Unpacking a new Bible: 10-22/23-11
Pondering a Saudi future: 10-25-11

Why Israel matters to me: 10-24-11

This past Friday evening I spoke at the Shabbat service of Temple Israel of Greater Kansas City at the request of Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn.

JerusalemJacques and I, along with Fr. Gar Demo, the priest at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church in Overland Park, will be leading a Jewish-Christian study trip to Israel in April. So he asked Gar and me to talk about why Israel is important to us as Christians.

Because I think that's an important question whether you plan to go on our trip or not (and I hope you do), I want to share with you today what I told Jacques' congregation.

  • Israel matters to me, especially Jerusalem, because it’s one of several places I call my spiritual home. These homes include, as I say, Jerusalem but also Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown; Bethlehem, where the Bible says he was born, and Geneva, Switzerland, because as a Presbyterian I am a theological descendant of John Calvin, who fathered the Reformed Tradition of Christianity in Geneva, though for sure he didn’t get all his theological thinking right.
  • Israel matters to me because it’s where what I as a Christian believe to be history’s turning point occurred, and that is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • Israel matters to me because its land is sacred to all three of the Abrahamic faiths and therefore has the possibility of being the location of a model for how those and other neighboring faiths in other parts of the world can live in peace.
  • Israel matters to me because it is, of course, the location of nearly all the biblical stories that form the foundation of my own faith.
  • Israel matters to me because modern Israel has an important connection to a Kansas City area man whom I consider to be one of the top 10 presidents in American history, Harry S. Truman, who immediately recognized Israel as a free and sovereign state within hours of its May 1948 declaration that it was exactly that. Truman’s history in relationship to Israel, of course, includes a Jewish-Christian friendship between Truman and Eddie Jacobson at a time when such friendships were rare.
  • Israel matters to me because it also matters to my American Jewish friends and to my American Muslim friends, even if, for some of my fellow Christians, Israel matters for misguided theological reasons. I can talk more about that later if you’d like me to.
  • Israel matters to me because it stands as a democratic state in the midst of authoritarian regimes, and American should defend such places even as we encourage political freedom for all people.
  • Finally, Israel matters to me because it is about 1,600 square miles smaller than Vermont, and my wife grew up in Vermont and likes to talk about how small and lovely it is. I’m taking her on our April trip to Israel to give her some perspective on what 8,000 square miles of rockin’ life really looks like.

(The photo here today? It shows me as a kid in a shop in Jerusalem. That's my youngest sister, Mary, and my mother with me.)

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It may be a surprise to some folks, but words carry meaning. So when you call the pope a Nazi, as actress Susan Sarandon did recently, someone is likely to pay attention and denounce this for what it is -- destructive prejudice and nonsense. People of faith know perhaps more than anyone else how much words matter. It's why we take the words of our sacred writ so seriously while at the same time seeking to avoid worshipping the words themselves.


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