Religions of the World: Judaism –
Genesis 12:1-3; 15:5-6
Rev. Sandy Johnson
It’s time to delve back into our series on religions of the world! This morning we will be talking about Judaism. I want to reiterate again how important it is for us to learn about other faith traditions. We tend to demonize people that we are unfamiliar with and it is curious that when we get to know the “stranger” or the person who is different from us, we find how much we have in common as fellow sojourners in life. It is vital that we demonstrate respect for those whose beliefs are different than ours and share God’s love through our actions. You never know when kindness and love from God will transform them. It is our job to share God’s love!
Let us pray: Gracious creator God. We come before you this morning to learn about the beliefs of our Jewish ancestors. Open our hearts and minds to the lesson before us. May it be an inspiration to us and give us the courage to share your love with everyone. Amen.
Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”
Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.
So, this is how we are NOT to behave as Christians learning to love our neighbor! We get good at seeing what we have in common and sometimes it’s hard when the differences are made known, to continue to accept and love the “other.” But that is what Jesus commands us to do when he responds to the question of a scribe about which commandment is the first of all. Mark 12:29-31:
29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
So then the question always becomes, who is my neighbor? This morning we are here to learn about one of our neighbors, our Jewish neighbors. Many years ago I worked at Encore Productions. The Vice President I worked for was a devote Jewish woman. I had never personally known someone of the Jewish faith, I guess we didn’t many Jews in Oregon where I grew up! What struck me was, what a deep and abiding faith she had. She didn’t just say she was a Jew, she lived her Jewish faith in everything she did. I realized that she was as faithful a Jew as I was a Christian. What a thought! It got me thinking about others in a different light. It opened the door for me to be able to accept others and the faith traditions they held without judging or feeling the need to change them into a Christian!
So what do we know about the Jewish faith? A lot actually. We have studied Jewish history through the Old Testament and of all the Religions of the World we will study, we probably know most about our own ancestors in the faith who were in fact Jewish. Jesus was a Jew after all. The Jewish stories of our Old Testament are the same as the Hebrew Bible that Jews read and study. This morning I’m going to give you a brief history of the Jewish people and then explore questions that many Christians have about our Jewish neighbors and then I will end with one fundamental point where we disagree.
“Judaism is the story of the One God who created the entire universe. It is also the story of a particular people through whom God chose to work to redeem the human race. Buddhism begins with one person, the Buddha. Islam begins with Mohammad. Judaism begins, “In the beginning,” with God. And it begins with a family of people whom God entered into a special relationship, a covenant relationship, blessing them so that they might become a blessing to others.”
Part of the story began around 2,000 BC when God chose Abraham and Sarah, although in their later years of life, to be the patriarch and matriarch of this would-be nation. They were called the Hebrew people and were shepherds and wanderers, not someone you would expect to lead a nation. Even Abraham and Sarah were an unlikely couple to arise as leaders. When they were 100 and 90 respectively when God gave them their son, Isaac. “Isaac, in turn had a son named Jacob. Like many of us, Jacob struggled with his faith. Literally and figuratively, he wrestled with God. So God changed his name to “Israel” (meaning “one who wrestles with God”).
“Israel had twelve sons and several daughters. His children and their descendants became known as the twelve tribes of Israel.” The story of the Hebrew people is told in the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament, the first half of the bible we use today. Another sacred text used by our Jewish sisters and brothers is called the Talmud. The Talmud is an oral tradition that was developed to help them interpret the law and it was eventually written down. Included in the Talmud are commentaries which are called the Mishnah. “Over the centuries, rabbis wrote the Mishnah to help people interpret the Torah for their lives. The rest of the Talmud is composed of sermons, teachings, and anecdotal stories about how to interpret both the Mishnah and the Torah.” Torah is another word for the first five books of the bible; also called the books of the Law or the books of Moses.
When I was in seminary and studied the Old Testament thoroughly I was stunned to see the pattern of “covenant-making and covenant-breaking” that the Hebrew people endured. It seemed that their history is all about God making covenants with them and the people “doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” God then would punish them and they would repent and make a new covenant… again and again and again.
God made covenants with “Abraham, Moses, the Israelites, and King David. God offers blessings and love in return for obedience, trust, and faithfulness. The people willingly” entered into covenant with God, only to fall away, worshipping other Gods. They ignored the laws that God had given them and in the midst of their rejection of God, God kept loving them. Isn’t that just like God? God continued to seek a way to save them.
The Old Testament has story after story of the Israelites turning their back on God and then being attacked by enemies. The people would cry out to God to save them and God, mercifully, took them back. Does this story sound familiar? Anyone else you know turn toward God, only to fall away, again and again and again? This is also our story isn’t it? “As human beings, we are “prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love,” we make covenants and promises to the Lord when we are in trouble or in need; (just get me out of this bind God and I’ll return to church, I’ll do anything you want) and then, over time, we tend to wander away. God takes us back every time. All of us are like Israel: We [all] wrestle with God.”
So how is Judaism organized? Is there one great Jewish church or synagogue? One group that is called Jew? I am sure it is no surprise that in the same way that there are many different Christian denominations, there are numerous divisions or branches of Judaism. In the United States there are three major divisions: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform.”
In a nutshell the “Orthodox would say that Judaism is God’s religion. That is, God gave it to the Jewish people. Orthodox Jews believes that the Torah and the Talmud were both given by God.” Conservative Judaism is also called Positive Historical Judaism. They believe that things change over time. They follow Jewish law or Jewish tradition. Like the Orthodox, they regard the Torah as divinely given – but they don’t necessarily share that view when it comes to the Talmud. For Reform Judaism, Torah is divine inspiration, and the Talmud was written by human beings. Reform Judaism does not believe that the messiah is or will be an actual person. Neither does Reform Judaism believe in the resurrection of the dead. But most people do not realize that Reform Judaism has always believed in an immortal soul in every human being.”
The Orthodox Jew is what most people think of, when they think of being Jewish. These folks are those who “attempt literally to fulfill the Jewish law to the greatest possible degree today. We think of men with their curly locks and flowing beards, dressed in black. At the same time, the Judaism with which we likely are most familiar is Reform – which also is perhaps the Judaism we feel the greatest ability to connect with. Reform Judaism’s approach to the Law looks a bit more like our own as Christians.”
To be a Reform Jew means to seek to “lead a ‘Torah-true’ life” Doing their very best to focus on keeping the Laws of Moses and trying to be a decent human being. Handing down tradition is also a piece of their faith. Their traditions are ancient and their focus is to attempt to keep the covenant that God made with Moses and his people. The focus is on being God’s servants on this earth and doing the things that God would do if God were here. “By acting correctly in the world, Jews sanctify God’s name. By doing the right thing, people will see that their actions testify to the presence of God in the world.”
It is interesting that they do not ever attempt to convert people. Their approach to evangelism, if you can even call it that, is to allow people to come to their own conclusion about God based on the actions of Jewish folks they are in relationship with. It reminds me of St. Francis of Assisi when he said “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Our actions speak louder than our words every day of the week.
One of the greatest differences between our Christian faith and the Jewish faith is the belief in a Messiah. The Orthodox Jews believe a Messiah will come one day to “restore Israel’s sacrificial system and splendor, while ushering in an age of peace. They believe the Messiah will tear down the Muslim Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. From there the Messiah will reign, and the whole world will recognize the biblical God and the truth of Judaism.”
“Reform Jews have left behind the idea of a literal Messiah. They believe that the passages in the Old Testament that refer to the Messiah are meant to be spiritualized, or turned into basic principles or ideas. They believe that there will be a messianic age, in which peace, righteousness, and justice prevail.” This will be achieved when we live as God intends for us and “then God will use us to usher in the perfect, messianic world.”
As Christians we believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and that his coming to live among us fulfills the prophesy recorded in the Hebrew Bible. All of Christ’s early followers were Jews until the early evangelists took the word to the Gentiles, led by the apostle Paul. Many Jews were uncomfortable with this “new Way” and did not believe. Paul who was an educated Jewish leader, a Pharisee in fact, had a dramatic meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul was able to use his great wealth of information about the Jewish faith to teach the early followers how in fact Jesus is Messiah.
Christians and Jews agree on many things. We agree that the Hebrew Scriptures are sacred texts, inspired by God. “We agree that God is a shepherd, the King of the universe and the Creator of all things. We agree that human beings were created in God’s image and that we naturally struggle with sin. And the essential statement of Judaism is at the heart of Christianity as well. That is, we, too, hold fast to the truth that God is one and that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and strength.”
As with all of our faith-filled neighbors, please hold our Jewish friends and neighbors in high esteem. They are our brothers and sisters in the faith, in fact they are God’s first born. It is my prayer that we will be bridge builders and be known as a place where people of all faith traditions can feel the love of God and work toward the greater good of our world.
Let us pray: Gracious God, we thank you that you have created so many beautiful faith traditions. Give us the eyes to see and the ears to hear the hearts of our neighbors; to extend your love to everyone we meet and to help this world to be a better place. I pray this all in Jesus name. Amen.
 Hamilton, 90
 Hamilton, 91
 http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/f/francisofa109569.html Accessed May 16, 2015