A couple of weeks ago I was part of a Jewish-Christian dialogue sponsored by the National Council of Churches in Washington DC. This is an ongoing group which both Brian Grieves and I have been part of for a number of years. Initially it was set up to see if there was something Jews and Christians could say together to our government about peace in the Middle East. In other words, to see if we could live up to the kind of cooperative witness Jesus is suggesting in today’s Gospel when he says, “…whoever is not against you is for you!”
We thought we could at least agree to call for a cessation of violence on all sides, and a commitment to a two-state solution in the Holy Land, and a few general principles like that. And I do think we share those same basic commitments, but it has proven a lot harder than any of us imagined really to speak together, with one voice. Every time we get close, something happens in Lebanon or Gaza or a new election takes place over there, and we seem to get stymied!
At this last meeting at least part of the reason for that became clear to me. We like to do text studies together when we can and, this time, my friend Rabbi Eric Greenberg did one on “Zion in Hebrew Scripture” and I followed up with a Bible study on “Zion in the New Testament.” It was amazing to me that, of the seven times the word “Zion” is used in the New Testament, it invariably refers (as our First Lesson from Zechariah did today) to “Jerusalem” or to the “people of Jerusalem”or to the Jewish people in general.
“Thus says the Lord: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts shall be called the holy mountain.” (Zechariah 8:3).
Rabbi Greenberg, however, in his study, never referred to Zion as “Jerusalem” but always to passages from the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) about the promise of the Land to Israel, and about the irrevocable Covenant God made with Israel, an essential part of which is “the Land!” So often, we simply seem to talk past each other in these discussions and it’s because our narratives are so different! And, even though we share parts of the same Bible, we look to different texts as authorities for our various positions!
Well, I don’t know how we will resolve those issues ultimately. But I do know we have to keep the conversations going, and that we all have to start from a place of humility and penitence for so many things we’ve done and said in the past. Today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. They will be in synagogues all day, examining their lives and confessing their sins.
I think we would do well to join them in that, so I’ll be including a “Confession of Sin” in our own liturgy today. Because it’s only by starting from that same, shared space of penitence that we can ever hope to see the day promised by God in our First Lesson:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets. Thus says the Lord of hosts: Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me?…I will save my people from the east country and from the west country; and I will bring them to live in Jerusalem. They shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.” (Zechariah 8:4-8)
May it be so…one day! Amen.