By Pastor Tracey Leslie
As I am writing this article, it is February 15. I had church meetings on Valentine’s Day so, this evening, Britt and I will go out to dinner. We value our time together because it strengthens our relationship. Christianity is about relationship and our relationship with Jesus must also be cultivated with purposeful actions that both express and nurture our commitment. This year’s Lenten series will focus on Christian spiritual practices that find their roots in Judaism. Although Jesus condemns hypocrisy among some religious leaders, he embraces spiritual practices such as fasting, praying and alms giving as ways of nurturing and expressing our relationship with the heavenly Father.
Along with the sermon series, two small groups will also be offered:
Sunday mornings (beginning March 5 and concluding April 2) at 9:15 a.m. in the parlor will be a more traditional study of the spiritual practice of that week in light of scripture and tradition.
On Wednesday evenings (beginning March 8 and concluding April 5) Rabbi Phil Cohen from Temple Israel will join us to discuss the practice from a Jewish perspective. Phil Cohen is an ordained Reform rabbi. He is currently the Interim Rabbi at Temple Israel. He holds a Ph.D. from Brandeis University and an MFA in writing from Spalding University in Louisville. His interests include ethics, theology, the Hebrew Bible, Jewish history, the state of Israel, and writing fiction. His novel The Search for Shmulie Shimmer has recently been accepted for publication by Fig Tree Books.
The Wednesday group will begin with a light meal of soup, bread, fresh fruit and veggies at 6:00 p.m. (If you can help by providing a soup, please contact Mary Jo Risk or phone the church office.) The discussion will begin shortly before 6:30 and conclude at 7:30. Classes will cover:
1. Fasting in Judaism is associated with several holidays and with other occasions as well. This class will look at four primary fasts in the Jewish year: Yom Kippur, the Fast of Esther (associated with Purim), the Fast of the First Born (associated with Passover), and the Ninth of Av (a holiday associated with the destruction of the first and second Temples).
2. Kashrut, Jewish dietary laws have been with the Jews for millennia. They concern slaughter of animals, of separation of meat and dairy, prohibited foods, and a variety of other rules and regulations. Though unusual to the untrained ear (to say the least!), these rules have their own internal logic to a certain extent and have kept the Jews united for centuries.
3. Hachnasat orchim, welcoming guests. Ever since Abraham welcomed four strangers into his home, the idea of welcoming the stranger has been an important aspect of the Jewish self-identity. We'll look at some texts and at some ways that Jewish communities implement these rules.
4. The Jewish Sabbath, from Friday night to Saturday night, is filled with legend, ideas, rituals, and foods. This week, we will meet on Tuesday, March 28 at Temple Israel to learn more about the rituals that accompany the observing of Shabbat (Sabbath).
5. Jewish mourning customs are complex and require great attention if one is to fulfill them completely. At the same time, they provide a brilliant spiritual and psychological means for working through the grief associated with the death of a loved one.
Both small groups will use the book Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner. Winner was raised as an Orthodox Jew and converted as an adult to Christianity (Episcopal Church). While fully embracing her new faith, she reflects on how much she misses the richness of Jewish ritual that gave deep meaning to her life of faith. Books are available for purchase via the church office for $10.
I hope you will participate in one, or both, of these small groups. Since each session is a different spiritual practice, you are welcome to participate as your schedule permits.
Something Old, Something New Sermon Series
March 5: Hungry, Hungry, Hungry
The spiritual practice of Fasting (Tzum)
March 12: Ripe and Ready
(John 4:5-8, 27-38
The spiritual practice of Fitting Food (Kashrut)
March 19: Redeeming Welcome
The spiritual practice of Hospitality (Hachnassat orchim)
March 26: Sacred Sabbath
(John 9:1-17, 24-34)
The spiritual practice of Sabbath (Shabbat)
April 2: Good Grief
(John, chapter 11)
The spiritual practice of Mourning (Avelut)
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