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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

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Back to the Basics - The Most Important Role of Religion

(The following is a sermon for Parshat Behar/Bechukotai presented May 20, 2008 at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue Beverly Hills, CA. It highlights the most important role of a religious tradition)

Jeremiah 16:19 - 17:14

19 O Lord, my strength and my stronghold,
My refuge in a day of trouble,
To You nations shall come
From the ends of the earth and say:
Our fathers inherited utter delusions,
Things that are futile and worthless.
20 Can a man make gods for himself?
No-gods are they!
21 Assuredly, I will teach them,
Once and for all I will teach them
My power and My might.
And they shall learn that My name is Lord.

Chapter 17

1 The guilt of Judah is inscribed
With a stylus of iron,
Engraved with an adamant point
On the tablet of their hearts,
And on the horns of their altars,
2 While their children remember
Their altars and sacred posts,
By verdant trees,
Upon lofty hills.
3 Because of the sin of your shrines
Throughout your borders,
I will make your rampart a heap in the field,
And all your treasures a spoil.
4 You will forfeit, by your own act,
The inheritance I have given you;
I will make you a slave to your enemies
In a land you have never known.
For you have kindled the flame of My wrath
Which shall burn for all time.

5 Thus said the Lord:
Cursed is he who trusts in man,
Who makes mere flesh his strength,
And turns his thoughts from the Lord.
6 He shall be like a bush in the desert,
Which does not sense the coming of good:
It is set in the scorched places of the wilderness,
In a barren land without inhabitant.
7 Blessed is he who trusts in the Lord,
Whose trust is the Lord alone.
8 He shall be like a tree planted by waters,
Sending forth its roots by a stream:
It does not sense the coming of heat,
Its leaves are ever fresh;
It has no care in a year of drought,
It does not cease to yield fruit.

9 Most devious is the heart;
It is perverse — who can fathom it?
10 I the Lord probe the heart,
Search the mind —
To repay every man according to his ways,
With the proper fruit of his deeds.

11 Like a partridge hatching what she did not lay,
So is one who amasses wealth by unjust means;
In the middle of his life it will leave him,
And in the end he will be proved a fool.

12 O Throne of Glory exalted from of old,
Our Sacred Shrine!
13 O Hope of Israel! O Lord!
All who forsake You shall be put to shame,
Those in the land who turn from You
Shall be doomed men,
For they have forsaken the Lord,
The Fount of living waters.

14 Heal me, O Lord, and let me be healed;
Save me, and let me be saved;
For You are my glory.

There are many ways one can compare religions and spiritual choices. Which religion has the best music? The best ethics? The most social approval? The best explanations and arguments? The most appealing meditative practices? The most elegant liturgy? The deepest historical roots?

There are all kinds of criteria people use to comparison shop for a religion.

Today’s Haftarah {Jeremiah 16:19-17:14) takes us down to bedrock in these matters, beyond all the hype, the glitz, the shopping-around mentality, and the advertising. Today’s Haftarah tells us there is, in the end, one question, one criterion, one factor that matters above all others when evaluating a religion, a religious tradition, a body of sacred lore vying for your attention. And here it is:

Does this body of sacred lore, religious tradition tell the truth about life, yourself and the One True God, connecting you with Him?

This is not a fashionable, hip question. We live in a world that prefers to politely assume that everyone has their own religious path and all roads inevitably to a God who is big enough to accept any and all doctrinal variations and god concepts—a God who is the Great Ocean into which all the tributaries and streams of various religions disappear, all becoming part of the same immense, all encompassing reality.

Today’s text disagrees. Sharply. Totally. It leaves us with no alternative but to either agree or disagree strongly.

Today’s text contrasts the knowledge of the true God with “utter delusions”—falsehoods—lies.

The contrast is with hand-made gods contrasted with the God who made all, but it applies also to “mind-made” gods—gods that are the product of people’s preferences and imaginations. The text speaks of false altars and sacred posts, which were likely carved images of the goddess Asherah, related to fertility rites [this is why the altars and sacred poles were “by verdant trees upon lofty hills.”] God says, “once and for all I will teach them my power and my might and they shall learn that my name is Hashem”—they will learn that there is really only one true God, and all else is lies.

In this passage varied reasons are given or inferred as to why the people of Israel would do better to seek the Living and True God rather than the idols of humanity’s minds, hands, and preferences. And the language of this passage reminds us that the choice is a momentous one—will it be the Living and True God or whatever else comes off the potters wheel, out of the forge, or to the tip of your tongue?

God says that he is going to deal harshly with them—he will make their rampart a heap in the field—Jerusalem will fall, and they will become slaves to their enemies in a land they have not known. And this certainly proved true. Our people were exiled, Jerusalem destroyed, while the holy people languished in an unclean land, taunted by those who challenged them to “sing to us one of the songs of Zion.”

In our reading we see how God places a curse on the person who trusts in man instead of God, who turns his thoughts from God to something else. Such a person is doomed to barrenness, while he who trusts in the Lord, and who trusts in the Lord alone is like a tree planted by streams of water—fertile, green and fruitful.

Our text reminds us that it is our own devious hearts that lead us away from such truths and verities. And it is to the LORD, the King of Israel, and His Temple—that is, to the worship of Hm, that we must turn, and Him we must seek. He alone is the Fount of living waters, the source of life and livingness in contrast to dead idols which neither live nor impart life.

So what does this mean for us? Just this. We ought never to lose sight of the fact that if our faith is true, what it does for us, why it is commendable to us and worth commending to others is only for one reason—our faith puts us in touch with the one True God. That is really the bottom line and everything else, although in some cases important, is relatively unimportant.

Now before I go. I want to make something clear that Scripture makes clear. Just because we are in touch with the One True God doesn’t mean that things will always go our way, and that we just have to ask, and there it is—whatever it is that we want. There are some religious groups, churches, televangelists who teach this way. But they are not presenting the True and Living God. They are presenting an idol.

It is just as it was with the Israelites when they came out of Egypt. Restless because Moses delayed on the Mount, they prevailed upon Aaron to build for them a golden calf, made out of their trinkets. And when they saw the Golden Calf which they had made, what did they say? "This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!" In other words, they substituted an idol, a God of preference and convenience for the One True God, and they foisted this idol upon themselves in the Name of the LORD. We, and the televangelists I mentioned, must be wary of making the same mistake—of constructing a idol in the name of God.

As I said, the most important thing about a body of sacred lore, a religious tradition, a spirituality is that it tell us truth about God, life and yourself, and put you in touch with the One True God.

I am clinging at this time in my life to the verse in Psalm 27 where David says, “I would have despaired unless I believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” But I am also here to say that God does not always do what we want Him to do, nor do we always understand his ways. There are times when he does not appear to intervene in the matters that are closest to our hearts, no matter how hard we pray, no matter how much we earnestly promise Him our dearest devotion. There are times when, despite our deepest prayers and pleadings, something goes wrong. Certainly this was the case for Righteous Job—who had done nothing to deserve the calamities that struck him, as in one day, his herds, his flocks, his wealth, his health, his sons and his daughters were all taken from him. At that time, he said things which perfectly enshrines the mature attitude to which today’s text is calling all of us.

“Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will return there. ADONAI gave; ADONAI took; blessed be the name of ADONAI. . . Are we to receive the good at God's hands but reject the bad?" In all this Job did not say one sinful word” [Job 1:21; 2:10].

These quotations can only come from a person who has driven all idolatry from their heart, who is utterly devoted to the One True and Living God. Notice, Job’s relationship with God is not based on the good things he gets from that relationship—“shall we receive good at God’s hands but reject the bad?”—he sees both pleasant and unpleasant experiences as all coming from the sovereign hand of God. He also is clear on one thing: Everything we have in this life is pure undeserved gravy—we have no grounds for complaint, and we must learn to be satisfied with whatever our lot in life, comfortable or not, rich or poor, in sickness or in health, in despair or in joy.

I need to say this because the assumption is in the air that the reason we should follow God is that all will go well with us if we do. My answer—not necessarily.

Jerry Sittser is a servant of God, who lost his wife, his four year old daughter and his mother in the same car accident, although he and his other three children survived. I don’t want to imagine what it must have been like for him not only that day, but for many, many days afterward, raising the three remaining children amidst his anquish that the very child he had prayer for daily, his beloved Diana, and his wife and mother, had all died so cruelly, despite his prayers. Yet Jerry Sittser remains a servant of God, and writes of his experience in the valley of the shadow in his book, “The Gift of Unanswered Prayer.” Here is one of his comments from that book:

Strange as it may sound, we need unanswered prayer. It is God's gift to us because it protects us from ourselves. If all our prayers were answered, we would only abuse the power. We would use prayer to change the world to our liking, and it would become hell on earth. Like spoiled children with too many toys and too much money, we would only grab for more. We would pray for victory at the expense of others; we would be intoxicated by power. We would hurt other people and exalt ourselves.

Unanswered prayer protects us. It breaks us, deepens us, and transforms us. Ironically, the unanswered prayers of the past, which so often leave us feeling hurt and disillusioned, serve as a refiner's fire that prepares us for the answered prayers of the future” [Jerry Sittser, “The Gift of Unanswered Prayer.”].

So whatever you do, do not embrace faith in the God of Israel through Yeshua the Messiah simply because your life will be better, although it very well may, and you are sure he will answer your prayers, which He may or may not. In our life of faith, there are no guarantees but this: that the faith we proclaim, by and for which we live, is true, and that it puts us in touch with the true and Living God. And if we will follow Him, we will as a community and as individuals reflect his livingness and His truth in our communal life and relationships.

And finally, this is also, existentially and philosophically why people should believe in Yeshua—because in Him we see and learn the deepest truth about the Living God, and because the more we follow Him, the more we understand, experience, and reflect the True and Living God.

Therefore, if we claim to know Him, to have found Him, our lives must be living and true as He is. People must observe in our lives something of the reality and credibility of the God whom we claim to know. Our community and our families should be an environment where people who know this God support each other, whatever our circumstance in life.

Let us close with words from today’s Torah reading and our New Covenant reading--

Leviticus 26:1 You shall not make idols for yourselves, or set up for yourselves carved images or pillars, or place figured stones in your land to worship upon, for I the Lord am your God. 2 You shall keep My sabbaths and venerate My sanctuary, Mine, the Lord's.

New Covenant Reading - 1 John 5

18 We know that everyone who has God as his Father does not go on sinning; on the contrary, the Son born of God protects him, and the Evil One does not touch him. 19 We know that we are from God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the Evil One. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us discernment, so that we may know who is genuine; moreover, we are united with the One who is genuine, united with his Son Yeshua the Messiah. He is the genuine God and eternal life. 21 Children, guard yourselves against false gods!

At 5/21/2006 8:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Because of the sin of your shrines
Throughout your borders,
I will make your rampart a heap in the field,
And all your treasures a spoil.
4 You will forfeit, by your own act,
The inheritance I have given you;
I will make you a slave to your enemies
In a land you have never known.
For you have kindled the flame of My wrath
Which shall burn for all time."

What does this mean?

At 5/21/2006 9:07 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

This is a prophecy of the Babylonian Captivity. The "soin of their shrines" is of course, the high places where other gods were illicitly worshipped, and "the rampart" would appear to be Jerusalem/Zion.. The verse "For you have kindled the flame of my wrath which shall burn for all time" is hyperbolic, not unusual in elevated, poetic prophetic spech, The inheritance which they forfeited is contrasted with their going to alnad they have never known.. That inheritance they forfeited was the Holy Land, but of course, not for ever.

All of this is quite clear in context.

At 5/22/2006 9:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since the Biblical text can be read authentically in multiple ways

and since the Rabbis don't always go the way of God,

how am I to have any certainty of what is Godly and what isn't?

At 5/22/2006 10:31 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Certainty is not always available. But one of my favorite thinkers is John Wesley, an immensely practical genius, who sought certainty through what is termed his "quadrilateral," four voices we ought to heed to the degree they correspond.


Tradition -the wisdom of the faithful across the ages;

Reason - rational thinking, and

Experience, both personal and communal.

No the Rabbis are not always right. Yes, Yeshua was always right. But we don't always interpret him rightly. And is there any one out there who would name some Christian leader, past or present, who is "always right?" (Although we can all name some who are always far right!)

There are different kinds of certainty---the kind of certainty found in mathematics, for example, is not availble in interpreting the Bible. The certainty we have is something like the certainty of knowing the position your best friend is likely to take on an issue--it is a certainty borne of intimate aquaintance, nurtured along the four avenues of Wesley's quadrilateral.

Formulas are for mathematics, not for interpreting Scripture and spiritual truth.

At 5/23/2006 8:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But the prophet's certainty didn't come and go. They said, "God said...." and that was what God said.

Why doesn't God speak to people with that clarity anymore?

At 5/24/2006 2:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Yes, Yeshua was always right. But we don't always interpret him rightly."

So which is it?

1. The Biblical text can be read authentically in multiple ways or

2. There is one correct interpretation of what Yeshua said and the rest are wrong?

I can't hold both position at the same time. And waivering back and forth is also an instant losing position. The only way to be on solid ground is to choose one or the other.

So are there many right ways to read the Bible or is there one right way to interpret and the rest are wrong?

At 5/25/2006 9:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Yes, Yeshua was always right. But we don't always interpret him rightly."

So am I interpreting you rightly when I say that those who reject Yeshua's claim to be the Messiah are the ones who interpret him and the rest of scriptures correctly?

Or is it that those that who aren't His followers who are the ones correctly following what the scriptures say about Yeshua?

At 5/25/2006 9:02 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...


You said," But the prophet's certainty didn't come and go. They said, 'God said.... and that was what God said.

Why doesn't God speak to people with that clarity anymore?"

A two part answer. First of all, prophets were special people with a special calling. God didn't speak to "people" that way in Bible times, but to a select few chosen people--prophets. I don't believe it serves his purpose to have chosen people today who can receive revelation and speak with analogous authority to that of an Isaiah or a Jeremiah.

The first part of your question about the prophet's certainty is not as true as you imagine. In Jeremiah 32:6-12, the prophet receives a word from the Lord which he only knows for sure is a word from the Lord when what he had "been told" would happen happened [that his uncle Hanamel would come and ask him to buy a piece of property].


At 5/25/2006 9:09 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

To Anonymous,

You ask

"So which is it?

1. The Biblical text can be read authentically in multiple ways or

2. There is one correct interpretation of what Yeshua said and the rest are wrong?"

. . .and claim that it must be one or the other or we are left without certainty.

Your process of reasoning is faulty: "I need X therefore X must be available." Not necessarily. Years ago I knew a fellow who said to me, "God must want us to know His word, so he must have given us a Bible we can depend upon as His infallible word, therefore the King James Version is that Bible," to which the rational answer is "not necessarily." Just because we want something to be true or believe it is something God would want for us does not mean it is so.

There are excellent books on Bible interepretation to keep us from going far afield [see some by Gordon Fee, amd "Scipture Twisting" by James Sire, for example]. But the Bible is not plainly intepretable across the board simply because we want that to be so, although certainly some passages are more obscure than others, and some passages are plain to the understanding.



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