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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.

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Sunday, August 13, 2006


(The following is a Message for Shabbat Ekev, August 12, 2006, presented at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA)

Last Shabbat I was very vexed in the afternoon, after everyone had gone home. I was complaining to Harland G. about people I know in our congregation whom I have been teaching and exhorting for 15 years, but who are going to do what they are going to do---even if that means, for example, "forsaking the assembling of themselves together" with the rest of us, despite being pled with to do otherwise, and even promising to do otherwise—people who could, on a bad day, make me feel like all my effort is for nothing.

Just as I was about to speak, I believe the Lord spoke first—as I was inhaling to begin my tirade, he interrupted me with this word. It is from Isaiah 65:2 - “I spread out my hands all day long to a rebellious people who live in a way that is not good, who follow their own inclinations.” Hashem was saying to me—“Why are you surprised at all this? This is the way it has always been! This is the way it is for Me all the time! I speak, I plead, I wait, and I am ignored by people who persist in following their own ways, ways that are not good, people who are going to follow their own inclinations no matter what I say and no matter who is talking to them.”

I had two other conversations this week that contribute to today’s message. One was with Tali K., and it was about Mark 4:1-20, one of the passages we will be reading today—she commented how she has always been puzzled why some people engage with the things of God and some people just can’t seem to get it or never even take a bite. She realized that Mark 4 answers her question as to why this is. She said that the passage speaks about different kinds of people. And she was right. More to the point, it talks about different ways different people respond to what God is saying to us. More about that later.

I had another conversation this week, this one with Jon C., who commented upon how often in Deuteronomy we find the word “today,” and how the challenge to engage with God is so frequently couched in the context of “Today.”

We will be reading a number of passages today—some from the Newer Covenant, some from the Older, and all except the last focusing on the word “today.” Then we will read Mark 4:1-20, about the different ways people engage—or fail to engage—with the message of God and his invitation to engage. Then I will draw some concluding points for us all.

The first passage is from the New Covenant, and it ends by quoting Isaiah 65:2, the passage God called me to last shabbat. As we read it, notice that the underlying theme of this passage is the imperative to engage NOW with what God is saying to us

Romans 10:4 For the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah, who offers righteousness to everyone who trusts. 5 For Moshe writes about the righteousness grounded in the Torah that the person who does these things will attain life through them. k 6 Moreover, the righteousness grounded in trusting says: "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend to heaven?'" that is, to bring the Messiah down - 7 or, "'Who will descend into Sh'ol?'" that is, to bring the Messiah up from the dead. 8 What, then, does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart."l that is, the word about trust which we proclaim, namely, 9 that if you acknowledge publicly with your mouth that Yeshua is Lord and trust in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be delivered. 10 For with the heart one goes on trusting and thus continues toward righteousness, while with the mouth one keeps on making public acknowledgement and thus continues toward deliverance.

In the Romans passage it is important to note the contrast the Apostle is drawing between people who postpone engaging immediately with God’s call and those who in the present engage fully with what He has done in Messiah. He speaks of those who insist on a precondition—someone to come and bring Messiah up from the dead or down from heaven—before they will be able to deal with things, as contrasted with those who are in the present engaged in an ongoing confession of faith and engagement in the now with what God is doing in Messiah.

It is this contrast between people in those whom we might term “people in the now,” or “today people” and those we might term “tomorrow people” that I want to direct our attention to this morning.

The Letter to the Hebrews also makes a big point about “today,” and about engaging now with what God is calling us to.

Hebrews 3:7 Therefore, as the Ruach HaKodesh says, "Today, if you hear God's voice, 8 don't harden your hearts, as you did in the Bitter Quarrel on that day in the Wilderness when you put God to the test. 9 Yes, your fathers put me to the test; they challenged me, and they saw my work for forty years! 10 Therefore, I was disgusted with that generation I said, 'Their hearts are always going astray, they have not understood how I do things'; 11 in my anger, I swore that they would not enter my rest." 12 Watch out, brothers, so that there will not be in any one of you an evil heart lacking trust, which could lead you to apostatize from the living God! 13 Instead, keep exhorting each other every day, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you will become hardened by the deceit of sin. 14 For we have become sharers in the Messiah, provided, however, that we hold firmly to the conviction we began with, right through until the goal is reached. 15 Now where it says, "Today, if you hear God's voice, don't harden your hearts, as you did in the Bitter Quarrel," 16 who were the people who, after they heard, quarreled so bitterly? All those whom Moshe brought out of Egypt. 17 And with whom was God disgusted for forty years? Those who sinned - yes, they fell dead in the Wilderness! 18 And to whom was it that he swore that they would not enter his rest? Those who were disobedient. 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of lack of trust.

The exhortation here is to be today people—to not harden our hearts in the now. People who do so elicit divine disgust. In verse 13 the writer admonishes his readers to an ongoing today engagement with what God is up to, an engagement which is not once for all, but continual “For we have become sharers in the Messiah, however, provided that we hold firmly to the conviction we began with [by continually living in it—engaging with it] firm until the goal is reached.” He quotes from Torah to the effect that it was the very privileged people of the Exodus who failed to enter in because of their lack of trust—their failure to remain fully engaged with what God is up to. It is emphatically NOT enough to reflect on some faith commitment once made—as he says in verse 14, we must “hold firmly to the conviction we began with”—maintaining in the now the conviction we once espoused.

Turning now to Deuteronomy, let’s look at a few passage where we are called to respond in the Today---in the Now.

Deut 4:32 "Indeed, inquire about the past, before you were born: since the day God created human beings on the earth, from one end of heaven to the other, has there ever been anything as wonderful as this? Has anyone heard anything like it? 33 Did any other people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of a fire, as you have heard, and stay alive? 34 Or has God ever tried to go and take for himself a nation from the very bowels of another nation, by means of ordeals, signs, wonders, war, a mighty hand, an outstretched arm and great terrors -like all that ADONAI your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? 35 This was shown to you, so that you would know that ADONAI is God, and there is no other beside him. 36 From heaven he caused you to hear his voice, in order to instruct you; and on earth he caused you to see his great fire; and you heard his very words coming out from the fire. 37 Because he loved your ancestors, chose their descendants after them and brought you out of Egypt with his presence and great power, 38 in order to drive out ahead of you nations greater and stronger than you, so that he could bring you in and give you their land as an inheritance, as is the case today; 39 know today, and establish it in your heart, that ADONAI is God in heaven above and on earth below - there is no other. 40 Therefore, you are to keep his laws and mitzvot which I am giving you today, so that it will go well with you and with your children after you, and so that you will prolong your days in the land ADONAI your God is giving you forever.

Notice here that it our responsibility to take these things to heart right now—not eventually—right now—in the Today. To “. . .know today, and establish it in your heart, that ADONAI is God in heaven above and on earth below - there is no other. Therefore, you are to keep his laws and mitzvot which I am giving you today, so that it will go well with you and with your children after you, and so that you will prolong your days in the land ADONAI your God is giving you forever.

We are responsible to live in the reality of this truth TODAY—for, as we will see at the end of this message, if we don’t respond today, we will never respond—because we will have taken a step toward hardening our hearts as did our ancestors who perished in the wilderness. And as the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, it is a very bad idea to harden our hearts. Hardened hearts will be far less able to respond to the invitation of God tomorrow for people who have said “not now” today.

Next week’s Torah passage includes the following admonition:

Deut 11:26 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse - 27 the blessing, if you listen to the mitzvot of ADONAI your God that I am giving you today; 28 and the curse, if you don't listen to the mitzvot of ADONAI your God, but turn aside from the way I am ordering you today and follow other gods that you have not known. 29 "When ADONAI your God brings you into the land you are entering in order to take possession of it, you are to put the blessing on Mount G'rizim and the curse on Mount 'Eival. 30 Both are west of the Yarden, in the direction of the sunset, in the land of the Kena'ani living in the 'Aravah, across from Gilgal, near the pistachio trees of Moreh. 31 For you are to cross the Yarden to enter and take possession of the land ADONAI your God is giving you; you are to own it and live in it. 32 And you are to take care to follow all the laws and rulings I am setting before you today.

And near the end of Deuteronomy we read this:

Deut 30:15 Look! I am presenting you today with, on the one hand, life and good; and on the other, death and evil - 16 in that I am ordering you today to love ADONAI your God, to follow his ways, and to obey his mitzvot, regulations and rulings ; for if you do, you will live and increase your numbers; and ADONAI your God will bless you in the land you are entering in order to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, if you refuse to listen, if you are drawn away to prostrate yourselves before other gods and serve them; 18 I am announcing to you today that you will certainly perish; you will not live long in the land you are crossing the Yarden to enter and possess. 19 "I call on heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have presented you with life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore, choose life, so that you will live, you and your descendants, 20 loving ADONAI your God, paying attention to what he says and clinging to him - for that is the purpose of your life! On this depends the length of time you will live in the land ADONAI swore he would give to your ancestors Avraham, Yitz'chak and Ya'akov.

The choice is always in the now. That is the only time choices can be made, and if you choose to say “Not now, later,” you are simply saying “No.”

Finally, we will look at the passage Tali referred to---what she termed different kinds of people, but which I would term different ways of responding or not responding to God’s invitation, summons, subpoena to engage with Him in the Now.

Mark 4:1 Again Yeshua began to teach by the lake, but the crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there, while the crowd remained on shore at the water's edge. 2 He taught them many things in parables. In the course of his teaching, he said to them: 3 "Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he sowed, some seed fell alongside the path; and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky patches where there was not much soil. It sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow; 6 but when the sun rose, the young plants were scorched; and since their roots were not deep, they dried up. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked it; so that it yielded no grain. 8 But other seed fell into rich soil and produced grain; it sprouted, and grew, and yielded a crop -- thirty, sixty, even a hundred times what was sown." 9 And he concluded, "Whoever has ears to hear with, let him hear!" 10 When Yeshua was alone, the people around him with the Twelve asked him about the parables. 11 He answered them, "To you the secret of the Kingdom of God has been given; but to those outside, everything is in parables, 12 so that they may be always looking but never seeing; always listening but never understanding. Otherwise, they might turn and be forgiven!" 13 Then Yeshua said to them, "Don't you understand this parable? How will you be able to understand any parable? 14 The sower sows the message. 15 Those alongside the path where the message is sown are people who no sooner hear it than the Adversary comes and takes away the message sown in them. 16 Likewise, those receiving seed on rocky patches are people who hear the message and joyfully accept it at once; but they have no root in themselves. So they hold out for a while, but as 17 soon as some trouble or persecution arises on account of the message, they immedi ately fall away. 18 Others are those sown among thorns -- they hear the message; 19 but the worries of the world, the deceitful glamor of wealth and all the other kinds of desires push in and choke the message; so that it produces nothing. 20 But those sown on rich soil hear the message, accept it and bear fruit -- thirty, sixty or a hundredfold.

Look at verse 14. What is “the message” that the sower sows? Different translations say it this way vary little. Most say “the sower sows the word,” and at least one other, The Good News Translation (Second Edition), says, “The sower sows God’s message.” But what is this message, this “word” that is being sown?

Really, what the “word” is in this context—the context of Mark 4 is NOT the Bible. It is not as if Yeshua is saying to these people, “the sower sows the Bible.” Rather, “the word” in this context is the message—the invitation—that God was extending through Yeshua—to repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. And for us, the message, the word, of the Kingdom of God may be summarized in this way—it is the invitation, the summons, the subpoena from the throne of Heaven to engage with what God is doing—and to allow God and his priorities to fully engage you.

You will notice that a common theme in the passages we read this morning was the word “today.” Last week we examined the fact that life is not lived in generalities but rather in specifics. Although you may speak of having gotten up about 7:00 this morning, you did not get up at “about” anything—you got up at a precise moment in time that could have been marked with precision by an atomic clock. It is for this reason that God gave specific mitzvot to our people—not general guidelines, but rather specifics of what to eat, what not to eat, what days to observe and how, and all kinds of statutes, ordinances, and commandments to be followed carefully—because life is not and cannot be lived in generalties but only in specifics.

Similarly, life can only be lived in the now—the past is gone, the future is not here. The only time we have—the only time we will ever have—is Now. And if you do not follow God in the Now, you do not follow God at all.

The faithful people of God are today people: it is those who are trapped in unbelief who are tomorrow people, always tomorrow. Could it be that unbelief might be seen to be a habit of non-engagment and unavailability? We all know people who are habitually unavailable "right now" to engage with the things of God. No matter how nice these people are, no matter how much they say they believe, could it be that Scripture would characterize their current posture as "unbelief"?

The call of the Kingdom, the word to which we must all respond, is the invitation God extends to us to engage with what He is up do right now . . .and to allow it to engage us now. It is to be available to what God is saying to His people—to be eagerly available to be mobilized.

For those who are not available, our passage in Mark reminded us today that the Dark Side, or competing priorities, or an unwillingness to pay the price—any and all of these things can enter in and choke the potential out of this opportunity for engagement.

Yeshua told a number of parables about people who wanted to postpone their engagement with what God is up to—"let me first go and bury my father; I bought a field, I have to go see it; I just got married and therefore I cannot go; I bought some oxen and therefore must try them out." Yeshua’s word to all such people is dismissive and harsh, because any time we postpone engagement with what God is up to, we are demonsrating that we do not have saving engaging living faith---faith is always in the NOW. And if we have an excuse now, we will most assuredly have another excuse tomorrow.

Whatever you are doing with the demands of God on your life right now is the true state of your faith—if you are deferring and avoiding, you are demonstrating you are devoid of faith, living in unbelief.

Faith is always in the now.

So the big question is this: “How are you dealing today with how God is addressing you?”

Harden not your hearts - - for as long as it is called “Today.”

Our tradition reminds us: “avon goreret avon, u-mitzvah goreret mitzvah.” One sin leads to another, and one act of obedience leads to another. What you do with today’s opportunities conditions what you will do with tomorrow’s and all the tomorrows to follow.

Now is the time. What are you doing with God’s message to you at the only time you will ever be able to respond to Him? That time is called "Today."

Engaging with what God is up to now, for Messianic Judaism, means full engagement with Yeshua in the power of the Holy Spirit. In addition, the passages from Deuteronomy which we considered today demonstrate that we cannot honestly escape the fact that a part of that full engagement for the descandants of Jacob means engaging with God's commandments, with the pathway of mitzvot to which Scripture so often links the imperative to engage "today." This is the pathway to which Hashem is calling us to return--the pathway of covenant faithfulness, in the power of the Spirit and to the honor of the Father through Messiah Yeshua. See the recent posting http://rabbenu.blogspot.com/2006/08/why-just-trying-to-keep-ten.html for more details on what this means.

I guess it all boils down to this: Saying "Not now" is just another way of saying "No." We are either people in the No or people in the Now. Choose today whom you will serve . . .choose to engage today . . .choose now that your soul may live. "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart."

At 8/14/2006 7:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Today, if you hear his voice,"

can you teach me how to hear his voice

At 8/14/2006 7:47 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Dear Anonymous,

You asked, "can you teach me how to hear his voice?" I feel presumptuous to try and answer, since this is such a holy and personal thing, and also a matter fraught with the perils of self-delusion, or worse. However, along with Dallas Willard, my favorite author on this subject, I believe that the very fact that we claim to have a relationship with God requires at least some level of two way communication. It is also clear that almost no one truly restricts their sense of the guidance of God to "just the Bible" despite what they say. Nearly all of the most hardline people who would say that God speaks to us ONLY through the Bible, will speak of times when the Lord led them, or warned then, or the Holy Spirit checked them, etc.

I have posted on this blog an entry on hearing God, I advise you to read it. Also, please read Dallas Wiillard's extraordinary book, "Hearing God." It is the best work I know of on the subject, and is sane, logical, and not proof-texty. Willard is a Professor of Philosophy from USC and a well-known writer on spirituality. This book is one of the most pivotal in my own spiritual journey.

I know these suggestions will help you if you follow them. Please do!

At 8/16/2006 8:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my synagogue the usual attendance for Shabbat Shacharit and Mincha services barely exceeds a minyan. Our rabbi understands our culture and doesn't expect a level of commitment from congregants which almost led you to a tirade.

Of course there are congregations where the commitment levels reach your own expectations. Given your own experiences and study of American Jewish life, what factors do you see at play in why certain congregations have higher levels of commitment than others? Of those factors, how much can rabbis and synagogue leaders affect and how much is beyond their control?

With your indulgence I have one other question I would like to pose. On what basis do you think exhortations to alter behavior will lead to actual change? Thank you for your time and energy.

At 8/17/2006 4:34 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Dear Anonymous Poster,

Thank you for your courteous and thoughtful inquiry.

You ask, "what factors do you see at play in why certain congregations have higher levels of commitment than others? Of those factors, how much can rabbis and synagogue leaders affect and how much is beyond their control? . . . On what basis do you think exhortations to alter behavior will lead to actual change? "

This calls for a major posting some time, but for now. Here are first thoughts. Among the factors that REALLY bring people out consistently [rather than theoretically] I think the most clearly demonstrated is a web of warm relationships among the people of the congregation. Although some do, and all should, come to synagogue primarily to worship the Holy One and seek His Presence, what really brings people out is subconsciously looking forward to being together with friends. Therefore, rabbis need to seek to find ways to strengthen the web of relationship in their congregations. This usually happens around certain core persons or families who are magnets for others, so that one might speak of "Arnie's crowd" or "Chana and her friends." These webs can be strengthened and established through well-crafted havurot, for example. And when these webs link up, well then--then you really have a congregation.

As to how much this is within the rabbis' or leaders' control, that is hard to say. The rabbi and leaders ought to at least promote and nurture such webs, looking for signs of their forming, encouraging their formation. Although the rabbi may need to maintain a certain differentiation that inhibits his/her being the center of such a web or hub of buddies, lay leaders can and should do so.

And as for the power of exhortation--that is overrated. It needs to be supplemented or perhaps supplanted by modeling, and watchful affirmation and nurturance of what is good. Also, whenever there are persons or clusters of persons who disturb the unity, sense of well-being, and coalescene of the community, they must be dealt with [See Ken Hauck's brilliant book, "Antagonists in the Church." He is a psychologist and clergyman whose insights are equally valid for synagogues].

Sidney Schwarz, a brilliant Reconstructionst Leader, wrote a book that all those interested in congregational growth and success should read. It is "Finding a Spiritual Home." and studies a number of successfulo congregations of various stripes to discover what they have in common. He distills ten principles to be followed if we would be successful. They are most helpful in the American context, and although they may not seem "spiritual" to some people, they are nonetheless valuable. Here they are.

1. Create a Mission Statement
2. Bring Sing-able Music into the Worship Service
3. Create Havurot--Small Prayer Groups
4. Create Systems for Personal Support
5. Create a Social Justice Agenda
6. Experiment with the Prayer Experience
7. Create a Lay-Led Service
8. Get the Actors at Life-Cycle Events to Speak to the Moment
9. Share Personal Stories
10. Reach Out to New Constituencies

Read Schwarz's book and put these into practice. They will really warm things up.

There is more to say, but that will have to wait for another time.



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