Posts tagged ‘Synagogue’

Hatred, Kindness, Truth, and Love

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Credit: hurk from Pixabay 

This past Wednesday, Jews across the world celebrated Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. But things turned deadly for a group who gathered to celebrate at a synagogue in Halle, Germany, when a gunman tried to force his way into the house of worship. He was not able to breech the doors, but still managed to kill two people nearby. The gunman has since confessed that he was driven by anti-Semitic beliefs.

This shooting, of course, is deeply saddening – not only because of the devastation the community of Halle has endured, but because it really isn’t that shocking that this shooting occurred. Shootings like these have become all too frequent as hatred like this shooter’s has become all too common.

But hatred does not need to carry the day.

In another story that made the rounds this week, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres was criticized when she was spotted sitting next to former President George W. Bush at an NFL game last weekend. Some accused Ellen of betraying her politically and morally progressive bona fides by being friendly with a conservative former politician. For her part, Ellen vigorously defended her friendship with Mr. Bush, explaining on her show:

I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have … Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them. When I say, “Be kind to one another,” I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean, “Be kind to everyone, it doesn’t matter.”

I believe Ellen is generally correct here. But I also know that Jesus’ call goes much further than Ellen’s comments. He not only calls us to be kind to others regardless of whether we are like or unlike them, but to actually “love our enemies” (Matthew 5:44). Ellen confronted her detractors with a commendation of kindness. Jesus challenges the world with His command to love.

Love, of course, does not mean that we cannot vigorously debate and disagree. Indeed, we should. The truth is worth our debates and disagreements. But defending the truth and loving others are not mutually exclusive propositions.

This takes us back to the Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement reminded Israel of a dark truth: they were sinners who deserved death. Animals were sacrificed on this day as a picture of what human sin deserves. But the Day of Atonement also revealed to Israel God’s great love for them. For He gave to them what they did not deserve and could not earn – forgiveness and life. Truth and love met on the Day of Atonement.

As a Christian, I, too, have a Day of Atonement. But it did not happen on Wednesday of this last week, or on a special day that rolls around once a year. Rather, it happened on a Friday 2,000 years ago and serves as the once-for-all atonement that I need for every one of my sins and that the world needs for every one of its sins. The apostle Paul describes this Day of Atonement thusly: “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood – to be received by faith” (Romans 3:28). The cross was my Day of Atonement. And Jesus is my sacrifice of atonement.

What truth does Jesus’ atonement teach me? That I am a sinner in need of forgiveness. As Paul writes, just verses earlier: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Why did Jesus become a sacrifice of atonement for me? Because He loves me: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). In Jesus’ work on the cross, truth and love meet.

It strikes me that the synagogue shooter could have used both some truth and love. The truth is that his anti-Semitism is deeply sinful. He needs to know that. But he also needs love – a love that would lead him to put down a gun and instead pick up a cross and follow the One who loves everyone.

October 14, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Package Bomber and a Synagogue Shooter

It’s been a tragic week in our nation.  And that’s putting it mildly.  Beginning last Monday, a series of packages containing explosive devices began to turn up at homes, at business, and in post offices.  These packages were addressed to Democratic politicians, including the Obamas and the Clintons, as well as to financier George Soros, actor Robert De Niro, and CNN.  Though none of the packages detonated, they were sent by a man who was, to put it mildly, devotedly partisan in his views.  He drove a van covered with bumper stickers showing Democratic politicians in crosshairs.  He also posted violent and threatening rhetoric on social media.

Then, on Saturday, a gunman armed with an AR-15 and three rifles showed up at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.  He shouted, “All Jews must die,” and opened fire.  By the time his shots fell silent, eleven were dead and a number of others were injured.  As investigators looked into this shooter’s past, he too was found to have posted violent and threatening rhetoric on social media.  He was also a member of an egregiously anti-Semitic online community.

It’s no secret that we’re a nation on edge.  A lot of people hate a lot of other people.  This hate, in turn, when coupled with a mental health crisis that seems to be creeping across our society, erupts in violence – just as it did in the case of these two men.

At this moment, when hatred is hot, Christians must be on the frontlines advocating for love.  Our culture is fighting the wrong demons.  Our culture sees demons in politicians and positions it doesn’t like.  It sees demons in religions and races it doesn’t like.  But Scripture is clear.  We are called to fight:

…not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

If we’re fighting other people, we’re doing it wrong.  Our struggle is against the demons the Bible identifies as truly demonic – not against the demons created for us on social media.

In his new book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other – And How To Heal, Senator Ben Sasse offers a convicting analysis of our cultural milieu:

It seems clear that in America today, we’re facing problems that feel too big for us, so we’re lashing out at each other, often over less important matters.  Many of us are using politics as a way to distract ourselves from the nagging sense that something bigger is wrong.  Not many of us would honestly argue that if our “side” just had more political power, we’d be able to fix what ails us.  Fortunately, we can avoid addressing the big problems as long as someone else – some nearer target – is standing in the way of our securing the political power even to try.  It’s easier to shriek at people on the other side of the street.  It’s comforting to be able to pin the problems on the freaks in the pink hats or the weirdos carrying the pro-life signs.

At least our contempt unites us with other Americans who think like we do.

At least we are not like them.

Senator Sasse speaks specifically to our political climate, but his words can be applied to our broader cultural problems as well.  There is an attitude prevalent among many that does not want to solve problems.  Instead, it only wants to grab power.  There is an attitude prevalent among many that does not seek understanding.  Instead, it only traffics in character assassination.  And the results, even if they are, thankfully, generally not violent, are certainly not good.  People begin to trade transcendent commitments for tribal grievances.  They stop looking at others as people who are precious by virtue of being created in God’s image and instead see them as enemies needing to be eradicated.  They make demons out of mortals.

The Psalmist describes God’s patience with the Israelites of old like this:

He was merciful; He forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time He restrained His anger and did not stir up His full wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return. (Psalm 78:38-39)

God was patient with and merciful to the Israelites because He remembered who the Israelites were – mere, fragile mortals.  Their lives were so short and fragile that they were like passing breezes.  God is patient with and merciful to us because He remembers who we are – mere, fragile mortals.  Our lives are so short and fragile that we are like passing breezes.  Perhaps we should see each other like God sees us.  Perhaps we should restrain our anger and wrath like God does for us.  I hope this past week has taught us at least that much.

Life’s too short to hate.

October 29, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Sermon Extra – Jesus, Priceless Treasure

The foot bone’s connected to the leg-bone; The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone; The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone; The thigh bone’s connected to the back bone; The back bone’s connected to the neck bone; The neck bone’s connected to the head bone; Oh hear the word of the Lord!

I can remember singing the above words as a child, learning about the prophet Ezekiel and his encounter with God in the valley of dry bones in Sunday School (cf. Ezekiel 37:1-14).  Besides being a fun way to learn a Bible story, this song also had the added benefit of teaching me some anatomy, no matter how rudimentary it may have been.  At least I knew what was connected to what.

In our text from this past weekend in worship and ABC, we wrapped up our two week min-series on stewardship titled, “Give & Take” with a look at what we, as Christians, are called to take.  In Jesus’ parable of the rich fool, we encountered a negative example of someone who tries to take all the wrong things:

The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:16-20)

This man tries to take barnfuls of grain only to learn that he can’t take them where it counts – into eternity.

Tragically, the reason this man obsesses over his barnfuls of grain has to do with what they are “connected to,” to use the words of my old Sunday school song.  Two words in this text highlight especially well what this man’s windfall of grain is “connected to.”  In verse 18, when this man determines that he will build bigger barns to “store” his grain and his goods, the Greek word for “store” is synago, from which we get our word “synagogue.”  This man is building a synagogue, or a place of worship, for his stuff!  For this man, his grain is an object of worship.   Then, in verse 19, when this man says, “And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years,’” the Greek word for “self” is psyche, meaning, “soul.”  This man is not only talking in his head, he is talking to his soul.  This rich man’s grain has now taken up residence in his soul.  Thus, this man is indeed deeply “connected to” his riches.  It is the object of his worship and the resident of his soul.

Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).  “Your heart will always follow your treasure,” Jesus says.  And so, if your treasure is grain, your heart will follow barnfuls of bran.  If your treasure is fame, your heart will lust after accolades and acclaim.  If your treasure is cash, your heart will yearn after portfolios and scratch.  Your heart follows your treasure.  So what is your treasure?

Just as a song from my Sunday School years taught me the fundamentals of anatomy, an old hymn reminds me of my true treasure:

Jesus, priceless treasure,
Fount of purest pleasure,
Truest friend to me.
Ah, how long in anguish
Shall my spirit languish,
Yearning, Lord, for Thee?
Thou art mine, O Lamb divine!
I will suffer naught to hide Thee,
Naught I ask beside Thee.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Zach’s
message or Pastor Nordlie’s ABC!

October 25, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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