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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, December 03, 2006

Truly, the Lord is Present in This Place

(The following is a sermon on Parashat Vayetze presented December 2, 2006 at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, California. It concerns the strange ways of God, and how our stereotypical expectations may sometimes blind us to His presence).

Genesis 28:10 Jacob left Beer-sheba, and set out for Haran. 11 He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12 He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it. 13 And the Lord was standing beside him and He said, "I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac: the ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring. 14 Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants. 15 Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." 16 Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it!" 17 Shaken, he said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven."

Whether consciously or not, many people, perhaps most people, have a well-established idea of the kinds of things God does and doesn’t do. They imagine they know the ways he acts and doesn’t act, and the things he approves and would never approve. Such people are quick to say “O God would never do that.” They are also the kinds of people who are quick to bail out on God because he didn’t do what they expected Him to do.

In such cases, the problem usually is not with God—the problem is with people’s expectations. People have flimsy, plastic hand-made models for how God is supposed to act, and when He doesn’t do that, instead of getting angry with themselves for constructing a false model of God, they get mad at God for not measuring up to their misconception. The Bible has a word for such misconceptions: they are called “idols,” and all of us are natural born idolaters.

Have you ever heard someone say “I could never believe in a God who would_________” Or, “God would never_______” How do we harmonize such statements with some of the outlandish things God is reported to have done in the Bible: telling the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites, or impregnating a teenaged virgin named Mary, or sending lying spirits to deceive the idolatrous King of Israel [1 Kings 22]. Yet, God did these things and more. Yet people have their favorite images of God, they have their plastic preferences. Because people have such a plastic and predictable model of God, they risk missing out on the subtleties of His Presence.

I find a reminder of this reality here in this passage: "Surely the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it!"

I have a few thoughts to consider with you today, and they are all related.

The first is this: Are there habits of thinking, doing and perceiving that have caused or do cause you to you fail to notice what God is up to in your life?

The second is this: Have there been situations, even recent situations, when you realized in retrospect that God was in a situation and you did not know it at the time?

Rabbi Yaakov Haber speaks relevantly to these issues in his commentary on this parasha found on the web at http://www.ou.org/torah/haber/thoughts/5760/vayetze60.htm

He points out how we “sometimes fall asleep on hallowed ground.” As examples, he speaks of the Chatam Sofer (Rabbi Moses Schreiber, 18th-19th cenury Chief Rabbi of Bratislava) who chided those who sleep through shabbat, and mentions as well the importance of spouses not missing those special moments of real holy connection—of truly listening and to and caring for one another, and for their children. He also mentions as well a sign he saw in Jerusalem shul which says, “If you talk during davening, when will you daven?” The point is, one comes to synaogogue to seek and serve the Holy One—don’t miss the moment. Truly, the Lord is in this place . . . but do you know it?

The third is this: What habits of thinking, doing, and perceiving might we develop to help us take more careful notice of the activity of God in and around us?

The fourth is this: Do you have a low vision of yourself, or are you perhaps so angry at your lot in life, that you assume that God is not at work in your life, or through your life? Do you think that God works through others but not through you? Then consider this poem by John Henry Cardinal Newman. It could change your perspective. And if it does, it just might change your life.


God has created me
to do Him some definite service.
He has committed some work to me
which He has not committed to another

I may never know it in this life
but I shall be told it in the next

A bond of connection between persons
He has not created me for naught
I shall do good -- I shall do His work
I shall be an angel of peace
A preacher of truth in my own place
while not intending it
if I do but keep his commandments

whatever I am, I can never be thrown away
if I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him
in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him
if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him

He knows what he is about
He may take away my friends
He may throw me among strangers
He may make me feel desolate
make my spirits sink
hide my future from me – still


John Henry Cardinal Newman

At 12/08/2006 7:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is good stuff. Everything ever created was created with a purpose. That purpose was limited to do a specific thing in a specific time. These inherent limitations can be called the "laws" that govern the creation. When the creation operates outside these laws, it is considered broken. It would be absurd to think the creation that broke down or malfunctioned would be able to fix itself. But the one that created it could fix it in the same manor that it was created...by speaking the repair into existance. There is a ton of theology wrapped up with the verse, "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth." It is just so much easier to understand when it is viewed from the prospective that God is the creator of the universe instead of King of the universe. David GOD HAS CREATED ME

At 12/24/2006 1:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post flies in the face of so many sermons I've heard. It's a difficult view, but there is more truth to a mysterious view of God than a "My God would never do that" view. I like your comment about idolatry as well. Very true. We need more preaching like this. We're often afraid to touch on topics that are awkward or difficult or hard to understand/accept.


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