; charset=UTF-8" /> ECUMENICAL AND INTERFAITH RELATIONS — September : Connecting Voices
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ECUMENICAL AND INTERFAITH RELATIONS — September

(Submitted by the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee of the Pacific Southwest Region, DOC, and the Southern California Nevada Conference, UCC) EIRCWhy Come to the Table?   What IS the Table?   —–  Come on October 3! How important is communion to you?   Would you miss being part of the Lord’s Supper if it were not available, except once in a great while, at your church?   Have you ever felt that you received spiritual nourishment or help from communion which you did not get from the day’s scripture readings or sermon?   Does sharing the bread and cup with others present for worship increase your sense of closeness with them, and/or your gratitude for being alive?   Do you feel the presence of the Spirit of Christ at the table of the Lord?  Have you ever helped lead this sacred celebration? On Friday morning, October 3, from 9:00 a.m. through 12:30 p.m. at the Disciples Seminary Foundation in Claremont, there will be a fascinating mix of voices in dialogue about these and other questions surrounding one of the aspects of Christian faith and life which is most central to us and distinctive of us.  Five leaders from the Disciples, United Church of Christ, and Roman Catholic communities will present reflections, followed by  questions and answers and small group discussion.  We will conclude by celebrating this great/ sacrament/ordinance together—and then we’ll have lunch!   (No cost for lunch, though a donation would be appreciated!) Clergy can earn .3 CEU for participation in this event.  Elders and lay leaders are also cordially invited.   Write info@dsf.edu to register.  If you have questions, contact Dr. Jeff Utter at (626) 794-1839, hefffer@earthlink.net. A Reflection on the Cross: Personal, Ecumenical, Interfaith   — Dr. Jim Findlay Although “the Cross” may be the single most important symbol for Christians, it means different things to different people.  Growing up in Methodist and UCC congregations during the 1960s and 1970s, though the Cross was surely present in every sanctuary where I worshipped,  the Christian teaching on which I was nurtured spoke of Jesus as Teacher, Savior, Miracle Worker, and the One who showed us God.  But I recollect no mention of how his death led to my salvation.  I was confirmed twice.  The first time, in a United Methodist church in a small college town in Indiana, the “memory verse” I proclaimed in the sanctuary, along with my classmates, was Paul’s description of Christian love, 1 Corinthians 13.  And when I was confirmed again at a historically Congregational UCC church in Rhode Island a few years later, there was much discussion of the Church as the Caring Community – but little if any focus on Scripture or doctrine.  I was not told I “had to believe” anything in particular to “achieve salvation.”  Thus, for me, the Cross was a four-pointed symbol, but it seemed far off and abstract: something posted on the wall, but not in the midst of my Christian life or essential to my world-view. As I grew older, my faith as an adult took on a more “evangelical” tinge.  I was a community organizer and an employee of a socially engaged Christian magazine in those years, and I spent more time in congregations and faith circles unlike those in which I had grown up.  I sang traditional Protestant Gospel songs, and found solace and spiritual energy in lines like “At the Cross, at the Cross, where I first saw the Light.”  I gained a sense of my own sin (which was not emphasized in my earlier church experiences), as well as how Jesus Christ saved me.  But my understanding remained one based more on feeling than thought. This apparently haphazard path to a kind of theological point of view, with the Cross as either a distant sign or a vaguely felt yet vital power, may not be uncommon.  But when I went to seminary,  I saw how my earlier views were strikingly different from those of the Christian communities who shaped the New Testament and church doctrine.  The canonical Gospels were sometimes described as “Passion narratives with extended introductions.”  The Epistle to the Hebrews, influenced in part by the Jewish background of its anonymous author, saw Jesus as both High Priest and the once-for-all Sacrifice for Sin.  And for St. Paul, the crucifixion was at the center of faith in Christ and how he understood it. (“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” 1 Cor 2:2.  “For Jews demand signs, and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  1 Cor. 22-24).   It was clear that, for the New Testament writers and their communities, Jesus and his death were central to faith experience, not on its periphery. Through the centuries since, the Cross has remained vital to how Christians talk about and understand their faith.  If there is anything that all Christians share, it is certainly this symbol.  Though its meaning is not expressed in the same way by various Christian communities, its presence and power among us are indisputable.  Perhaps in a way beyond words, the Cross unites Christians of all traditions and temperaments.  And for this we must be thankful. However, when it comes to interfaith relations and dialogue, the Cross may well be what Paul described as a “stumbling block.”  For our Abrahamic brothers and sisters in the Jewish and Muslim communities, the Incarnation is itself a difficult matter.  Muslim tradition states flatly, “God forbid that Allah should have a son!”  The notion of One Sovereign Creator God is difficult to reconcile, theologically, in union with a flesh and blood human being.  But the claim that this person, somehow “fully God and fully human,” died at the hands of pagan executioners, is highly problematic, if not outrageous.  Some Hindu traditions affirm that gods were present in human form (one of the most well-known is that Krishna was an avatar of Vishnu).  But Christian narratives and claims about Jesus’ scandalous death are distinctive, and perhaps disturbing, to other communities.  And though Gautama the Buddha and Jesus the Christ are often compared as Teachers of Salvation, Gautama lived a long life and died peacefully among his followers, while Jesus died young as a religious blasphemer and a political rebel, alone, with only a few female disciples watching him from a distance. However we understand the Cross, and however it is understood by others, it remains a vital feature of Christian life.  May we continue to reflect on it, and receive grace and healing from the God who is revealed to us there.

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