Bible Text: Genesis 17:1–7; 21:1–21; Isaiah 11:1–10; Matthew 15:21–28; Acts 10:1–35
Lesson Focus: Christians who are knowledgeable and confident about their own faith can communicate and collaborate respectfully with people of other faiths.
Big Question: How are Christians supposed to interact with people of other faiths?
Key Words: JUDAISM, HINDUISM, BUDDHISM, ISLAM, MUSLIM
• Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all trace their heritage to Abraham—Judaism and Christianity through Sarah and Isaac and Islam through Hagar and Ishmael.
• Judaism, Christianity, and Islam value a relationship with one personal and loving God who interacts with individuals in time and space to support and save them. For Christians that saving love of God is most clearly seen in Jesus.
• Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism are religions in which an impersonal divinity is understood in many ways and forms, all designed to lead individuals to let go of selfishness and move toward oneness.
• The Bible includes many ideas that all religions have in common.
• All of these religions teach their followers to care for their neighbor and help those in need. None of these religions advocate violence or war.
As we begin to study the faiths of other people, our first job is to know our own faith well enough to express our beliefs clearly to someone who does not share them. Our second job is to show respect for those who do not believe what we believe so that we don't put them down and so that we can listen carefully to their faith statements. As we talk with people of other faiths and listen to their statements of faith, we may find that Christian faith and other faiths have many similarities amid the differences.
Some key points in describing Judaism include the following:
• Monotheism rooted in sacred scripture
• Continual and ongoing interpretation of scripture and life
• A long history of living among other cultures as a minority within those cultures
• Scriptures that include legends, laws, and rituals
• A modern national identity that is tied to a specific land and culture
• A sense of ethnic identity that allows for "secular" Jews
Modern Jews trace their heritage to Abraham and Sarah through their son, Isaac. The faith practices of the "Children of Abraham" that we see in our Christian scriptures and the people we often refer to as "Jews" are very different from the people of modern Judaism. We must be careful not to apply information from our scriptures to modern people in ways that they don't accept for themselves. We also must keep in mind that a deep animosity developed between Christians and Jews during the time between Jesus' death and the mid-1600s. At some point during history, Jews were expelled from every Christian country in Europe except Holland and the Scandinavian countries. The Holocaust and the establishment of the modern State of Israel have also changed the identity of the Jewish people in fundamental ways.
At the core of modern Judaism are three basic concepts: God, Torah, and Israel. As Judaism explains who God is, there are several key points to keep in mind. God is the creator of the universe. God is the redeemer who freed the people from slavery in Egypt and will provide the final redemption. God is the revealer of the teachings and laws that constitute the Torah. God created human beings and entered a covenant relationship with the Jewish people through Abraham. The people continue the covenant relationship with God within a community through observance of the mitzvot or "commandments." Hebrew scripture has 613 mitzvot, which are interpreted over the ages by the rabbis.
The Torah is also a complex concept in modern Judaism. The Torah is first and foremost the five books of Moses (which we know as Genesis through Deuteronomy) as "revealed" on Mount Sinai. Torah also includes a long history and tradition of rabbinic interpretation of these Books. Torah is continually growing and changing as the body of interpretations of rituals, theology, and ethics is added to over the years.
Israel refers both to the people and to the nation with its political, geographic, and cultural identities. The people of Israel are very diverse. They include communities with different languages, rituals, and liturgies. Since 1948 there has been an "independent state" called Israel. However, it is important to remember that not all Israelis are Jews and not all Jews are connected to the State of Israel. There is also an ethnic identity for some people who consider themselves to be "Jews," and yet they do not participate in any personal or communal observances or rituals.
Modern Judaism includes weekly and yearly celebrations of faith. Many of these celebrations include rituals in the home as well as services at the synagogue. Best known among Christian communities are the weekly Shabbat or Sabbath and the annual celebrations of Chanukkah(Hanukkah or the Feast of Lights) and Pesach or Passover.
As a beginning, a few words must be clarified. Islam is the name of the religion or faith. It means "peace" or "submission" in Arabic. Muslim is the person who practices this faith. Qur'an(sometimes spelled Koran) is the name of their holy book, which contains the revelations given to the prophet Muhammad by Allah (God) through the angel Gabriel. Allah means "the one, the only"—and is one of the names of God. Muslim people write the name in all caps as a way of honoring God. Jihad is best understood as the spiritual challenge to achieve piety, submission, and obedience to Allah (the common interpretation of jihad as merely "holy war" is misleading). Muslim people do not consider Islam to be a religion, in the sense of being separate from the rest of life. Islam is the entirety of life—no part of life is separate from it.
Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam is monotheistic and traces its heritage back to Abraham. Abraham's first child, Ishmael, is the ancestor of the Muslim people. Muslims include Jews and Christians under the designation "people of the Book" because all three value scriptures that are believed to be the word of the one God.
Islam identifies seven "Principles of Faith" that are comparable to the Christian creeds:
• Belief in Allah
• Belief in his angels
• Belief in his books
• Belief in his messengers (including many "prophets" from the Bible, such as Moses and Jesus; Muhammad is believed to be the final messenger)
• Belief in the Day of Judgment
• Belief in life after death
• Belief in divine preordainment (inshallah: in= if, sha'a= wills, Allah= God)
There are also "Four Pillars" that summarize the practice of Islam:
• Salah or prayer—performed at least five times each day
• Zakah or charity—setting aside money for those in need
• Sawm or fasting—during the month of Ramadan
• Hajj or pilgrimage—requiring all who are able to travel to Mecca once in their life
Hinduism encompasses many different sects unified by their common holy texts—the Vedas. Veda means "knowledge" in Sanskrit. The primary interpretation of the Vedas is Vedanta, which means "the culmination of the Vedas." The focus of Vedanta philosophy is to address the relationship between God, humankind, and nature. Brahman is the name of God—the ultimate reality. Brahman is not a personal God, as Christianity would describe God. Brahman is infinite, undivided, unchanging reality.
According to Hindu thought, this world is not truly reality and the goal of life is to be reunited with the absolute Brahman. Humanity is viewed as jivas(individual souls) seeking to attain Atman(the name applied to the union of all beings within Brahman). Hinduism teaches that every action we take has a reaction. Karma is the collective result or consequence of our actions—both self-centered and compassionate. Karma determines how the jiva is reincarnated for another life. When one totally transcends egoism and attachment to the physical world, he or she is reunited with Brahman.
In Hinduism, this world—illusion though it is—is divided and often represented as a set of dualisms. For example, the creation is a manifestation of the feminine principle of Brahman—the ability to create—while other aspects of the world are linked to the masculine principle. This dualism characterizes some Hindu philosophy, and a god/goddess pair personifies every aspect of the world—creation, preservation, and destruction. However, all deities are accepted as manifestations of the one Brahman.
Hinduism also holds that all religious paths lead to the same God. The goal is to "wake up" to your true nature. Hinduism recognizes several spiritual practices (yogas) for realizing your true nature:
Karma Yoga —taking the path of selfless action
Jnana Yoga —affirming your true nature
Bhakti Yoga —developing a loving relationship with a personal aspect of God
Raja Yoga —gaining control over the mind
Hinduism did not start with a single person or group from which others broke away. It is not centrally organized. Each guru (teacher) studies scripture independently and offers insights to others through spiritual practices. Most homes have a family shrine for daily worship of their chosen deity.
The term Buddha is a title that means "one who has been awakened" or "the Enlightened One." Any person has the potential to become a Buddha, although the title generally refers to Gautama Buddha, who was born into wealth as "Siddhartha," but upon seeing the suffering of others renounced that wealth and resolved to share the enlightenment he had gained about how one can deal with suffering (dukkah).
Buddhism features three main sects, or schools—the Theravada school, which emphasizes monastic practice within communities of monks and nuns; the Mahayana school, which allows for the possibility of anyone to become a bodhisattva, an enlightened being; and the Vajrayana school, which emphasizes more mystical and magical aspects to connect with the Buddha nature in all things. Zen Buddhism is a sect of Mahayana Buddhism and emphasizes personal meditation as the path to enlightenment. Whatever the school, the idea of being connected to a practicing Buddhist community (sangha) is thought to be essential to one's spiritual progress.
The core beliefs of Buddhism are the enlightened teachings (dharma) of Gautama Buddha, known as the "Four Noble Truths":
• Life is suffering.
• There is a reason for this suffering (namely desire and attachment).
• There is a way to end suffering.
• The way to end suffering is the "Eightfold Path."
The practice of Buddhism follows this "Eightfold Path," which can be divided into three parts:
• Right views—understanding Buddha's teachings and truth/reality
• Right aspirations—having high and noble aims
• Right speech—speaking kind words and truth; not lying, gossiping, or being verbally abusive
• Right conduct—practicing good, moral, compassionate behavior
• Right livelihood—having an honest living that does not cause suffering to others
• Right effort—persevering in goodness and clearing the mind
• Right mindfulness—being attentive to reality and the present moment
• Right meditation—concentrating on Buddha and the dharma (teachings), using meditation as an instrument to attain enlightenment
Progress on the Eightfold Path leads to Nirvana—the end of suffering, a perfect understanding of reality. Everyone has a Buddha nature or spark of the divine within him or her. The ideal person reaches enlightenment while remaining in human form to teach and lead others and is given the title Bodhisattva. As in Hinduism, karma is the understanding that you reap what you sow, if not in this life then in a reincarnated life. Various forms of meditation are used to help the practitioner let go of his or her ego. Meditation also helps a person to practice mindfulness—a total attention to the present moment. All actions, in all of life, can lead to enlightenment if done mindfully.
Many adolescents have already begun to learn about the history and cultures of the world, and they will have some inklings about other religions through news reports about people from around the world. Unfortunately, reports that generally make the news tend to link "religion" with "fanaticism" or "extremism," leading youth to accept a very biased view of the religions of the world.
Fortunately, adolescents tend to be curious about things beyond their normal experiences. Students will be intrigued to learn about other people, their faiths, and their faith practices. They will have many questions, so part of this lesson is to help them learn where they can find more information and accurate information so they can satisfy their curiosity. Be sure to point them to good resources such as Honoring Our Neighbor's Faith, edited by Robert Buckley Farlee (Augsburg Books, 1999), Inside World Religions: An Illustrated Guide by Kevin O'Donnell (Fortress, 2007), or Introduction to World Religions by Christopher Partridge (Fortress, 2005) for answers to questions that you cannot answer. Most adolescents prefer online resources. The ELCA Youth Ministries site (http://www2.elca.org/youth/links.html) offers some reliable links. It's important to show youth that it is okay not to have all the answers—even as adults—and to model a mature approach to finding answers to those questions.
In the Rite of Affirmation of Baptism, a five-part question addresses each confirmand's intent to continue in the covenant God made with them in Holy Baptism. Here We Stand resources help students—with support from parents, leaders, and the entire congregation—prepare to answer this question as they continue in their lifelong faith journey.
Today's lesson focuses on the clauses "to serve all people, following the example of Jesus" and "to strive for justice and peace in all the earth" (Lutheran Book of Worship, page 201; Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 236).
Our world has become a global neighborhood. The people we encounter on a daily basis are very diverse in national origins and in faith traditions. Your students have already begun to learn how to meet and work with people of diverse backgrounds. They have also seen, and perhaps been taught, stereotypes of other peoples that are far from accurate. Throughout the lesson today, encourage the youth to seek out accurate information whenever they encounter new ideas and perspectives. Today's lesson will help them to see how Jesus treated people whose faith differed from his own and to respond to all people with respect, kindness, and fairness.
World Religions. Here We Stand ©2010 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved. May be reproduced for local use provided every copy carries this notice.