Islam – August 21, 2016

Faiths of Abraham- Islam  by Rev. June Fothergill

Genesis 12: 1-3; Genesis 16: 1-16; 21: 8-21; 25: 9, 12-18

Earlier this year I attended a gathering at the local Islamic Center.  It was an interfaith celebration hosted by the Center.  It was my first time to be at such a gathering.  In Boise, I had invited some Muslim students to come to talk at a youth group meeting but I have had little real contact with Muslim people.  So, I was in hopes to make some connections at this event in Eugene.  I made a few tentative ones.  After the meal I had an interesting conversation with a young woman from Indonesia.   She wore a hijaab, or head scarf.  I told her about my time in Indonesia 30 years ago when I don’t remember seeing women wearing the hijaab.  Her response surprised me, “Oh,” she said, “That was back in the dark times. “     I think what she meant was times when it wasn’t acceptable to be an outwardly devote Muslim.

Our short conversation reminded me that Muslim, Christian conversations and dialogues are operating in a cross cultural reality.  I have much to learn about Islam and what it means to the people who practice and believe.    So, once again, I am not speaking as any kind of expert and this is a topic much too big and complex for a sermon.  I will simply share with you some of what I have learned in my study.

I want to recognize up front the truth of what Pim  Valkenberg, a professor of religion and culture wrote in  Christian Century in July,  “ It’s easier for Christians to recognize their elder sister Judaism than it is to recognize their younger sister Islam. “  (p. 29 “Sibling rivalry among three faiths God(s) of Abraham” in Christian Century, July 6, 2016)

This was especially true as I explored some of the Quran in English translation.    Compared to my love for the Hebrew Bible, I had trouble appreciating the Quran.  Yet, I realize that it is a text meant to be experienced in its original language.  I have heard that the Quran recited in Arabic is quite beautiful.  And of course it comes from a whole different culture and time period than my own.  In other words, just like with the Bible, it needs interpretation.

The Quran is important because it is the principle revelation for Muslims.  It provides the basis for the whole fabric of the world religion we know as Islam.  In the 600’s c e in the Arabic peninsula (Saudi Arabia today)   Mohammad, an illiterate trader who was well regarded and deeply spiritual went to a cave for a retreat.  He was in his 40’s.   In the cave he received a vision of the angel Gabriel who told him to recite the words given to him.   Mohammad returned from the cave and shared what he had heard with his family.  Over the next 20 years Mohammad received such visions and recited what he heard from God to his friends and family, who wrote down his words. This was the origin of the book we know today at the Quran.

Mohammad and his followers believe that the words he heard in his visions were a revelation from the one true God.  Muslims also look up to Mohammad as an example to follow.  The collection of his sayings is another important source of inspiration and ideas for Muslims.   The city of Mecca where Muhammad lived was dominated by a polytheistic religious culture.  He knew a few Jews and Christians who also believed in One God but most of his tribe and people did not.   So his visions and recitations became the basis for a new religious movement we know today as Islam.

Islam simply means submission to God and a Muslim is someone who submits his or her life to the one true God.  So for Muslims there is an understanding that all of us who submit our lives to God and seek to live as God wills are in some sense Muslims.   The Quran seeks to remind Jews and Christians as well to return to the truth of One God.   Obviously, they find troubling our idea of the Trinity and that Jesus is in some mysterious way God with us. Yet, they do see Jesus as one of the messengers of God’s revelation to humanity.

Iman  Feisal Abdul Rauf, in his book What’s right with Islam,  tells the story of Christian De Cherge, a young  French lieutenant in Algeria.

Before becoming a Trappist monk …De Cherge was powerfully attracted to the Algerian Muslims who were “infused with a sense of the divine.”  “Christian monks found the Algerian Muslims ‘living the Christian life of devotion,’ while their Muslim neighbors found the monks ‘living an authentically Islamic life.’   Religion is not the label we attach to our actions, but the quality of our actions expressing devotion to God and ethical behavior to our fellow human being.”  (p. 72 Iman Feisal Abdul Rauf, A New Vision for Muslims and the West: What’s Right with Islam, HarperSanFrancisco, 2004)

Islam reminds us that our common ancestor in faith, Abraham was neither Jewish nor Christian.  It is this call of Abraham to submit his life to God that is common to all of us.    Passages that remind us of this are some of the most compelling for me in the Quran.  For example,

And who could be of better faith than he who surrenders his whole being unto God and is a doer of good withal, and follows the creed of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false- seeing that God exalted Abraham with His love?  For unto God belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth and indeed God encompasses everything.”  ( 4: 125,126  p. 147 The Message of the Quran, translated by Muhammad Asad, The Book Foundation, London, 2003)

As I see  it Islam and Christianity agree that as we submit our lives to God, as we practice our faith the best we know how,  we grow in our ability to live faithful, loving lives.  As we love God with all our heart, mind and soul, we are more able to love our neighbor as ourselves.    Muslim religious leader or Iman Feisal Abdul Rauf would add,

“Anyone who listens to his or her heart and conscience would recognize that God is One, that humanity is one family that humans should be free and should treat each other fairly and with justice.”     (p. 16)

This emphasis from our Muslim brothers and sisters in the worship of God with ones whole life reminds us  that , we too can make our faith in  Christ who is our revelation of God’s love and grace central to our living.    Islam reminds us to put aside all the idols and other priorities that would lead us astray.

The second thing that I have learned from my study of Islam this summer is the importance of prayer and acts of piety or faith practices that help us stay close to God.  For the faithful Muslim there are five pillars of practice.

The first is to submit themselves to God by declaring their faith in the one true God and to acknowledge Muhammad as God’s prophet.

The second is to pray five times a day.  One of the things that Iman Rauf pointed out that I hadn’t thought of before is that the Muslim way of prayer is a world wide choreography. Every faithful Muslim learns to pray these prayers using the same gestures and similar words.   It is a way of praying that connects persons with each other and God all day long.   Muslims pray directly to God, they don’t need a religious leader to intercede for them.

Of course this pattern of prayer is not the only way Muslims connect with God.  For them according to a pamphlet I picked up at the Islamic Center, worship happens whenever one does something in one’s life with awareness of God or God consciousness as the Quran calls it.

The third pillar is to give of ones wealth.   This generally means paying to the community treasury a min. tax of 2.5% of one’s wealth as a means of purifying that wealth and transmitting ones work into worship.    I think we call this in our tradition stewardship and generosity.

The fourth pillar is to fast during Ramadan, a month once a year. This means abstaining from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual activity from dawn to sunset daily.  This is time for reflection. Its objective is to raise ones God consciousness and sense of what you are capable of going.   Fasting has also long been a part of Christian practice.

And the fifth pillar is performing a pilgrimage (hadj) to Mecca once in a lifetime- if one is able and can afford it.  The pilgrimage to Mecca is because Mecca is where Muhammad first shared the visions of Islam. There is also a Arabic tradition that when Hagar left with Ishmael as we read about this morning, she went to the area of today’s Mecca and there discovered the well that saved their lives. Other people joined her there and they started a community.  The stories tell that Abraham visited Hagar and Ishmael there and together they built there the Kabah- the sacred shrine of Islam.

These practices of faith are outlined in the Quran and of course interpreted down through the history of Islam.    They remind me of the importance in my own life of regular practices of prayer and worship, giving and practices like fasting that reminds me to put God first in my life.   As I studied Islam, I realized that, like that religion professor said I don’t really feel the need for another revelation.   Following Jesus is quite more than enough for me!   Yet, listening to the practices and spirituality of Islam invited me to take more seriously my own practice and faith.

So, of course there is much more to Muslim history and theology!  I just scratched the surface!   Islam has a long rich tradition which has advanced science and philosophy through the ages.  I remember from my western history how Islamic scholars saved the classical Greek and Roman literature that we could have lost during the Middle ages.   I remember learning about the high culture and scholarship or Moorish or Muslim Spain in my Spanish history class.

Today there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.   Indonesia has the largest population with India second.   In the US, Muslims make up a little less than 1% of the population.    According to recent Pew Research reports, most Muslims in the world view terrorist groups like ISIS unfavorably. In the US Muslims practice their religion in about the same rates as Christians do.  If you would like to know more about Muslims in the United States, I have a copy of a Pew Research report, you might find interesting (pewresearch.org “Muslims and Islam Key Findings in the US and around the World by Michael Lipka, July 22, 2016 and people-press.org   “Muslim Americans: No signs of Growth in Alienation or support for Extremism, Pew Research Center, Aug. 10, 2011  )

I share these stats to remind us that Islam and Muslim people are a large and diverse group of people.   I encourage us to be careful not to stereotype Muslims, especially as terrorist or dangerous.  The fringe groups that use violence do not reflect most Muslims in the world and especially do not reflect the teachings of Islam.   Like Christianity, Islam has a defensive/ just war teaching but it does not justify suicide or aggression toward others.   In fact one of the teachings of Islam is the hope for and need to help build a better world where everyone’s human rights are respected.

So why are there terrorist attacks and groups growing out of Muslim communities around the world?   The answer is complex and is not so much about Islam as a religion as the history of colonialism, dictatorships, religious oppression and wars in the Middle East.   To understand these things more deeply I invite you to read Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s book, What’s Right about Islam (which will soon be back in the  Springfield library) and Karen Armstong’s essay in the book Inside Islam which I  have today and is in our church library.   I have shared with you a very quick overview  of what I have learned about Islam in my study this summer.  I hope to continue to reach out to my Muslim brothers and sisters in this area to gain more understanding.  There is an Interfaith Prayer service at First Christian Church Eugene  the 11th of each month in the evening.   If you are interested in these opportunities, let me know.

 

 

 

Judaism  August 14, 2016

Scriptures: :  Genesis 11:30-12:4 ;  Deuteronomy 6: 1-9 Leviticus 19:18  Matthew 5: 17-18;  Luke 4: 16-21

So these four rabbis were arguing theology together and it was three against one, so the odd rabbi cried out to heaven, “ O God! I know in my heart that I am right and they are wrong! Send a sign to prove it to them”

Suddenly there was a big black storm cloud in the sky about the four rabbis. The dissenting rabbi said, “ A sign from God. See, I’m right, I knew it.” But the other three said that one storm cloud meant nothing.

So the rabbi prayed for a bigger sign. This time four storm clouds and a bolt of lighting came.  “ See ” cried the rabbi, but the other rabbis said, “ So? Eh Lightning schmightning.” Just then the sky turned pitch black, the earth shook and a deep voice said, “ HEEE’s RIIGht”   The rabbi said, “ Well?”

“ So?”  Said the other rabbis. “Now it’s still three to two.”  ( p. 120 A Prairie Home Companion Pretty Good Joke Book, 2009)

I grew up in Idaho,  so I had very few experiences with Judaism or Jewish people growing up.  Then when I served First Church Boise, the Jewish synagogue was about a block away.  It was the oldest synagogue building west of the Rockies.   I took my confirmation classes to their services and met several of the student rabbi’s that at that time provided rabbinical leadership.   I remember the surprise of one woman rabbi  when she discovered me,  a woman protestant pastor.  She had grown up in an all Jewish neighborhood in NYC, then went to seminary in LA to expand her horizons and took an internship in Boise where the number of Jewish people was quite small and diverse.  Of course I too was a little surprised to find a woman rabbi who even cared about inclusive language.   It was a joy for me to see that small Jewish community in Boise grow, call a full time rabbi and eventually move their historic building to a larger site.   I am grateful for their hospitality to me and the Methodist confirmation youth .

So, it is with great humility and a certain amount of  trepidation that I share with you some of what I have learned about Judaism.   I frankly feel I should have asked a local rabbi to talk to you all instead of me.  But , on the other hand, writing this sermon helped me to grow in my understanding of  Judaism.  I hope it will you.   Of course like I said about Christianity last week, it is impossible to do Judaism justice in one sermon!   So for this sermon, I want to talk a little bit about the history between Christianity and Judaism,  share some of what I have learned about Jewish beliefs and close with some thoughts about current possibilities.

Historical Relationship Christianity and Judaism

It’s not hard for us to see our common roots in faith.   Jesus was a Jew and so were the first followers who formed the first  churches.  The Hebrew Bible was the scripture for all the NT writers.   Like Jewish people today, we gain inspiration from these scriptures   The experiences of the people of Israel  and their relationship with God,  have also become our stories.   We know perhaps a little about the Jews of Jesus day through the stories of the NT and Paul’s letters.  Yet, this only told from the developing Christian perspective.

When I was in Boise, the Synagogue offered to us Christian pastors a series of classes.  The one on Jewish history was a surprise to me.  They told us the story of how what we know today as Judaism grew and developed  around the same time Christianity did.  One of the misplaced ideas Christians have had through the ages is that Christianity displaced  the Jewish faith and covenant with God.  As Rabbi Yecheil Eckstein puts it,  “Jews however maintain that they were never cut off from God’s promises and that their covenant with their Father was never displaced. Jews insist that they continue to serve as God’s witnesses in this world- as Jews even after Jesus.”  ( p. 13   Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, How Firm a Foundation,  Paraclete Press, 1997 )

At the class at the Boise Synagogue I learned that Judaism kept the traditions of the Jewish people alive through worship and prayer in synagogues and homes and developed a rich  oral tradition of biblical interpretation and dialogue with scripture.  It was eventually written down. Today we know this vast collection of materials at the Talmud.    Judaism and Christianity both grew up as world faiths after the destruction of the system in 70 CE     Judiasm replaced the temple system with a liturgy of prayer  as the source of connect with God and, Christians replaced it  with the belief in Jesus as the source of right relationship and connection with God.   We know from the NT documents that this was not a division without controversy.    Later on as Christianity became the religion of the  Roman Empire and the rulers of Europe,  these texts of struggle were interpreted in ways that led to the persecution and even the execution of Jewish people  culminating in the brutal attempt at genocide of the Nazi regime.   Today, there is much more conversation between Jews and Christians, as both parties begin to look at the Jewishness of Jesus and seek to build mutual understanding of each other.

One of the ways, I sought understanding as I studied for this sermon was to do some reading of books by rabbis about Judaism.  One was How Firm a Foundation by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.   Rabbi Eckstein wrote his book in 1997 and has spent much of his life fostering relationships between Christians and Jews.    Rabbi Eckstein recounts a story about Rabbi Hillel.  He was a famous rabbi who lived around the same time as Jesus.   His stories and interpretations of the Torah  are an important part of the Talmud.

“When a Gentile came to the great Rabbi Hillel … and asked him to explain all of Judaism while standing on one foot, Hillel responded by paraphrasing the biblical verse “ Love thy neighbor as thyself “ and said,  ‘ What is hurtful to you, do not do unto others.’  The essence of Judaism today is captured, as it always has been by that biblical phrase.”  ( p. xx  Eckstein )

One of the core beliefs of Judaism is the importance of the Torah as the revealed word of God to the world and particularly to the Jewish people.  This revelation of God to the Jewish people is seen as the basis for a way of life and faith.   It is the source of their understanding of covenant.  The first covenant  story is that of Noah in which God makes covenant with all of humanity and the earth. The second covenant is the one with Abraham,  where God reaches out to one man and his family to establish a relationship that will bless his family and its descendents and through them all the families of the earth.  The third covenant is the one with Moses and the people of Israel with God on Mt Sinai.  In this covenant God gives them the loving gift of the commandments/ the teachings  that will sanctify daily life.   The passage we read in Deuteronomy expressed the important of this covenant for Israel and the call to teach, practice and remember God’s teachings in their daily lives.   Both of our traditions value the commandment to love the Lord your God will all your heart, soul , mind and strength.

One of the simple dichotomies we Christians often use is to say that Judaism is all about law and legalisms rather than the grace.    Yet, the faithful Jewish person sees  the laws or commandments of Judaism differently.  Here’s Rabbi Eckstein again,

“Judaism… understands the love of God as the willingness to accept upon oneself the ‘yoke of the kingdom of God’ . For when seen from within, this yoke of burden is one that the observant Jew accepts willingly , out of abiding love and immeasurable joy. He regards the Torah and its laws as God’s precious gift to Israel, as the concrete manifestation of his goodness and love for his people. The law purifies him, ennobles his spirit and sanctifies his daily life ( mitzvah)….  ( It is)  A way of life linking him with the divine, a vehicle for enabling him to fulfill God’s will and a means for bringing him ever closer to the spiritual realm.  Instead of bondage the law represents true freedom. Rather than a burden, it is the Jew’s greatest delight.”  ( p. 27, Eckstein)

Community prayers and worship, eating kosher, practicing Sabbath,  using prayers of blessing for many aspects of daily life, ethical and just decision making – all these and other practices of keeping the teachings of Torah  bring Jewish people closer to  God and allow them to  love God with all their heart , soul, mind and strength.  Rabbi Eckstein points out that we may be closer to each other in our understanding of God’s mercy and grace than we might think.

“ Certainly Judaism  professes that it is not man’s works, observance of the law or merit alone that bring him closer to God, but God’s love and act of grace in response to his initiative, despite man’s unworthiness, as well.  Daily the Jew recites in his morning prayer, “ Not out of our righteousness do we appeal to you, but because we rely on your mercy…. And while Christianity indeed, emphasizes God’s initiative of grace in spite of man’s sinfulness, it too regards man’s deeds and works as essential, “ Not everyone who says to me Lord,  Lord shall enter the kingdom of heaven but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  ( Matt 7:21) ( p. 11, Eckstein)

We share many common beliefs with Judaism:  our Creator God, the revelation of the Hebrew Bible,  and a desire to serve  and be faithful to God.  Of course there are differences  as well.    We believe that Jesus is the messiah and the savior of the whole world.  As gentiles we follow him, and find our relationship with Christ helps us to grow closer to God love God and neighbor.    Judaism doesn’t have this understanding of Jesus as the Christ, the messiah.  They don’t feel the need for this new covenant.   Yet, like us they too long for the final fulfillment of God’s will  for our world.  As people with the original and eternal covenant with  God, they have their covenant way to live faithfully before God.

I have just scratched the surface of Judaism’s rich wisdom, theology, practices, stories and teachings.   These resources can also enrich our understanding of Jesus and our faith.  For example, there is a midrash, a story reflecting on the relationship between  God’s revelation on Mt. Sinai and Moses’s openness to receive it.    It states that if man initiates even a slight movement toward God and creates an opening in his heart the size of a needle, God will respond magnanimously by enlarging it so that even chariots could pass through.” ( p. 10 Eckstein)

I believe that  Jesus has come to us as the revelations of God:  a revelation that invites us to open our hearts to love one another.   Yet, this has not always characterized our Christian response to the Jewish people.  Unfortunately there is a long history as I said earlier of theological misunderstandings and outright hatred.    Anti Jewish ideas and movements continue to rear up even today.      This history means that we as Christian persons have a responsibility to make amends, to seek to understand more fully the  Jewish point of view and to make sure that no one is ever again harmed simply because of their religious heritage or beliefs.   There are opportunities today for relationships and dialogue with our Jewish neighbors. The local Temple Beth Israel here sometimes holds educational events for the community.  I attended one last year and enjoyed the learning and the music and fellowship.

Relationships of friendship, mutual respect and authentic faith sharing between ourselves and our Jewish neighbors and friends can lead to the deepening of their own faith.    Rabbi Eckstein ends his book with some wisdom about trying to reach across the divide of distrust that still exists, and then this prayer,

“ It is my greatest hope and prayer, … that through our efforts and God’s blessings, we might merit seeing the day we all long for, when enmity and intolerance will be swept from our hears when nation shall not lift up sword against other nation and neither shall learn war anymore, and when there will be love- true love- and fellowship among all of God’s children. Amen. “ ( p. 259, Eckstein)

 

Christianity   August 7, 2016

When I wrote down the next three topics for sermons, it seemed like it was a long time out. Well, here we are!   I can’t believe I thought I could preach one sermon on the topic of Christianity- heavens!  So just maybe I need to narrow it down a bit?   Of course the same could be said for Islam and Judaism, even more so, sense I am far from an expert in either of those subjects.  So I will ask forgiveness ahead of time, if I just scratch the surface of the wonder and complexity of all three religions and practices of faith.

So I will not try in this sermon to tell you everything about Christianity.  If that were even possible.  Rather today I want to look at our roots in the story of Abraham and what it suggests to us about our relationship with other religious traditions, particularly those who also share those roots: Judaism and Islam.  Next week I will talk more about Judaism and the next week about Islam.

So what is this root story everyone talks about?  I invite you to read the whole story for yourself in Genesis 12- 25.  The passage we read this morning is the beginning of the story.  Abram and his family have travelled away from Ur to the land or Haran, further west. Then Abram hears a word from God to head out from their home to the land God will show him.  Then God gives him promises:  “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. And be blessed.   And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. “    Right now he is a nomadic traveler with a barren wife.  He has to set out on faith alone.

Also, this is a gift.  Abram has not earned this calling, or done anything to merit it.   Later in Ch 15 his faith is reckoned to him as righteousness.  In  this beginning of the story, it just says simply-  “ He went as the Lord had told him”  ( vs. 4)   He is willing to be in relationship with the one true God and steps out on the promises of this God even though he cannot see them yet.  Abraham’s story shows us that God wants to be in relationship with human beings, invites us to trust God will provide for what we need, and invites us to become part of blessing the families of the earth.  Of course Abraham’s story isn’t so simple. If you read the rest of it: he does get blessed but his wife remains barren, he gets himself in some troubles in Egypt, he struggles with his relative Lot,  he fathers a son from his wife’s maid, he  has conversations with God about these promises and what they mean.  No the story is one of struggle and conflict and wrestling with faith with this One True God.   Yet, Abraham stays in the struggle.  He continues to talk with God throughout his whole life.

Thus, when the first person to write about Jesus Christ, Paul wrote about what it means to have faith, he turned to

the story of Abraham.  IN Romans he emphasized that it is by faith we are made righteous, put in right relationship with God.    Abraham received this faith and relationship with God as a gift, not as somehow due him.  By believing he gained a relationship with God that brought righteousness.      Paul does on to say that he is the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised the gentiles and all those who have the Jews.    Thus early in our Christian story Abraham’s example is used as a bridge between disparate peoples.  How do we include gentiles, a Paul wants to do?  We recognize the importance of the faith of Abraham. Faith not founded upon works or laws or even a set of beliefs but faith willing to receive the gift God has to offer humanity.  A gift Paul believed came through Abraham and Jesus to the gentiles as well as the Jews.  This was a remarkable opening of the doors of faith!      A hundred years later, the preacher who wrote Hebrews also used the example of Abraham to encourage people to have faith. This times faith it’s faith in what we cannot yet see.    Hebrews emphasizes Abraham’s obedience even when the future or direction is uncertain.   The writer of Hebrews wanted his folks to understand how their faith in Jesus was connected to those who went before them in faith.  These roots helped to nourish and form them as followers of Jesus.

What do these roots and stories tell us about our Christian faith and its relationship with the other religions that share those roots?

First of all there are different ways of approaching our relationship with other religions.

Adam Hamilton in his book Christianity and World Religions outlines three as:

1.  The Pluralistic perspective – that all religions are equally valid paths to Ultimate Reality.  That all religious are pointing in the same direction.  This is the “Your truth is true for you and my truth is true for me.”  attitude.   Adam Hamilton points out that this attitude, although seeking to be compassionate and open doesn’t really honor the real differences in belief and perspective of the various religions of the world.  It also leaves out the need to discern the possibility of deluded and unhealthy religious movements.

2.  The other end of the spectrum is the Exclusivist view.  In its most rigid interpretation this view holds that all who do not accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord will be condemned to hell.   A more moderate version might allow grace for those who have not yet heard of Jesus.  I agree with Adam Hamilton who points out, “the exclusivist view seem inconsistent with the way God interacts with people in the Bible. It does not mesh with the very spirit of the gospel, which tells of God’s love for the broken world. It paints a picture of God that even a lost person could find difficult to fathom- a God who punishes 2/3 of the world populations because they were not born in a predominantly Christian culture.”  (p. 24) Or don’t hold a particular belief.

3. The” Inclusivist “view.   According to Hamilton, “This position maintains that God is at work among all people everywhere even where there is no Christian witness.     We as Christians can believe that Christ is the unique or definitive revelation of God and therefore all religious claims can be measured in the light of Jesus.  Jesus is the most complete picture of God. His life, death and resurrection are the good news for all people.  Having said that however, the inclusivists also believe that God may be actively involved in the lives of non- Christians, too.    God accepts theintent of their hearts- that they are reaching and yearning- and  God credits this to them as faith.”  (p. 26 Christianity and World Religions, Abingdon Press, 2005)

Secondly, I think this third view fits best with our Abraham story roots and our experience of Christ.  Abraham was an example of faithfulness outside an experience of Christ as we conceive it.  He experienced relationship with God was a gift of grace, a promise in the midst of barrenness, and hope in despair.

Not all religions are the same but people who live out an authentic faith are not necessarily rejected by God.  Thus, we can approach persons with other religious beliefs and practices with respect and humility rather than judgment.    We can share our Christian witness with integrity but be open to learn from the faith experiences and questions of others.

One example of this in practice is recorded in the book The Faith Club about a group of three women: Muslim, Jewish and Christian who met together and shared their faith and faith struggles with each other. They find that as they share this way, they each grew in their own faith.   Another might be our Interfaith Peace Walk , where we invite person of different faiths to walk together for the larger cause that involves us all learning to live together  in mutual respect- peace in our world.

Finally, The reality is that as Christian persons, we look at the world through a Christ lens.  I realize that my relationship with Christ Jesus and my walk with him color how I see the world.   My experience of faith is that Christ Jesus brings freedom from sin and healing of wounds so we are made whole and empowered to walk in faith and care for our world.    I remember as a teen realizing that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was for me and my sins.  I remember as a young adult realizing that in a world of many different active religions, Christ had claimed me as his and I decided to claim him.  I remember how   Christ has helped me through tough times and still calls me to reach out for justice, for peace, in love and forgiveness to all people.

Yet, I am humble about my faith. I know it to be true and powerful, a source of inspiration and hope, of grace and healing.  I love Jesus and don’t need any other revelation. Following and loving Christ is enough for me.   Yet, I don’t pretend to know the heart and validity of every other person’s religion or faith experience.  I think that as a follower of Jesus I can honor and respect people of other faiths, can learn from them and work with them for the common values and goals we discern together.

And especially, when it comes to the religions that have their roots in the story of Abraham.  I think we have opportunities to let God heal some of the hurt and violence and misunderstandings that have and still do characterize our relationships.   Abraham’ story reminds us that it is faith in God that we share; a faith that was granted as a gift centuries ago to an ordinary man and his family.  A faith that invites us to trust God and participate in how God is using us- Abraham’s descendants in faith- to bless all the families of the earth.

As you come to communion today. I invite you to renew your trust in God and the saving grace of Jesus Christ in your life.  May God equip us to be part of his blessing the earth.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *