By Michael Jacobs / mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com The combined Temple and Ebenezer Baptist Church choirs sing during a service at the church Feb. 15.

A combined congregation of Jews and Baptists heard Rabbi Peter Berg’s call Feb. 15 to take responsibility for the work of perfecting G-d’s creation.

“G-d needs every single person here to complete the work of the universe because G-d purposely left the work undone,” The Temple’s senior rabbi said, explaining that G-d wants to share the joy of creation with humanity just as a parent takes joy in seeing his children carry on a family business or other work.

“G-d has no hands but ours,” Rabbi Berg said. “The warmth of G-d’s love travels only through us.”

Rabbi Berg spoke from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church to an audience of his own congregants, Ebenezer members, and nearly 200 teenagers visiting from the BBYO and NFTY conventions being held less than a mile and a half away.

As part of a partnership that stretches back at least to the days of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, the two houses of worship get together on the Friday night before January’s King Day holiday at The Temple and the Sunday before Presidents’ Day at Ebenezer Baptist.

“It’s good to be back home in Ebenezer today,” Rabbi Berg said.

The Rev. Raphael Warnock and Rabbi Peter Berg talk with BBYO and NFTY conventioneers before the Feb. 15 service at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

The service featured combined performances by the church and synagogue choirs, including a rendition of Davis Academy Rabbi Micah Lapidus’ composition “Rise Up.” Rabbi Berg also pointed out the man in charge of football rising up in Atlanta, Falcons owner Arthur Blank, in the second row of pews.

But amid the general feeling of celebration, Rabbi Berg brought a serious message of social action and personal and societal responsibility.

“We live in a world of turmoil,” he said, but the trouble too often is met by “the arrogance of power and the arrogance of indifference.”

He ran through a litany of woes far (the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., the ravages of Ebola in West Africa, the savagery of the Islamic State terrorists in the Middle East) and near (injustice, gun violence, illiteracy and the world’s worst sex trafficking problem), then criticized people’s tendency to accept the world as it is.

“We must combat the detachment and callousness,” Rabbi Berg said. “We can’t give up on compassion.”

Too often, he said, we assign responsibility either to an invisible man named “Nobody” or to the unseen collective “They.”

“The tendency to transfer blame is the universal ill of all humanity,” Rabbi Berg said, going back to the buck passing of Adam to Eve to the serpent in Eden.

But the blame isn’t important. He said the responsibility of every person — and the point of every sermon given by every rabbi and every minister — is to accept the mandate to act in any way possible to ease the world’s problems.

The inability to solve all the problems is no excuse not to perform small acts of kindness, Rabbi Berg said. “G-d asks us only to do ordinary things but to do them extraordinarily well.”

Jewish visitors get to know Ebenezer Baptist Church members Feb. 15.

He said people must not flee G-d’s call as Jonah did but instead must answer with a simple but clear “hineni”: Here I am.

“To be here today is to say yes to G-d,” Rabbi Berg said. “To be G-d’s partner is not playing the blame game. … G-d needs us desperately just as we need G-d.”

Special Sunday School Lesson

The Rev. Raphael Warnock, only the fifth senior pastor in Ebenezer Baptist Church’s 129-year history, gave his young visitors from the NFTY and BBYO conventions a brief history lesson between the church’s two Sunday services Feb. 15.

That lesson went beyond Ebenezer’s role in the civil rights movement as the home church of Martin Luther King Jr., for which Ebenezer is known as America’s freedom church.

“The faith of the people gave them their courage,” Warnock said.

Warnock explained that Ebenezer is part of the long tradition of the black church in America as center of the fight for freedom, going back to the days when white churches were using the Bible to defend slavery.

He noted that King’s grandfather used the Ebenezer pulpit to fight for Atlanta’s first public high school for black students and that King’s father, Martin Sr., fought for voting rights for blacks in Atlanta in 1935, 30 years before the federal Voting Rights Act.

NFTY members check out the Ebenezer Baptist Church prayer book.

Asked how Baptists differ from other Christians, Warnock briefly discussed the church’s doctrines, then said we seem to be in a post-denominational world: “To be honest, I don’t see a whole lot of difference with other church traditions.”

Asked how he became the senior pastor at Ebenezer, Warnock said: “I ask myself that all the time.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rev. Raphael Warnock talks with NFTY and BBYO members before the 11 a.m. Feb. 15 service at Ebenezer Baptist Church.