The Footprints of God

3 08 2008

Text:  Romans 9:1-5

Growing up in rural North Carolina is in many ways like living in a closed system.  Apart from television, until I was sixteen, I had never seen in real life someone who was not white, black or hispanic.  It may come  as a surprise to some of you that I did not meet someone who was not a Baptist, Methodist or Presbyterian until then!  Not even a Roman Catholic, a Lutheran or an Episcopalian, much less a Jewish person!

When I was a kid, my grandmother had a set of World Book Encyclopedias which I loved to thumb through and see pictures from around the world and of cultures ancient and modern.  When I had gotten to the “I’s,” I inevitably stumbled across the entry for “Israel.”  To my astonishment, I discovered quite by accident that all those places I had heard about in Sunday School were real.  In the mind of a child, the difference between stories of fact and fiction are rather indistinct on some levels.  Looking at this encyclopedia and its map of the nation of Israel triggered a lot of questions about all these stories … “This is a real place?  There really are Jewish people?  Israelites?  We can actually GO to places like Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Egypt?  All of these stories are supposed to be real?”  I have come to call this moment, “The Encyclopedia Epiphany,” as it was one of the things which caused me to try and find a deeper meaning within the stories I heard on Sundays.

When I first met someone who was Jewish, I have to admit I held them in a bit of awe.  Like all good Southerners, I had a good appreciation of history, and I have to admit I’m quite honored that my maternal family extends back to colonial days, but here is someone whose grasp of personal history extended back through literally thousands of years to a time before there was such a thing known as “Western Civilization.”  And also, here was someone who claimed to worship and follow the same God that I did, but rejected the notion that Jesus was the Messiah.

In his letter to Romans, St. Paul tackles this quandry, but from a different perspective.  He met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and was changed from the early Church’s most fierce opponent to its most ardent evangelist.  St. Paul, in fact, with all of his notions which cause us some angst these days, could be called our first inclusion activist for he advocated the Gospel be spread to the Gentiles without them having to observe Jewish practices of circumcision, temple worship, and so on.   In the middle of all this, it soon became clear to St. Paul that the Jews by and large were not buying into the fact that the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus Christ.

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