Tag Archives: Gentile

Jew or Gentile?

sermon given on Sunday, July 9, 2017

Scripture connections:

Opening: Romans 9:21-24, NLT

21 When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? 22 In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. 23 He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory. 24 And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles.

 

Sermon: Romans 9:25, 31-32, NLT

25 Concerning the Gentiles, God says in the prophecy of Hosea,

“Those who were not my people,
I will now call my people.
And I will love those
whom I did not love before.”

 

31 But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. 32 Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law[a] instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path.

 

Closing: Romans 10:9-13, 16-18a, NLT

If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”[a] 12 Jew and Gentile[b] are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” . . .

 

. . . 16 But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?”[a] 17 So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. 18 But I ask, have the people of Israel actually heard the message? . . .

 

Reflection: Jew or Gentile?

Have you ever wondered what it was like to live in a different time? Over the holiday weekend Ancestry.com offered free access to certain records and I started looking at them. Of course I could not remember my sign in but I did discover a World War I draft notice for my grandfather was listed. I was surprised and really should have gotten up to investigate more closely, but did not because I know he never served in the military. But now I want to know more.

Then another question came to mind: If I were living in Jesus’ time, would I have been a Jew or a Gentile? I suppose I could even ask if I would have been a pagan, but that seems a bit too unlikely. This question started my mind spinning and I started putting my thoughts together:

  • Was I born into a religious family?
  • Did I grow up following the religious law or the civil law?
  • Was my dad or my mom the driving force?
  • Was my church strictly structured around The Law?
  • Did church come first or did civil matters?
  • Was my community centered around the church or on business?

 

As you can tell, deciding whether I would have been a Jew or a Gentile lead to many other considerations other than just my personal faith.

Reading Romans, one can get a different perspective of the cultural shift that must have occurred for Paul, but also for other new Christians.   Paul certainly was Jewish before his conversion. Raised in the Jewish faith, having served in the Jewish leadership, his life was immersed in The Law. He knew it so well, he was actively involved in administering justice—or at least that was the Saul of Tarsus as he was first introduced in Biblical literature.

Paul prosecuted the earliest disciples of Christ. Paul was a Jew and the first Christians who were Jewish must have felt confused as they believed Jesus Christ was simply the fulfillment of their own religious foundation. How difficult it must have been to be firmly rooted in a faith and then be prosecuted by your own religious leaders for believing the prophecies had indeed been fulfilled!

With that thought, I wonder again whether I would have been a Jew or a Gentile during those ancient times. I think it is possible to compare my own upbringing and belief system to the Jewish culture. As I look over my history I can see the similarities:

  • I was born into a faith-centered home environment.
  • We attended Sunday school and worship every Sunday.
  • We actively participated in all the age-appropriate activities—choir being the most obvious other than Sunday school.
  • We offered a table grace at all three meals in our home.
  • Dad appeared to be the faith leader because he said the grace.
  • Mom was in charge of the household including the education both after school and for Sunday school.
  • Dad served on the various Administrative Board committees and even as a lay leader.
  • Mom was a soloist and even evolved into the closest thing in our community to an activist for social justice.
  • We attended the carry-in dinners and social functions at church but seldom social events outside of the church.

 

Certainly, in my 20th century life, I was following the social profile that would have been a Jew during Christ’s lifetime.

Now, though, for comparison purposes consider the ancient Gentile. Here was an individual whose life hinged around the daily grind of life. Making a living, providing for the family, and managing to live in the ruling culture of the time. Reading Romans, the first century after Jesus was born, the Roman Empire dominated the Euro-Asian region. No state religion, but the Greek and Latin gods were worshiped. The pagan laws were not as severe as the Law of Moses was in the Jewish culture. For Roman citizens, the law was the ruling emperor’s law.

Today’s Gentiles may be more difficult to identify. Or maybe not because I suspect that today’s Gentiles profile might be like so many of our friends and neighbors, even family members. I believe the Gentiles are all those who have been raised with much of the same expectations as those in church-attending, church-centered families. The difference is they may not see a connection to living one’s faith in relation to their role in today’s world.

Consider how many in our community, maybe even in our church, who live a “good” life, not breaking any laws, working hard to make a living, and doing all the things our society deems appropriate—raising kids, going to sporting events, taking vacations, staying in style, and the list just keeps growing. There may be some curiosity about God and faith, but their lives are ok, maybe even extremely successful by all outward signs. Maybe they go to church occasionally, at least on Christmas and Easter, because they say they believe.

In today’s culture, I believe it is more difficult to see a distinction between the Jews and the Gentile labels that were evident during ancient days of Christ. Yet I believe it is also evident that there is a defined line between those who are living a faith-filled, Christ-centered life and those who are simply living in a spiritual void with all the outward appearances but no conviction of their faith in God.

Paul’s letter to the Romans was a logical argument for Christianity, written to an audience with whom he was not personally connected. Today we can read the letters Paul wrote and evaluate them against the experiences of Christians for over 2,000 years. We can even check ourselves to determine whether we are living the very principles Jesus demonstrated and Paul reinforced in his letters.

Romans is an introduction to Christian living whether one was raised a Jew or a Gentile; whether one was raised in a religious setting or not; or even if one has never had any simply unchurched. Paul assures us that salvation is available to any one who accepts that Jesus Christ lived, died and arose so that we are saved by the grace of God.

Paul’s letter goes on to explain that God genuinely loves us and that we are all equipped with spiritual gifts. We are to use those gifts living as good citizens in our communities. We are to accept all those who believe in Christ regardless of their previous beliefs—another words whether they were Jew, Gentile or pagan. We are to live in Christian unity with one another because God’s mercy is available to everyone.

Again, though, I find myself wondering whether I would have been living as a Jew or a Gentile or as a Christian? As much as my faith is the faith that I was born and raised in—a cradle Methodist as we say, I wonder if I could have been the Jew openly accepted the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in those ancient days?

Today I am fortunate to have the 2,000 years of Christian history to support the arguments for Christ. I am fortunate to live in a society that allows freedom of religion. Yet, in truth I wonder whether I am a Jew or a Gentile in behavior. Am I too caught up in the legalistic structure of our faith to open my heart, my mind and my doors to others regardless of their personal history? Am I afraid I cannot preserve the church in which I am so comfortable that I fight any change? Am I able to live in unity with others regardless of where they are in their faith journey?

If I did not have my faith in God, I would not see the value in this life I do have. If I did not follow the one commandment to love others as I want to be loved, I would be hiding within my own home fearing the unknowns. If I did not believe that God has given me gifts to use in this world, I would not be able to do what all I try to do.

My challenge to each of us here is to consider just what role do you have personally or we as a full church have in reaching out to the other Jews, Gentiles, pagans or unchurched. Do we honestly open our hearts, minds and doors to all in hopes that they too can discover God’s grace and salvation through his son Jesus Christ? Do we live the very example of a Christian right here in our own community?

Our responsibility is to find ways to demonstrate the motto that the United Methodist Church adopted in 2004: Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors. Let us truly be remarkable with our efforts to make sure that our church is being Christ-centered in this community.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

 

Open our hearts so they may be filled

With love for one another as Jesus taught.

 

Open our hearts so we may see

those in our community in need of your love.

 

Open our minds so they may be filled

With the methods and means to share your love.

 

Open our minds so we may grow

our spiritual gifts to serve and love others.

 

Open our doors so we may see

The lost, the lonely, the sick, and the hungry.

 

Open our doors so we may serve

To welcome those needing your love.

 

Only with you can we be

the Christians you call us to be.

 

In your name, dear God,

And in the name of Jesus Christ,

And the Holy Spirit, amen.

 

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Am I a Gentile?

given on Sunday, July 12, 2015
Scripture base:  Ephesians 1:3-14, NLT

The thought never occurred to me that If we were returning to the past and living in Galilee whether my family would have been Jewish or whether we would have been a Gentile. The question sprung up as I read a statement from the lectionary companion I am using:

From the author’s (Paul’s) point of view, the [book of] Ephesians is written from “us Jews” to you “Gentiles” (Eph. 2:11) He reminds us that prior to Christ we were “aliens” rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promises. [1]

I never considered whether I would have grown up in a Jewish family or a Gentile family. The discussion in the commentary triggered that question: Am I a Gentile?

Asking whether one would consider him/herself a Gentile seems like a foreign question. Maybe the question is broader than that: Am I a Christian? During Paul’s missionary years, he targeted two basic categories–the Jewish people and the Gentiles. God wanted the Jews and the Gentiles united into one church.

This purpose continues today. The various Christian denominations all have specific practices and liturgies but all Christians continue to hold one belief: Christ lived. Christ died. Christ rose again. Believing that Christ died for us so that we might all be redeemed and receive eternal life, unites all into one, regardless of heritage.

Living in ancient times, where would you have been? Would you have been one of the Jewish faithful who learned the good news and quickly joined with the other followers of Christ? Or were brought up in a non-Jewish but Gentile home? The Gentiles did not know the prophecies of a Savior. The Gentiles did not live by all the rigid laws that the Jewish people followed. They simply were unaware of a faith-based life just like so many today.

Today, if Paul were writing a letter to one of the churches he established, would he ask if you were a Jew or a Gentile or would he ask whether you were raised in a Christian environment or whether you simply lived in an unchurched environment. This is what today’s churches are doing. They are asking others to come hear the story of Christ for the first time in their lives and to discover what a difference God makes in their lives.

Stop and consider the area around our church. Is it more like the Jewish community living an austere and rigid life waiting for a savior? Or is the community more like a Gentile community where the news of Jesus is just a rumor and has no significance to them?

Paul spent three years in Ephesus starting the brand new churches. His letter to them is believed to be a “circular” letter, one that is to be shared with other churches in the area. And think about what the church was anyway in that first century. No building was built just to house the worship services. Some churches were out on the open hillside in order to accommodate the crowds.

Do we try to share God’s message in a similar way or do we just leave it to the “way it has always been”? Today’s churches must reach out in all kinds of ways in order to share the message and to demonstrate that a Christian faith makes a huge difference in one’s quality of life.

Paul’s mission was to spread the word and establish congregations or communities of faith regardless of whether one was a Jew, a Gentile, or a pagan. God’s love is for everybody. God’s redemption is available to all.

We may have been like Gentiles as we grew up, but that does not make any different from those who grew up as Christians. However we have become Christian, we are to reach out and to share God’s love to each other. Are you still acting like a Gentile or are you a Christian sharing God’s love?

The various selections in this week’s lectionary focus on glorifying Christ and worshiping God. In 2 Samuel, David did not have a temple built, yet he brought the ark or chest of the Old Covenant to Jerusalem. The Jewish people understood the value of the chest as part of their worship. It was important to David, a Jewish king, to keep the chest in reverence of God.

The Book of Psalm shares the hymns, prayers and liturgy of ancient Jewish worship. Jesus was taught them and knew them well. The use of the psalms even in today’s worship settings connects us to the very roots of our faith and illustrates the timeless value of worshiping God.

Are we worshiping God with praises and reverence? Does today’s worship invite the Gentiles in the community or is it exclusive to just the faithful attendees? What do we do that praises God today? Do we share with others how our faith improves the quality of our lives? Do we invite them to join us?

Certainly there is a core of Christian faithful who put away their differences and meet for worship regularly. But is the door open so all are welcomed to come in and to learn about God and to worship together with us?

Look around your homes, drive down the roads, walk the walks, and pray. This community needs God. Are we going to just sit quietly and worship for ourselves; or do we get excited about God and ask others to come experience God’s love?

Summer is a very busy time, especially in a farming community. Summer is when kids are outside running and playing with each other, throwing a stick for the dogs to fetch, or sitting inside watching TV, surfing the internet, or playing video games. This is also the time of year families pack up and leave town for a few days to a couple of weeks trying to relax and to see new places.

In all this activity, where is God? Are we telling others how much we love this world God gave us? Do we use our Christian behaviors when we go to a ball game or sit down in a restaurant? Are we saying grace at a family meal each day? Where are you on Sunday morning? Have you checked on your neighbor or friends who are not sitting beside you at church?

Being Christian is not easy. But being Christian provides a quality of life that defies description. Even with 72% of days filled with clouds and rain, the sun shines in our lives because we know the Son of God. The world certainly looks inviting through the eyes of God and wouldn’t it be wonderful if everybody could see the world that way—whether Jewish, Gentile, Christian or unchurched.

Today we worship God, we praise Him, and we share our heartaches and our joys with him. We also gather with our church family to learn more about God’s love and salvation. We work together to find ways to love one another in the community. We are God’s family together; and we are filled with so much peace and joy we need to share it with others all week long.

I guess I would have been in the Jewish community in ancient times. I grew up in a Christian family, lived in the rural community of family farms and other Christian families. I attended Sunday school and church services on Sunday morning, sang in the choirs, and went to youth group. Church is simply a part of my entire life and life is so good.

Whether raised in a traditional Christian family or not, share the good news with others not sitting in the pews beside us. Let’s worship God and help others find God in their lives.

Paul certainly stepped out of his comfort zone and we can too. Each time we share God’s grace, we praise God. Each time we manage adversity and others ask how, we share God’s story.

God is good, all the time;

all the time, God is good.

Closing prayer

Dear God of All,

What a delight to be here with you.

What a joy to be in fellowship with your family.

What peace you give us in this holy place.

Show us opportunities to share with others

The grace and love you provide.

Give us the words to tell the story

Of your son, Jesus Christ.

Strengthen our resolve to serve

One another in all kinds of ways.

Thank you for granting us grace.

Thank you for trusting us with your creation.

Thank you for loving us despite all.

Amen.

[1] (Wilson 2014)

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