Serving the needs of Messiah’s Holy Community and those outside the Faith

Good morning, and welcome to the sermon everybody dreads: what it means to serve. You’ll recall that last Shabbat I spoke about the amazing system of water cycles that Adonai has designed into Creation. Every lake and ocean in the world is both a repository and a tributary – receiving and sending water. That is, with one exception. There is one body of water that only receives and doesn’t give. It’s called the Dead Sea. Unless you want your spiritual life to resemble the Dead Sea, then it’s imperative that you not just receive, but also give and serve.

Last week we talked about the biblical basis – the foundation for serving God, and that foundation is summed up in the word gratitude. When you know how much you are loved, and how much you have been forgiven, and the fact that your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, you should be overwhelmed and humbled, and the natural response is to want to do something in return.

The first example of gratitude we considered was Isaiah, who in chapter 6 of his book of prophecy was ushered in a vision into the throne room of Heaven. When he beheld the holiness and majesty of the Creator, the prophet was awestruck with dismay at his own sin and depravity in light of the infinite purity of God. As far as he knew, he was as good as dead, and said so. But in that vision, an angel of the Lord took a coal from the altar, touched his lips, and Isaiah was declared forgiven and cleansed of his iniquity. And now he was awestruck with relief and gratitude. So when Adonai said He had a job and was looking for someone to send, Isaiah pulled an Arnold Horshack and eagerly volunteered to serve.

The second example of gratitude we considered was found in Luke chapter 8 – the Jewish man who was horribly possessed by the ‘legion’ of demons, who lived among the tombs in the Gerasene region on the eastern side of the Galilee. He could be heard at all hours of the day and night howling, and he was violent and was constantly cutting himself with stones. The demons gave him superhuman strength, and no one could successfully bind him with chains or leg irons – he would simply break them and run back to the hills and the tombs.

When Yeshua and His disciples arrived on the eastern shore of the Kinneret (Galilee), this man came running up and threw himself at Yeshua’s feet. The demons began speaking through the poor man, begging Yeshua not to send them out of the region, or to the abyss (which, they recognized, He had authority to do). They asked, instead, to at least be sent into a nearby herd of pigs. Yeshua granted that, and cast them out and they went into the pigs, who proceeded to rush into the water and drown themselves. Word of all this made its way into town, and the people came out and saw the drowned pigs, and there was the formerly violent, demon-possessed man, sitting there, clothed, calm and in his right mind. And they were terrified and, unfortunately, begged Yeshua to leave the region.

Meanwhile, the man himself begged Yeshua to let him go with Him. What a contrast! But who can blame the guy? After being set free from years of torment, out of deep gratitude, wouldn’t you want to stay right by the side of the One who rescued you? Wouldn’t you want to follow Him, learn from Him, serve Him?

But Yeshua had other plans for this man. So remarkable a deliverance was this, that by returning home and proclaiming what God did for him, many more people would become Yeshua’s disciples and experience salvation, and the light of the Lord would spread in this once-dark, demonic region. What I appreciate is the obedience and zeal with which the man complied. I’m sure he was disappointed at not being allowed to go with Yeshua, but his obedience proved his love for Him.

These are two quintessential examples of what it means to serve from a foundation of gratitude. Now, this morning we’ll consider the many opportunities before you to serve. We’ll talk about serving within Messiah’s Community, and we’ll talk about serving those who are still outside the Faith. But first, I want to talk to you about a very, very significant Hebrew word you should know.

Avodah – an important word!

(Translated alternately as: worship, work and service)

This word has a wide semantic range, reflecting the biblical understanding that we cannot compartmentalize our lives. Your devotional world, your hobbies, your career, your family, the handling of your finances, the upkeep of your home, your interaction with friends, neighbors, strangers are all intertwined. Try as you might to exclude Him from certain areas of your life, God will be nothing less than Sovereign in everything.

So, for example, coming here to sing songs of praise to Adonai, and to bring Him your tithes and offerings, and to listen to the words of Scripture and be challenged and learn; the encouragement we give one another – all that is considered avodah. In this sense, ‘worship’.

But so is getting up in the morning and going to work. The job you have, whether or not you enjoy it, whether or not you and your boss get along, whether or not you feel ‘fulfilled’ – it’s also avodah. The tasks you perform at work, or the things you build, or the meetings you facilitate – they all fall under that same category of avodah. In this sense, ‘work’.

The over-and-above finances you give, the time you sacrifice, the energy you expend, the inconvenience you willingly take on, the skills you have that you generously allow to bless others without expectation of payment or accolades; this is also considered avodah; because the word also means ‘service’. Anything you do that costs you or in some way inconveniences you for the sake of someone else is part of that avodah concept.

In fact, that is arguably the most significant aspect of what avodah is all about; since Messiah Yeshua said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” If we are willing to serve one another, we demonstrate our love for Messiah.

The root of Avodah is $”3 (eved), translated “servant”. King David’s grandfather was named Obed, which means ‘servant’. The prophet Obadiah’s name mean’s ‘servant of the Lord’. It is possible that the word ‘obedient’ retained most of its Hebrew root, since obedience implies working for or serving someone.

Principles of service:

  1. Serve according to the need (not just your preference)

One of the principles of serving others is to help in the way that the help is needed, as opposed to helping the way you feel like helping. Let me illustrate this. Many years ago, I was a patient at a cancer research hospital in Southern California. One day during a follow-up visit, I saw that there was construction going on for what would be a new $3 million wing for the hospital. My oncologist privately lamented to me that the hospital didn’t need a new wing; what they really needed was money to purchase the medicines they needed to pursue new approaches to defeating cancer. But the family that donated the $3 million did so with the stipulation that it was to build a new wing that would bear the family’s name. That’s not helping according to the need.

  1. Serve in a meaningful wat (not just sentimentally)

It isn’t enough to just have good wishes for people. If you are in a position to help, then you should help. And it should be in a tangible way. James (2:15-16) wrote,

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

For example, a missionary comes and presents their intention of going to Nepal to preach the Gospel, and they need to raise monthly financial support. You give them a backpack. A backpack is good. What they need is financial support.

Or, closer to home, a member of the congregation needs a ride. You tell them you’ll be praying for them. Prayer is good. But they need a ride. If you can’t pick them up because of where they live, how about making a few phone calls to people who live closer to them, and maybe arranging a ride for them?

Some of the present needs here at Congregation Shema Yisrael

  • Volunteers who love children and understand the great potential of helping nurture them in the faith to help our Shabbat School program (talk to Jerry)
  • Additional singers and a drummer for the Worship Team (talk to me)
  • More people to participate in evangelistic outreaches (just show up!)
  • More people willing to help with set up / clean up at our Onegs
  • People willing to be part of a team visiting those who are sick/hospitalized

The main point here is that each of us be intentional: give conscious thought to how you can personally help strengthen Messiah’s Community; then take the initiative to find that place of service where your gifting beautifully matches a need, and step into that void and fill it.

Don’t be like so many today in the Body of Messiah, who are content to sit back and treat the Faith as though it’s a spectator sport; you know – drop a few bucks in the offering and sit back and tell themselves that those things are the pastor’s job. Did you know that, according to Scripture, ministry isn’t primarily the job of the Pastor/Messianic Rabbi. Equipping you for ministry is the primary job of the Pastor/Messianic Rabbi!

Ephesians 4:11-12

It was he (God) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Messiah may be built up.

Now let me say that, by and large, I know I’m preaching to the choir this morning. Those of you who have become members of Congregation Shema Yisrael first spent a good amount of time getting to know us, our beliefs, how we approach the Scriptures, our dedication to teach and preach God’s Word and honor God’s Son through our conduct and our service, and what our priorities and expectations are.

But there are a fair number of people here on any given Thursday evening for Bible study, or on any given Shabbat, who aren’t members of Shema; whose membership is at another church. There are many people who like to come to our services and Bible studies to supplement their learning. And we make it a point to welcome all people to worship and learn with us.

But those who are not members, who have no particular commitment to this local body, are less likely to serve. In fact, let me be candid here, and say that far too many people aren’t members of any local congregation; declining to enter into covenant relationship anywhere. They choose to remain perpetually ‘free agents’ – going from place to place, but committing to none of them; accountable to no one.

The ‘church-hopping’ and revolving-door syndrome in the Body of Messiah today is one of the things that really breaks my heart. The lack of commitment and the disdain for accountability has left the Church in these Last Days a mile wide but only about two inches deep. There is so much immaturity. And we are called to do and to be so much better than that. We are called to a genuine walk with Yeshua, as His disciples.

I think perhaps some of you need to re-evaluate your reluctance to go deeper with the Lord, and your reluctance to roll up your sleeves and get to work building up Messiah’s Holy Community through the gifts and talents and resources Adonai has given you. Look around you, and if you are paying attention you will see a pattern: those who have the most vibrant walks with the Lord, and the most joy in their lives, are the same people who are most willing to serve. The two go together.

As we come to the close of this message, let me share a few passages of Scripture to encourage us all to find a place of service.

For we are His workmanship; created in Messiah Yeshua for good works, which God prepared beforehand, so that we would walk in them (Ephesians 2:10)

Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 10:12)

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. (Galatians 5:13)

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Messiah you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)

We said it last Shabbat, and I’ll repeat it today: If you are grateful for what Yeshua has done for you, you should want to serve Him, you should want to follow Him, and you should want to tell everyone about Him!

The Lord God of Israel is calling, and the only question is whether you will respond as Isaiah did – Hineni!

May each of us be able to pray this prayer:

“Here am I. Lord, I am ready and eager to serve You, both in this community in which You’ve planted me, and to serve those outside the Faith. May my service be pleasing to You, since in serving others, I am really serving Messiah Yeshua. Help me to serve You out of gratitude, and with a cheerful heart. And please use me, Father, to be a good-will ambassador, so that many more will come into Your wonderful and eternal Kingdom!”