I have an opportunity this week to go to two different religious events that are not part of my faith tradition. They are being held at a Unitarian Universalist Church. I’m interested in other faith traditions and attending their events. I feel that we cannot truly “love our neighbors as ourselves” if we don’t know anything about them. It is important to know where we are both coming from.
But I’m conflicted. The first one is a Purim celebration. That is a Jewish festival, celebrating the defeat of people who wanted to kill the Jews. It centers around the story of Queen Esther. I’d like to attend because I’ve never participated in this festival, but do I want to do it at a place where they might not be doing it correctly? It might be more “show” than real, because the Unitarians aren’t Jewish. Going to a synagogue would be the best option if I want an authentic experience, but I don’t want them to feel threatened by the fact that I follow Jesus.
This then leads me to this thought. I find it interesting that the very things that the Jews hold against Jesus for why they can’t accept him as the Messiah aren’t true. They think it is blasphemous that he said he was God. But, he never said he was God. He said all the time that he was the Son of Man. He said he was the son of God, but said that we all are. They are also repulsed by the idea of human sacrifice, as well as the concept of sacrificing yourself for other people’s transgressions. I’ve not found anywhere that Jesus said he “died for our sins” – Paul said that, but he isn’t the Messiah. Jesus died out of obedience to God’s commandments, and to show us that death is not final.
I’m also little confused as to why the Unitarian Universalists even call themselves a “church” – as the term is associated with Christianity. If they want to be inclusive, then the word “church” is going to be a problem for the very people they are trying to attract. “Congregation” or “community” might be a better term for them. They don’t consider themselves particularly Christian, nor do they act in usual Christian ways. They don’t even mention Jesus or God in their services. They don’t read from Christian scriptures, and in some gatherings they don’t read from any scriptures from any faith tradition. They want to not offend anyone and be as inclusive as possible. This means that they have watered everything down so much that it doesn’t taste like anything at all. Sure, some Christians go there, but so do atheists and agnostics. How can it be a “church” if you can be a member and not even believe in God?
There is also going to be an Ostara celebration at the same place in the evening. This is the origin of the Easter celebration in Christian churches, where they celebrate Jesus being raised from the dead. But Ostara is most certainly a pagan celebration, not Christian. Is it appropriate for me, a disciple of Jesus, to go to?
What does the Bible say? When in doubt, it is good to look to good examples.
Paul, when asked if it was OK for Christians in the early church to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols said that it would not harm them, but that it could cause other members to falter in their faith.
1 Corinthians 8
About food offered to idols: We know that “we all have knowledge.” Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up. 2 If anyone thinks he knows anything, he does not yet know it as he ought to know it. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by Him. 4 About eating food offered to idols, then, we know that “an idol is nothing in the world,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth—as there are many “gods” and many “lords”—
6 yet for us there is one God, the Father.
All things are from Him,
and we exist for Him.
And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ.
All things are through Him,
and we exist through Him.
7 However, not everyone has this knowledge. In fact, some have been so used to idolatry up until now that when they eat food offered to an idol, their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not make us acceptable to God. We are not inferior if we don’t eat, and we are not better if we do eat. 9 But be careful that this right of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, the one who has this knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, won’t his weak conscience be encouraged to eat food offered to idols? 11 Then the weak person, the brother for whom Christ died, is ruined by your knowledge. 12 Now when you sin like this against the brothers and wound their weak conscience, you are sinning against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to fall, I will never again eat meat, so that I won’t cause my brother to fall.
Jesus said after being resurrected from the dead that we wouldn’t be harmed, even if we drank poison or handled snakes.
17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new languages; 18 they will pick up snakes; if they should drink anything deadly, it will never harm them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will get well.”
Jesus did not separate himself from people and only associate with people who were “safe”. He constantly was challenged by the religious authorities who mocked him for “dining with sinners”. They said that if he was a prophet, he should know that the people he was hanging out with weren’t righteous. His answer to their challenge –
17 When Jesus heard this, He told them, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do need one. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus touched and healed lepers. Nobody touched lepers – they lived apart from everyone else because their disease was so contagious. To touch a leper was to become one. Yet he touched them, along with those with other infirmities that were seen as socially stigmatizing.
When He came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. 2 Right away a man with a serious skin disease came up and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” 3 Reaching out His hand He touched him, saying, “I am willing; be made clean.” Immediately his disease was healed.
I remember one time I went to a talk and guided meditation that was sponsored by a Hindu meditation group. The vast majority of the attendees were Caucasians. I felt OK listening to the talk, but very uncomfortable closing my eyes and participating in the group meditation, so I didn’t. Afterwards, the members all descended upon the newcomers and started questioning them in a manipulative way. Yet I had chosen to wear a necklace that had the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the image on the pendant. I used it as a way to show them a side of Jesus that they had never heard of, with Jesus being so open and vulnerable that he was willing to share his heart with the world. He didn’t hide who he was from people. He lived fearlessly.
So instead of being afraid that I’m going to be led astray by the Ostara celebration, perhaps I need to go as a representative of Christ. Perhaps I need to go in case there is an opportunity to show people who Jesus really is. But I still don’t know. I don’t want to “crash” their party. I don’t want to be “that Christian” who is rude and who covers over other traditions with her own. There are too many of those kinds of people. But, perhaps I am being called to go, to hang out with people who have either been excluded from the Church for being different, or have never heard the message of Jesus clearly.
I’m still praying about it, and I think this is always the path we need to take. We should always remember that it isn’t what we want to do, but what God wants us to do. Only through prayer and discernment can we know the difference. Only if we are truly following God can we do any good in this world.
(All Bible translations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)