By Robert H. Nelson, Religion News Service|
May 12, 2017
The question of whether a God exists is heating up in the 21st century. According to a Pew survey, the percentage of Americans having no religious affiliation reached 23 percent in 2014. Among such “nones,” 33 percent said that they do not believe in God – an 11 percent increase since only 2007.
Regarding the discipline of practicing Sabbath (Jews prefer the Hebrew word “Shabbat”), I have read and written many sermons and articles. But nothing brings this floating, vague theological notion down out of the clouds like spending time with real, living, breathing Orthodox Jews who lovingly practice their faith.
She’s a new mother; she is also an older mother. Because of her age, she worried herself silly during her pregnancy. Her physician quickly picked up on her anxiety and did her best to assure her that all was well, even ordering some tests that were only marginally needed. Near the end of her pregnancy, the doctor said with a smile, “I hate to tell you this, but you have had a perfectly normal pregnancy.”
In the gospels, Jesus had to regularly contend with what people thought of him and the people that regularly surrounded him. Whether it was fishermen, tax collectors or the sick, the religious elite wondered why he preferred being around the wrong people. In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus deals with this head on during a meal at the home of Simon the Pharisee.
All of Heaven was astir. The pearly gates were being polished. The golden streets were shined to shimmering. The angelic choir was practicing. Even the angels, wearied by time, were excitedly moving about. The normally quiet angels were busily conversing with one another. Jesus was returning to Heaven after a 30-year assignment on earth.
There is an axiom among those who study world religions: In exploring other faiths, we see our own with fresh eyes. I recently returned from a pilgrimage to Israel. In a very real way, my trip enabled me to see the oddness of us, the Jesus followers — not oddness in a bad way, but rather oddness in a way that is strange to outsiders.
Our oldest child had a birthday recently. She is now grown and married, with children of her own. But you just never forget the birth of your first child. I was a pastor, so can you guess where we were when my wife went into labor? At a Wednesday night church fellowship supper! If I had been paying attention, I would have realized that this event was a portent. Our children’s lives would be forever impacted — for good or ill — by the church.