John Bressler-0802611Listen to John Bressler read his column.
While I was pastor of the Presbyterian Church on South Tamiami Trail in Sarasota, Florida, I was asked to convene, chair and moderate the NCCJ, the National Conference of Christians and Jews. We met monthly and the group included mostly Reform rabbis, members of their congregations, as well as Christian pastors and church members. There was one purpose of the gathering and that was to study the Bible and how it was read, studied and applied in Jewish and Christian communities.
When we first met, there was a certain amount of mistrust and concern among the members which caused some to leave, some to argue, some to antagonize and some to simply sit back and watch the show.
Once we got past the posturing, we agreed to respectfully disagree, listen to understand and work together as colleagues rather than opponents.
Eventually, some of us went so far as to exchange pulpits, teach certain classes and have church and synagogue suppers together as friends.
Make no mistake. We never left our Jewish or Christian identities at the door or apologized for our tradition or theology. We did, however, respect our religious differences.
Over a period of time, our group addressed certain issues and our conclusions were printed in the newspaper and aired on the radio as talk shows, which allowed the listening public to participate. By the way, if you think that those discussions were for panty waists, you've got another think coming.
For you folks that like to read Soundoff, it's a walk in the park compared to some of the calls we got.
I've been reading and hearing about an evangelical movement to help open the way for the apocalypse, parousia, millennium, and I am not picking on any particular group. I also don't want anyone to think I am being condescending or flippant, but it's as though Jesus is waiting for a sign and one sign is the conversion of the Jews.
I don't know why we specifically pick on them, since there are plenty of Muslims, Buddhists and atheists ad infinitum.
Allow me to refer to Romans 11:25-36, where we are informed of God's plan, which certainly precedes ours, no matter how concerned or enthusiastic we may be when it comes to our Jewish brethren. Take note of Romans 9:15-16, too.
Besides, perhaps it is the people of Israel who are to convert themselves. Please take a look at Matthew 10:5, where Jesus tells the twelve, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, that's us, nor the Samaritans, but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." It is not until the Great Commission of Mathew 28 that the Gospel is to be shared with the rest of the world.
There is not a church or denomination that does not take these marching orders lightly as it is our primary task. At the same time, when we look at the broad scope of responsibilities given to the faithful, we put some hard work into our words. I am so impressed with the work ethic of the congregation of First United Methodist Church, who take evangelism and outreach very seriously.
Read this line from their statement of purpose, "To glorify God and love others through worship, study and service." This puts the words of Matthew 25 on the line and out into a world of darkness.
Let me close with the words of a good friend and colleague, Rabbi Dr. Albert Shulman, who said to me one day, "John, I appreciate you. It's refreshing to know you are here to work together, and you've never tried to convert me. I'll tell you what. You get the message to all the Gentiles here in Sarasota, and I'll sit down and listen about Jesus."
Hang tight, Rabbi. The day is far from over and we will have a lot to talk about.