Sermon for 10 Pentecost, Year A
Based on Rom. 9:1-5
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
"The Jews: God's Chosen People"
As one reads our second lesson today, one is able to sense how much the Apostle Paul really loved his fellow Jews; how much he agonized over their failure to believe ~ like he now did ~ in Jesus Christ as their true Messiah. In fact, so great was Paul's love toward his fellow Jews; so deep was his agony over them; that he begins chapter nine of Romans by speaking an oath in verse one; then going on in verse three to say: "For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh."
In other words, if it were within Paul's power and means, he would give up his own life and salvation in Christ for the lives and salvation of his fellow Jews. Yet, paradoxically, Paul is the first to admit that salvation comes from the Jews. According to Paul, the Jewish no to Jesus as Messiah is necessary and divinely ordained, which opens the way for a Gentile yes to Jesus as Messiah.
Down through the centuries, the Christian Church would have done well to follow the teachings and attitude of Paul concerning his love for the Jews. Instead of loving and respecting the Jews, tragically, the Church has hated and despised the Jews. The Church has, right from the beginning up to the present day, caused millions of Jews untold sufferings. Anti-Judaism and antisemitism did not begin or end with Hitler and the Nazis, unfortunately, they existed in the Christian Church from the beginning and have been perpetuated and promoted in every century up to our day.
The cause of all anti-Judaism and antisemitism is the power of sin and the powers of evil. Sin and evil powers work to turn truth into a lie or a lie into the truth. For example, back in the Middle Ages, when approximately one quarter to one-half of Europe's population suffered and died from the bubonic plague; people began to spread the lie that Jews were poisoning the wells. In actual fact, the Jews were not to blame for the bubonic plague at all. The bubonic plague was caused from rats, which carried fleas that would bite people and transmit a bacterial plague.
We Christians today are unable to turn back the pages of history and correct all of our ancestors' anti-Judaic and antisemitic errors. However, we can remember the dark, tragic periods of the Church's history in order that we too do not make the same errors as our ancestors. I believe that the Apostle Paul's example in our text today is one that we contemporary Christians would do well to follow. After all, how can we Christians hate, despise or persecute the Jews, when Jesus Christ our Saviour was himself born, grew up, lived and died as a Jew?
A. Dudley Dennison tells the following story, which makes this point quite well: "A Lutheran, a Roman Catholic and a Baptist who were discussing the most pressing question of the day. Which church would Jesus join if he returned to earth in our day? The Baptist was quite sure he would unite with that denomination. The Roman Catholic was just as confident that he would never be anything but a Roman Catholic. The Lutheran concluded the discussion with, "I don't think he would change." A local rabbi stole the punch line by commenting, "That's right; he'd still be a Jew!"
As Christians, we can never forget that Jesus was a Jew. In love he gave his life on the cross for all peoples of every race. One race is no better or no worse than another. Jesus did not hate or despise his Jewishness. Neither should we hate or despise his Jewishness or the Jewish race. Christ's example of love toward all peoples and the Apostle Paul's example of love toward his fellow Jews is also our example as Christians toward Jews and all other peoples.
As Christians, Jesus has empowered and inspired us to promote peace, reconciliation, love and justice among all the races ~ especially the Jews. This is the case because we Christians have more in common with the Jewish people and with Judaism than any other people and faith. The Jewish people are the ancestors of our faith.
It was the Jews whom God chose to be God's chosen people. As Paul so aptly puts it in verses four and five of our passage: To them belong the adoption, the glory ~ the shekinah and kaboth, the revealed light and truth of God ~ the covenants (which are everlasting and hence continuous), the giving of the law (which is the foundation of Western civilization), the worship (which had a profound influence in shaping Christian liturgies), and the promises (which, by faith we too, along with the Jews claim to be inheritors of); to them belong the patriarchs (and, I would add, the matriarchs, again whom we too claim inheritance through faith), and from them according to the flesh, comes the Messiah (whom we believe is Jesus the Jew).
Abraham and Sarah were given the promise that from them God would bless all nations. When the Jews were under the slavery of the Egyptians, God delivered them and brought them liberation. In the desert wanderings, God provided the necessary means for their hunger and thirst. God provided the Jewish people with the leadership of Moses, giving the law as a basis of their nation and religion. God provided the Jews with land and eventually a nation.
Through its religious leaders, God established the temple in Jerusalem and worship in the temple, which symbolized the earthly presence and dwelling place of God. Then, Paul tells us, God reached out to the Gentiles by sending Jesus the Jew as our Messiah. We are members of God's family by virtue of God's chosen people. Contrary to anti-Judaic and antisemitic interpretations, it is the Jews who have been faithful to God's promises; it is they who have handed down God's promises throughout all generations; it is they whom Paul in Romans chapter eleven refers to as the olive tree and branches ~ while referring to us Gentiles as the grafted on wild olive shoot, in part to humble us and prevent us from boasting that we are somehow superior to the Jews, to this Paul emphatically says: "By no means!"
May the grace of God keep us mindful of our heritage passed down to us by the Jewish people. In light of this rich heritage, may we work and pray diligently for the end of anti-Judaism and antisemitism in the Christian Church. May we grow in our love of the Jews and indeed all other peoples, as Jesus Christ loves us.
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