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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2019 Synod Study Conference

This year our annual Alberta and the Territories Synod Study Conference featured keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis. She is the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary and she previously taught at Candler School of Theology, Columbia Theological Seminary, and Augsburg College.

She is the author of John: Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries(2014).

In addition to addressing matters of biblical exegesis, sexism (according to the study of one scholar, only about 1 per cent of all the people in the Bible are women, and many of them either do not speak, speak only briefly, and many of them are unnamed), racism, a canon within the canon, reading and studying the Bible with the awareness of one’s own built-in biases—Professor Lewis challenged conference attendees to be more aware of what we believe about the Bible, how we read and interpret it (hermeneutics), how we prepare sermons and preach on them.

Professor Lewis also presented her exegesis of the Johannine story of Jesus and the woman of Samaria in chapter four. She encouraged those who read, study and preach on this pericope to pay attention to the details of if not each word, at least each sentence in the story. For example, the text says in verse four: “But he (i.e. Jesus) had to go through Samaria. Why did Jesus have to go through Samaria? At the time Jews and Samaritans were not exactly on friendly terms. Indeed Jews avoided travelleing through Samaria and the Samaritans if they at all could. It is clear by looking at a map that Jesus definitely had at least two options in travelling back to Galilee—he could have taken a route along the coast or he could have crossed the Jordan and travelled on the east side of Samaria. Yet, he had to go through Samaria. Of course, one reason for that was to widen the scope of his ministry; to become more inclusive by welcoming women as well as men, non-Jews as well as Jews into his realm.

In addition to Rev. Dr. Lewis’s presentations, we enjoyed hearing from other presenters and had opportunity to reconnect with colleagues informally, as well as worship together.

Below is a photo of our Synod’s women clergy as well as a few visiting from other Synods and Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis.

Preachers’ Thought for Today

Bethany Meadows pulpit, photo by GW-H

“Preaching is effective as long as the preacher expects something to happen-not because of the sermon, not even because of the preacher, but because of God.” -John Hines

My New Ebook

I am “self-publishing” my new ebook today, March 30, 2015! Visit my new ebook page to learn more!

Click here or the link above.

NT Wright on Preaching

I don’t think that I’m the only preacher who, over the years, has struggled with preaching on the Pauline letters. In this video, biblical scholar, bishop, author, professor and preacher, NT Wright, is interviewed by another professor of preaching, Ronald Allen, focussing on preaching the Pauline letters.

A preacher to preachers

A preacher to preachers

Those of us who preach, more or less weekly, are also in need of inspiration from, if you will, a preacher to preachers. One such mentor whom I appreciate is Frederick Buechner. Here are a few words of wisdom from Buechner on the power and inspiration of words, sermons and preaching.

“Sermons are love letters.”

A sobering question for me as a preacher is: How much love do I put into sermons as I prepare and deliver them? I’m sure there’s always room from improvement, speaking for myself. And do parishioners hear and receive sermons as love letters? If they do, then there shall be a whole lot of understanding and harmony in the parish, and they will be inspired and encouraged.

“Language itself is revelatory and gives life.”

If that’s true, then we preachers shall always be searching, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, to find the right words and transform them into God’s Word for his people via the sermon.

Buechner’s sermons contain what’s been referred to as an angular vision—i.e. seeing something just above or below, not directly, to describe the everyday and apprehend the holiness.

It has been said that Buechner’s book, Telling Secrets, is a life transforming one for preachers.

“Secrets can do damage, they undermine facing the present head on. Doubts, failures, mysteries, imperfections, warts and all—tell all the secrets, the truth will set you free.”

Buechner says that we preachers need to be whistling in the dark.

“Without darkness, people cannot appreciate the light. Writing and preaching are like whistling in the dark. It is trying to convince ourselves as preachers that there is something, someone more than the darkness.”

I like this image of “whistling in the dark,” for me it is an image of hope, courage and joy—that even in the face of sufferings and an uncertain future, we can dare to live with hope, take courage, and be joyful. Why? Because God—Immanuel—is with us.

According to Buechner:

“There is nothing more powerful than a preacher speaking with love to a congregation.”

This reminds me of the captive audience of the disciples on the Emmaus road with the risen Christ, when Jesus opened up the meanings of God’s Word.

“Silence is the first language of God. We need to listen to God in silence. Preaching is born out of silence.”

The times my sermons fall on deaf ears are likely due in part at least to the reality that I did not spend enough time in silence to germinate the Word or hear what the Holy Spirit was speaking to me.

Buechner’s writing is often darkness before the light, the muck before the cleanliness.

“What’s lost is nothing to what’s found.”

Amen to that, for that’s the Good News of the parable of the prodigal son in a nutshell!

Transfiguration Sunday Yr B

Transfiguration Yr B, 22/02/2009

II Cor 4:3-6

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“For we do not proclaim ourselves”

 

Preachers and preaching. In today’s second lesson, the apostle Paul is speaking of himself and his co-workers. He says: “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” Paul and his co-workers are facing charges from some in the Corinthian congregation. The charges seem to be that Paul and his co-workers are not genuine preachers and their preaching is not authentic. In response to the charges Paul insists that he and his co-workers are genuine and their preaching is authentic.

From the beginning of the Christian Church, right up to the present day there have been charlatan preachers preaching deceitfully. I don’t know if you’re like me, but on occasion, I have heard a few preachers so egotistic that their sermon was all about themselves. Every story in the sermon was from their life or a member of their family. If I were the preacher’s spouse or family member I’d have felt rather embarrassed and perhaps even resentful about such stories. A preacher needs to practice discernment and ask permission from family members before he or she tells family stories from the pulpit.

Some preachers are tempted by fame and status. They covet being the most popular preacher in the world. Or they become obsessed with climbing the social ladder; desiring to hobnob with the rich and famous. Worldly gain is their game; some making millions of dollars a year by distorting Jesus and the gospel into an entrepreneurial empire. Their affluent lifestyle is on public display for us to see as if they were saying: “Look how rich and successful I am!” Their theme song is “How great I art.” I wonder what Jesus thinks of such preachers?

Other preachers are hooked on Hollywood. They strive to be the Rev. Entertainer; the single, most important criteria for their preaching is the question: “Are my sermons entertaining?” For them, wowing us with dramatics is cool. They may compromise their moral-ethical integrity to preach manipulative, emotionally stirring sermons to get what they want for their own selfish ends. Preachers who tip the scales too far this way may be tempted to develop a cultic or sectarian following like some of the Televangelists. Cultic and sectarian followers are brainwashed, programmed to do almost anything for their leader who has absolute authority and control over them. In recent times, we’ve witnessed how such cultic and sectarian followers have killed and committed suicide in God’s name because they’ve been brainwashed by their leaders.

How radically different are genuine preachers! Paul says you can tell a genuine preacher from a charlatan. He says a genuine preacher does not preach herself or himself. No. Rather, he or she preaches Jesus Christ as Lord and himself or herself as slaves for Jesus’ sake. Or in the words of The Message: “Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you.” I like that—we’re messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. If I am going to be a reliable messenger I need to listen very closely to the message I’ve been given to share it with you accurately. I need to learn the message and communicate it well for you. I also need to take orders willingly from Jesus so that I can run the errands he gives me. I need to be in shape spiritually to run his errands. So an authentic preacher feeds daily and deeply on God’s Word. Unless I feed daily and deeply on the Bible, how can I feed you spiritually? An authentic preacher also listens to Christ speaking through prayer. Without listening to Christ in prayer, I cannot feed you.

When I read and study the Bible and feed deeply on it; when I listen to Christ in prayer I, like Paul will strive to preach the message that Jesus is Lord. At the heart and core of all Christian sermons is the earliest confession and creed: “Jesus is Lord.” What does it mean to preach and confess Jesus as Lord?

Well, it means several things. Jesus as Lord means that his power and authority is the highest power and authority of all. No human being, no human institution has a higher claim on our loyalty if Jesus is Lord. Our loyalty to Jesus as Lord is greater than our loyalty to family. Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords has a claim on our loyalty that is higher than our loyalty to any political party, government, or nation. Preaching and confessing Jesus is Lord means that his claims on us to be loyal to him are higher than the claims of race, class, or gender. The confidence of Christian preachers in preaching Jesus is Lord gives them courage and their people courage to confess Jesus as their Lord even in the face of the most powerful forces and authorities on earth.

On the scaffold in a Nazi prison, within months of the end of the Second World War, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was superior to the might of Adolf Hitler because he knew that Jesus is Lord. This is the testimony of countless witnesses and martyrs throughout the ages, some known to us and many unknown to us. This is the witness when, on our deathbeds, in our dying moments, the faithful in Christ triumph over the failures of medicine and of the body, because we say and we know that Jesus is Lord. Who is Jesus? Jesus is Lord; and as long as there are people in the world who, in the worst of times under the most dangerous of circumstances, yet declare that Jesus is Lord, this world and all of its powers will never ever have the last word.1

We preachers and you listeners who follow Jesus continue to place all of our hopes and fears, sufferings and triumphs in the One whom we confess to be: Jesus is Lord. We believe with our whole being that if Jesus is Lord then, come what may, we shall endure it for he is always with us right up to the end of this life and into the open door of eternity. Fear not brothers and sisters in Christ, for Jesus is Lord!

Coming back to what Paul is saying to the Corinthians and us today, because genuine preachers preach Jesus is Lord, they are “your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” In the New Testament Greek, the word doulos can be translated both as slave or servant. The word slave today may have negative connotations—since we in the Western world worked hard and even fought to end slavery. I think what Paul is driving at here is not the negative realities of slavery. Rather, I think what he means here is something like this: because Jesus has a claim on us preachers as Lord, we are compelled to give of ourselves in love as he did for the people we serve. The self-giving love of Jesus will pour into us if we are called to be preachers so that we can give this same self-giving love to those we serve.

In making personal sacrifices as preachers, we discover, more often than not, the truth of Jesus’ words: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” For Paul, it means putting the needs of others first by serving them. A colleague and friend of mine of blessed memory, the Rev. Dr. K-Henry Reitze, inspired me with putting others first by serving them. Whenever we gathered together for a meal at church, he would go to the end of the line and insist on being last. We are your slaves for Jesus’ sake. We are here to serve you. I don’t think Paul meant that as slaves we serve out of fear. Nor do I think he meant we serve as hirelings. Moreover, I don’t think that Paul equates slave here with abuse or misuse. Rather, I believe Paul meant that as slaves for Jesus’ sake we serve out of his love. The love we receive from Christ is not horded and kept to ourselves; it is shared with you whom we serve. In serving you, we serve Christ himself, which is the highest privilege that I can think of in this life.

So, thank you for granting me the privilege of serving you. Most of all, thank God through our Lord Jesus Christ for the privilege of serving him and for giving us the Gospel, the Good News, which is meant to be shared with you and all people. Whether we are ordained or laity, we are all called to spread the Good News in word and deed. May the Holy Spirit give us grace to make us willing to share this Good News. Amen.

 

1 Peter J. Gomes, Strength for the Journey (New York: HarperCollins & HarperSanFrancisco Publishers, Inc., 2003), pp. 213-214.