Shabbat, January 9, 2016

The kingdom of heaven expands—on earth, the energy of this expansion is not in isolation, but when people connect in communities, and when communities connect with other communities. V’eemru?

Yeshua emphasized the expansive energy of the kingdom. In Luke 13:18-19, for example, He illustrates the kingdom with two parables: So Yeshua was saying, “What is the kingdom of God like? To what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and dropped into his own garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”

Though a seed is small, it can grow into a tree with many branches, blessing many birds—& people, too.

Yeshua said further, in Luke 13:20-21, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like hametz, which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”  Just a little chametz (yeast) can multiply so that it leavens all the dough. So Yeshua envisions the kingdom of heaven expanding till it covers the earth as the waters cover the sea. Amen! Our Father, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven! V’eemru?

Among people, kingdom expansion usually happens when they connect in communities.

So we read in Acts 2:46-47, “Day by day they continued with one mind, spending time at the Temple and breaking bread from house to house. They were sharing meals with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord was adding to their number those being saved.”

Awesome! Now what was happening was more than our oneg. First, 120 disciples had come together as a community in fervent prayer, for the Lord to fulfill His promise to pour out the Ruach on them. As soon as that happened, 3000 Jews from all over the world heard the Good News and joined them! Awesome!

All these new believers were connected to each other by “breaking bread from house to house”—breaking bread is an expression of covenant community—they said the blessing of ha-motzi and celebrated the New Covenant the Messiah Yeshua had given them by His death and resurrection.

They were also connected to the wider community—“spending time at the Temple”—the center of worship for the whole community of Israel. So we see that the new community of Yeshua-believers was not isolated, for they remained connected with the wider community.

So “the Lord was adding to their number those being saved”—both the vibrant life of the house-to-house community and their commitment to the wider community were essential to this kingdom expansion.

In Acts 5:42, continues this configuration of communities connecting house to house and to the Temple: “So every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming Yeshua as the Messiah.”

As days and years passed, the disciples continued both to connect both with the Temple and in their house-to-house fellowship.

When the apostles planted new communities throughout Judea (Lydda, Joppa, Caesarea…) and Samaria, they kept them connected with the mother congregation in Jerusalem and with each other.

When congregations formed outside the land, this pattern continued—for example the community of Antioch received emissaries from Jerusalem, sent Barnabus to Tarsus to connect with Shaul/Paul, and then went Barnabus and Paul out to plant new communities in Cyprus and Asia Minor—and these emissaries always came back to Antioch, and also were sent back to Jerusalem for the momentous counsel of Acts 15, dealing with the status of Gentile believers in Messiah.

In Romans 15:19, within a generation of the resurrection, Paul was able to boast, “in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit of God, from Jerusalem and around even to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the Good News of Messiah.”

Illyricum was north of Greece and Macedonia—in more recent times the region was called Yugoslavia—it was a long walk from Jerusalem, over 1000 miles! And Paul and the other apostles weren’t sightseeing. Everywhere they went, they planted communities of households—and connected the communities to each other to Jerusalem.

Romans 15:25-26, “Now I am going to Jerusalem, bringing aid to the kedoshim. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the believers in Jerusalem.”

Indeed, Paul made a point of re-visiting all the communities He had planted, in Greece and Asia Minor, and gathering a collection of offerings to bring to the believers in Jerusalem. So in 1 Corinthians 16:1-3, he instructs the community planted there, “Now concerning the collection for the kedoshim, as I directed Messiah’s communities in Galatia, you do likewise. On the first day of the week, let each of you set something aside, saving up whatever is gained, so no collections take place when I come. Then whenever I arrive, I will send whomever you approve with letters of introduction to carry your gift to Jerusalem.”

Pushky boxes for offeringsPaul wanted the local communities to be mindful about this collection—not just when he came, but every week—so that they would always have the covenant connection with all of Messiah’s communities on their hearts, in their prayers, and in their pushky boxes.

How many of you see that the early movement emphasized the connectedness of the communities? How many of you see that this connectedness empowered the expansion of the kingdom? Lord, we want to see it this dynamic empowerment here, in our day! V’eemru? Your kingdom come!

Look around! It’s happening! I’m involved in it all the time—and in different ways, you can be, too.

Tomorrow morning I fly to Kansas City for a meeting of the Tikkun America TikkunAAT-Jan2016Apostolic Team. There I‘ll meet our shaliach or apostolic leader, Dan Juster along with Ben Juster, Tikkun’s Director of Operations—both Dan and Ben are coming from Jerusalem—imagine that! Just like in Acts! After all, Isaiah 2:3 says (and we say when we take the Torah scroll out of the ark): For Torah will go forth from Zion and the word of Adonai from Jerusalem.” So it is fulfilled—in our day!

Tikkun, for those who may not know—means restore, and our vision is the restoration of all things, including a Messianic Jewish five-fold apostolic network connecting congregations together. Tikkun began over 30 years ago in the Washington-Baltimore area, with Dan Juster, Andrew (Eitan) Shishkoff, and Keith (Asher) Intrater covenanting together—and sending Keith Intrater off to plant El Shaddai in Frederick; Moshe Morrison planted Rosh Pina near Baltimore, Michael Rudolph and Ralph Finley planted Ahavat Yeshua (Love of Yeshua) in D.C.

Now the network has nearly 20 congregations from Long Island to Southern California. Half a dozen congregational leaders from all over the country will join Dan and Ben to strategize the expansion of the communities in our network, including new congregations in South Florida, Arizona and North Carolina (which Avi & Tzofiya recently planted).

Tikkun America isn’t just for leaders. Many of us got to hear Dan Juster teach in November, about approaches to Rabbinic Judaism at a Tikkun Institute at Jack Jacobs’ congregation in New City—could those who went raise their hands? Could anyone who thought it was cool to hear Dan’s teaching there shout “Amen”? Next time Dan comes by, I hope more of you will join us—after all, Acts 20:17 tells us when Paul was on his way to Jerusalem, that he invited folks from Ephesus and the surrounding area to meet him on the island of Miletus—and I believe the drive to New City is shorter and less precarious than the sail to Miletus.

Another opportunity to connect with our communities is our Tikkun America RESTORE Conference, for which I serve as chairperson—please put the weekend of June 3-5 in your calendar. Our theme will be Sh’ma! (How then shall they hear?) and our speakers (which include Ron Cantor from Israel and Sid Roth from New York) will teach us how we can proclaim the good news to those who will hear. Y’all come!

Tikkun America also sends apostolic teachers to us—Todd Westphal came in November—how many of you agree that He blessed and encouraged us?

This past week I participated in three different gatherings:

Thursday I went to One Voice—where we have been praying unity for years,and I led a discussion about recent breakthroughs. Pastor Jack Groblewski has more than once noted that 30 years ago, churches in the Lehigh Valley saw each as competition, but now there is a spirit of cooperation.

Wednesday I went to Share the Power—a gathering of ministry leaders that began less than a year before Beit Simcha—Share the Power celebrates its 24th anniversary this spring and Beit Simcha celebrates its 25th anniversary next January—wouldn’t it be awesome if we could celebrate it in our new building? Lord, may it be so! V’eemru? Amayn! Scott Wilson joined me—since he is a Messianic Intern with me—Scott could you share a bit about it?

At One Voice, Dick Kovach (who leads Share the Power) shared about how awesome it was to hear all the prayers going up from about 10 groups of leaders in the room. How many hear an echo of Acts and the believers praying from house to house?

Monday I went to a Clergy Colloquy sponsored by the Institute of Jewish-Christian Understanding.
Nancy had told me about it and Dr. Peter Pettit, Director of the Institute has welcomed me warmly. We meet at Knesset Israel (KI), the Reform Jewish Synagogue next to Muhlenberg College.

Our topic was a recent “Orthodox Rabbinic Statement on Christianity.” The statement begins: “After nearly two millennia of mutual hostility and alienation, we Orthodox Rabbis who lead communities, institutions and seminaries in Israel, the United States and Europe recognize the historic opportunity now before us. We seek to do the will of our Father in Heaven by accepting the hand offered to us by our Christian brothers and sisters. Jews and Christians must work together as partners to address the moral challenges of our era.” It’s remarkable that such a statement could come out, signed by nearly 50 Orthodox Rabbis! Isn’t it?

At our Colloquy, Rabbi Michael Singer of Brit Shalom in Bethlehem noted that in the Jewish world who signs is as important as whet they signed—these are all modern Orthodox rabbis, as opposed to ultra-Orthodox rabbis who control the Rabbinate in Israel, and who are much less conciliatory.

Nevertheless, such a statement is significant—and as they note, it is a response to the hand offered by Christians, in the aftermath of the Shoah (Holocaust)—in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant streams. The Vatican also issued a statement on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of a statement called radically altered Catholic treatment of Jews, by among other things rejecting Replacement Theology and respecting the covenants God made with Israel as eternal. Since then,  Popes have prayed at the Western Wall and visited Yad Vashem and Auschwitz, and Catholic leaders have joined others in meeting with Messianic Jewish leaders (including Dan Juster) in a ministry of reconciliation called Toward Jerusalem Council II (TJCII).

Here’s another excerpt from the Orthodox Rabbinic Statement: “As did Maimonides and Yehudah Halevi, we acknowledge that Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations. In separating Judaism and Christianity, G-d willed a separation between partners with significant theological differences, not a separation between enemies. Rabbi Jacob Emden wrote that “Jesus brought a double goodness to the world.  On the one hand he strengthened the Torah of Moses majestically… and not one of our Sages spoke out more emphatically concerning the immutability of the Torah. On the other hand he removed idols from the nations and obligated them in the seven commandments of Noah….”

Such talk about Judaism and Christianity as partners rather than enemies is a breakthrough. V’eemru? How much more, acknowledging the goodness of Yeshua as well as His faithfulness to Torah? For as Yeshua said in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Torah or the Prophets!
I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.”

In case you’re wondering about the seven commandments of Noah, in the late second century, Mishnaic Rabbis inferred them from Genesis 9:4-6, when God made a covenant with Noah, the ancestor of all the nations. So these seven Noachide laws are a baseline for righteous Gentiles:

  1. Do not deny God.
  2. Do not blaspheme God’s name
  3. Do not murder.
  4. Do not engage in immoral sexual acts.
  5. Do not steal.
  6. Establish courts/legal system to ensure obedience to the law.
  7. Do not eat flesh of a live animal.

In Acts 15:29, Jacob (James) issues a partial precursor of this list by requiring Gentile believers to “abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.”

While I don’t necessarily think Jacob’s list is the same as the Noachide laws (for one thing, Jacob doesn’t mention Noah, and for another, his concern was with enabling table fellowship between Gentile believers and kosher, Torah-observant Jewish believers.

The Orthodox Rabbinic statement doesn’t mean they are going to eat cheeseburgers with Christians (or even kosher hot dogs)!It means, hey, we can be talk at Clergy Colloquies and other such forums and partner is doing righteous deeds for good social causes.

Then Rabbi Singer waxed warmly about the collegiality of leaders in the Lehigh Valley. Not only do we have the Clergy Colloquy, Rabbi Singer noted that our region is unusual in that Jews from all streams—Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and maybe even Reconstructionist, treat each other collegiality. In most other places, Synagogues often see each other as competition. (At this point I recalled what Pastor Jack Groblewski had said at One Voice.)

Hence the well-known joke about a Jew who was found stranded alone on an island. When he was rescued, they asked him why had set up two little synagogues for himself. He explained, “That’s simple: One is the one I attend, and the other is the one I don’t attend!”

Yet here in the Lehigh Valley, all streams get together for various events, including one that they are planning soon at Sons of Israel, the Orthodox Synagogue in Allentown.

Afterwards, I approached Rabbi Seth Phillips of KI, asking if I come to this gathering at Sons of Israel. Rabbi Seth said, “Well, wear your kippah and you probably don’t want to talk too much, but sure, I’ll send you details.”

Then I wrote to Peter Pettit, thanking him for his work with the IJCU and for welcoming me and to get Rabbi Seth’s email. I told them both this story” “I thought it might be helpful if I let you know that Rabbi Wilensky already knows me.  It turns out we met recently when he was repairing the Eruv on a utility pole at a corner of my house’s lot. [I should explain than an Eruv defines an area in which Orthodox Jews are allowed to carry burdens on Shabbat as if they weren’t they were in their own house—such as infants.] I introduced myself as the leader of Beit Simcha.  He was surprised, but then curious, asking me questions, about whether I was raised Jewish (yes) and how I came to believe what I do (of course I was delighted to share about that). I then asked him if would mind if I visited Sons of Israel sometime, mentioning that I’ve actually done so, a while ago—again he was surprised, but I assured him that I don’t come to proselytize but out of interest in his community.  He welcomed me to come and we shook hands.”

Both Rabbi Phillips and Dr. Pettit were glad to hear it. Rabbi Phillips provided me the details, and Pamela and I plan to attend—with the understanding that we’ll need to sit in separate sections for men and women, separated by a low mechitza or fence.

Myself, I think it’s remarkable that a Messianic Rabbi should be welcome at an Orthodox congregation for a gathering of all the Jewish streams. Rabbi Seth did say I shouldn’t expect Rabbi Wilensky to introduce me from the bimah—not a problem! I expect many folks there will know who I am….

I believe these things are a fruit of much prayer—todah rabbah to intercessors who persevere!  A pastor at the Clergy Colloquy even noted that the Lehigh Valley is unusual in that the Sunni and Shiite Moslems also get along together! Well! How about that? Who knew?

Now, as Nancy Hahn has told us in several prophetic messages, the possibility of such collegiality rather than conflict between religious leaders was the vision of William Penn, when he founded the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Count Von Zinzendorf, when he sent Moravian missionaries to set up communities in Bethlehem, Nazareth and Emmaus.

The sons of Penn betrayed his vision, and ashes of the industrial age buried the spirit of the Moravian communities. But as Nancy also prophesied, now the time has come to dig open the wells that were blocked up. As Nancy said to us in the summer of 2010, The Lord “wants to see One New Man: Jew and Gentile united in Messiah, so you’re a vital key to drawing upon these ancient wells and bringing forth the redemptive calling in Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley…. . Therefore this Messianic Congregation is a vital key in God’s plan for bringing forth and continuing to bring forth, drawing from these ancient wells…. You are small compared to Gentile congregations in the Valley but that doesn’t matter. Israel is small, but is a key to the world and to the end times. Likewise, the Lord said to me that you, this congregation, are a key to releasing revival and in unclogging the ancient wells in the Valley and in our State, which will join in the entire movement in the nation and the world…”

Since Nancy gave this word, I believe we are growing in our vision for community & our commitment to prayer for unity. V’eemru? Watch out, explosive expansion of the Kingdom is at hand!

Though you all may not participate in all the pastors’ gatherings and colloquies, you can uphold me together with all these leaders in prayer (todah!), and you can also participate in other gatherings.

You can reaffirm your commitment to our havurah (fellowship) groups, bible studies & strategic prayer centers.

The Institute of Jewish-Christian Understanding has many public events at Muhlenberg—Jeannie Perch goes to many of them. Just enter to learn more about it.

Or Pamela can forward anyone who asks her email subscription to HaKol, from the Jewish Federation. Jewish Family Services can needs volunteers to serve poor or elderly Jews.

You can support our building project, both in your prayers and your offerings. Why do I mention the building project? I believe our new building will both strengthen our community as well as our connections with the other communities in the Lehigh Valley and beyond.

Constructing our own Synagogue will enable us to create a space where other Jews (and Gentiles) can join us comfortably, from Erev Shabbat through Sunday morning, Constructing the Community House will enable us to be more intentional about our vision for a community, welcoming others to experience Erev Shabbat dinners, havurah, prayer and Bible study meetings, and Shacharit (morning) prayer services, all to be held in a common room attached to the Community House and open to the public.

I have good news: slowly but surely, we’re wending our way to our goal. Wood Corporate’s attorney finally gave us a letter permitting work on their side of Grange Rd and pledged to donate $5,000. This week I met with our architect & engineer to firm up our Mechanical/Engineering/Plumbing design, so that we can start soliciting bids from Construction Managers next week. Pray that we get a really good bid from the right Construction Manager—the one God has for us!

Also pray that the finances will come in as needed. As I said at the Share the Power meeting, “I can with confidence say that God always pays his bills on time. However, He doesn’t pay them early! (So why should I complain; I don’t pay my bills early either!)”

Keep praying for more breakthroughs…. Yeshua is the Master of Breakthroughs!

God willing and providing, we’ll break ground in the spring…. God willing—I said at the Share the Power meeting—Beit Simcha will be able to host a Share the Power gathering in 2017. When I said that, a great roar went up there! How about a great roar here?

Keep praying for breakthroughs! On this road, I’ve learned you have to take one step of faith at a time, and do a lot of praying for each step. So let’s pray….

This sermon may not to be reprinted in whole or in part without the express written consent of Messianic Rabbi Glenn D. Blank of Beit Simcha.  Your generous support for our ministry and building project is appreciated!

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