“Not another one” was my thought as the radio in my car announced on Saturday that a gunman had entered into a synagogue during their time of worship and opened fire and killed 11 Jewish people. According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents in the US surged 57 percent in 2017. This is the largest one-year increase since the Jewish civil rights group began collecting data in 1979.
As a Lutheran minister I am keenly aware that this week the church remembers the Reformation and the actions of Martin Luther 501 years ago that spurred a movement that impacted not only the church, but also society and politics across the world. The church this week will celebrate the gift of the Reformation. Martin Luther, as he studied the Bible, was convicted by ways that he felt the church was no longer following God’s command, but he was also freed and comforted by the power of God’s grace. He was not trying to start a new church denomination but was hoping to reform the church, invite the church to examine itself and its practices, and to enter a dialogue. There were many remarkable things that came from Luther’s writings.
However, this week I am also aware that Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic writings are also a part of the Lutheran tradition. In the shadow of the Tree of Life tragedy during this Reformation week we are invited to remember the part of the reformation that calls each of us and the church into examination and reform.
The church has repented and needs to continue to denounce the anti-Semitic writings of Martin Luther. However, we cannot just say that it was the speck in Luther’s eye and not examine ourselves today and the logs we might have in our own eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)
What systems do we engage in that feed the systems of fear, hate, and incivility? Where do we stay silent when others’ humanity is stripped away by things people say? When do we care more about our own power and position than to listening deeply to try to understand the other’s experience? When do we let fear control our actions instead of the call to see God in our neighbor?
Another important figure in the Lutheran Church is theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was part of the Nazi resistance in Germany and eventually imprisoned after being a part of a plot to assassinate Hitler. Bonhoeffer ended up being killed in a Flossenburg concentration camp days before the camp was liberated by American forces. He had been a guest lecturer in America during the war and wrote before his return to Germany, “I have made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.”
I believe the first step towards reformation in the face of fear is to begin with listening deeply to one another, especially those who are different from us and those in pain.
Bonhoeffer suggests much the same: “The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love of God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.”
How are we invited to share in the trials of our neighbors? When we listen deeply to the word of God we see in Jesus Christ the ultimate example of how God calls us to respond. Jesus shared the table with those who were pushed out and oppressed by the power dynamics and societal systems that enforced them. Jesus listened deeply to those that he met who were from his tradition and those who were from completely different traditions. Jesus invited us to pray for our enemies. Jesus wept with those who grieved.
May we pray for all those impacted by the shootings at Tree of Life and hate crimes across our lands. May we pray for those whose hearts are filled with fear and evil. May we listen deeply to the pain of our neighbors and examine what reform we need in our own lives, our churches, and our society so we can be a part of God’s reconciling working in this world.
Dcs. Kristin Lewis
Oct. 31, 2018
Image: Luce Center for the Arts and Religion, Wesley Theological Seminary