Sermon
April 26, 1998
First Congregational Church, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture

John 21:1-19 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No." 6 He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." 16 A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me." (NRSV)

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The Cross and the Smokestack
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This morning I want to light six candles, six candles in honor of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, observed this year on April 22nd. The six candles are for the six million who died for the crime of being Jews. In Israel they observe Yom Hashoah with two minutes of silence. Everything stops. Cars pull over to the side of the road. People step away from their work bench or desk and bow their heads in remembrance. Let us also observe a time of silence as these candles are lit.

 

 

Last Monday evening our family watched a drama about a middle school student who had the assignment to interview an older person on some historical event and bring a report back to class. Because he had seen numbers tattooed on the arm of a neighbor, he wanted to do his interview with her on the Holocaust. His father forbid him to approach the neighbor about this, since it was obvious she hadn’t wanted the child to see the numbers in the first place and had not initiated the conversation about the meaning of this terrible tattoo.

The boy decided to interview his parents about where they were when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. But when the day came for each class member to describe their proposed interview, it seemed everyone in the class had picked the same topic, so he blurted out that he was going to interview his neighbor about the concentration camps. At this point another student spoke up: "My father says that none of that is true - it’s just a hoax. They didn’t really kill the Jews like that."

When the boy got home and told his father what had happened in class, they both decided it was very important to at least speak to their neighbor and invite her to tell her story. She agreed, and her personal testimony was a powerful witness to the class and to their parents.

Her story ended with a death camp guard asking a group of newcomers if they knew where their parents were. When they said they did not know, he cruelly pointed to a large smokestack and the plume of darkness coming out of it ascending into the heavens. There, he said, there are your parents.

This morning I gave my sermon the title "The Cross and the Smokestack" because I want to examine the question of how the same people that gave us Luther and Bach could also give us Hitler and Eichmann? What is the relationship between the Christian attitude towards the Jews and the Final Solution of the Nazis? If there is a historical relationship, have we overcome it in our time? Or do we still teach beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that could, given the right mix of circumstances and crazy charismatic leadership, sweep us or our children up in a tide of fear and hate.

This issue is currently under a great deal of discussion. Last month the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews issued a paper that had been 11 years in preparation. It was called "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah." Shoah being the Hebrew word for Holocaust.

One of point of the paper was to look at the actions, or lack of actions, of the Pope during Word War II - Pope Pius XII. Another point was a discussion of whether or not the anti-Semitism of the Nazis had it roots in the teachings of the Christian faith. The document concluded: "The Shoah was the work of a thoroughly modern neo-pagan regime. It’s anti-Semitism had its roots outside of Christianity and, in pursuing its aims, it did not hesitate to oppose the church and persecute her members also."

The report does admit that there have been "long-standing sentiments of mistrust and hostility that we call anti-Judaism, of which, unfortunately, Christians also have been guilty."

So, in what appeared to many to be a very defensive bureaucratic stance, the Roman church could only bring itself to say that some sons and daughters of the church had done wrong, or not been brave in doing right. Basically there was no admission of culpability on behalf of the church and no acknowledgment of a relationship between the animosities of Christians towards Jews and the atrocities of the Nazis.

The reaction of the Jewish community to this document was disappointment, at best.

One Rabbi asked when would the church take responsibility for its teaching of contempt - contempt for Jews and Judaism. This document, he said, expresses remorse, remembrance, and resolve, but no responsibility.

A Professor of Holocaust Studies from Emory University said: I address this document with a great deal of sorrow… it seems the authors … reached the abyss, looked in, and couldn’t … achieve the leap of faith that was necessary… It suggests that Nazi anti-Semitism was something that grew up out of nothing… In truth, without the anti-Judaism -- much of it anti-Semitism -- of the New Testament, or at least in the way the New Testament has been interpreted and taught, there would have been no Nazism and there would have been no Holocaust. I’m not saying that it was inevitable, but it is a direct outgrowth.

Was Jesus an anti-Semite? That can hardly be the case. He was a Jew. When he said to Peter, "Feed my sheep," he was talking about a largely Jewish flock. On more than one occasion Jesus indicated that his mission was first and foremost to the Jews. In the gospel of Matthew we find him saying, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." I don’t think you find anti-Semitic sentiments coming from the mouth of the Lord.

But relations between Christian and Jew turned sour early on. The story of the crowd being asked to choose between Jesus and Barabbas for crucifixion is scripted in the gospel of Matthew to include these fateful words from the Jews: His blood be on us and on our children.

Then in the first letter to the Thessalonians we have this comment: "For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles… Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but God's wrath has overtaken them at last." (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16)

The church also incorporated such an attitude towards the Jews in its liturgy, and this was no where more evident than in the readings and prayers for Good Friday. In the context of asking God’s mercy on the unfaithful Jews for their sin of killing Jesus, the prayer went: "and take away from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy word;"

In reviewing the history of Christians and Jews, Peter Gomes, Chaplain at Harvard University, calls anti-Semitism the "original sin" of the church. "This is not to say," he writes, "that all Christians and all readings of Christian scriptures are inherently anti-Semitic. It is to say that the virus of anti-Semitism is in the bloodstream of inherited Christianity, and that it takes enormous effort and will to address that painfully indisputable fact."

As the children were leaving for Sunday School this morning we joined together in singing the hymn: "They’ll know we are Christians by our love." I’ve always liked the sentiments of that hymn, that love is the true test of faith and the most faithful witness to the Lord. But I’ve often wondered if it is right for us, the church, to sing it. Do we sing it in praise of ourselves, or do we sing it as a challenge? Does anyone else ever sing it about us - Yes, we know they are Christians by their love! Could it ever be a song of the Jewish Synagogue, the Muslim Mosque, the Hindu Temple?

Can I admit to you that there are times when I’m not a very loving person? Can I admit to you that there are times, like last Friday when I’m waiting on line at the IGA in Montauk, Long Island, when someone cuts in front of me and I think they’re of a certain ethnic origin from a certain nearby city, times when very unkind, un-loving, prejudicial thoughts and words rise up in my heart and head.

Sometimes I wonder which side I would have been on if I had been a child growing up in Hitler’s Germany. Would I have had the integrity and courage to swim against the tide? Would my upbringing in the church have encouraged me to do so? Am I raising my children now with the integrity and courage they will need to steer a course of love and not get caught up in currents of fear and prejudice and intolerance? I pray that is the case. I pray you will help me in our life together as the church.

Six candles for six million deaths. I hope they speak to us of the absolute necessity to honestly confront the temptation to look at others with contempt and that they give us courage to say to our fears and prejudices and unkind thoughts, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me."

Six candles for six million deaths. May they know we are Christians by our love.

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Let us pray:

O God whose mercy has been sought by people of many faiths, languages, races, and traditions, grant us a share of your loving kindness and mercy in our need. May your love burn in us and cleanse us of all prejudice and fear and forge us into faithful witnesses to the gospel of grace we received from Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph, a Jew of Nazareth.

May our prayers, like your love, embrace all people, and our thanksgiving be for the goodness we can see in people of every nation.

We pray for peace on earth. We pray for peace in our nation. We pray for your healing grace to bring reconciliation between neighbors and within families.

We ask your blessing on those who are struggling with illness or anxiety, despair or grief. Especially we pray for healing and strength for :

Clarence Burden, Barbara Hoslten, Mary Ellen Lanigan, Gail Bradle, Bill Van Buskirk, Anne Parson, Richard Devlin,

We ask your comfort and consolation be with the family of Walter Gillette, who died suddenly this past week, and with those we name in the quiet of our hearts.

Create in us clean hearts, O God, and sustain us with your holy spirit. Empower us to serve those we pray for in their need.

Remind us daily, by your grace, to pray for one another, and when we lack the words to express the depth of our prayers, may we experience the presence of your Holy Spirit with us, interceding on our behalf and bringing us your peace.

Keep our lives and the lives of those we love in your care, and give us courage for the journey. that we live to the glory of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

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Benediction:

Loving God, move us from tragedy to blessing,

from fear to trust.

from despair to hope,

Let your love surround us and fill us with peace.

That our lives may be useful to Christ's work.

with words that bring reconciliation.

With prayers that bring healing.

With actions that count for justice.

Grant us a blessing to for our journey in this world

and even to life eternal.

Amen.

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