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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

All Contents ©2004-2007 Stuart Dauermann - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Sunday, November 27, 2005

"On Having the Right King"

(This Sermon was presented November 26, 2005 at Ahavat Zion. It deals with our tendency to whittle God down to a conventient shape and size, to seek for a user-friendly Deity, and the problems this leads to).

Adonijah was the son of King David, but not slated to be king. So he tried to steal the position from out from under King David and his half brother, Solomon. And Adonijah almost pulled it off, were it not for the vigilance and faithfulness of Bathsheba, and Nathan the Prophet.

Now you may assume that one king is as good as another. However, the Bible doesn’t agree. The Bible takes care to remind us that there were good kings, and bad kings, kings who were a blessing, and kings who were a disaster for God’s people. Among the people of Israel, human kings were the ones who set the tone for the nation as a whole. . . As the king went, so went the nation. If the King followed the Lord, then the nation followed the Lord, and if he didn’t, then the nation didn’t either. And when the nation did not follow the Lord, sooner or later, disaster would strike.

Following the Lord is important—because it is only by following the true and living God that we will find that our life has indeed been well-lived and well-invested. So it is that we read this incredible assessment of Abaham’s life, found in today’s Torah passage: "1 Abraham was now old, advanced in years, and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things."
And in fact, it is the Lord who is the true King, toward whom the earthly kings of Israel and Judah were meant to serve merely as pointers, and toward whom they were to be faithful, modeling that faithfulness to the rest of Israel. This is why Kings were required to write their own copy of the Torah—that they might be reminded to be faithful to the One True King, the Living God blessed be He .

But the people of Israel were fickle, and we are still that way We what what we want, even if that takes us away from really honoring God This is why Samuel the Prophet, who was to be the one to anoint the first human king of Israel, was chagrined with the people. He saw what was coming: he saw that we have a tendency to manufacture kings of our own liking. Actually, we have a tendency to wander away from the simplicity of honoring God. We get fancy. We get cute. We try to improve on things. And we create messes by doing so.

Look at what happened when the people asked Samuel to give them a human king. There is a truckload of wisdom in this passage:

1 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his first-born son was Jo'el, and the name of his second, Abi'jah; they were judges in Beer-sheba. 3 Yet his sons did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.

4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, "Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint for us a king to govern us like all the nations." 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to govern us." And Samuel prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD said to Samuel, "Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds which they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9 Now then, hearken to their voice; only, you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them." 10 So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking a king from him. 11 He said, "These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12 and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your menservants and maidservants, and the best of your cattle and your asses, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day." 19 But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; and they said, "No! but we will have a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles." 21 And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD. 22 And the LORD said to Samuel, "Hearken to their voice, and make them a king." Samuel then said to the men of Israel, "Go every man to his city."

12: 7 Now therefore stand still, that I may plead with you before the LORD concerning all the saving deeds of the LORD which he performed for you and for your fathers. 8 When Jacob went into Egypt and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your fathers cried to the LORD and the LORD sent Moses and Aaron, who brought forth your fathers out of Egypt, and made them dwell in this place. 9 But they forgot the LORD their God; and he sold them into the hand of Sis'era, commander of the army of Jabin king of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab; and they fought against them. 10 And they cried to the LORD, and said, 'We have sinned, because we have forsaken the LORD, and have served the Ba'als and the Ash'taroth; but now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, and we will serve thee.' 11 And the LORD sent Jerubba'al and Barak, and Jephthah, and Samuel, and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side; and you dwelt in safety. 12 And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, 'No, but a king shall reign over us,' when the LORD your God was your king. 13 And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the LORD has set a king over you. 14 If you will fear the LORD and serve him and hearken to his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God, it will be well; 15 but if you will not hearken to the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you and your king."

The people insisted on a king after their liking, a king like the other nations, when the Lord was already their king.
We have a tendency to reject the kingship of God as He is, and to install other kings in our lives—installing other, more pleasing, groovy, perhaps even sexy alternative deities. And we do this all in the name of serving God.
In our New Covenant passage as well, we see the people of Israel rejecting their true King. This is nothing new, you see. It is very old, but also very current, because we tend to do the same things our ancestors did, just as they replicated the mistakes of their own ancestors.

In our New Covenant reading, the people in Pilate’s courtyard choose Barabbas, a popular revolutionary, over Yeshua, the true King of the Jews. This is an excellent picture of what all of us are prone to do—to exchange the truth about God for a lie, to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, to fashion for ourselves more convenient, user-friendly models of God. We do it constantly. Most of us have modified God and we don’t even realize that we have done so.
So what’s the big deal? Why am I harping on this?

The big deal is that only a life spent in serving the true God, and walking in His ways, will in the end prove to be well-invested. Any other choices, no matter how attractive, will inevitably result in profound and shattering regret. When we leave off following in the ways of God, ordering our foot steps to follow Him, our feet always lead us into trouble. The only variable here is in how soon it becomes apparent to us that we are in trouble. For some people, the awareness only comes at the end of life. For the luckier ones, we realize sooner than that that we have wandered from the way, that "all we like sheep have gone astray," that we have ceased following the True and Living God. And when we realize that we have modified God, and thus modified our lives from conformity to His will, there is only one thing to do. And that is the heartily repent and to return to a right vision of God and a right understanding of how we ought to be living.

What are some measures we might institute to make sure we are on the right track and that we stay there?

(1) Read the Bible constantly. Someone has said, "the Bible will keep you from sin and sin will keep you from the Bible." This is true. It is also true that constancy in reading the Bible will keep you oriented to who the True King is and to his ways. You will develop not only knowledge of His ways, but also an instinct for the kinds of things that please or displease Him. If you are avoiding the Bible, it may well be because you recognize you are not following God as you should. It is time to return to God and to return to reading the Scriptures. They are the best ever repository of reliable information about the Living and Eternal King.

(2) Listen to the voice of our traditiion. We are part of people who have been seeking to honor the Living and Eternal King for thousands of years. Let us not be so cocky as to imagine that we can develop a mature knowledge of God while rejecting the broader context of that community to whom the Bible was given. He is the God "asher bachar banu mikkol ha-ammim, v’natan lanu et Torato," the people chosen by God to be recipients of His revelation. We need to listen to the voices of others of contemporaries who reverently interact with what the Bible teaches and of whom it speaks. And we need to listen to the voices from the past, the voices of tradition: we need to eavesdrop on thousands of years of Jewish discussion of the way God is and acts and what that tradition regards as solid information about the Holy One.

(3) Don’t be so proud as to imagine that others within the community of God’s faithful, the wider ekklesia, don’t have anything to teach us. This is proud and foolish language. Instead, we should learn from the church’s accumulated wisdom of the centuries about the ways of God and compare their knowledge to our own and that of the Jewish community. God can teach us through their experience, the same way we can instruct Christians through our own.

(4) Beware of your own tendency and of that of people you associate with to modify God and to fudge on His ways. Always be asking yourself, "What is the best I know of God’s mind for His people when we are found situations like this?" This means being leery of your own tendency to instinctively modify God when there is something you don’t want to do or something you want to do, while you are sensing that your wants are not in line with what God says of Himself.

(5) Beware of accommodating yourself to social contexts and to people who have another King other than the God of our people, even when that king is simply their own preferences.

(6) Do not yoke yourself with evil: do not create alliances and relationships that require of you unacceptable compromises of your values and allegiance to God. You don’t have to be a hard-liner in some abrasive sense, in fact you should not. But you need to have firm boundaries, and know what they are. And you need to be prepared to assert those boundaries when you are being encouraged or tempted to ignore them or treat them as negotiable.

(7) Learn to honor the King and ask of Him that He would remind you in many ways of how wise was your decision to honor Him. Following God is hard, and we need his encouragement.

(8) Let us all remember to be an encouragement to one another in following the ways of God. And when you need help from others to persist in following God, learn to ask for that help. Following God is hard, and we all need one another’s prayers, encouragement, and assistance.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

"Life is a Mixed Bag" - A Sermon on Parashat Vayera

(The following is a sermon I gave on November 19, 2005 at Ahavat ZIon Messianic Synagogue. It deals with the challenge to grow beyond convenient and comfortable categories toward a more nuanced approach to life and relationships).


It is easiest for us, and most habitual for us to think in hard-line, firm categories, in what mathematical theory calls "bounded sets." However, we seldom realize how selective and subjective our categories can be. Thus, we think of things being either hot or cold, wet or dry, animal or vegetable or mineral, hard or soft, near or far, etc., as if everyone thinks in these categories. However this is not the case. Not every culture, or even every person, thinks in the same categories.

One person will look at a group of randomly selected objects will select from among them and put a ball, a grape, a ball-bearing, and an orange together, and the reason is obvious—all of these are round. Another person, looking at the same group of objects will put a banana, a grape, and the orange together, because, equally obviously, all are fruits and all belong in the same category. A third person will look at all the objects and select the grape, the orange, a microwave oven, and a bread-knife together, because, obviously, all belong together, because they are associated with the kitchen. For each of these, the way people group things depends upon what categories are in their minds.

The objects in life are real and objective, but the categories into which we divide them are more selective and subjective than we know. And even when the categories are valid, it is not always so easy to tell what belongs in which category.

We tend to think of people we meet or read about as either holy or unholy, good or bad, spiritual or unspiritual, saved or lost. However, making such choices rightly, that is, in accord with how God probably sees such people, is not so easy, and in fact may even be impossible. Yeshua warns us of this when He reminds us on more than one occasion, that "many who are first will be last and the last first." In other words, people who we thought were clearly in one category will in the end prove to have not been as we assumed them to be. In the Older Testament, this principle is foreshadowed by the Prophet Samuel, who said, "man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart."

Today I want to look with you just a bit at categories, and to suggest that we all need to be far more humble and careful about where we lump people. The fact is, most people I know have a need to lump people, have a need to categorize people as good or bad, safe or unsafe, holy or unholy, spiritual or unspiritual. We feel more secure when we think we know where everything fits. I want to suggest that our true security should be in the Presence of God in our communal life, and in the world around us. We need to be able to say, "I don’t know, but God knows and I need to go on with the business of trusting, serving and growing in Him."

The Enigma of Abraham in Today’s Parasha

We may see that categories are not as we imagine them to be from our Torah reading. Here we see Abraham, lying about Sarah his wife, in a manner which the text reveals is clearly wrong in the eyes of God, of the general culture, and Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Abraham is lying here. The good guy, the patriarch of patriarchs, the progenitor of God’s holy people Israel, is lying and putting his wife in jeopardy as part of Pharaoh’s harem. Not a pretty picture! But I thought he was the good guy! That is our category for him, but this story is not a good example of that!

The text also speaks of him as "a prophet." God calls him such, and tells Pharaoh to ask Abraham, the liar prophet, to pray for him and his household that they might become fertile again. I don’t think there is anyone in this room who would imagine that God would call a person a prophet and would answer that person’s prayer right on the heels of his expeditious lying. But that is what we have here. What a confusing story this is!

What’s the Problem?

Part of the problem is this. We forget to remember that all of us are people in process. Abraham is an unfinished work, I am an unfinished work, you are all unfinished works. This will mean that for the time being, we will have to learn to live with our own inner contradictions, with the inconsistencies of our own lives and the lives of those we know. For some people this is very difficult. They have difficulty accepting themselves, or being honest with themselves, so they hide from themselves the truth about their own rigidity, cruelty, indifference, lustfulness, their own habit of gossiping, the way they make others feel one down, or criticized, or uncomfortable. Many people hide these things from themselves because they cannot face them. They can only see fault in others—they project onto others what they cannot stand in themselves. Or perhaps they habitually criticize others because in some way it makes them feel better about themselves, or protects them from the danger of being criticized by those they have morally disqualified. After all, if that person out there is unspiritual, then who cares what they say about me?

So, sometimes our rigid categories are pathological and protective. And they are also wrong. We need to remember that we ourselves, and everyone else we know, are all people in process. And we need to remember that God is far more patient and accepting than we ourselves are, that He accepts people as they are while working to make them better. We need to learn to accept ourselves and one another as we are while working to be a force for betterment all around.

I am reminded of the splendid movie funded by and starring Robert Duvall. The movie is called "The Apostle." It is about a country Pentecostal preacher whose wife ends up having an affair with a leader in his church. Duvall then kills him, and runs out of town, where he eventually gets involved in another church, doing very much good for very many people. He is eventually apprehended and sent to prison, but even there, he is busy serving God. Someone I know who saw the picture commented,. "I don’t know whether this fellow is using God or if God is using him!" That was a brilliant insight. I think this is precisely where Duvall wanted us to find ourselves: not able to comfortably categorize the character he was playing. The facts of life are these: sometimes God uses the people who use Him.

Holiness in a Box - Or Not

Another way we tend to categorize things is as either being sacred or secular, in the realm of God or the realm of the ordinary. But these categories are most artificial. There are holy things and mundane things. Our tradition speaks of God as the one who makes a separation between the holy and the ordinary, between light and darkenss, between Israel and the nations, between the six days of work and the day of rest—He is the God who makes distinctions in such things. But we must remember that we often encounter and serve the Holy One amidst the most ordinary circumstances of life. You don’t have to wait to get to the Holy Place before you serve the Holy One.

We see this in our Haftarah. In the first story, a widow is about to lose her children to become debt slaves. The great miracle working prophet Elisha enters the picture and perfoms a miracle involving the most mundane of objects—a jug of oil.
In a related story, Elisha meets a woman of Shunem and her family. In as very homey way, she prevails upon her husband and the two of them fashion a guest room where the man of God may stay whenever he is in town. In the midst of this hominess and hospitality, Elisha asks her what she most wants. Finding that she wants a son, Elisha tells her that the next year, at that time, she will be embracing a son. The woman thinks he is playing with her, or fears that what she is hearing cannot be true, but it is.

Later in the story, this son will die of heat stroke, and Elisha will raise him from the dead. How unusual is that? And this story, of an older barren couple, a holy visitor, the promise of a son, who is later rescued from death—this story is an echo of the story of Isaac which is found in our Torah reading.

We, like this woman, need to learn to serve God and the people of God in homey, mundane ways. We need to visit the sick, comfort the grieving, feed the hungry, spend time with the lonely, cheer up the saddened, listen to boring people, for a while at least, and go out of our way to help servants of God within our means and opportunity. In such situations, we just might experience the highly unusual. We, like the woman of Shunem, might just encounter the holy in the midst of the mundane. But even if we do not, it is by serving people in these ways, in ordinary ways, that we become signposts of the Kingdom, By doing such things, we bring honor to God and make one small part of the world a better place.

New Covenant Commentary

Paul expresses the burden of our lesson well in today’s Newer Covenant reading.

1 Corithians 4:1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Messiah and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.

This is what we should be busy doing, not pointing the finger and putting people in boxes, not policing our own private world, but getting on with being servants of Messiah and faithful stewards of the mysteries of God. We should be people who treat we know of God with great respect and care, taking care to preserve, protect and prosper that body of experience and knowledge.

3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. 4 I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God.

We need to learn how to not be so avoidant and afraid of what people might say about us. We also need to not be quick to condemn ourselves. After all, our judges and we ourselves are all people in process. We must remember that God is the ultimate judge, and although we should be discerning, we must learn not to be judgmental. This is hard for religious people, but absolutely essential if we would be healthy, if we would be sources of health to others we know, and if we would honor God.

So How About You? What Are You Going To Do About This?

Are you judgmental? And if so, why is that? I suggest you sit quietly with that question for about five or ten minutes, being honest with yourself in the light of what people who love you tell you about yourself.

I would suggest that as your sense of God’s acceptance of yourself and of others as people in process grows, your need to defend yourself against imperfections, yours and theirs, will decrease. So my plea to you now is that you might grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Messiah, Yeshua. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom, and often, a sense of profound inner calm. Are you calm or agitated this morning? May you find restfulness in Him.

May we all learn to serve him and each other humbly, to accept ourselves and each other graciously, and to trust the Presence of God in the midst of us, helping us as individuals and as a community in process to become better day by day. And may we so live in the world as to be non-judgmental people of discernment. By the way we live our lives and how we relate to others, may we commend the Way of Life that we have found, instead of making people feel like God’s rejects because we inwardly feel rejectable and therefore reject them.