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Messianic Jewish Imagination 3

A Messianic Jewish Imagination is the way we think teach and describe the ideal messianic Jewish experience. I have borrowed the term “imagination” from Walter Brueggemann who uses this word to describe the way clergy should communicate the alternative reality of the Good News. He describes preaching as “…the ready, steady, surprising proposal that in the real world in which God invites us to live is not the one made available by the rulers of this age.” (Finally Comes The Poet p.3)

A few  years ago I wrote several posts about the Messianic Jewish Imagination  as applied in general to the Messianic Jewish Movement. In fact i began the second installment with the paragraph above. But over the past year or more I have been thinking much about where we are going as a local congregation. Recently I attended the UMJC mid year Leadership meeting and we were asked to write a brief paragraph called “My Dream Congregation”.    I suppose another way of saying “dream Congregation” could be messianic Jewish Imagination.  Here is what I wrote:

A Jewish community in which people, young and old,  who identify with our values experience dynamic relationship, intellectual stimulation, vitality, acceptance, spiritual growth and delight centered in Messiah Yeshua.

This is not a statement that we as a congregation have adopted but it is what I see as the place we  want to be continually moving toward.  It is a type of Jewish community that i would not call traditional but rather progressive in the sense that we uphold faith in Yeshua the Messiah and are inclusive of Gentiles yet valuing Jewish tradition, worship and  concerns – a way of life.  We could call it an alternative way of life. It is a life that is counter to the culture in which we live. It is a life of radical love and radical sevanthood. It is a life that is shared with others that gives us a glimpse of the future.

This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, is helpful in this brief discussion because it describes this way of life.  It is about living in community in such a way that demonstrates devotion to the God of Israel, dignity to people, kindness and benevolence; righteousness and justice. The values that lie behind these laws are the values that we esteem.

Yeshua shared this  vision when he said “Behold the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  My hope is that by living according to our values that we will continually move forward toward the goal. As we move toward that goal may we  be a living example of Messiah Yeshua and the age to come.


Tu B’Shevat

This week is tu b’Shevat.  Literally it means the “15th day of the hebrew month  of Shevat.” Since mishanic times it has had a variety of meanings. According to the Mishna it commemorates the new year for trees – the time that a tithe would be calculated for the fruit of trees.  The kabbalists instituted the tradition of a Seder to commemorate Tu b’shevat.  In modern times,   the establishment of the State of Israel emphasized Tu B’shevat as a time to plant trees in Israel. More recently, Tu B’shevat has evolved into an ecological holiday when we enjoy the fruit of the land,  and remember our responsibility to be stewards of the environment. 


Our role as stewards of the earth is part of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God.  In the beginning of Genesis we read  Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. (Gen 2:15 NAU)  To “cultivate” it is to work the land and to “keep” it is to protect the land.  This is an exalted position!  In psalm 8 we read What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him?

 Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, (Psa 8:4-6 NAU)  While the psalm describes the exalted position of mankind, the text is quoted in the New Covenant to describe that greatest man of all and that is Yeshua the Messiah.  As a result of his resurrection from the dead there will be the reality of the messianic kingdom in its fullness when the trees of the field will clap their hands and all of creation will bring glory to God and there will be a new heaven and a new earth.  


On Tu B’Shevat may we remember our calling to care for this world and may it be a reminder of the redemption of this world that is to come! 


A great reminder every week of messianic hope

The first ten chapters of the Book of Numbers is about how the Jewish people prepared to march to the promised land. They got themselves organized; they also made sure that they were inwardly organized by purging sin from their midst and being spiritually prepared. By the time we get to chapter ten, they are ready to go. At the end of the chapter we see that the Ark moves first – ahead of the people and the cloud is upon them to guide them along the way. Then Moses says these words:

Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said, “Rise up, O LORD! And let Your enemies be scattered, And let those who hate You flee before You.” (Num 10:35) The picture that we see is one of tremendous confidence in the Lord to reach the land.

This verse is repeated in Psalm 68:2 and Psalm 132:8. In each case the verse is used to exude confidence in the power of God to bring to pass his promises. In Psalm 132 the verse is used to give assurance that the promise of a Davidic dynasty will come to pass.

This verse is a reminder to us that the Messiah has come and in him is the victory. We can have confidence that God will indeed rise up and scatter the enemies. When Yeshua came he defeated sin and death in his own death and resurrection. When he appears again he will bring victory to the Jewish people over her enemies and he will be the final king of Israel.

What is of special interest to me is the fact that the words of Moses are repeated every week when we open the Aron HaKodesh. When we open the Ark we sing: Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said, “Rise up, O LORD! And let Your enemies be scattered, And let those who hate You flee before You.” (Num 10:35 NAU) Therefore every week we are reminded that we can still have confidence in God to bring his words to pass. As we lift the Torah out of the Ark we are reminded that his word abides forever and that the Messiah will return and bring the final peace to this world.
But there is more…

I find it amazing that after singing Numbers 10:35, we continue to sing…ki mitzion tetze torah… this is the last part of Isaiah 2:3 ” For the law will go forth from Zion And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. ” This verse is clearly a promise of messianic peace and faith. Evidently the Sages of old who organized this liturgy identified Numbers 10:35 as a verse that not only was about the wilderness wanderings but also applied to the victory of God in the end of days when the Messiah will bring peace and the Word of God will be the way of life of the world. What other reason could there be for placing these two verses together in such a prominent spot in the Torah service?

Every week therefore we sing…Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said, “Rise up, O LORD! And let Your enemies be scattered, And let those who hate You flee before You.” ” For the law will go forth from Zion And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. ”

The Rabbis (without realizing it) give us a great statement that we sing every week of messianic hope that has begun to be fulfilled in Yeshua! Indeed he has risen up and scattered the enemy. He goes before us and defeats the enemy so we can move forward in our journey. In Yeshua we have the assurance that the day will come when he will be bring peace to the world and his word will have universal acceptance.


Messianic Jewish Movement – end time revival? not today!

This past Shabbat in our Torah study we were talking about Bamidbar – the Torah portion of the week which spoke of the order of the tribes and the placement of the tabernacle as the children of Israel were preparing for their journey to Canaan. Somehow this led to a discussion of our role – that of the messianic Jewish movement – in bringing the word of God to the nations. Someone asked if the Messianic Jewish Movement is really an ”end time revival.” That is an idea that many people believe and propagate.
Personally I do not see the Messianic Jewish Movement as an end time revival. How could I say such a thing? Today the “Messianic Jewish Movement” seems to be more of a movement of Gentiles appreciating the Jewishness of the faith rather than a revival of Jewish people coming to faith in Yeshua. While the appreciation of the Jewishness of the faith is a good thing, that is not “revival.” According to the Scriptures, it is the embracing of Yeshua by the Jewish people that constitutes the end time revival. Today we are not seeing lots of Jewish people coming to faith – like we did in the 1970’s. (even then it was not huge numbers.) The term “messianic Jewish Movement” has been co-opted by many groups who consider themselves Jews but who are not Jewish as well as by groups that may not identify as Jews but who clearly are living like Jewish people. Sometimes this and of itself is cited as a sign of the imminent coming of the Messiah. However, the Scriptures are clear that it is the embracing of Yeshua by our people that is the “end time revival.” I am very appreciative of the Gentiles who are part of our congregation. We are indeed one in Messiah while we maintain our individual ethnic identities. At Beth Messiah we have spiritual Italians, spiritual African Americans, spiritual people of other ethnic backgrounds – and Spiritual Jewish people! Let us not forget our calling to reach the Jewish people with the Good News of Messiah Yeshua. Let us remember the words of Paul in Romans 11:13-15 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?


Reading the Bible from left to right

When Gabriel tells Miriam about Yeshua, he called him the one who will reign over the house of Jacob forever (Luke 1:33). When an Angel of the Lord tell Joseph about Yeshua, he calls him the one who will save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). Are these two different mutually exclusive callings? No! In the Tanach, the description of God as the one who removes sins is in the context of freeing the Jewish people to live in the way that he intended – safe, secure and at peace (i.e. psalm 103:3-5; Psalm 130.) Yeshua’s death and resurrection takes away our sins so that we can begin to live the way of life of the promised future Davidic kingdom. It is our inheritance for the future which can begun to be lived today. This is the Torah way of life. Paul calls it walking “in manner worthy of the calling”(Eph. 4:1). When we read the Bible from “left to right,” we learn the Way of the Lord as described in the Torah, summarized in the psalms and prophets, demonstrated by Yeshua in his life and teachings and taught to Gentiles by Paul.


Good News

When we repent of our sins and embrace the Messiah, we begin to live the life of the World to Come. That life can be described as living as those created in the likeness and image of God. This means embracing the values and virtues of Torah. The most basic value is that which Yeshua alluded to when asked what is the greatest commandment. He quoted a portion of the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:5 – love the Lord your God. He also said that the second greatest commandment is love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18). Therefore, we value loving God and loving people. A passion for these values bear the fruit of a robust and significant life. The rules of Torah serve as examples for us of how these values are lived out in real life. Even though the life that is described was lived thousands of years ago, the principles remain the same and therefore can be applied to our own world in the 21st century. When the New Covenant tells us to be kind to one another and to walk in love as Messiah loved us, we can find examples this life of self sacrifice from the Torah. For example, “You must not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind” and “You must not mistreat any widow or fatherless child” We learn from these verses that we need to serve those who are vulnerable in our community such as the disabled, poor and disenfranchised. In addition, we can apply this to all people. We should have an attitude of service to all people.T hese rules are not meant to be laws that are laborious and difficult. They become so when we do not embrace Torah values but simply treat these as laws unto themselves. But when we do desire to live as image bearers of God – loving god and loving others – and practice these values in our daily lives, the Ruach HaKodesh continues the inner transforming process and as a result we find great satisfaction in serving others. The good news is that this life – a life of loving god and ;loving others – is our destiny and inheritance in the World to Come and is available to us today in Messiah Yeshua. The result is a life of blessing and satisfaction.


Newtown and Psalm 113

We are all shocked and saddened by the horrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14th. Like most religious professionals, I had to quickly change my sermon for December 15th in order to address the situation from a spiritual perspective. I tried to bring both comfort as well as a challenge to our people. I used Psalm 113 as my text for the day.
Psalm 113

1 Praise the LORD!
Praise, O servants of the LORD,
Praise the name of the LORD.
2 Blessed be the name of the LORD
From this time forth and forever.
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting
The name of the LORD is to be praised.
4 The LORD is high above all nations;
His glory is above the heavens.

5 Who is like the LORD our God,
Who is enthroned on high,
6 Who humbles Himself to behold
The things that are in heaven and in the earth?
7 He raises the poor from the dust
And lifts the needy from the ash heap,
8 To make them sit with princes,
With the princes of His people.
9 He makes the barren woman abide in the house
As a joyful mother of children.
Praise the LORD!

The first part of the Psalm describes God as all powerful; above all nations and heavens. The second part describes God as humble and caring. The problem that many of us have is focusing on only one of these two overarching attributes of God. If we only focus on God as all powerful then we ask why God would allow such a tragedy. But if we focus only on the humility of God, we reduce him to a god who can do nothing but respond with comfort. When one reads the Bible, we see both sets of attributes in action. God is all powerful and does indeed intervene at various times. However at other times he responds with comfort, peace and hope. Like you and I, the people in the Bible cannot understand the ways of God. They, like us, respond to the situations of life with trust and faith. Tragedies test the metal of our faith. God understands this. He understands our frailty. He understands our doubts and our hurts. This almighty God who is above the heavens is the one who lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the ash heap. Believing this is what faith is all about. Like Job, we say, “I know my redeemer lives!” I do not understand why these tragedies happen but I know that the almighty God brings real comfort and peace. Comfort does not mean making everything all better. Comfort means helping people to work through the circumstances of life, no matter how bad they might be. God manifested his humility – his powerful concern for us – in the person of Yeshua the Messiah. Yeshua said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
When we embrace the Messiah we do not escape the issues of this life but we receive rest for our souls. We have an assurance of the constant presence and comfort of God in all circumstances now and beyond the grave. the Scriptures refer to this as an inheritance that awaits us.

As Messiah followers, we have a responsibility to stand in the gap – to bring the comfort of God to hurting people around us and to pray for those who are hurting so deeply.
May the God of all peace and comfort bring comfort to the families and all of the people in Newtown Connecticut. May God bring comfort to all people who are experiencing vicarious grief in this unspeakable tragedy.
I will close with Psalm 123 which speaks for itself
1 To You I lift up my eyes,
O You who are enthroned in the heavens!
2 Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to the LORD our God,
Until He is gracious to us.

3 Be gracious to us, O LORD, be gracious to us,
For we are greatly filled with contempt.
4 Our soul is greatly filled
With the scoffing of those who are at ease,
And with the contempt of the proud.