Union Presbyterian Church

254 Shell Road, Carneys Point, NJ 08069 856-299-1724 "A Caring Family Of Faith That Loves As Christ Taught Us To"

2 Samuel 6: 1-15                                                                                                                                                                        Luke 22: 1-20

                                                         Expression In Celebration

            May the Lord be with you!  (And also with you…)

            What seems rather impossible for me to reckon with is that it’s now been almost twenty-five years since I was in Jerusalem writing my first college thesis.  It was an intense time of political chaos there and the excitement of being in the middle of it was really amazing.  I don’t know if I’ve ever told all of you this before, but for that project I wrote an oral history of three Holocaust survivors.  They were all non-camp survivors because I wanted to put out there that you were still a survivor of the Holocaust, even if you hadn’t been in one of the Nazi’s nightmare camps.  For it, I interviewed a woman who’d fled Germany just before Kristalnacht in November of 1938.  She fled to England and then in the 1950’s she immigrated to Jerusalem where she spent the rest of her life.  The second person I interviewed was a survivor of the ghetto in Budapest, Hungary, she’d actually been one of Raoul Wallenberg’s Jews if you know who he was; there was actually a movie made about him.  She survived the ghetto by doing things that I couldn’t imagine personally having to do, and then she fled on foot to Austria during the 1956 Hungarian Uprising against the Soviets, she wound-up in New York City where she had a distant uncle that took her in.  She married and divorced and then moved to Jerusalem in the 1980’s.  And then the third person I’d interviewed was a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, he’d been a partisan fighter in the sewage lines under the city throughout the war.  Almost as soon as that war was completed, he then immigrated to Israel and fought in another three wars there.  All three of them had incredibly intense stories as you can well imagine, and having the mind that I have, that likes to dissect everything, I found myself asking, how on earth could a people be so accepting of a leader that was so clearly negative and nationalistic and destructive to such an extent to be that  dangerous?  And really that is just what Hitler was. 

            Well, the bottom line I found was that it clearly had to do with human prejudice and bigotry that Hitler was able to tap into that people had had a pretty long history with already, and clearly that is something that some leaders will gladly exploit when given the opportunity; not that Hitler wasn’t a massive anti-Semite himself already.  And then, that answer led me to the question of ‘Where did anti-Semitism itself come from?’  And so then that question led me to the bible.  You see, in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the writers described how it was that the Scribes, Pharisees and High Priests were the ones that wanted Jesus put to death, and all essentially because Jesus was usurping their influence that they’d had a monopoly on for multiple generations.  But then if we look to the Gospel of John, we see that John, when telling of those who had wanted Jesus put to death, did not specify the Scribes, Pharisees and High Priests, but instead he kind of generalized it all and wrote that ‘the Jews had wanted Jesus killed’.  

This difference was then particularly noted by a Vatican priest by the name of John Chrysostom a little more than a thousand or so years after those words had been written in John’s Gospel.  He then traveled around Europe pronouncing that it was the Jews that had killed Jesus, and that therefore, their ancestors must pay the price for such a horrific crime as such.  It didn’t really seem to matter that Jesus had essentially planned his own earthly death, or that the three other Gospels had been very specific about who had been calling for Jesus’ crucifixion.  And this, he just happen to discover, was a pretty easy way for him to gain power and influence over a population of people who were 99.9% illiterate and uneducated.  They were told what to believe by someone that they respected and thought had their best interests at heart, and so it became very easy to simply fall in line and believe what was just so very negative.  That negative then always translated into a source of blame, blame which always deflected responsibility from oneself, and Lord knows that’s always been the easier and more comfortable route for people to take, then the one that requires effort and actual thought analysis and the taking of responsibility. 

            But, all of this horror of anti- Semitism, I found, did obviously start in the Bible, or at least with a particularly dangerous interpretation by someone who saw an opportunity to take advantage of others for their own ultimate benefit.  But in order to get to this point, I clearly had to study the Scriptures, and I didn’t have a bible when I was a student in Jerusalem, and so my Hasidic Jewish advisor told me to go to the church and ask for one.  I went down to one of the big Catholic churches in Jerusalem where I knew they spoke English, and I asked to see a priest.  A priest comes out, looking at me as if he was thinking, “Oh great here’s another one.”.  And I asked him if there would be any possibility of getting a bible from him, I was a student and really was very limited on resources and would really appreciate it.  And so as any good pastor would, he told me, “Sure, come to church this evening and afterward I’ll give you a bible.”  Now you have to realize that at this point in my life I’d very purposely stepped away from the church.  To me, at that point in time, the church was simply this very corrupted organization that was putting forth something that I knew I certainly couldn’t accept or believe in.  But, I wanted a bible so I agreed to go.

            At about six o’clock that evening I entered the church and sat in the back.  Now know that this had been the first time I’d actually attended a mass in almost four years, it had all become to a certain extent foreign to me, and so I was suddenly seeing it all through very different eyes.  I was easily able to follow along with it and knew all of the prayers and what followed what, that had been drilled into me over the course of previous years, but what was different was that I was seeing it now as almost an anthropologist, an academic that studies people.  And I was watching the priests as they lifted the Eucharist into the air, followed by their chalice.  And those words of Christ that I was able to follow along with in my head, “Then he took a loaf of bread; and when he had thanked God for it, he broke it into pieces and gave it to this disciples saying, “This is my body, given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This wine is the token of God’s new covenant to save you – an agreement sealed with the blood that I will pour out for you.”  And like I said, those words that I’d heard so many times before, that I was able to say along with, were suddenly taking on new meaning, they weren’t now just memorized words that they’d always been before.  And I was able to see this all because I’d had had the chance to step away and then come back.  I looked at the ritual of it and at the meaning behind each movement, and considered how amazing it really is that billions of people over the course of two thousand years have come together to celebrate in this same exact way, with those same exact words, and I thought about the effects that it has had on humanity overall.  And let me tell ya, it’s not insignificant.  How we celebrate something or hold it up as something significant to us does truly define who and what we are.

            Try to picture in your head the scene we heard from the 2nd Samuel reading.  At that point David has gone into Jerusalem and has captured it from the Jebusites, and he decides that this is going to be the capital of the Jewish Nation, just as God has directed him to make it.  And so he realizes that in order to make it truly the capital of the Jewish Nation that he needs to bring into this place the Ark of the Covenant, the tablets written for them by the finger of God.  These symbols that are not just representing the Law of Moses, but are actually seen and believed to contain the physical presence of God himself with a power that is overwhelming to anything human, overwhelmingly positive or negative, and powerful to the point of instilling a respectful fear into anyone or thing that approaches it.  And the level of celebration around it, the sense of joy, the sense of just overwhelming triumph, it represents who and what these people are and believe themselves to be.  And I will put out there that this really is exactly how we can feel also with those words that Christ, gifted to us at that table where he sat with those who’d essentially devoted their entire earthly existences to him, his apostles.  Overwhelming joy and triumph, overwhelming joy and triumph to be in relationship with our Creator, overwhelming joy and triumph to simply experience and know no fear in this life because you know that with Jesus Christ as your Savior that those are elements that have become a part of the past once your faith is touchable and real.  And who would not prefer that over the opposite which seems to be so evil yet at the same exact time so simply a part of the sinful human we are?  Think about the Holocaust, think about Hitler and how he was able to manipulate so many into thinking that there were certain groups of people who could be blamed for anything that was negative happening in their nation; whether it had been the Jews, or the Gypsies, or the Homosexuals or anyone that disagreed with him. 

            How did followers of Christ react to that what Hitler was putting forth as the sensible way to be as a nation?  Well, some fell in line and were sucked into the emotion and the charisma of the moment, and they justified it all because it deflected any type of responsibility from themselves for what they saw as negative in their nation, and after WWI and the Versailles Treaty there was lots of negative and lots of desperation.  But then there were others who looked to Christ’s words at that table with his disciples and said, “No, we’re better than this, this is not what Christ teaches us.”  They had the joy and respect of God like David had shown, but the hope that Christ had instilled.  And many of them died because of their stance, one famous one who died was the theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer.  He wrote a book called ‘The Cost of Discipleship’, and was then killed in a concentration camp because of his opposition to the insanity of Hitler. 

            How we react to things in front of us, how we hold-up who and what we are, how we celebrate in joy or how we destroy in anger and resentment is a subject that many people find intensely interesting, and I’ included among them.  Howe look at our neighbor and how we define what we are, what we hold up as important and dear to us, and then how the church fits into all of that, whether the church be at the center or at its periphery.  And lord knows that that is something that’s certainly worthy of study and thought, and Lord knows that that is also something that can certainly also offer to us lessons for this life like no other things can. 

            We have seen some of the best examples of humanity and what we can be when connecting ourselves to Christ the lessons he gives, and when realizing just what the sacrifice of Christ truly can mean to us.   The church is certainly a part of how we define ourselves in many ways, it can be positive or negative depending on us, many people can say that they also see it as a neutral in their lives, but then I have to counter that they’re not looking at history.  What I truly believe we must do, and do always, is to seriously consider how it is that we express ourselves, whether in celebration or whether it be in any other action in our lives, and then to consider Christ’s words to us and how they should all fit together.  “This is my body, broken for you, take this and eat it, and do this in remembrance of me.  This cup is the symbol of the new covenant, take it and drink from it.  This is my blood that has been shed for you and for the forgiveness of all of your sin.  Do this also in remembrance of me.”

There should always be jubilation, there should always be love, and there must always be a willingness to show compassion for our world.  It does mean putting yourself aside sometimes, and it does mean making sacrifice sometimes.  But think about how different our world would be if that bigger picture was always in focus…  I don’t think too much more can be said.

            In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.