Lenten Noonday Preaching Series
Calvary Episcopal Church
sermon is also available in audio.)
dear friends, this Lenten series has broadened our spiritual
horizons in the countdown to Palm Sunday, Passover, and Easter. Our
spiritual horizons tend to be small when we view God’s
world only through Jewish eyes or through only one expression
of Christianity. Obviously God is much bigger than any one, two,
or three of our faiths, precious and true as they are to each
don’t know about you, but the more I learn about other
faiths, the more I appreciate my own. I am a more faithful Jew because of
my relationship with Christians, not in spite of them.
That’s the goal of interfaith dialogue. The goal is not
to dilute Judaism or Christianity, but to deepen both. We have
to tear down any misperceptions we have of each other until our
love is greater than fear.
is a time to harness all the powers God has given us to change
for the better. Those God-given powers include using our heads
as well as our hearts. What I admire about this preaching series
is that the extraordinary speakers we have been listening to
have challenged us to think deeply, not simply.
easy to be a demagogue about anything, including religion. I
once heard a preacher so magnetic, so captivating, compelling
and inspiring, I was on my feet cheering with the rest of the
crowd. But something was gnawing at me during the drive home,
and suddenly I realized what it was.
had thought about the logic of what he was saying because it
made them, and me
too, feel good. Then I thought through what the speaker was
saying, and it was very troubling. It’s easy to whoop up a crowd.
Hitler was the best at it.
to preaching evil, probably the easiest way to whoop up a crowd
is to preach an exclusivist religious theology. Jews and Christians
for instance, agree that human beings are God’s children.
God is the parent, and we are all God’s children. And yet,
some very charismatic preachers will go on to say that if you
don’t believe the way they do, then you will burn in hell.
than one person over the course of my life has told me, “It
is because I love you and don’t want you to burn in hell
that you need to be saved my way.” When I hear this, I
understand what the other person is saying. He wants to prevent
me from getting whipped, burned, and beaten.
have you ever stopped to think about what that theology says
about God? If
God is the father, and we are all God’s children, what
kind of parent would whip, burn, and beat you? Answer: a God
who is into child abuse. Or to put it another way, if the only
way to heaven is via a theology which teaches my way or hell,
then is Gandhi burning in hell?
have begun to tell evangelical audiences I speak to what I was
taught by my rabbi. I have begun to tell those audiences that
while I know they may be surprised to see me and the Jewish people
in heaven, I just hope they won’t be disappointed!
they are surprised, that’s okay, since it’s God’s
call who enters the Kingdom of Heaven. But if they are disappointed
and don’t want me there, I tell them, then they’re
really not my friend.
spiritual horizons are small when we view God’s world only
through Jewish or Christian theology. Obviously, God is much
you think about the world from God’s perspective,
you begin to realize that we are all minorities. Two-thirds of
the world are not Christian, and there are more Hindus, Buddhists,
and Taoists than there are members of Jesus’ own faith,
Judaism. The challenge for our time is to affirm religious truth
without defining it for others.
do you do that? Berthold Lessing was a friend of the great Jewish
teacher of Germany, Moses Mendelssohn. Lessing wrote a book called Nathan
The Wise. In it, he deals with the problems of the competition
between religious theologies. The proponents of each religion
claim to possess the truth.
is one to know which is the true religion? Nathan
tells a story in response to that question.
was once a nobleman who had inherited a beautiful ring from his
It was handed down from generation to generation. Each father
gave it to his most deserving son, and it brought favor in
the eyes of man and God. The ring went from father to son for
until it came to one man who had three sons.
father tried to pick one who was worthy of wearing the ring,
but he could
not make up his mind since they were all worthy. In desperation,
he called in a jeweler and asked him to make two more rings
that were so identical to the original that even he could not
jeweler made the rings so skillfully that no one could tell them
apart. Then the father gave each son a ring.
he died, the family gathered and the three sons displayed
were puzzled and wanted to know who had the genuine one. They
decided to go to a judge and each son declared that his father
had presented the authentic ring to him.
judge examined the rings and saw that they were absolutely identical.
that no one can tell which is the genuine ring. There is only
one way of knowing. The son who lives the noblest and most
decent life has the genuine ring.
religion claims it has the truth, but talk is cheap and no theology
is foolproof. Each religion proves whether or not it is genuine
by showing how its adherents live.
goal each year during Lent, or in Judaism, during the High Holidays,
is to make our
faith shine through again--to show that we are wearing genuine
rings of faith by how we live, act, and reflect the Divine
world and God will know whether the rings are real. The world
and God will know which ones are telling the truth and which
use religion for the wrong purposes.
When I first spoke in this series three years ago, I recommended
a powerful book to you on Jewish-Christian relations by
James Carroll, entitled Constantine’s
Sword. More than a few of you have shared with me how transformational
that book was in understanding just how far we have come as Christians
commend another book to you, one that is even sharper, more to
point, and less than half the weight of Constantine’s Sword.
The author is the prolific Christian scholar, Mary Boys who teaches at
Union Theological Seminary in New York.
book Has God Only One Blessing?,
is about Judaism as a source of Christian self-understanding. We cannot
change the tragic history that arose from the Christian failure to
God, Mother and Father of us all, has many children and more than one
blessing, more than one ring.
cannot erase that frightful past, but we can recognize,
at least in Memphis, that Jews and Christians see themselves as accountable
to the same God and committed to transforming the future together.
the past 1900 years, we Jews and you Christians have become partners
rivals--partners and friends who recognize the Way of Torah
Way of Jesus as different refractions of the same God, the
God Who loves
the God who has more than one blessing for His children, the God
Whose love is
greater than fear, the God Who is waiting for our love to be greater
than our fear.
But how again is it possible to embrace and affirm your
own religious truth without defining truth for others? A Methodist minister
named Wesley Ariarajah
offers this answer. He
illustrates the distinction between my Jewish truth, your Christian
truth and absolute truth in a way we can
says, “When my son tells me I’m the best dad in the world, and
there can be no other father like me, he is speaking the truth, for this comes
out of his experience. He is honest about it. He knows no other person in the
role of his father.
of course, it is not true in another sense. For one thing,” Wesley
says, “I myself know friends who, I think, are better
fathers than I am.
more importantly, one should be aware that in the next house
there is another boy who also thinks his
daddy is the best father in
the world. And he too is right.
fact, at the level of the way the two children revere their two
fathers, no one can
compare the truth content of the statements
of the two boys.
shared Judeo-Christian tradition deals with a different language
- the language of faith and love.
To say, “If you don’t
accept my truth, then you have rejected absolute truth,” would
be like my son, Jake, telling his friend in the house next
door that there is no way
he can have the best father, because the absolute best one
is only in his house! As if my house is the only one in the
neighborhood. If my son were to make
such a claim, we’d have to call that claim what it is – 'child-talk!'”
hear the one about the well-intentioned Arkansas Baptist minister
who said, “I don’t understand why there have to be
Presbyterians and Catholics, Jews and Methodists, Lutherans and
Episcopalians…why can’t we all just live under one
big Baptist roof?!”
is needed more than ever before is the mutual respect of those
who adore the One Creator and
Lord, and who seek to bring honor to God through the lives
we lead, the faith we profess, and the deeds we do.
Episcopal Church in particular for believing as strongly
as ever in the Christian faith, without discounting the reality,
religious reality, of other faiths, especially the faith
Jesus, Judaism, which I am honored to represent.
can’t we all be the same religion? That’s like asking
why people have to be different.
generic religion is impossible because there is no such thing
as a generic human being! God
created many different animals in His zoo, including us. God
must love diversity. Just look at us.
A Christian writer named
F. Forrester Church, put it this way:
beings all stand in the cathedral of the world. In the cathedral
are a multitude of stained glass windows [like those
lining the walls of this beautiful sanctuary].
born in one part of the cathedral, and our parents and grandparents
teach us how to see the light that shines through the window,
the window that carries the story of our particular family
same light shines through all the windows of the cathedral,
but we interpret its story in many different
ways. The light is the presence of God. And the way we
see its colors are the ways of our particular faith.
are, indeed, different responses to life in the cathedral of
the world Rev. Church teaches.
say, “All the
windows are basically the same, so it doesn’t matter where
say, “The true light only
shines through my window.”
fanatics break all the other windows except theirs.
light that shines through
window is the light of Torah and mitzvoth--those sacred
obligations which link humanity to God. It is not the whole
like Christianity, it is a refraction of God’s light,
and that is why it is holy. That is also why the ministry
of Calvary is
holy, for this congregation too, is a refraction of the light
only hope for realizing the Kingdom of God preached by Jesus
is a willingness to accept one another, regardless of our differences. We differ in color and creed, but we share common convictions
during this Lenten season and our destinies intertwine.
on that tomorrow, but today, may each of us, no matter where
we worship, live, or pray, hear God’s call to Abraham.
didn’t tell Abraham to share a blessing or offer a
blessing, God said, “V’hyeh b’racha,” Be
this Lenten/Passover season re-energize our commitment to be
blessings, to be a blessing to all whose
lives we touch
and who touch ours. Amen.
Rabbi Micah Greenstein