H. Stephen Shoemaker
Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
March 20, 2005
ISRAEL, CHRIST AND US
Texts: Genesis 12:1-3; Romans 4:1-3; 11:1, 29;
Romans 5:1, 6-8, 9-10; John 12:20-24; 15:12-13
is the week Jesus runs into “church” and “state,” and these two
institutions, religion and government, called by God to enhance human life
conspire to kill him. It’s a sober message for a sober week. The best and
brightest turn brutish.
are pondering these weeks “God’s Anthropos Project,” God’s
purpose for us humankind and our destiny. God created us in God’s own image
and likeness and called us to represent and resemble God in the world. Our two
great errors have been: 1) To think too lowly of ourselves and run from our
high calling; and 2) to think too highly of ourselves, grasping for more,
trying to be God or to be our
third great error has to do with how we regard others.
We have refused to recognize in others the image of God, therefore giving us
the excuse to disregard them, despise them, or do away with them. In Iraq we
count only American casualties. In America we turn our heads from the poor.
rabbi Jonathan Sachs has written a new book entitled The Dignity of Difference.
In it he says:
The test of faith is whether I
can make space for difference. Can I recognize God’s image in someone who is
not my image, whose language, faith, and ideals are different from mine? If
not, I have made God in my image instead of allowing him to remake me in his. (p.
was a scandal because the kingdom of God he preached and embodied included
people who were different: The sick, the outcast, the sinner, the Samaritan,
the Gentile. It is still a huge challenge to see every single person created
in the image of God.
have been touched this week by the story of Ashley Smith the woman taken
hostage by the killer Brian Nichols. She treated him as a person made in the
image of God. And he responded to her as one made in the image of God.
is sacred and every life a miracle. God’s Anthropos Project requires our
grasping of that truth.
biblical story tells of repeated attempts of God to save a tumbling and fallen
response to the pervasive violence in the world, God used Noah to start
humanity over again. And in the covenant made with Noah, symbolized by the
rainbow, we were commanded not to shed the blood of another human being. Why?
Because every human person is created in the image of God.
in Genesis 12 God called a people
to represent and resemble God in the world – Israel. God’s Hebrew people.
It began with Abraham – and let’s not forget Sarah, who had a teeny-weeny
part in this herself.
chose Israel to begin humanity again, to show the world what it meant to be
truly, fully human.
called Abraham and Sarah into covenant relationship, a covenant relationship
characterized by faith and by obedience
to God’s command. “If you become my people I will bless you, and through
you all the peoples of the earth shall be blessed,” God said to them.
through Moses, God would give them the Torah, and through them the treasure of
Torah would be offered to the world.
is still the treasure God’s Hebrew people offer the world as they live Torah
and teach Torah. It is a vital part of God’s Anthropos Project.
dream, God’s dream, was that the word of God would cover the Earth like the
waters that cover the Earth, that all peoples would come to the mountain of
the Lord and learn Torah. The dream has not yet been fulfilled, but Israel has
endured as a people of faith.
an old rabbinic story about Jonah. He had gone to preach God’s word to
Nineveh: “Repent, or you will be destroyed.” He preached but no one heard.
Now he was an old man still going every day through the streets preaching his
message. He had become a laughingstock, a fool to the people there.
day a young boy came to him and said, “Why do you keep preaching? Do you
still hope to change Nineveh?” Jonah replied, “Once I preached so Nineveh
would change. Now I preach so Ninevah will not change me.”
Israel preaches still.
Noah, Israel: All part of God’s Anthropos Project. Then came Jesus, sent by
God to show us what God made us to be. The new Adam, Alpha-and Omega-point of
what does this mean about Israel?
Have the coming of Jesus and the birth of Christianity replaced Israel,
superceded Israel? Is Israel still part of God’s repertoire of redemption?
answers in no uncertain terms, though Christians have consistently ignored
what he said in Romans (chapters 9-11).
I ask then, has God rejected
his people [Israel]? By no means! Lest you be wise in your own conceits . . .
all Israel will be saved. For the gifts and call of God are irrevocable! (Romans
11:1, 26, 29).
Irrevocable. We, the church, to use Paul’s horticultural metaphor, are a
branch grafted onto the olive tree of Israel. If Israel died, we would die.
we search deep enough perhaps we could say: God is grafting still!
Christianity does not own the grace of God. Some days it does not even
comprehend it. Paul closes chapters 9-11 in wonder and praise.
O the depth of the riches
and knowledge of God. How
unsearchable are God’s judgments,
how inscrutable God’s ways (11:33).
God’s Christian people would do well with less arrogance and more wonder.
to Jesus. At his baptism he was called to be “Son of God,” to represent
and resemble God in the world. “I will do that,” Jesus said, coming out of
knows how much earlier he had sensed the call? Remember when he was twelve and
he was so absorbed in his conversation with the Bible scholars in the temple
that he forgot he was supposed to meet his parents for their trip back home in
the village caravan? Three days later, when his parents finally found him, he
said, “Why are you frantic, do you not know I must be about my Father’s
business?” (I do not advise twelve- year-olds out there to use that line
when you get in trouble.)
called God “Abba” and had a relationship of extraordinary intimacy and
trust with God. And from that place he lived and taught a deeper obedience, a
truer righteousness than we had ever known before, humanity in a new key.
your enemies, he said. Pray for them.
and you will be forgiven.
struck, do not strike back.
unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or as Wendell Berry
paraphrases for our ecologically fragile world: “Do unto those downstream as
you would have those upstream do unto you” (Citizen Papers, p. 135).
saw the image of God in everybody.
He especially took care of those he called the nepioi,
the “little ones,” those regarded as least and lowest in his world.
American doctor in Baghdad began to e-mail a doctor friend in the U.S. He was
trying to treat a young Iraqi girl. She needed a most delicate form of surgery
unavailable in Iraq. The two doctors tried to figure out a way to fly her
here. After those efforts failed, their e-mails took on a much more technical
tone. The doctor in Baghdad would try it there. When the day came for her
surgery, she did not show up. From all reports it appears the girl and her
father had been killed by a truck bomb at the gate of the green zone that
morning. The doctor e-mailed his friend these words: “This is a hard city
for the little ones.” 1
is a hard world for the little ones. Jesus knew that.
some point, Jesus knew his preaching and his mission were leading to his
death. What would he do? Would he stay true to his mission or would he find a
way to avoid his death?
chose to stay true to his mission and to God. His words reveal a hope, however
bright or faint, that his death might be used by God for the greater healing
of the world. He said:
Greater love hath no one than
this, to lay down one’s life for a friend . . . .
Very truly, I tell you, unless
a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, a single
grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit (John 12:24).
The Son of Man came not to be
served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for the many.
poet R.S. Thomas has a poem, “The Coming.” In it he imagines a
conversation going on between God and his son.
shows him the world, a small globe in his hand. The son looks and sees a
troubled world; then he sees a bare cross and many people holding their thin
arms out to it. The son says: “Let me go there.”
some point, at many points, I imagine Jesus having that kind of conversation
with God. And over and over again Jesus said, “I will go there.”
baptism, in the wilderness, when he saw the tide turning against him, as he
turned toward Jerusalem, as he entered into Jerusalem, at Gethsemane. “I
will go there,” he said.
lived and he died faithful to his witness to the kingdom of God. And his life,
which had become such a brilliant witness to what God wants, became in his
death an ever greater witness because we knew its cost.
word “martyr” conjures many negative meanings today: A “martyr
complex,” someone psychologically unhealthy; terrorists and suicide bombers.
But the word “martyr” means literally witness.
A martyr is not someone looking to die,
but someone looking to make a witness,
even if that might mean death.
saw the death of Jesus as a cosmic witness to the love of God given to us when
all had gone wrong. Rarely will anyone die even for a good person, Paul says,
But God shows God’s love for
us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us . . . . For if while
we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, how
now that we are reconciled shall we be saved by his life
Saved by his life! Grace
has opened the door for a new humanity, that we might live his life.
by his life.” Jesus’ death
apart from the character of his life
means nothing. Blood means
life, not death. Jesus died as a witness to the new way of life God had
planned for us. The cross has opened the door for a humanity reconciled who
now lives as he lived.
Lamott tells a Hasidic story. A rabbi would tell his people that if they
studied the Torah it would place scripture on their hearts. One asked, “Why on
their hearts and not in
them?” The rabbi replied, “Only God can put scripture inside. But reading
the sacred text can put it on your hearts, and then when your hearts break,
the holy words fall inside.” 2
is here at the cross, where our hearts break and the holy words fall inside.
1. Cited in sermon by John N. Buchener, "Astonished," February
2. Anne Lamott, Plan B (New York: Riverhead Press 2005) p. 73.