Speeches I Never Gave:
by Clyde List
To the Freedom for Ministry Conference at Zion Lutheran Church, Portland Oregon, January 16-19, 2000.
Gentlemen and ladies of the Missouri Synod, it is good to see you again. Though some of us share greeting cards on Christmas and Thanksgiving and the rest of us are probably related to each other whether we know it or not, I have seen most of you hardly at all since we were students at Concordia in Portland together so many years ago. Most of all I would like to thank our MoSynod leadership for the work they've done in bringing us back together for this reunion. If anyone has brought a tape recorder, I hope I'm speaking loud enough.
I will not bore you with all my reasons for the long separation between you and me. The most important one is that, while a student at Concordia High School, I met my first Jew. A Sephardic Jew. I don't know what he was doing there, and neither did he. I think his parents were trying to assimilate him into the gentile world. It didn't work. The last time I saw him, a few years after Concordia, he was heading off to Israel to join a kibbutz. I cannot say that we were close friends. But it is a fact that before I met him, I used to brag about never having read a book from cover to cover. After I met him, I was reading everything I could get my hands on.
Now, as you all know, a Jew is by definition more conservative than a Christian. I discovered this fact to my delight when I started to bounce my new Jewish perspective off my old man during vacations from school.
Here are two of my conservative views:
1. That wierd stuff in the Old Testament really happened.
2. That wierd stuff in the New Testament really happened.
By "really happened," I mean that just because some of the events in these Testaments do not seem plausible they should not be ruled impossible.
THAT WIERD STUFF IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
The implications of Velikovsky's findings for Church Doctrine are that we don't appreciate the importance of rocks. Rocks fall from the sky in several chapters of the Old Testament, including the chapter that describes the earth standing still. (Translators are just guessing when they call these rocks "hailstones.") When Moses and the seventy elders see the God of Israel, he is a god of rocks (Exodus 24:10). It is rocks that Moses brings down from the top of the mountain. Awed by these rocks, people experiment with stone as never before (Joshua 7:25ff). People are still worshipping rocks in the New Testament (Acts 19:35), and Jesus gives special words to a man called The Rock. What difference do rocks make? Rocks falling from the sky were the one thing people feared more than anything else. Moses took these same objects of terror and presented them to the world as a blessing, as instruments of a loving God. To say it in broader terms: Our religion isn't only about the anxieties we face in day to day life. It's about stark raving terror, based on the knowledge that the Solar System is an alarmingly unstable system and that planets really can be bombarded by rocks-- just as Planet Jupiter was bombarded recently (in 1994) by Comet Shoemaker-Levy.
Oh yes! As mankind journeys to the stars, theologians (conservative ones I mean) and astronauts will have plenty of information to share.
THAT WIERD STUFF IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Jesus and His Disciples really did healing miracles. Everywhere they went, the lame could walk, the blind could see, the numb could feel, the paralyzed could move their limbs, and the dumb could speak. Even people who were given up for dead got up and walked. Some authorities say that the healing miracles are the whole point of the Gospels. But in MoSynod churches that I attend, the healing miracles are mentioned perfunctorily if at all. It's an embarrassment to see Jesus as a faith healer. But the healing miracles deal with a phenomenon that has been observed in the 20th Century. My trusty old Britannica refers to this phenomenon as "hysteria disorder." A more common word for it is "shell shock," a term applied to the blind, deaf, dumb, lame and numb service men who returned from the First World War without a physical mark on them.
It was entirely possible for a victim of shell shock to recover from the condition long enough to discover that he has been buried alive. The Gospel of Mark focuses on a person who seems to have suffered exactly that fate. Five whole verses are devoted to...
...a man with an unclean spirit, who lived among the tombs; and no one could bind him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been bound with fetters and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the fetters he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out, and bruising himself with stones.
Christians view the death and resurrection of one man, Jesus Christ, as the most important event in the Gospels. However, for the people of Jesus' own generation, "coming back from the dead" must have been a disturbingly common malady.
But how can this be? Are the crowds that mill about and sometimes rampage across the pages of the Gospels suffering from the First Century's version of shell shock? What could terrify so many people at once? The answer is that the 200th Hannukah was approaching. The precise dates are slippery, but it is entirely possible that Jesus began his ministry on the bicentennial of the Maccabean revolt.
It was an illegal holiday of course. The Jews were bracing for war. And in First Century Israel, war meant that men, women and children would be "dragged from their houses" (Acts 8:3) and murdered in cold blood. These attacks occurred mostly on Sabbath, when the devout Jew would refuse to defend himself, owing to the law against doing any kind of physical labor on that day. The gruesome events of the Maccabean period were going to be relived-- and history is never more dreadful than when you have to relive it and know its outcome.
The theological significance of the healing miracles is that Jesus wasn't merely healing individuals that happened to cross his path. He was healing a nation. His authority had curative powers far beyond the events themselves. That's the whole point of the Gospel story.
I did not come here tonight to encourage you all to follow my wayward path. But you have made Liberty your watchword (E.g., the Essay by Pastor Steve Krueger of September 14, 1999). Please do encourage your students and your congregations to read and never stop reading everything they can. Read the Gospels from the viewpoint of the Jews themselves. Learn not to condemn the New Testament Jews for their legalism (when the Law was their very reason for existing) and their purification rituals (when their Temple had been used as a whorehouse).
I know that my thesis --that you can't become a Christian until you've walked in the footsteps of a Jew-- is probably too conservative for the Liberals who have recently taken control of our Synod.
Clyde List is a member of Saint Paul Lutheran Church, Sherwood Oregon. He attended Concordia Lutheran High School and Junior College, Portland Oregon between 1959 and 1963. He received his English Degree and Art Degree from the University of Washington.
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