Recently my wife and I had the opportunity to travel from our home in Canada to Lexington, Massachusetts to celebrate the bar mitzvah of the youngest son of dear friends we met on a cruise twenty-two year ago. This was the second bar mitzvah we’ve attended. The first was their eldest son’s just over two years ago. Both celebrations were great experiences for us.
I’ve always had an interest in Jewish culture, perhaps influenced by my Christian heritage that recognizes them as God’s Chosen People, and because of the their plight over the ages, in particular the Holocaust.
My friends have helped me learn a lot about their culture. We’ve had the privilege of sharing a Shabbat Dinner in their home and attended Shabbat service with them at their conservative, egalitarian temple. I’ve always had a deep respect for my friends’ commitment to their faith. In addition to being active members of their temple, Temple Emunah, they’ve also provided their children with a Hebrew education as an extension to their public school education. A few years ago when they were visiting us in Canada, where I was the senior pastor at a local church, I tried to honour their presence in our service by preaching a sermon called Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus in which I talked about our shared heritage, given that Jesus was a Jew and the Christian Old Testament is the Hebrew Bible.
Both times we celebrated their sons’ bar mitzvahs I was moved by my friends’ family and congregation’s reverence for God. Many would say that they, and much of Christianity, are too focused on tradition and rituals. I agree that traditions and rituals can overshadow the everyday simplicity of connecting with God, if we let it. However, I would argue that there’s a healthy place for tradition and ritual in our desire to connect with God .
I’ve observed that balance in my friends’ lives, and in their temple’s application of their spirituality. They not only adhere to the traditions and rituals of their heritage but they also apply the principles behind their belief system into how they live their lives. When the everyday lives of those who practice these traditions and rituals aren’t filled with compassion and service to others, including the broader community outside one’s own church, mosque, or temple, it’s a sure sign that there’s something amiss.
My friends, and the leaders in their temple, recognize that part of the preparation for a bar mitzvah involves contributing to the greater good of others. It was encouraging to see that each boy had been engaged in serving the community with acts of kindness and compassion. I was also moved when I learned that the temple itself was also involved in serving the greater community on a regular basis, as were the leaders in the temple.
There are some Christians who think it’s wrong for me, a practicing follower of Jesus, to share in the celebration of another person’s faith. There may even be some Jewish people who believe I shouldn’t have participated as an active member of the service by leading a responsive Prayer for Peace, which I felt honoured to do at both bar mitzvahs. But thankfully, I don’t hold this view, nor do my friends or the leadership of the temple, or most of its members. In fact, the interfaith dialogue seems particularly strong in Lexington, as evidenced by the active local interfaith clergy group in the community, of which the rabbi of my friends’ temple is among the leaders.
It’s OK to admire another faith group’s walk with God?
Some might think it’s not. Many Christians would say I should be trying to convince them of the error of their ways rather than condoning their religion with my presence. Don’t get me wrong, my personal belief does call me to think that a person with a different faith is wrong about their understanding of God and that I should share Jesus with them.
It’s OK to think that a person with a different faith is wrong about God.
I would expect that a committed person of different faith would think that I’m wrong. And that’s OK too.
What’s not OK is for me to think that because they’re wrong, that they have no relationship with God, or that I shouldn’t respect their faith journey.
Whether it’s my Jewish friends or my Muslim friends, they do have a relationship with God.
There’s no way that all of my theological beliefs are right. I know this because I’ve changed my view on some of them over the years. So, it’s likely that some of the things I believe today I might change my way of understanding later. Just because part of my understanding about God may be wrong or not fully developed doesn’t mean I can’t have a relationship with God. He doesn’t reject me just because I don’t get everything right about him, or her.
Imagine that you have a child. Imagine this child doesn’t know you’re their parent and there’s no way for them to find out, but they do know that you are some type of authority figure in their life. They respect you and try to love you. If you were a loving, just, and compassionate person you wouldn’t reject their love just because they don’t fully understand who you are.
This is how I envision God. He’s not going to reject me because I have some of my understanding about him. Nor is he going to reject my friends who are Jewish or Muslim. God’s going to accept our love regardless of the limits of our understanding.
I know that many Christians want to pass eternal judgment on those who don’t accept Jesus Christ. Because of the length restrictions of a blog post like this, all I’m going to say is, sorry, but I don’t buy into that theology. It’s not my job to pass judgment on someone else.
That’s God’s job.
My job is to accept Jesus as I know him and share his love and grace with others.
In large part we choose our faith based on our culture, on our parents. The likelihood of me ever becoming a Jew or a Muslim are pretty slim. Just as they are for my friends of ever becoming Christian. It can happen to either one of us, but it’s highly unlikely. Therefore, God’s going to accept our love as we understand him. I believe Jesus is part of the Holy Trinity—one God with three distinct persons—Father, Son, Holy Spirit. It doesn’t take away from his greatness if he’s listening to my Jewish and Muslim friends who don’t hold a trinitarian view of God. Nor, is God going to reject my love and reverence if I’m wrong about the whole Jesus thing.
There’s a place in our world for interfaith gatherings and for respect of another person’s faith.
Every person’s story is sacred. Yes, I’d like everyone to know Jesus as I believe God wants them to, but the reality is that it’s not going to happen any time soon, so it’s important that people continue to develop their relationship with God. It’s important that I live my life with love and grace, and that I continue to help others learn more about Jesus. I shouldn’t hold out from loving others or engaging in their journey because their faith is not the same as mine, and may never be regardless of what I share with them about Jesus.
Our world is better when we strive to know God.
I know that religion can be a bad thing. Every religion under the sun has done some wrong in the world, and this will continue to the end of time. However, a genuine desire to know God makes us all better. I’m not claiming that an atheist or agnostic can’t be a good person. I’m merely saying that since God is the source of all love, we have a better chance of letting that love make the world a better place if we’re trying to connect with him.
I encourage everyone to seek God, to love others, and to live their lives in a way that is filled with selfless sacrifice. Yes, I pray that all will know Jesus, but until that day comes I’m happy to participate in the life I find myself in.