18 March 2015

Final debate... listen to the spin

The Presbyterians in the US, according to the story in the New York Times, gave final approval to the change of the definition of marriage to include same sex (Gay and Lesbian) couples. The language of the first line is telling: "After three decades of debate over its stance on homosexuality, members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted on Tuesday to change" In other words the debate is now officially over. No one can vote again; no one can bring up the subject again; no one can debate again. Isn't that what their language indicates?

If that be so, then the debate was really a 'wear down' by one side over against the other, the more traditional side.

"“Finally, the church in its constitutional documents fully recognizes that the love of gays and lesbian couples is worth celebrating in the faith community,” said the Rev. Brian D. Ellison, executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, which advocates gay inclusion in the church. “There is still disagreement, and I don’t mean to minimize that, but I think we are learning that we can disagree and still be church together.”

In other words, the debate is over, and although there is still disagreement, the Rev Ellison is declaring the conversation over; the debate is closed. The vote is now final.  The genie is really out of the bottle. And it's not going back inside.

Is that the way debate works? Is that the way denominations face hurdles of discord? I think the Presbyterians and others have much to consider in the decade ahead. But first, they who were the mainline church for many will now become more of a sidelined organization. Although they will officially welcome homosexuals, their numbers will officially plummet and they will become 'just another' formerly glorious place of God's working. Shame.

Spin matters. Final conversation will yet to be had. Watch this space.

 A version of this article appears in print on March 18, 2015, on page A13 of the New York edition with the headline: Largest Presbyterian Denomination Gives Final Approval for Same-Sex Marriage.

The NYTimes article is here

15 March 2015

The Last Days...according to Jesus (Luke 17.20-37)

--> A sermon by Bob Mendelsohn Given at Cronulla (Sydney) Anglican Church
15 March 2015
Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
And He said to the disciples, “The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. They will say to you, ‘Look there! Look here!’ Do not go away, and do not run after them. For just like the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day. But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back.
Remember Lot’s wife.
Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.”
And answering they said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.” 

Thank you to Pastor Rich, for inviting me today and for assigning me this text from Luke 17. Seems you have been going through this book of the Bible in a series, and I'm glad to fit in today with a message I call "The Last Days according to Jesus." 

Who will win the election Saturday week? Who will win the Cricket World Cup? Will the Sharks have a go at the top of the table in League this year? No matter how many tealeaves you use, no matter how many mediums you consult, the content of today’s lesson and today’s text appears to highlight Jesus’ general antipathy toward attempts to engage in apocalyptic timetabling. Even so, today’s text will also clearly show both drama and destruction at the real apocalypse.
This week into our bookshop in Bondi Junction a man came who is a real believer. But he spent a significant time trying to convince me that since the Third Temple was yet to be rebuilt, that all Jews were not believing in Jesus, that a particular seal in Revelation or a symbolic event in the prophet Daniel had not happened…since all these cataclysmic events were yet future, that obviously Jesus was not set to return today. He had time; others still had time; there was plenty of time to get ready for the return of the Messiah.
It’s exactly that evaluation that prompted Yeshua to speak all these red-letter words in today’s text. No, He alleged, you don’t have time. No, when you think that everything is as it was and is as it will be, that’s when you need to look up. The end is in view. Your end is in view. The Kingdom is coming. The Bible says the end will come suddenly, like lightning, and unmistakably, like lightning.
Then there is another group of people who look at the future. These are they who watch the newspaper in one hand and read the Bible in the other hand and will tell you that ISIS is prophesied in that Bible passage, and the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 was predicted in another passage. They aver that the world is ending today or maybe tonight, and they have signs to prove it. Earthquakes and wars and rumors of wars. Tsunamis and volcanic blasts, the cyclone in Port Vila, Vanuatu, even sycamore trees in New York City. Jesus is coming back today at 2:30 pm.  They can prove it. But Jesus also has something to say to those people.
Look at verse 20: The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed.
The words here point to the process of trying to work out, by means of almost scientific observations, what is happening in connection with the coming of the kingdom of God, whether these observations take the form of looking for supernatural signs like blood moons or falling Temples, people who project truths from the present political situation, looking at the entrails of animals, examining the configuration of the stars, or some other form. One cannot discern when the kingdom of God will come by prognostication on the basis of the observation of raw data.
So Jesus negates both groups of sign observers, those who think it’s observable and those who think it will happen but not yet. Both evaluate end-times on the basis of signs. But there are two other groups we should mention. Give me a moment.
I remember the fabled story of the Italian peasant who looked up one day and saw Jesus returning in the clouds. He ran to the neighborhood parish and told the priest, “Look up, Father, Jesus is a-coming.” Sure enough the parish priest looked up and saw what the peasant told him, and they ran to the priest’s car, drove to the big city and told the bishop. “Look up, your excellency; Jesus is a-coming!” The bishop saw what they other saw, and they together went to the bishop’s car and drove straight to Rome. There they bypassed formalities and demanded an audience with the pope. The three men made it into the Vatican and into the pope’s chambers. “Holy Father, look up, Jesus is a-coming!” The men stood still as the pope ran to the window overlooking St Peter’s square, checked overhead and ran back into his office. They watched as he feverishly began writing note after letter after note. Finally, the bishop gathered the courage and said, “Holy Father, excuse me, what are you doing?” The pope looked up hurriedly and said, “Jesus is a-coming, look-a-busy!”
There are two other groups of people, with equally wrong responses to knowing the reality of the return of the Messiah: 1) you either become religious or 2) you dismiss the idea altogether. Those are both in view as well in our passage and in our 21st century world in Cronulla, in the Shire, in Sydney, and beyond. If Jesus is coming back, and you want to ‘be ready’ then religion seems to fill the bill for some, as is evidenced in the pope story of being busy. On the other hand, if Jesus is coming back and you don’t really care about Him, His Kingdom, or all that means, then you will carry on life as you know it, with its commensurate political considerations, footy contests, pub crawling, and work-a-day worldviews. Neither of those are what Jesus recommends.
Whatever your response to the reality of the parousia, the appearing again of the Lord Jesus, several things are clear.
1)            You will not know the day or the time, until it happens.
2)            You will not be able to withstand its consequences.
3)            You cannot affect its timing. It will be sudden.
4)            Your fate is already determined by your professions of faith

Today is the Ides of March, the day when Julius Caesar was killed in Rome around 40 BC. According to Plutarch, a seer had warned Caesar about the day and Julius dismissed the warning. When Caesar saw the seer approaching, Caesar shouted after him, “The Ides of March have come” implying that the seer’s words did not come to pass. The seer replied, “But they are not gone,” implying that the day was not over. Sure enough, moments later Caesar was stabbed to death. Dismissing the reality of warnings is not a good thing to do, whether it’s a red light on your car’s dashboard or a leaky faucet in the basement of the parish hall. The writer of Hebrews said, “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.” (12.25)
Warnings have their place, not for us to be academic about the timing of the warnings, but to listen and learn and change according to the measure of the warning. When a label on a box of cereal indicates that some peanuts are included, an anaphylaxic person, one with a peanut allergy, must take notice. If he doesn’t, it might spell death to him.
So Yeshua tells us in this passage that the end / beginning will be like two other eras in biblical and world history-- the time of Noah and the time of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah. In each narrative, a person warns the planet about impending doom, people dismiss it as nonsense, go about their ordinary life as if nothing will ever change, and God sends judgment to the place, causing havoc, flood, fire, and destruction. Yeshua is teaching that if we also similarly dismiss the warnings He is giving us from heaven, then we have no confidence in being part of the Kingdom or community of God.
And God’s judgment comes with precision, so that one is taken and another left even though they handle similar trades or situations. The judgment of God is not about trades or economics; it’s about our relationship with the Almighty.
One more thing about the Kingdom, Jesus says, “it’s in the midst of you.” (17.21) It’s right there, and some of you will see it, and some will miss it. But whether you think it’s coming in 2018 or when the Sharks win the Premiership or if you think cataclysmic events have to take place, a Temple has to fall and rise, or Rome or ISIS has to be dismantled, the reality is that while we argue about futures, the King of the Kingdom is right there, and if we are in relationship to Him, the Kingdom has come. OF course, there will be a future and comprehensive, instantaneous and cataclysmic new world, but for now, while you wait for it, the King is already here. Submit to Him and be brought near to the Government of God. God’s realm is here. God’s son is here. God is here!
Theologically, we learn the phrase, “Now and not yet.” That means that the Kingdom is now, present in Yeshua, and not yet, but is coming soon, with clarity and precision, with power and drama, and when God fully establishes His authority and rule on the earth, no one will withstand it. That day is certainly coming. This day however, you can join the community of faith. There is a ‘now’ for you who are listening; there will be a ‘then’ as well. Don’t wait until ‘then’ to make the choices you should make ‘now’ in following Messiah.
Don’t look-a-busy.
Don’t dismiss this.
Jesus really is returning, and as dramatic as the flood of Noah and its commensurate destruction, as dramatic as the fire-and-brimstone of Sodom and Gomorrah and its commensurate destruction, even to Lot’s longing-to-return wife, so will the drama and destruction be at the return of Jesus. Be ready, choose well. Religion won’t cut it; dismissal won’t make it go away.
The question to you today is “What will you do with Jesus?”

28 February 2015

Sit here... until...a study in session

Some Bible passages that triggered my contemplating, sitting, and writing today:

1) The Psalmist said, "Sit here at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." (Psalm 110.1)

2) The Talmud (Berachot 32b) cites another famous verse from Bible: Ashrei yoshvei veiteikha od yehalalukha selah Happy are those who sit in Your house; they will always be praising You! (Psalm 84:5) to teach the lesson that a person should (ideally) arrive at shul somewhat before the starting time to meditate a little prior to prayer (“sit in Your house”); only then should they “praise You”. 

3) Yet another verse teaches that lingering a little after the service is over (to schmooze a little with the One Above not the guy alongside!) is also desirable.  “Surely the righteous will give thanks to Your name; the upright will sit in Your presence” (140:14).  Having “given thanks” in the closing prayers of the service, it is good to “sit” a little once again in communion with the Divine.

4) “He does not withdraw His eyes from the righteous; but with kings on the throne; He has seated them forever, and they are exalted. (Job 36.7) 

5) "which God brought about in Messiah, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places."(Ephesians 1.20)

So this idea of sitting made me sit and ponder today what God might be saying to me through all this.  I remember the creeds of the historic church which mention that Yeshua died, rose again, "and is seated at the right hand" of the Eternal One. What's the big deal with sitting anyway?

In fact, Paul wrote the believers in Ephesus that God actually "raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Messiah Jesus" (2.6).  He includes within the letter to the Colossians "if you have been raised up with Messiah, keep seeking the things above, where Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God." (3.1)

But probably the most significant thing about session is the idea in the book of Hebrews, "And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet." (10.11-13) 

I took this photo of Carlos Moya in a match in Sydney against the American James Blake. It was an amazing point, long, rallies, lobs, smashes, returns, with great energy. Moya finished the point, sat down in exhaustion, in the chair at the back of the court and gave his racquet to a ball boy. He was 'done.' Perhaps that carries the meaning most exactly of the Hebrews passage, and session itself.

Now I mean no disrespect to Messiah, but the idea of standing in priestly duty means the duty is still ongoing. The session implies the work is done! No wonder the notion of 'better' is prevalent in Hebrews. What our great high priest Messiah Yeshua has done is better than the priesthood of the Aaronides. They continue (at the time of the writing of the book) to serve and offer sacrifices. He has sat down, because his work is finished. Hallelujah!

Now Yeshua is seated. And waiting. The Father will make all enemies to be a footstool for Messiah. Until that day comes, we work, we serve, we stand in the gap. Then we will sit, too. With him in heavenly places. And when He appears, we will be like Him. What a day of rejoicing that will be.

Enthronement. One website I read said, " his enthronement gives warrant to our faith. He is the One alone who has authority to save." He died, He rose, He ascended and is seated. Thanks be to God for His power to save. Amen?

19 February 2015

Brews for Jesus

We've been waiting for this for months and really for years. And this morning we opened. At this point we are only going to be open during peak hours in the morning 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. The barista is from Ethiopia which is where coffee was first "invented." So it's appropriate. We love her work and you will really enjoy meeting her. Her name is Lydia.

Monday to Friday we open.
And it's located at the Jews for Jesus Books and Gifts shop. Shop 1/ 257 Oxford Street, Bondi Junction.
The shop, of course, is open much longer hours, but the coffee (and tea and hot chocolate) bar is only open short hours.

If you are in the neighbourhood, please pop in. And for $2.50 you can't beat the deal!

Starting tomorrow we will also have little muffins and friands and banana bread. Each only $2.50. So for a breakfast, on the run, pop in.

11 February 2015

Jesus in pop culture and measles in the US

30 January 2015

The junior varsity of terror: Language parsed

This week, the White House Deputy Press Secretary described the Taliban in Afghanistan as an "armed insurgency" (compared with ISL which is a terrorist group) and White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest made sure that the US press corps understood that he was not labeling the group as a terrorist organization. "The threat that they (Taliban) pose is different....[it is] acute." He was comparing Taliban to Al Qaeda at the time. When asked "Aren't all terrorist groups different from every other terrorist group?" Earnest affirmed, "Yes, they are. But in this case, there is a clear difference between the aspirations that have been articulated... and the way they carry out, or the way they resort to some of their terror tactics and (in comparison to) the terror attacks that are carried out by Al Qaeda."

Back story: The Taliban killed over 120 children in their school in December. The Taliban has killed thousands of allied troops and maimed thousands of others. The National (US) Counter-terrorism Center has the Taliban on their list of terrorist groups. So does the National Security Council and the US Treasury Department.
Another back story: Bowe Bergdahl, a prisoner of the Taliban for five years, was released last US summer in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees. He indeed may be charged with desertion, and CNN's Barbara Starr reported on Tuesday that a decision may come very soon. But the Fox and NBC reports explicitly said that the decision had already been reached.

Question: Is the White House working hard to avoid the breaking of US policy: "We don't negotiate with terrorists"? By changing the label on the Taliban, downgrading them to junior varsity level, does that allow the US to negotiate with them?

What did Shakespeare write Juliet's line to be? “Tis but thy name that is my enemy, thou art thyself though not a Montague. What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man. O be some other name! What‘s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet; so Romeo would, were he not Romeo called, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title/ Romeo, doff thy name and for that name, which is no part of thee, take all myself."

Juliet's advise to her suitor Romeo is to delete the names of Montague and they could run off into the fairy tale climactic ending of a Hollywood movie. Changing the name of anything doesn't change its basic nature, she affirms. Romeo is still sweet smelling and this parsing of the English language by the White House staffers this week will not change the nature of the terrorist organization The Taliban. It still stinks. It's uncivil. It's just wrong. All because (perhaps) a lawyer suggested a name change. Calling the varsity team the "junior varsity" doesn't change its game plan. They still play the same game. And we hope they lose very soon.

29 January 2015

Evil and Auschwitz: Give me a yellow star!

January 27 is the international day of remembrance about the evils that lurk in the human heart. That's not what the United Nations declared, but it's the truth. The International Day of remembrance about the Holocaust, the Shoah. And people marched, even heads of state (not US President Obama-- he sent a treasury man). And people are still bothered by what happened in World War II. 70 years ago the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet army emptied Auschwitz long after millions were killed there and throughout the concentration camp network.

Dr Chaim Bernard lives in Tel Aviv, Israel. He wrote this piece which deserves a stop and read it read. It was originally published as a letter to the editor in the European edition of the New York Times.  Read it all. Stop. Speak what you feel. Let's stop this madness.

European Edition of The NY Times (don't miss a word)
 Letter to the Editor (appearing in the European Edition of The New York Times)
Give me a yellow star!
"A dreary, cloth patch sewn in the shape of a Star of David that every Jew was forced to wear in Nazi Germany along with every country the Germans conquered; every country in Europe, some even allied with Germany; every culture looking to expose the hated Jew.
A yellow star worn by both my parents, while you, Europe, were standing by.
That's what I am to you: The guilty Jew. The filthy Jew. The stealing Jew. The disgusting Jew. The less-than-human Jew. The Jew that can only do wrong – bomb innocent Muslim children - for that is, of course, all we do, all we ever aspired to as a nation, a race.
The yellow star was forced on us. Rammed down our throats. It stood for dishonor and was associated with anti-Semitism, as you probably know. It was to be a badge of shame like Hawthorne’s Scarlet letter. But 6 million times worse.
Give me a yellow star.
I want to wear a yellow star above my left breast where six million of my brothers and sisters were forced to don one.  I want to walk around with a yellow star on every solitary piece of clothing I own. On my Armani suit, my Nike sweatshirt, Ralph Lauren sweater, my Champion hoodie, my Diesel jeans, my South Beach biker jacket.  I’ll even wear it at the beach on my bare chest if I have to.
I want to walk down the streets of Paris near the Marais and be seen by you European anti-Semites.  Outside the Great Synagogue of Stockholm, the Torah Center in Bruxelles, the Anna Frank Memorial in Amsterdam, the Holocaust Museum in Berlin, outside the Sigmund Freud House in London.
I want all of you to see me with it and hear you say: "Hey, here comes the Jew; he’s not just like the rest of us . He’s just a dirty Jew. A mass murderer. He kills Muslim children and then uses their blood for matzah, just like the rest of the Jews. They carpet bomb innocent people. They are useless except for their knowledge, their Nobel prizes, and their success. They kill children, those Jews.  Don’t you know? It’s the Jews who own Hollywood, the media, the banks. They’re the scum of the earth. They steal. Hitler was right. Let’s go spray-paint swastikas on his grandparents’ graves. Let’s go beat him up.  Let’s kill him.  Let’s murder a rabbi in Miami or Bruxelles."
I want that yellow star.
Europe, to me that yellow star is a symbol of almost everything I stand for. It’s a symbol of surviving evil. It’s heritage and knowledge. Tolerance and optimism. It’s strength and confidence in the face of the weakness and insecurity of those not being taught well enough what their mothers should have taught them.
That yellow star is education, resilience.
It’s right over wrong, and it is life.
It is testament to all who tragically died wearing it, so that their future surviving brothers and sisters know never to be afraid of who they are again.  Never to be silent again, never to apologize for surviving.  Thanks to them and indeed, for them, this yellow badge ceased being a badge of shame a long time ago. It's my badge of honor. I survived your indifference, your stupidity, your inhumanity, your hatred, and your ignorance. (edited)
It’s a star that blinds out any other emblem that preaches hatred. It drowns out the form, shape and color of swastikas, the black flags of ISIS and Al Qaeda, and the green of Hamas or the yellow of Hezbollah.
Before being herded off to the gas chambers around 70 years ago, Jews wearing their yellow star were hearing ‘Kill the Jews’, ‘Heil Hitler’, ‘The only good Jew is a dead Jew’, ‘Stealing Jew!’ – and all that, before being ostracized from their communities, stripped of their belongings, property, identities, humanity and eventually, their lives. They were hearing Words. It happened in many other countries too.  Like my father’s country.  A country he was expelled from for being a Jew.  For being a dirty Jew.
It - Always - Begins - With - Words.
The same kind of words we’re hearing now here on your social media. On your streets. At demonstrations. In conversations. Words that have nothing to do with Israel;  Palestine;  Politics; The Middle East or anything. You might not be all too happy with ISIS and Hamas, but if you aren’t trying seriously to expose them for who and what they are, then you’re not part of the solution, but part of the problem. You know nothing about your own history, nothing about the Islamic conquest of Europe from the year 626 until this very day – the holy Jihad, followed by the Islamic Caliphate.
The world’s abuzz right now with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic words. Anti-Semitic words that Jews like myself are used to. I’m talking to you, Dieudonné; Mel Gibson; Roger Waters. And the rest of you ignorant Jew-haters. And I’m talking to you, radical Islamic leaders, standing behind your pulpits preaching lies and hate and division in the name of Allah.
And to you – 'innocent' bystanders in Europe: I’m talking to you -- supposedly liberal minded people – friends of mine, even – who spend way too much time talking about Israel fighting for its existence in a defensive war, “disproportionately” ( as if the bombing of Dresden, the killing of Bin Laden, the invasion of Berlin by the Russian Army never happened) but very little talking about the hundreds of thousands being murdered in Syria.  In Iraq.  About people being murdered for being followers of any other religion save Islam. Very little talking about ISIS taking over the Middle East; displaying severed human heads on spikes; shooting people in ditches by the thousands; beheading journalists on YouTube. Very little time talking about Syrians being gassed or a semi-literate peasant turned Turkish Prime minister spewing the kind of virulent anti-Semitism which ends with only one thing.
And don’t forget 9/11, London’s 7/7, Spain’s Madrid train bombings or the Boston Marathon bombing, while you’re at it.
Take a good hard look at my yellow star. Look at where it came from. Look what was done after we, the Jews, were forced to wear it and then ask yourselves, are we doing the same to others? Us Jews? Us Israelis? Are we Jews hellbent on exterminating people? Is that really what we want? Or are others doing that which you think we’re doing! – others you refuse to be vocal about nor condemn with a simple post or click of your 'like' button.
Here is what the German cleric, Pastor Martin Niemöller wrote: “First they burned their books and their synagogues, and I didn't speak out. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me”. He wrote these lines in 1933 - too late – and he referred to the Nazis.
But these words ring equally true in view of over 10% of the population in France now being Muslim, over 8% in Germany, over 6% in England; the neo-Nazis in virtually every European country, or the Nazi, Udo Voigt holding a seat in the Civil Rights Commission of the European Parliament.
I, for one, Europe, am not going anywhere...
Never again.Though some might wish it -- NEVER AGAIN!
For anyone else reading this from afar, who might agree with what I’m saying, Jews and non-Jews alike: don’t feel sorry for me, my family, my friends. Don’t feel sorry for us. We're fine and we’re not afraid, and we’re here to stay.
Don’t be afraid for us, Europe, because I’m not intending to be a victim. None of us are. And I hope you aren’t either, despite the warning signs.
My yellow star is staring extremism in the face.
Am I cool with the yellow star? You’re damn right I am, totally!"