Book Review: Preaching without Contempt: Overcoming Unintended Anti-Judaism

Preaching without Contempt: Overcoming Unintended Anti-Judaism

Author: Marilyn Salmon

Publisher: Fortress Press

183 pages, including: Preface, Notes, Suggestions for Further Reading, Index of Names and Subjects, and Index of Ancient Sources, paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Rev. Dr. Marilyn Salmon is professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in St. Paul, MN. She is an Associate Priest at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church in St. Paul where she preaches regularly. Salmon is involved in Jewish Christian relations and has served on the Advisory Board of the Jay Philips Center for Jewish Christian Learning for many years.

This volume, is one in a series of Fortress Press Resources for Preaching.

While I found this work quite engaging, I also felt challenged, and at times, disagreed with Dr. Salmon.

In her Preface, Dr. Salmon states the purpose of this volume: “The purpose of this book is to raise awareness of the negative images of Judaism that commonly occur in preaching, to learn to recognize them, and to adopt strategies to avoid repeating them.” (p. X)

Professor Salmon goes on to share a foundational premise for her hermeneutical and homiletical approach to the New Testament: “The Gospels themselves sound anti-Jewish. However, I maintain they are not. The Gospels belong within the context of first-century Judaism. They were written before Christianity existed apart from Judaism.” (p. X) They are Jewish literature, not Christian literature. However, I’m not sure that a majority of Jewish and Christian biblical scholars and preachers would agree with this premise.

This volume is well designed, with five chapters: Introduction, The Gospels as Jewish Literature, Supersessionism, The Pharisees and the Law, The Gospel of John, The Passion Narrative and a Conclusion. There are also several sub-sections of each chapter to enhance the flow of the work. Some of the chapters also contain examples of sermons that Dr. Salmon preached, which intentionally endeavour to avoid anti-Judaism. I confess that I found a couple—but not all—of these sermons rather dry and overly pedagogical, while others were helpful and instructive.

There are several instances where I do not agree with Dr. Salmon, or if not agreeing, I question or am more ambiguous about her conclusions. Here are a couple of examples.

Dr. Salmon suggests that it is more helpful to read the New Testament from a theocentric viewpoint rather than a Christological one in order to avoid supersessionism. However, I think the “primary subject” of the New Testament is Jesus, and to read it from a Christological perspective need not mean one is promoting supersessionism.

In Professor Salmon’s chapter on The Pharisees and the Law, she writes: “The sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the sabbath” is not original with Jesus; it reflects general wisdom concerning the sabbath.” (p. 96) My response is, if this is not original with Jesus, then why not cite the original source?

I appreciate the research that Dr. Salmon engaged in for this volume and her concern to overcome unintended anti-Judaism in the Christian pulpit. This work does make a significant contribution towards understanding the Pharisees in a more positive light. For example, she cites E.P. Sanders, who made the claim regarding the ritual purity laws that: “All Jews, including Pharisees, were impure more or less all the time.” (p.100) Dr. Salmon repeatedly emphasises the wide diversity of Judaism at the time of Jesus and after the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E. She points out that the caricatures of Judaism by Christians and the use of Judaism as a foil to promote the adversus Iudaeos argument and emphasise the superiority of Christianity over Judaism as a devastating practice has damaged Jewish-Christian relations for centuries; and she advocates the use of more carefully nuanced readings of the Passion Narrative in Holy Week liturgies, providing two online links in her Notes for them; she also includes a resource from Brian Wren’s Piece Together Praise for Holy Week, a Kyrie in three stanzas, with the first line of each stanza containing this prayer: “God, thank you for the Jews.” (pp. 153-154)

I recommend this volume to preachers, and those interested and involved in Jewish-Christian relations.

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Sermon 4 Easter Yr C

Read my sermon for May 12, 2019 here: 4 Easter Yr C

Sermon for 5 Lent Year C

Read my sermon for April 7, 2019: 5 Lent Yr C

Sermon for 3 Advent Yr C

Read my sermon for December 16, 2018 here: 3 Advent Yr C

Sermon 3 Lent Yr B

Read my sermon for March 4, 2018 here: 3 Lent Yr B

A brief funeral sermon for Carla Harris

A brief funeral sermon for Carla Gwen Harris, based on Ps 23 & Jn 14:1-3 by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson; Burgar Funeral Chapel, Camrose, AB, December 16, 2017, two o’clock.

 

A daughter, sister, sister-in-law, aunt, friend, neighbour, and member of God’s family, Carla Gwen Harris, has departed from this life. With death, comes a sadness, especially for you members of Carla’s family. You will miss her.

When I asked family members to tell me a bit about Carla, they said she was short and sweet-pun intended. She touched their lives with her honesty, forth-rightness, sense of humour, spontaneity, at times strong-mindedness, as well as being upbeat, and having a positive, hopeful view of life. She was also known and respected as the family historian for both sides of the family. She loved and was proud of her family; they were the most important part of her life. Carla, I’m told, also was a caring person, and looked after her mom and aunt. Some of the things she enjoyed in life were knitting and crocheting, movies and reading, as well as country music, especially Johnny Reid.

When a family is close-knit, and a member departs from this life, there is a sadness and there can be a loneliness and emptiness. One of the most comforting gifts that God gives us at times like this is God’s Word. So we turn to God’s Word now, starting with Psalm twenty-three. This beautiful psalm is one of the most popular and comforting passages in the Bible. Even though it likely wasn’t originally written specifically for funeral services—countless Christians and Jews choose Psalm twenty-three for funeral services.

The words describe God as a loving, caring shepherd, as well as a host and chef who serves up a banquet feast. God our shepherd provides for our needs; is with us to lead us through death’s dark valley; and is generous in providing a banquet feast—“my cup overflows,” says the psalmist. God’s deepest desire is that every human being knows him as a loving, caring God who provides for our needs, and who is always with us through life and through death.

There’s a true story I love about a house party in one of the big English country houses. Often after dinner at these parties people give recitations, sing, and use whatever talent they have to entertain the company. One year a famous actor was among the guests. I’ve been told he might have been Charles Laughton. When it came his turn to perform, he recited the Twenty-third Psalm. His rendition was magnificent, and there was much applause. At the end of the evening someone noticed a little old great aunt dozing in the corner. She was deaf as a post and had missed most of what was going on, but she was urged to get up and recite something. In those days people used to memorize a lot of poetry! So she stood up, and in her quavery old voice she started, The Lord is my shepherd, and went on to the end of the psalm. When she had finished there were tears in many eyes. Later one of the guests approached the famous actor.

“You recited that psalm absolutely superbly. So why were you so moved by the funny, little old lady?”

He replied, “I know the psalm. She knows the shepherd.”1

Speaking of knowing the shepherd, that brings us to our passage from John’s Gospel. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his death, which he knew was coming soon. In this farewell talk, Jesus uses highly relational language, the language of love to comfort, reassure, and give his disciples peace of heart and mind. He tells them not to let their hearts be troubled—in the Good News Bible he says it like this: “Do not be worried and upset.”

Then Jesus goes on to tell them why they shouldn’t have troubled hearts; why they shouldn’t be worried and upset. He says to them and to each one of you: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places, many rooms, many mansions.” Then he says that he’s going there to prepare a place for each one of us. So there is plenty of room there for each one of us. Even better yet, Jesus promises that when the time comes, he will come to get us and take us to that eternal home, he wants us to be with him there. Now he has done that for your loved one Carla, and one day he will do the same for each of you, so that you will meet her again there.

So my hope and prayer for each of you is that you place your hope, your trust, your lives into the hands of this God who is a loving shepherd. A God who loved us so much that he died on the cross for each one of us. Jesus, who still loves us so much that he wants everyone to be in a relationship with him and to live under the power of his love. Amen.

1 Madeleine L’Engle with Carole F. Chase, Glimpses of Grace: Daily Thoughts And Reflections (New York & San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers & HarperSanFrancisco, 1996 & 1998), pp. 317-318.

A Brief Graveside Sermon for Lois Kerr

Brief graveside sermon for Lois Jean Kerr, by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, based on Eccles 3:1-8 & Jn 14:1-3, Edberg Cemetery, November 7, 2017.

A mother, grandmother, friend, neighbour, resident of Bethany Meadows, and child of God, Lois Jean Kerr, has left this life for that better place we call heaven. You who loved and knew Lois will certainly miss her. Life is not the same when a loved-one dies.

I am sure you will find comfort in celebrating and sharing the memories that you have of Lois, as she touched your hearts and lives over the years.

Lois was a generous, kind, caring and loving person. Family was very important to her. Lois shared her gift of cooking with her family, and she loved entertaining friends and family. You family members were grateful to have shared one last special meal with Lois at Thanksgiving.

I’m told that Lois’ chocolate chip cookies were a big hit among you. This legacy lives on as Judy now uses her mom’s recipe and makes these cookies for the students at the school where she is chef.

Lois’s gifts of generosity, kindness and caring were also shared with us at Bethany Meadows, where she spent the last years of her life. She was always most kind toward her fellow residents. While living at Bethany Meadows, Lois loved it when the therapy horses came to visit. She also enjoyed participating in Hymn-Sings, Devotions, Worship Services, and our Music Appreciation Group.

As we turn to God’s word for comfort and hope, we hear those words of the writer of Ecclesiastes who tells us that there is a time and a place for everything in life—that is the way God planned it. For Lois, each stage of life prepared her for the next one, until finally, the LORD called her to her eternal home. Lois enjoyed the gift of time that God gave her, and now she will enjoy being reunited with her husband Bill, whom she missed and longed to be with again.

Turning to that wonderful passage from John’s Gospel, we have the promise from Jesus and the hope that comes with that promise that he has prepared a place for us in heaven. The Father’s house translated as many mansions, many rooms, many dwelling places.

Home, as you knew it, was a place where Lois loved and accepted you, and cared for your needs. A place where you could feel secure and be yourself. How much more that will be true in our heavenly Father’s house.

That reminds me of a morning at Bethany Meadows when I was making my rounds. I asked Lois, “How are you doing today, Lois?” She replied, “I’m good enough to go home.”

So now Lois can be at peace and celebrate the joy and love that is hers as she lives in the full presence of God in his heavenly home, thanks to what Jesus our Lord and Saviour has done for her and each one of us. For that, thanks be to God! Amen.