Year B; Easter 3; 4.15.2018- – preached by The Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund

Acts 3:12-19

 

I belong to a choral group called, “Sweetest in the Gale,” named after a poem by Emily Dickenson.  We rehearse every Wednesday evening for 2 hours. I sing in the alto section. The director has me singing the lowest parts regularly with about four other women. Annette is in my group of altos. We always sit next to each other because I think we are not as sure of our singing as many of the other singers. Maybe “misery loves company,” or something like that!

The group never take breaks, so it is not very easy to get to know people. The only thing I know about Annette is that she lives in Portland and wears a pretty gold Star of David pendant as a necklace.

The Wednesday rehearsal before Passover and Easter concluded early, and so I made it my goal to wish Annette a happy and peaceful Passover.  She smiled and said, “I’m doing the brisket which I do every year. We are celebrating Passover with family in Newton. I hope you have a happy Easter.”

In that brief exchange, I felt a kinship, a bridge had been built, not just between altos, but between two religions that historically in the United States had been separated by prejudice and lots of misunderstanding.

The next day was Maundy Thursday. That observance for Christians would not exist if Jesus hadn’t been a faithful Jew celebrating the Passover meal. It was his last supper before he was crucified, and he gave that meal to his followers, that we may be strengthened in our faith.

Jesus was an observant Jew and that meant that all he taught was from his Jewish faith traditions, scriptures and celebrations. He was born a Jew and was raised a Jew. It is difficult to imagine that some Christians don’t understand this or refuse to acknowledge this important aspect of our faith.

 

It doesn’t help that every now and then the Sunday lectionary includes readings that have been distorted beyond their original intent; readings that have for hundreds of years, served the worldly ends of political and religious powers to diminish or even oppress Jews.

Today’s passage from the Book of Acts is one that has been twisted over the years to build anti-Jewish sentiment among Christians. Historically, this passage has been used to blame Jews for “Killing Jesus.” I’ll never forget a movie I saw in grade school made just after World War II about two children playing in the rubble of their bombed city. They were British children; one Catholic and one Jewish. When the Catholic child discovered that her playmate was Jewish, she screamed at him, “You killed Jesus! Our priest says so!” He was flummoxed. Their friendship ended.

But if we hear Peter’s sermon with those ears, we would think that Peter was telling the Jewish crowd the same thing, that they killed Jesus.  Peter said, “…you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.”  Peter DID say, “You killed the Author of life…”  But he said it as one of them, an insider. It’s like, my Polish friends in high school said, “WE can tell Polish jokes to each other, but you can’t. You aren’t Polish.”

 

So, the context is extremely important.  Peter is talking to the crowd as a Jew. He was teaching them as Jew to Jew. He knew he had been part of the crowd that put Jesus to death.

Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish New Testament scholar writes that the Jesus Movement was a Jewish movement.  She writes, “Anti-Semitism and anti-Jewishness are contrary to the biblical witness of Peter’s love for the growing Jewish Jesus movement. Peter was not anti-Jewish…He was a Jewish, Semite Christian.”

 

Much of my New Testament and Christian theological training in seminary was a

re-framing and redeeming of scripture that had been distorted to “scapegoat” Jews over the centuries. My theology professor led a Jewish/Christian dialog.  Jewish and Christian seminarians hosted each other for deep, meaningful, restorative conversations. In class we examined the “slippery-slope” of logic that has led theologians from our past to denigrate Jews. Some of those theologians were brilliant thinkers like John Chrysostom and Martin Luther. Both were and are important and transforming Christians. But today we see their anti-Jewish writings as hateful and embarrassing.

And more recently, there is the remembrance of the Holocaust, the observance of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day which this year was Thursday, April 12. Yom HaShoah remembers “…the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust and the heroism of survivors and rescuers.”

A report was released on Thursday that studied the awareness level Americans for the Holocaust. The data revealed that “most Americans lack basic knowledge about the Holocaust…that 41% of Americans couldn’t identify Auschwitz as a concentration camp where an estimated 1.1 million Jews and minorities were killed…and among millennials, the number is 66%.”

Just as recently as last August in Charlottesville, Virginia, the White Supremacists that marched with torches and automatic weapons, threatened to burn down the synagogue there. The congregants of Beth Israel reported that during their prayer time, a group of men with semi-automatic weapons in hand, dressed in military fatigues was standing across the street from the temple. After they prayed, the congregants took their historical and holy Torah scrolls with them and exited out the back to safety. That was less than a year ago.

 

I learned the word supercessionism in seminary. Our bible and theology professors taught us how to recognize it and reframe how we saw Christianity. Supercessionism is the attitude that Christianity has replaced Judaism in God’s plan. That we have a better religion and that followers of Jesus are God’s chosen and have replaced Jews as God’s chosen.

You can see how Christians who wished to suppress Jews might have looked to scripture to make their case. But this is not at all what Jesus intended for his Movement. He did not intend for the apostles to teach that “Jews were out and Christians were in.”

The movement Jesus came to establish was calling the people of Israel to God’s reign of love, healing, mercy, forgiveness and peace. And by God’s grace, and the genius of the apostle Paul, the gentiles were included in God’s promise.

The Jesus Movement spread throughout the nations, just as the Jewish prophets of old had prophesied, “…but I will make you a light to the nations-so that all the world may be saved.”  (Isaiah 49:6)

 

Just after Michael Curry was elected as the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, he released a video of his vision for our church. Walking down East 42nd Street just off Third Avenue in New York City, Michael Curry talks to the camera. He is wearing his pectoral cross, dressed in his purple shirt and wearing his collar, walking down the street of one of the most secular, most diverse ethnically and most commercial cities in the world. And HE is talking about the Jesus Movement – out loud – for passersby to hear!” Mostly, they ignored him.

But he called us, the church to name ourselves, The Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement and to follow Jesus “into loving, liberating and life-giving relationships with God, with each other and with the earth.”

“Follow Jesus,” he says, “into loving, liberating and life-giving relationships with God, with each other and with the earth.”

This sounds like an Easter mandate for discipleship that reaches beyond our church and into life-giving relationships with all people, including our Jewish brothers and sisters.