16 November 2017

Taking offence, the new religion, featuring Greggs Bakery and Christmas

Once again the world is scandalized and offended and shames a business that was having a light-hearted advertising campaign to sell its products. Greggs said in a statement: “We’re really sorry to have caused any offense, this was never our intention.” The whole story is here reported in the Independent from the UK.

What caused all the rage? A photo of a nativity scene, with the baby Jesus, and three wise men. Very typical of Christmas stories, calendars, and this season of the year in the UK. So what's the problem? Seems the baker replaced the baby Jesus with a pork sausage roll. Oy, gevalt! What were they (not) thinking?

The offending photograph was one of a number of publicity photos for the calendar, including a Santa with flakes of pastry in his beard, a Greggs shop in a snow globe and a woman puckering up to kiss what appears to be a chicken slice under the mistletoe.

I'm Jewish. I get it. Using a pig product to replace the Jewish Jesus... seems totally inappropriate. Someone at Greggs should have caught that unintentional blunder. But they didn't. And now the synagogues of London and Manchester are up-at-arms in opposition. An easy target, to be sure. 

But it's not only Jews who are offended this year about advertising and Christmas. Grocery giant Tesco has copped it a couple times for two different ads. One, only 16-seconds long, says, "However you do Christmas, everyone's welcome at Tesco." That's as free-market as you can get. But some are offended because the grocer is making a mockery of the Christian faith. Really? Wow. I thought they were just making money and showing their inclusivity. 

But wait, there's more. The longer advert from Tesco featuring all kinds of families and gatherings eating turkey, or at least preparing the big bird for dinner, has a Muslim family in it (among other stereotypes). Outrage. Boycott threats by Muslims... 'how dare they...' etc. I'm shaking my head. All this reported everywhere, but this one from the Guardian features all this info. Read here.

I remember the bad-taste production by Zara of two particular products in their clothing line. A purse featuring four swastikas released about 10 years ago, and then three years ago, a child's poncho with stripes and a yellow Jewish star which duplicated Nazi-mandated clothing for Holocaust wear in concentration camps. Horrible misses by someone in the proofreading department at the Spanish retailer, Zara. Here's Fortune magazine's take on those episodes. Offense taken then was right. Zara was dead wrong. 

But having Muslims eating turkey at a family home, or people mentioning other things besides the birth of the Saviour... come on, folks, that's not offensive at all. When offence becomes the standard, the lightning rod, then buckle your seat belt, I think we are in big trouble. 

Here's what I mean. The use of bullying terminology, calling people by names, designed to diminish their value and worth, mocking their religion, all forms of ridicule-- that's all out of bounds. I get that. And hopefully when I mention a person of Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Christian faith... I do so with respect for their person and their right to believe whatever they wish. This is 2017 after all. Respecting them as people doesn't necessarily mean that I agree with their conclusions. I find Scientology a nonsense religious expression and a delusional con game of major proportion. I can say that with full conviction, and yet when I meet a Scientologist, I have no right to mock him or her personally. I could not make a commercial demeaning any person who attends such a 'church'. Fair enough. But respect for the person is not the same as respect for the cult or the religion. 

Hop Sing, the Chinese servant in the 1960s television series Bonanza, was a caricature that would never be allowed in today's world. Even if that accurately depicted life on a real Ponderosa.

Good fun in parody is understandable in comedy, albeit an even finer line to walk. When is stereotyping a Jewish tailor or rabbi 'fun' and when is it 'crossing the line?' That's one for the ages...and we won't settle it today. Think of Monty Python's Life of Brian, or the irreverence of Jewish comedian Mel Brooks in his song "The Inquisition" in "History of the World, Part 1." Brooks walks the same tightrope in his "The Producers" with Jewish entrepeneur Bialostok taking unsuspecting people's money most happily. It borders on the anti-semitic Shylock of Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice."

All this to say... just because someone sees an image of themselves, or of their religion in a movie or book or an advert on television, and the scene doesn't treat the religion with the same respect they might afford it personally... take a minute. Evaluate. What is the person really saying? What is the long-ranged result of either the advert or the threatened boycott? Will we win place if we protest? Or are we going to see a backlash against our very campaign?

The obvious observation from all this is that Offense is the New Religion of today. All that has to happen for the commercial world to stop production of some clothes or foods is that offense gets taken, a Tweet gets picked up by a national agency, and the death knell is felt. Will there be a TV or movie warning label: offense may happen. 

And finally, come on Greggs. How did you miss that one? Pork sausage roll? Replacing the Jewish Jesus? What's next? Ham and cheese sandwiches on white bread during a Passover seder featuring DaVinci's Last Supper? Some things are obvious. At least ... to some of us.

12 November 2017

Handling challenges

Who is this One?
A sermon given in Wakayama, Japan
Wakayama Lutheran Church
12 November 2017
by Bob Mendelsohn
(To comment reply here, or write bob@jewsforjesus.org.au)

Thank you, Pastor Charles, for the welcome today, and I trust as we share together in these words of the sermon, that each of the congregants here in church, and those who read or listen online to this sermon later, will be met by the One who is our Life, and will have answers to those who challenge us as we live for Him in these days.
When crises come, when difficulties arise in your life and in the lives of those you love, what do you do? How do you solve the problems? What about challenges, that is, when some challenge you in your faith, or in your resolve? How do you handle those situations? It’s not easy being a Christian, certainly not here in Japan, nor is it easy in Australia, where I live, and where I have lived for 19 years. So how do you solve these? And what advice, if any, did Jesus offer to us? How did He handle the problems of challenge to His faith, to His personal identification with His Father?
For that, we turn to the Bible, specifically chapter 22 of Matthew. Here we see three episodes of challenges from two or three different groups of Jewish people to the Jewish messiah. The Pharisees with some Herodians were group 1; the Sadducees were group 2, and some other Pharisees and an unnamed lawyer were group 3. From each religious group came a challenge to Jesus; to each group Jesus issued a challenge in return. His answers will help us on several levels. The answers He gave will help us with our own faith, and they will help us to answer similar challenges when we hear them also.
In the first scene, some religious Jews approach Jesus and ask him about paying taxes. The situation continues to be of concern in Israel today, and in the USA, and in Australia, and maybe for some of you here in Japan. Jesus answers with a coin. A simple, little coin. Not with a great long story or theological rendering from a book… simply he took a coin out of his pocket and said, “There you go.”
In the 2nd episode, other Jewish people approached Jesus with a theological question about someone being raised from the dead. Jesus answers them with a story of a bush that doesn’t burn up. It remains intact, and from there a voice comes—“I am the God of your fathers.” And He seems to say, “Sadducees, you are wrong.”
In the final episode in today’s reading, we see another group of Jewish people, who were delighted when Jesus seemed to take their side. Back then there were two main groups of Jews: Pharisees and Sadducees. You see the Sadducees were strongly affiliated with the leadership of Rome, and many Jewish people despised their influence. So now with them being put in their place, Jesus is met by their adversaries, the Pharisees, this time with another question… a single man among them wanted to know which of the Bible’s commandments were most important. That is, if there really were a hierarchy of rules, if heaven were going to list the top 4 or the most important 8 commandments, what would they be? And to them Jesus both answers, using a Bible passage, and then raises a challenge himself about their views on the messianic hope.
So the messiah uses a coin, a bush and a quote. Maybe that will help you in your situations. Let’s break this down, one scene at a time.
Some Jewish people wondered if taxation to secular governments was acceptable. After all, Rome was not only secular; the government was actually pagan. Like many religions and governments today, you can see heads of state on your televisions, bowing in reverence at Senso-ji Temple in Tokyo or the Miyajima Shrine in Hiroshima, or even near the Western Wall in Jerusalem. It’s popular today to demonstrate civility and honor to another person’s religion. But in First Century Rome, among the Jewish people, there was no respect for Rome. It was ugly; the people were evil. Their systems were tarnished, and thus, the question about taxation was warranted.
What did Jesus answer? Look at a coin. Whose image is inscribed there? The answer: Caesar’s image. So, Jesus replied, give to Caesar what belongs to him. Wow, so simple and yet so profound. And yet it didn’t stop there. Jesus then replied more by saying, “And give to God what belongs to God.” Matthew, the author of this biography, was a tax collector. And he was well aware of taxation and knew how to manipulate the tax code to get around giving to God or to parents what belongs to them. Jesus makes it clear. What God requires, we should give to him also. Zing!
Then in the 2nd scene, the theology of the group, the Sadducees is exposed. They don’t believe that people live after they die. After a person dies, they believe they return to dust and don’t experience judgment. For them, there is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife.
They come up to Jesus and ask his opinion on the matter. Maybe they felt comfortable asking just then, since Jesus had disagreed with the Pharisees in the previous scene. Maybe since they were in charge of Judaism at that time, being given substantial influence by the Romans, they felt like challenging Jesus publicly to put him in his (lower) place, and to make sure their authority was not to be challenged again.
Either way, they brought up the issue of resurrection with a fairly comic example. They describe a hapless woman who marries a man, who dies, then she continues to be a widow to all seven brothers, one by one. Poor lady! The situation is exaggerated, of course, but is biblical as the Sadducees quote the Torah in Deuteronomy chapter 25. What will Jesus answer?
He replies with an answer that seeks to put THEM in a rough way, then he adds to it with a quote from a burning bush.  First, he used natural imagery, the coin, and in this circumstance, he uses a quote from a burning bush. A coin, then a bush.
And the surprise of the bush that was burning but did not burn out, brought another surprise: the voice of God coming out of it. Jesus tells these Jews that they don’t know God; they don’t know God’s power; they don’t know the Scriptures. Zing! These people didn’t believe in the resurrection BECAUSE they said they couldn’t find this doctrine in the Bible, in the Older Testament. Now Jesus chides them, saying they don’t know the Bible at all. Wow. Zing again!
What did the voice say in that moment with Moses 1500 years before? “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Not I used to be God, or I was their God, but they stopped existing. So, Jesus uses this citation from Moses, on whom the Sadducees completely relied, to teach them that they were wrong in their belief system.[1]
Finally, in the third scene he goes well beyond the posed question to teach them about Himself. The Pharisees send a lawyer ahead to ask about the Chief Commandment. Jesus answers simply with the two great commandments. Both have to do with love. Along with hope and faith, those are the three most important characteristics of the religion of Jesus. It’s not surprising that a lawyer wants information about categories and lists of rules. It’s not surprising that the Pharisees want to catch Jesus in some significant wrong thinking. But Jesus quoting the Scriptures keeps Him above the contest, and He wins the challenge.
But like we have already seen, He then turns the tables on the legalists and asks a question to them. It has to do with their belief system. They understood the genealogy of the Messiah to be from King David. That is, whoever the Messiah would be, he would have to have come from the line of King David. Since Jesus’ birth and birth family was held in question by many of the Pharisees, Jesus is actually answering an earlier challenge with this question.
Is Jesus from the line of David? Yes. (See Matthew chapter 1) Is he thus qualified to be Messiah? Yes, and amen. But like Jesus often does, He raises the bar of faith yet again. Now He says that the Messiah is even greater than that lineage. He is actually the One to whom King David was bowing in prayer. Messiah is the Lord of Psalm 110, as we read, “The Lord said to my Lord.” The Messiah of King David was actually God! Zing!
And this Lord of Psalm 110 will have all things given to him, that is he is saying, even you Pharisees will have to bow to Me in reverence. (And it’s not to be missed that Jesus is calling them his ‘enemies’ here.)
By citing Psalm 110 (see full quote below), He is saying of Himself, that He is like Melchizedek, the priest, to whom Abraham bowed and gave worship. He is saying, “Pharisees, get ready, your challenges are soon to be over. You claim Abraham as your father, and Abraham rejoiced to see My day. You make yourself to be my enemy now, but there is coming a day when I will be King over all the earth, and you will bow to Me then. You should do that today!”
Dear friends, here in Wakayama, we often wonder about situations of life, how to handle challenges the world gives us, our children give us, the media gives us. How Jesus handled it will help us today and tomorrow and from now on. How did He answer challenges? By looking at natural elements like a coin, and seeing things from God’s point of view, we will have insights into how we should live our lives today. By listening to God’s voice, even in the unusual, like a bush burning, or an American Jew who lives in Australia, coming to a Lutheran church to teach you this passage, you might hear from heaven. Perhaps something I’m saying today to you will help you know Jesus better, or know God’s plan for your life.
Finally, then by reading the Bible, the Scriptures which help us understand everything from God’s point of view, we will continue to gain more insight and more direct information about life in Japan and elsewhere. There we see who the Messiah is, His role in our lives, and our roles in relation to others. By learning and marking the Bible, by digesting it personally, we find deep meaning. Let me then summarize, in today’s lessons we learned
1)     Being part of a government, and being thankful to pay for services that government renders, is a good thing. Taxation can be acceptable.
2)      The resurrection of all people will surely happen, so we must be ready to stand before God in judgment, by living right, and by looking forward to the return of Jesus. We must believe in Jesus Christ, as the only One, the Saviour of all, and the One who forgives our sins, so that we can go to heaven to be with Him.
3)     Jesus really is the Messiah, and as such He is Lord of all. Therefore, let us not be enemies of His, but humble and bow to His Lordship.

Thank you to Pastor Charles and all who helped me get to Wakayama today, and I hope you will pray for our organization, the Jews for Jesus, in Sydney Australia, in Paris France, in Tel Aviv, Israel, in New York and in 20 other cities worldwide, today and as often as our great God reminds you. We relentlessly pursue God’s plan for the salvation of the Jewish people. Please pray for the LCJE conference this week here in Wakayama and then in Osaka and Tokyo. Please pray that Christians in Japan and elsewhere will catch the vision for bringing the Gospel to the Jewish people and that we who are involved in this noble mission will be faithful to keep bringing Jesus’ love to all people, including the Jews, until Jesus returns.  Thank you.

To comment, write bob@jewsforjesus.org.au
Psa. 110.0 ¶ A Psalm of David. 
Psa. 110.1 ¶ The Lord says to my Lord: 
“Sit at My right hand 
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” 
Psa. 110.2 The Lord will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, 
“Rule in the midst of Your enemies.” 
Psa. 110.3 Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power; 
In holy array, from the womb of the dawn, 
Your youth are to You as the dew. 
Psa. 110.4 ¶ The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, 
You are a priest forever 
According to the order of Melchizedek.” 
Psa. 110.5 The Lord is at Your right hand; 
He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath.

Matt. 22.15aThen the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. 
Matt. 22.16 And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. 
Matt. 22.17 “Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” 
Matt. 22.18 But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?
Matt. 22.19 “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. 
Matt. 22.20 And He *said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”
Matt. 22.21 They *said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He *said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”
Matt. 22.22 And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away. 
Matt. 22.23aOn that day some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Jesus and questioned Him, 
Matt. 22.25 “Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother; 
Matt. 22.26 so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh. 
Matt. 22.27 “Last of all, the woman died. 
Matt. 22.28 “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her.” 
Matt. 22.29 ¶ But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God.
Matt. 22.30 “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
Matt. 22.31 “But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God:
Matt. 22.32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
Matt. 22.33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at His teaching. 
Matt. 22.34 ¶ But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 
Matt. 22.35 One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 
Matt. 22.36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 
Matt. 22.37 And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
Matt. 22.38 “This is the great and foremost commandment.
Matt. 22.39 “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’
Matt. 22.40 “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Matt. 22.41aNow while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: 
Matt. 22.42 “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.” 
Matt. 22.43 He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying,
Matt. 22.44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, 
         “Sit at My right hand, 
         Until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet”’?
Matt. 22.45 “If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?”
Matt. 22.46 No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question. 

[1] From Word Biblical Commentary here: The point that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, although having died, “are alive in God” (zw◊sin twˆ◊ qewˆ◊) is also made in 4 Macc 7:19; 16:25. If God is the God of the patriarchs, they are by implication alive after their death (whether in Sheol [thus Ellis] or otherwise is of no consequence to the argument), and thus the ground is prepared for the reality of the future resurrection. For this reason, in 8:11 Matthew can earlier refer to the coming time when “many from east and west will come and recline at table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus’ argument is distinctive and does not follow the commonly used rules of rabbinic argument from scripture (see Cohn-Sherbok; for a parallel with Philo’s argument from the same Exodus passage, see Downing).