with the words against Judah and Israel found in Amos 2:4-8.  They are not “G-rated”!  What do you think about these words, especially the indictment against Israel in Amos 2:13-16?  While this is an “in-house” judgment, how might some twist this to emphasize God’s wrath against the Jewish people?
  •  Galatians 5:2-12 contains more “adult-oriented” content.  Should such material be read in worship services?  Why or why not?  While Paul is speaking against people who insist on circumcising men before receiving them as Christians, how might people get the impression that he is speaking against the Jewish people?
  • Today’s selection from Matthew 23 continues a list of woes (see Advent 4) against religious leaders in Israel (who at the time were puppets of the Roman state).  What do you make of Jesus’ anger?  How might a passage like this have fueled the anti-Semitic agendas of Christians who used it to justify bigoted and violent behavior?
  •  How has the Christian legacy of anti-Semitism greatly harmed relationships between Christians and Jews?  How has the Bible been misused to this end?  How might we reinterpret texts like these today in such a way that we truly repent (or turn) from the actions of our ancestors?

Prayer of Thanksgiving:  We thank you and praise you, God, for standing by your people Israel, and for showing all your children the way to reconciliation, peace, and love.

Benediction:  God sends us out into the world to be workers of justice.  Having received mercy this day, let us go out into a world of religious bigotry to be agents of healing, restoration, and grace.  Amen.

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