Pastoral Backstory – September 24th, 2015





September 24th, 2015

shofar-rosh-hashanahWhile the world has had its focus on international refugee crises, technological advances, and unprecedented visits, our Jewish friends  have been engaged in a time of repose and reflection.

A week ago Monday, they celebrated the Jewish new year (Rosh Hashanah), a time of gathering, feasting, and giving thanks for the year behind while looking with expectation to the year ahead. Those ten days of mirth culminate though with a day of sober meditation. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (cf. Lev. 23:27ff), observed just yesterday, hearkens to Israel’s ancient practice of its High Priest both sacrificing a lamb to sprinkle its blood upon the altar as a sign of cleansing, and sending a goat into the wilderness–a scapegoat–to represent the sin of the people being cast out from among them (cf. Lev 16:1-34).


Louis Newman

One of those Jews attending to Israel’s ancient ritual celebrations is Louis Newman. He’s not a rabbi but a lifelong student of rabbinical teaching, and a professor of religious studies at Carleton College in Minnesota.

Professor Newman recently gave an interview to Krista Tippett on her podcast On Being about what Yom Kippur both centers on and also is meant to imbue in Jews throughout the year–namely repentance. Repentance is, in Newman’s word, an act of sheer “refreshment” as it seeks to restore what might otherwise seem irredeemable.

I will have listened to this interview twice by the time I see you Sunday. I post it here for its own value; Newman unpacks the many practical implications of repentance (something we’ve considered at length before).

But there’s another reason I’m directing your attention to this interview. While Professor Newman is certainly respectful of Christians he remains an observant Jew, unconvinced of either the uniqueness or credibility of Jesus. Nevertheless, I think Newman might help us find our way into understanding the essence of the sermon text this Sunday (13:13-16, 26-33, 38-43). It’s Paul’s first recorded sermon and it’s to a synagogue full of Jews in Antioch. It’s those Jews who call upon Paul to offer a word of encouragement to them, an invitation Paul gladly accepts as he proceeds to set the story of Jesus in the context of Israel’s whole story.

We won’t take time to unpack the whole of Paul’s sermon but we will focus on the part that has most resonance with the ideas Professor Newman relates in his interview. I employ his notions for our purposes here and Sunday because his sensibilities are both a complement to and a contrast with Paul’s encouraging words to the Antiochene Jews.

OnBeing_master_logo_0So in advance of Sunday, can I call upon you perhaps to listen below (for as long as you can) to Newman’s ideas about sin, forgiveness, and repentance; read the sermon passage listed above; and then ask yourself: how would what Paul said to that synagogue, if true, be a true encouragement to a modern, observant Jew? Since what we’ll hear in Paul’s first sermon is what we’re accustomed to hearing from Paul, perhaps we need to hear how Paul’s words would be an encouraging word to Professor Newman in order to hear afresh how they are meant to be an encouraging word to us? For I would posit the good news for an observant Jew is the same good news a Christian needs to hear as often as possible.


What of the coming Kingdom we’ve been positing in prose is worth a whiff of the poetic–perennially. So here’s something we saw this week from Christian Wiman (whom we’ve welcomed before and before that and before that):

christian_wimanComing into the kingdom
I was like a man grown old in banishment,
a creature of hearsay and habit, prayerless, porous, a survivor of myself.
Coming into the kingdom
I was like a man stealing into freedom when the tyrant dies,
if freedom is freedom where there are no eyes to obstruct it,
if the cold desert and the hard crossing were still regions of me.
I remember unremembered mountains, unspeakable weeds,
a million scents and sights I did not recognize
though they flowed through me like a land I inhabited long before belonging or belief.
Coming into the kingdom
I was like a man who imagines a city in flames and a city at peace
and sets out not knowing whether his homecoming
will be cause for sorrow or rejoicing,
or if indeed there will be one soul that knows him,
or if he is even the same assemblage of cells this side of exile,
or if exile is no longer what he once entered but what he is.
I tried to cry out in the old way
of thanksgiving, ritual lamentation, rockshriek of joy.
There was no answer. Had there ever been?
Remembering it now I do not remember
the arduous journey that must have rendered me a beast,
nor the broad gates opening at the last,
nor the children gathering around me in wonder,
nor the slow reclamation of a life I had been so long denied,
the million instants of exile told in tears.
Coming into the kingdom
I came into the damp and dirtlight of late November in north Chicago,
where the water-lunged bus chuffs and lumbers up Montrose,
and Butch’s back gate’s broken latch is impervious to curses,
and wires crisscross the alley like a random rune,
and an airplane splits and sutures the blue as it roars for elsewhere.


Guillaume Bignon

Jordan Monge

Jordan Monge

We shared a couple conversion stories with you last Sunday, noting how conversion is both “one” and “not one.” Those stories came from a series published in Christianity Today late last year, which you can find here.


There’s plenty to keep up with at CtK. We use The City to get the word out, but also to keep in touch and share our lives and needs.  If you haven’t become part of that online community yet, Sign up.

Author: Patrick

Pastor of Christ the King Church (PCA)

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