Shabbat, July 23, 2016
Faith, love, hope—these may seem like vague abstractions, but in the Word of God they are active and eternal realities and solid and stable foundation upon which we can build our lives, as a community. V’eemru? (And let us say?)
At the beginning of 1 Thessalonians, in verse 3, Sha’ul give thanks to God for the Thessalonians, for their “work of faith and labor of love and steadiness of hope in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah.”
Many people think of faith as a mental attitude and hope as little more than wishful thinking. Yet Sha’ul (known as Paul among the Gentiles) has a very Jewish understanding, which is why he give thanks for a “work of faith”—what can faith be a work, I though only Jacob (aka James) could say such a thing! No, Paul, no, how can faith be a work? Yet for Sha’ul as for Jacob, faith is so real that it inevitably produces works—he went far and wide proclaiming this faith, founding communities (like the Thessalonians) of transformed faith-filled and faithful believers in Messiah Yeshua.
Then Sha’ul writes of a “labor of love”—say, is this where we get the expression “labor of love”? But what is this “labor of love” if not something involving real effort and action, hear and now, yet also connected to the love of God that it produces fruit that lasts, eternally?
Third in the apostle’s triumvirate of virtues is “steadiness of hope.” What, hope isn’t wishful thinking, steady, reliable, durable; something we can build our lives and our community upon? Really?
Yes, really, reality—like a rock, only firmer. Because the stuff or substance of faith, love and hope is more real than all of our perceptions or passions or politics, all of which are fleeting and burned up like dry grass in a hot summer, or like drops of sweat evaporating into wisps of air.
But the Word of God endures forever—on this eternal reality we can work, we can labor, we can build. V’eemru?
Not with eyes opened by lids but eyes opened by faith in God’s Word do I see ultimate reality. What I see is Yeshua. I first saw Him about 44 years ago; I saw Him hanging on a cross, with sweat and blood dripping down his face, and He opened His mouth and roared! A roar that wasn’t audible yet piercing through my inner being, leaving an imprint that remains to this moment and forever.
At the time, though, I didn’t get it; I couldn’t fathom the reality of it yet. Yet I knew it was Jesus—yes, the One written about in this Book, though I hadn’t actually read the newer part yet.
When I eventually got around to it—after I had studied the older part, and began to see the theme of the suffering Messiah, whom David had seen in Psalm 22, whom Isaiah had seen in chapter 53, whom Zechariah saw in chapters 11 and 12, whom I saw, and crucially, which Yeshua experienced, excruciatingly, on a Passover nearly 2000 years ago, leaving an imprint that remains to this moment and forever on the soul of every person who looks upon Him—the One we each and all have pierced, with our many sins, so many—He took it all away, all our iniquity and all our shame, once and for all.
V’eemru? Have you seen Him on the tree? Have you experienced the reality of His removing all your iniquity and all your shame, once and for all? That was His work of faith and labor of love for you. Your work of faith begins with letting Yeshua take away your sin and your shame, once and for all. “Take it all, take it all, take it all, Lord! That’s why Romans 8:1 can say—and we can affirm—“There is no condemnation for those who in Messiah Yeshua.” V’eemru?
That’s what we remember at Shulkhan Adonai (the Table of the Lord)—faith is grounded in what we remember what really happened. Yet it is not just a memory, but a present reality, a relationship. It is a “work of faith” which becomes a “labor of love” when you obey Him, when you hear what He says (not with your physical ears but spiritual ears) and do it (or stop doing it).
When you keep hearing and obeying Him for a while, when you keep following Him, as you keep heeding the prompting of His Ruach and doing it, you will eventually realize that you are walking with Him, and Him with you, in the Way of Life—a path you can only perceive with spiritual eyes.
I remember when the Spirit of the Lord started speaking to me, “You should live in the Mansion.” If you’ve heard this story already, you know that it took me a couple of months even to recognize that it was actually God talking to me! Though I didn’t want to live in the Mansion, once I realized it was God talking to me, well, I did it! And it made it all the difference in my life. There I learned to stop sinning willfully, there I proposed to Pamela (because He told me to), there I experienced intentional community, where nearly 40 people loved one another, as a labor of love in Messiah, day by day serving and praying for one another—which also left an imprint that remains, forever.
After many years of walking with Him, now I can honestly say, my faith in Yeshua is a deep and abiding reality. I pray that all of you know Him thisway, too. Faith walked out becomes faithfulness. (Both the Hebrew word
emunah and the Greek word pistis mean both faith and faithfulness.)
Enduring emunah begins by remembering what He has done; it continues by hearing and obeying what He prompts you to do; it endures when you walk in His love, for you, and for His brothers and sisters, who are your brothers and sisters now, and forever. V’eemru?
Paul combines the words faith, hope and love many times. Later in 1 Thessalonians, 5:8, he says, “Let us put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” For Paul, these are spiritual armor that will protect us strengthen us against the wiles of the enemy as well as the weakness of our own flesh. So keep putting on this spiritual armor, every day. V’eemru?
In Galatians 5:5-6, Paul writes, “For through the Ruach, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness … faithfulness expressing itself through love.” Are you seeing that these three go together?
Of course, they go together most famously at the end of 1 Corinthians 13: “But now these three remain—faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.” Have you ever wondered why he says love is the greatest? One possibility is that faith and hope (like tongues and prophecy) are for this time, so that we may see as “in a mirror dimly,” but will pass away in eternity, when we see Him “face to face.”
As Bishop Wordsworth’s hymn puts it:
Faith will vanish into sight;
Hope be emptied in delight;
Love in heaven will shine more bright;
Therefore give us love.
Love is eternal; yet love is also very much present, here and now—the “labor of love” that we do now is transformed into eternal glory—the jewels and crowns that John sees in Revelation.
Another interesting question is why Paul winds up with “love” in Galatians and 1 Corinthians, but “hope” is 1 Thessalonians. David Stern, in his Jewish New Testament Commentary, suggests that “Sha’ul mentions hope at the end of the list in order to emphasize it, because a major problem in the Thessalonian Messianic community was misunderstanding the nature of our hope in the Messiah’s Second Coming, with impatience and laziness among the consequences.”
Sometimes when people hear that Messiah is coming soon, after a while they get impatient—why hasn’t He come already? Or, did we miss something? Instead, Paul urges the Thessalonians (and many others since them) to have a hope that is steady and steadfast. Because our hope is grounded in the eternal reality of Messiah, we can wait patiently. V’eemru?
Sometimes when people get lazy—why bother working, if Messiah is coming soon? To such as these, Paul gives this rule in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” Remember these words—before or after oneg!
At this time, I’d like to give a word of faith and hope about our labor of love—the building project. Last Shabbat, I informed those willing to linger and pray after oneg, that according to a price I got from another construction manager, we would need to raise about half a million dollars to complete the project.
After many years of waiting for us to start a building, some of you may have been tempted to despair. Did you know that despair is a temptation? Pamela knows. Shortly I proposed to her (and I took a long time to get around to that!), I had second thoughts. Was I really in love in her? Could I really marry someone so culturally different from me, and not Jewish? Expressing these feelings did not go over well with Pamela. Just then, Terry Tarrow happened to call her—Terry is also a Jewish believer. When he heard Pamela sniffling on the phone, though he didn’t know what had transpired, he gave her a word of knowledge, “Jewish men often have hang-ups… You’re being tempted to despair.” And then Pamela understood she just needed to put her trust—and her hope—in the Lord. (Terry Tarrow wound up becoming my best man.)
Despair (or giving up hope) is a trap of the Adversary. Don’t let that liar steal your hope—for our hope is in Messiah, faithful and true. God is good! (All the time!) Don’t His love endures forever! V’eemru?
Though we don’t know don’t how He will provide, there is a great cloud of witnesses saying He will!! All the One Voice pastors have repeatedy affirmed their confident faith—notably Pastor Ray Ricketts (who recently led Calvary Temple away from the brink of bankruptcy) and Pastor Jorge Novedo (who recently led Temple El Refugio to buy what used to be Calvary Baptist’s building in Bethlehem at exactly the price the Lord told him), and Ro’eh Todd Westphal (who recently led El Shaddai through their building project in Frederick, MD and is now leading a major expansion) have repeated their faith in this work, all since I received that price from the construction manager.
I have proposed building the Community House, using part of the first floor as a temporary sanctuary—and a step of faith towards completing the project, and a definite improvement over meeting here. A few of you have expressed concern, believing that we should honor God by building His House first. I will have more to say on that theme next Shabbat.
This project is a labor of love—especially for yours truly! Yet be in shalom and rest assured: Yeshua loves you, people of Beit Simcha, and I love you, much more than I love any building! Indeed, part of my pastoral concern is moving us our wilderness here to a better place. For now, the elders are waiting on the Lord for His direction—and I ask you to pray with us.
Meanwhile, I will gather more information from our construction manager, architect, bankers, etc. Lord willing, things will become clearer to us—
and then I will confer with you all, here, before the elders make any major decision.
I now believe that we are at this juncture in our long and winding road for a reason—because the Lord wants us all to clarify our vision for doing it. For the last month or so, the elders have been reviewing and revising how we describe the vision for our building project. Here’s what I wrote, with some input from Holly:
You have an important purpose. You are a part of something meaningful—an ancient hope will be fulfilled through you. Just as wild branches are grafted into an olive tree, you have been brought into the body of the Jewish Messiah—Yeshua. As Paul foresaw in Romans 11, now it’s time
for the wild branches—Jewish people—to be grafted back into their own ancient tree, their own heritage, in their own permanent Jewish space. Will you help?
We are Beit Simcha—a community welcoming Jews and Gentiles, rejoicing, worshipping the God of Israel, learning and loving one another. For nearly 25 years, we have been on a journey of persevering faith. Like the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness, our community has occupied many temporary places across the Lehigh Valley. Sharing buildings with others,
we’ve learned how to foster oneness and strengthen our mission—bringing our people into the Kingdom of Messiah Yeshua. Now our promised land is in sight. With God’s help—and yours–we are going to construct a permanent home.
Constructing our own Synagogue will enable us to create a permanent space where other Jews can join us comfortably. We believe that when Jews in our region hear that we are no longer “wandering Jews” (and Gentiles), it will create greater interest in our community. Our foyer will display Judaica and literature explaining the Messianic Jewish vision and the Good News. An ark with Torah scrolls will be on the stage, and a place for Messianic dance next to it. We will welcome guests to services on Friday evening events as well as Shabbat morning services, musical coffee houses Saturday evening, and a church partner on Sunday morning. It’s going to be a happening place! We just need your help to make it happen.
Constructing the Community House will establish an intentional community—like those that were crucial in sustaining the greatest movements of revival. A common room, into which doors from all the apartments will open, will be a place to gather seven days a week, for teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer (as in Acts 2:42).
The Holy Spirit wants us to re-open wells of revival that Zinzendorf and his followers dug in the Lehigh Valley: wells concerning the unity of all believers, intentional community which sustained the revivals in Acts and in our region, and reaching Jews with the Good News—for Yeshua has always loved His own people.
We hope that these things ring true for you, for our time. This move of the Holy Spirit in our region helped spur the Great Awakening, the American Revolution, and modern missions reaching all the nations of the earth A crucial difference is that in our time Israel is a nation in its own land, and Jewish and Gentile believers are ready to stand in unity–just as Yeshua prayed in John 17.
As we move forward with our building project in faith that God will provide, one by one He has removed every obstacle in our path. Now we’re reaching out to you for your prayers and financial support. Please consider making a donation or a pledge towards our efforts, so that together we may witness a revival among Jews and all who are searching for the Spirit and Truth. Go to beitsimcha.org/give-online to support us now. May the Lord Yeshua bless you and keep you!
That’s it. (Since giving this message, Donnie and I have produced a new video, which says things more succinetly (less than 3 minutes). If you like it, I urge you to share it with friends.
How many see why we hope to build both a Synagogue and Community House, together? How many are willing to persevere in this work of faith, this labor of love, this steady hope?
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!