University Congregational Church
June 16, 2019
World Religions: Father Abraham & His Children
Genesis 17: 1-8
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”
Genesis 17: 1-8
Abraham and Sarah became the parents of several major religious traditions:
These religions feature many of the same people, histories and places and they promote the same paradigms and truths. The Abrahamic paradigm to which each of these traditions hold is:
1. Monotheistic (that is that there is only one God, not multiple gods)
2. God is transcendent and involved in some manner for Creation
3. God is the source of moral law
You may find it surprising, but we, as Christians are brothers and sisters with Jews and Muslims; Baha’i and Druze. We share common ancestors and a common philosophy. We share a common family history and a common spiritual journey. Our stories have been intertwined throughout history. Lately, some people in the United States have been loath to think about it (especially since 9/11), but it is not a matter of opinion – it is well established, multiple millennium historical fact.
Rabbi Reuven Firestone, Ph.D., who teaches medieval Judaism and Islam at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, spoke about Abraham’s importance across religious groups. While different faiths honor other figures, including Noah, Moses and David, Firestone said Abraham is unique in his role as the father of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. “We’re all one big tribe,” Firestone said. “We think of ourselves as three separate, competing religions. But we’re all the children of Abraham.”
There are 3.8 billion followers of Abrahamic religions – about 54% of the world’s population. And we have much more in common than we may think we do. Let’s just take the top three Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and what we have in common:
• We all believe that Abraham was the father of monotheism; he was the first representative to believe in a singular God.
• We all recognize a holy book as the word of God – the Torah, the Bible, and the Qur’an. In fact, we share parts of the Torah (or the Old Testament) as sacred text with both Jews and Muslims. The Qur’an also tells the story of Jesus’ crucifixion.
• We all have a creation story in which God created the universe ex nihilo – out of nothing.
• We all believe that God sent prophets to spread truth to people. In fact, we name many of the same prophets… including Jesus. Many Jews and Muslims would name Jesus himself as a prophet. They do not deny that Jesus was a good man and a phenomenal teacher. They simply do not believe that he was Messiah, or God.
• We all consider Jerusalem a holy city. For Jews, the Temple Mount is the site of the first and second temple in ancient times. For Christians, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is believed to be the site where Jesus was crucified. The Dome of the Rock is where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam.
• We all believe that individuals will be held accountable for their actions.
• We all believe in charity, with the requirement of giving to those in need.
• We all sing and we all pray when we worship. When Eric and I traveled to Turkey, we enjoyed hearing the beautiful call to prayer over the city’s loud speakers all over town in the early morning and throughout the day. It was a reminder to stop what you were doing and take a moment to give thanks, to center yourself, to breathe, to reclaim your place in God’s world.
• We all have different branches, sects, and schools where we learn, worship and teach our faith.
• We all teach that there is life after death – a reward or punishment according to your life on earth.
These are just some of the many things we have in common as children of Abraham and Sarah.
Many of you know that I am a mother of three children. It is with sincere and 30+ years of exhaustive experience that I tell you that 3 is an awkward number to rise in a single household. Three car seats do not fit in a backseat. Three do not fit in a bed together and a family of five does not work in most hotel rooms or rental cars. There is almost always one child left out. If there is not a child left out, it means that the children have ganged up together against the parents – and that is not good news.
Seriously, the psychology of having three children… well, let’s say that libraries of books suggest that it’s a bad idea. And the millennia of turmoil between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and have demonstrated this sibling rivalry to be nothing short of a physiological catastrophe. One religious sibling is typically maligned by the other two. The reasons – many based on partial truth – are too numerous to count. Add to the disastrous poor relationships the distance and miscommunication between culture and language and you have the ripe potential for war. Compound this with thousands of years… and peace is almost hopeless.
Some of you may know that before the Islamic mosque at K96 and Woodlawn was built that I served a Christian church that shared our space with the Islamic community for 5 years. They had the Annoor Islamic school in our church building. Several times a year, the church and the Muslim people even gathered for worship and fellowship. We ate together, sang together, prayed together, and worshipped together. It was a very fulfilling experience. At the end of their time with us, the school had 65 children attending school each day in our building.
Each day when I came to work, I was greeted by the buzz of children on the playground or the patter of feet in the hallways or the hum of them practicing Arabic. One day, a teacher came to me with a drawing one of the 1st graders made. It was a picture of our church building. On the outside was the church with a giant cross featured in the front of the building. Hanging on the door, where the children entered for school, was a book with the word Qur’an plainly written on it. I sat at my desk and I cried. It was as if two of Sarah’s children were able to hold hands on the playground at last.
Next week we will continue the series about World Religions and I will share with you some of the specific beliefs of Islam. So far, we have explored Judaism, Buddhism, and the commonalities of the Abrahamic faiths. It is my hope that as people of faith we will find the a bit of the spirit of the child who took a crayon and put onto paper what few adults can find in our hearts to express – the common bond between people of faith – a place where we can all worship and learn together – where the cross and the Qur’an fit side by side without division.