H. Stephen Shoemaker
Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
June 3, 2001
B.C., THE KNICKS, BOWLING:
A PENTECOST MISSION FOR CHARLOTTE
Acts 2:1-12; II Corinthians 5:16-18
I begin the sermon with B.C. (the comic strip), the Knicks (the
NBA team), and bowling (the indoor sport and social metaphor). I will travel through the
land of biblical interpretation and end up with a Pentecost mission for our church in
Charlotte. And all this in twenty minutes. Then in Heaton Hall, at TalkBack you get to add
your voice to the mix.
The Jewish and Christian communities have been reminded of their painful
shared history this spring with the public furor over Johnny Hartís Easter Sunday B.C.
comic strip and the comments one week later recorded in the N.Y. Times Magazine
by New York Knicks point guard Charlie Ward.1
Johnny Hartís comic strip depicted a Jewish menorah with seven
candlesticks. In each frame, one of Jesusí seven last words from the cross was depicted
and a candle extinguished. With the last word from the cross, "It is finished,"
all the arms of the menorah dropped off, leaving the shape of a cross.
Whatever the positive intention of the cartoonist, the comic strip was
read against the background of all kinds of horrific historical associations: The
destruction of Jewish holy objects on Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass);
the horror of Shoah (the Holocaust); the churchís accusation that the Jews were
Christ-killers, leading to what Jewish historian Jules Isaac rightly terms "the
teaching of contempt"; and the churchís theology of "supercessionism,"
which asserts that Christianity has replaced Judaism, and Christians have replaced Jews as
Johnny Hart has since said that he meant no harm and that he repudiates
the idea of "replacement theology." We should take him at his word, but his
comic strip reveals the insulation of evangelical Christianity and casts a spotlight on
the legacy of anti-Judaism (religious prejudice) and anti-Semitism (racial prejudice)
which the church has sanctioned for two millennia.
Christianity will continue to be ignorant or naive about its history
unless it begins to read its Bible and talk theology in the presence of Jewish people.
Our global society will no longer let us read our scriptures in
isolation from other peoples and other religions.
Charlie Wardís comments were taken as N.Y. Times Magazine
writer Eric Konigsberg sat in on a Bible study with Knicks players, led by Charlie Ward.
Ward is an evangelical Christian whose influence was instrumental in the "born
again" spiritual awakening of shooting guard Allan Houston.
As Konigsberg sat with them, they asked questions about his Jewishness.
Ward is quoted as saying to Konigsberg,"Jews are stubborn, E. But tell me, why did
they persecute Jesus unless he knew something they didnít want to accept?"
"What?" Konigsberg replied.
"They had blood on their hands," Ward replied.
Allan Houston then indexed a scripture passage on his Palm Pilot (there
are worse things to access on your Palm Pilot):
"Matthew 26, verse 67," he said, then quoted, "ĎThen
they spat in Jesusí face and hit him with their fists.í"
The quotes created a fire storm. David Stern, commissioner of the NBA,
hoping to protect the commercial interests of the NBA from the scourge of religious
fervor, condemned Wardís comments as intolerant and divisive zealotry.
Ward has since apologized to Jewish leaders and his apology has been
It is easy for us to poke fun at Wardís evangelical faith, but I will
not. It may be a saving thing to him and to other young men in the NBA way of life.
He meant no harm. How, then, did his comments, most taken from
scripture, cause such injury?
Which moves us into the country of biblical interpretation.
This situation reveals how Christiansí unwitting misuse of their own
scriptures causes harm. Ward and Houston both quoted scripture from the passion accounts
of Jesusí arrest, trial, and execution recorded in the gospels.
Christians believe their scriptures divinely inspired. But our
scriptures are also a human document given us through human instrumentality. It is the
human word of the holy God. It has human fingerprints all over the pages of its
transcendent truth. The trick is to distinguish the truth amid all the fingerprints. Some
canít see the truth because they are fixed on the fingerprints; others refuse to see the
fingerprints and thereby misconstrue its truth.
The passion accounts are a weaving together of historical remembrance,
carefully constructed narration, and Hebrew poetry. The poetry comes from the prophets and
the psalms. These passion accounts were first written by Jews for Jewish believers in
Jesus as the Messiah. They were written to answer the pivotal question: "How could
the Messiahís life have ended on a Roman cross?" They used their own Hebrew
scriptures to explain how Jesusí death was a fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy. The images
quoted by Ward and Houston of spitting and "his blood be on our hands," were
quotations of Hebrew scripture.
Think of the passion accounts as an opera or Broadway musical: based on
a historical account now refashioned in the form of narration, dialogue, and song.
That is one part of the understanding. The other is that the Christian
New Testament was written during a period of an increasingly bitter intra-Jewish conflict
between the Jews who believed Jesus was the Messiah, and those who didnít.
John Dominic Crossan has identified a progressively anti-Jewish tone in
the passion accounts as they move from the ones written earliest, to the one written
latest.2 This reflects, I believe, the increasing hostility between the
synagogue and the church as the years went on between 65 CE and 100 CE.
What the church has tragically done is to take its first-century
documents, reflective of a bitter family quarrel, and made them normative for their whole
history. The harm these documents could cause was minimized when Christianity was a small,
persecuted sect in the Roman Empire. But when Christianity became the official religion of
the Roman Empire, our scriptures and attitudes mixed with political and social power to
stir a deadly concoction.
Imagine going through a bitter divorce and confiding one night in a
friend, saying negative things about your ex-spouse. Imagine now those words later on
being used in court to help convict your spouse of a crime she did not commit.
The New Testament in general, and the passion accounts in particular,
have been used in Western history to give religious sanction to anti-Judaism and
Now, what could all this have to do with bowling?
Harvard Professor of Public Policy, Robert D. Putnam, has written a
highly discussed book, Bowling Alone. The subtitle is The Collapse and Revival
of American Community. In it he documents the growing isolationism of social
groups in America today. "Bowling alone" becomes a social metaphor: More people
are bowling today, but they do not bowl in the old bowling leagues where bowlers met
people of all walks of life. Rather, they bowl only with family and friends. "Bowling
alone" means "bowling with your own."3
His book has inspired nationwide research called the "Social
Capital Community Benchmark Survey,"4 which identifies the "social
capital" a community needs to thrive. The surveys are conducted in major cities
across the country. Guess how Charlotte came out?
We scored high: 1) In generosity of time and money devoted to the
community; 2) in faith-based social engagement; that is, in the strength and vitality of
congregational life; and 3) in formal social organizations such as neighborhood
associations and clubs.
In contrast, we rated conspicuously low in these two areas: 1) We are
less inclined to informal socializing in public spaces or in homes; low on things like
picnics, where we are with people of all social groups; and 2) we are less trusting across
racial and social lines, even behind other North Carolina cities.
In the words of the research group, Charlotte scores high on
"bonding" and low on "bridges." That is, we are strong on nurturing
community in homogeneous groups and weak on building bridges between and among groups. We
are rich in gated communities and poor in public parks.
It occurs to me then that churches are, at the same time, part of
Charlotteís strength and part of Charlotteís weakness. We promote bonding; we are less
interested in bridges. Charlotte needs faith communities to take dramatic initiatives in
interracial, intercultural and interfaith bridge-building.
I think Myers Park Baptist has a unique mission to our city to lead out
in such bridge-building.
Which leads to Pentecost and to the text from II Corinthians.
The miracle of Pentecost was not ecstatic speaking in tongues Ė that
is a gift of the Spirit, but not what happened in Jerusalem fifty days after Easter.
The miracle of Pentecost was a miracle of people of many cultures and
languages being able to hear the apostlesí preaching of the mighty acts of God in their
It was a miracle of hearing and understanding. Culture,
language, race were transcended. People could shema again, hear and understand each
other, because they could hear and understand what God was saying and doing.
Could we be such a bridge-building community in Charlotte at this
critical time in the life of our city?
It starts with what God has done in us, for us: "God was in Christ
reconciling [katalasso] the world to Godís own self." And then it follows
with our mission: "and given to us the ministry [diakonian], service of
reconciliation [katallages]". In the New Testament katalasso is the
work of reconciliation God has done and katallages is the work of reconciliation we
In the movie, The Straight Story, an old man is troubled by his
long estrangement from his brother, who lives five-hundred or so miles away. The man has
lost his driverís license, but decides to make the journey anyway across the whole state
on a riding lawn mower, taking great physical and emotional risks to do so.
When the man got to his brotherís house, he called out his name from
the front porch. Iíll never forget the sound of the brotherís answering voice when he
heard his brotherís voice outside the door: The cry of hoped-for reconciliation. Or
forget the healing moment when he realized his brother had traveled five-hundred miles on
a lawn mower to see him.
God has traveled to us at great cost in Jesus Christ to restore our own
relationship with God: katalasso. And has given to us the ministry, diakonian,
the servanthood, of reconciliation: katallages. Diaonian: the same word for
servant "to go through the dust,"
God has begun the great work of the reconciliation of all things in
Jesus Christ. All that needs to happen from Godís side has been done katalasso.
Now God has called us who have been grasped by this overwhelming act of reconciliation to
become Godís agents, partners in the ministry of reconciliation. The diakonian tes
katallages. Are you ready to go through the dust for the sake of the reconciliation
of the world?
The lay and professional leadership propose to you the congregation a
theme for our work together this coming year: Building Bridges:A Ministry of
It can be the focus of all we do: Missions to Camden and Ecuador and
Lakewood. Our Cornwell Center and our gay/lesbian dialogue process, our work with
African-American congregations and involvement in HELP. The new Hispanic Seminary we are
helping to start and the bridge-building we need to do among ourselves and within
ourselves. Letís talk.
Here again is the call from scripture:
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation [not
only the new creation you are becoming, but also the new creation you enter, what God is
doing for the whole world]. The old is gone. Look and see, the new has come! All this is
from God who has reconciled us to Godís own self and given to us the ministry of
1 New York Times Magazine, April 22, 2001.
2 Who Killed Jesus?
3 Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American
Community (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000).
4 Betty Rash and Bill McCoy, Social Capital Benchmark Survey, Executive
Summary for the Charlotte Region. February 23, 2001.
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