Saturday, March 9, 2013

Beit HaMashiach Massianic Congregation

Shabbat Shalom my friends!

Today my search for people who live like Jesus did took me to a special congregation. These people live more like Jesus than any other church I've visited - how so you ask?

They're Jewish - just like Jesus was. 

Their mission is to build a messianic community of Jews and Gentiles who are living testimony for Messiah Yeshua* (Jesus Christ). They are Jewish people, who believe Yeshua was the messiah, and the fulfillment of the prophecies of the old testament. I began this journey because I thought the modern Christian church had lost its way, and the idea of taking it right back to the very first concept of the church post-Jesus was an opportunity I couldn't miss. 

I was fifteen minutes early to the church, but had no trouble finding my way in - people were flocking into the place. They were dressed in colour (I'd been nervous they might have worn more traditional Jewish atire and my flower leggings would cause a stir) and were happy and alive. Some of the men were wearing yamakas - but it didn't seem like a dress code. I was offered a newsletter at the door by a smiling Greek woman and took this moment to address my biggest mistake of the morning - I'd forgotten my notebook. 

I told the woman I liked to take notes during the service, but I'd left my journal at home. I asked if there would be any scrap paper I could borrow?

Why yes, she said - I can go get you some. But I can't leave the door. Could you hand these out?

I gladly took her newsletters and proceeded to welcome the congregation and hand them a newsletter, while she gathered me up some loose papers. No one batted an eyelid or questioned who the girl in the doorway handing out newsletters was. I was instantly accepted as normal. 

I thanked her kindly and as I entered the sanctuary I was welcomed by another lady in a colourful blouse. She asked what had led me to their congregation and I explained that I was interested in the teachings of Jesus but I feared the modern church was occasionally misguided.

"Westernised," she agreed. 

A man walked past and shook our hands with a "Shabbat Shalom" and my friend explained to me this was the sabbath greeting. 

About that - I said - why do you have church on a Saturday? She explained that the seventh day is a Saturday, but the Christian church has westernised their sabbath. She added that it really doesn't matter to God anyway, if He was bothered by things like that we'd never hear from Him. 

I took a seat up the back and cursed myself for not bringing a fan. This room was hot, and filling up fast. It was going to be another uncomfortable morning. 

The service began with a song. It was in Hebrew. The band was made up of a keyboard player, an acoustic guitar and a small wooden recorder. The vocalist had quite possibly the most stunning singing voice I have ever heard, but in total humility, she sang only to her Messiah. There was a circle of women and small children up the front dancing and the happiness in the room was tangible

After the song, the Massianic Rabbi, Lawrence, invited the congregation to share "Shabbat Shalom" which I then naively realised was their equivalent of "peace be with you". People didn't get out of their seats and make a huge deal of this like they had at St John's, but again the gesture was beautiful.

Lawrence was a natural leader, he was very comfortable in front of his congregation. He was relaxed, funny and controlled. He led his people through some prayers and acapella songs, all in Hebrew, before we returned to the praise music, again in Hebrew.

I was taken back by how truly wonderful it was to hear the words of Jesus being spoken in his own language, and in turn, how lovely it was to sing back to him this way. The overhead provided the translation, so you weren't praising in ignorance, but it was making again an effort to be as Christ-like as possible.

By this time in the worship a string section had appeared, a cello and violin were adding to the glorious sound being made by these musicians. The room was filling up with worship, singing and dancing, nothing was for show - but everything was beautiful. I found myself getting caught in the worship. It was quite a spiritual moment for me. Maybe this could be the place where tradition and spirituality align.

During the announcements made by Louise, Lawrence's wife, she discussed the issue of yamakas. She had been walking around during the music offering them to the men to wear. She said that while they were under no obligation to do so, could they consider wearing a yamaka when they come to the service to make their visitors feel more comfortable. She said they have a lot of traditional visitors who may take offence to seeing men with their heads uncovered, and she would always have spares every week if anyone would like to borrow one for the service. I felt she handled this in the most perfect way. I have old, old memories of my congregants back in Tassie being told they had to "dress nice, wear suits" to a particular event our church was hosting for the community. Some of our congregants didn't have suits, and as a result, felt separated from their own church, and couldn't attend the event. I loved her opening - with no obligation to do so - and offered to provide for people who couldn't/didn't have their own. No judgement, no expectation, only love for her congregation and her visitors.

It was a very interactive service for the next while, we blessed the children, met a new congregant and an old one who was visiting, we watched a DVD of some members recent mission trip to India and were played a song from the very eccentric, very passionate David.

David was prophesying about the movements of the spirit of God in the world. He used words like "revival" that I haven't heard in years, and was getting quite worked up. I was watching Lawrence during this slightly uncomfortable outburst of David's. I couldn't tell if he was okay with it. He had invited him up to share his song, but he looked concerned. Maybe this was just his regular face, but I knew if it was my church, I'd be wanting to take control back pretty quickly. There did seem to be a bit of an "open floor" policy going on, which I wasn't expecting to find in this church. For as traditional as its teachings appeared to be, it was so relaxed, so comfortable. People seemed empowered. I guess having an occasional member get a little over excited is the pay off.

Lawrence's sermon was from Matthew 3:1-17. He did something totally unique with his message, something I'd never seen done before. He taught the bible - nothing more, nothing less. He simply read the passage, and explained it. There was no moral to his story, no anecdote, no topic. In fact, over the year he'd been teaching the entire book of Matthew. Verse by verse. He told his congregations what the different interpretations of different scriptures could be, suggested which he thought seemed most likely, but encouraged people to study for their own interpretations. It was a history lesson, but it was well done, intelligent and no nonsense

However, I need to be honest and tell you exactly what I'd written in my notes at this point. 

Service is too long, auditorium is too hot

I was getting cranky. All my spiritual feelings had melted away. The heat was making me yawn, the pews were hurting my back and I stank of my own sweat. I was ready to leave now, but the service showed no signs of being over. Even at Uni we got a ten minute break in during our lectures. I needed a break. I needed water and I needed air. 

I'm going to come back in winter

I was seriously about to cave and give in when Lawrence closed the meeting, inviting anyone who needed prayer to come to the front. We closed with the same happy Shabbat Shalom song we'd opened with. I really did like the music here. I had a feeling God would too. 

I waited until almost everyone had left the sanctuary before I accepted no one was going to come say hello to me. Plenty of people saw me, made eye contact, but kept about their thing. The main difference I'm finding between "traditional" churches and more modern churches is the way the handle visitors. They're not looking for numbers, for a new member of the gang. They are kind and welcoming, but they're not rostering on someone who's job it is to say hi to me. I'm okay with this, because it seems more genuine, but I really like getting to meet and chat with people after. 

I took myself to the tea room, because I wasn't going anywhere until I'd drunk some water, and I wandered awkwardly around the hundred or so people there talking amongst themselves. Eventually one lady came over to me and asked who I was. We found common ground in my Pentecostal background, her two sons were in the Pentecostal church so we chatted for a few minutes, until she excused herself. 

"Sorry. I've got to catch up with some other people" and she left me, alone again. I was pretty bummed I didn't get to talk to anyone else after the service. I wanted to tell them all how much I loved it - how I felt connected to something I hadn't in years. But they wanted to eat cake and chat to each other. I can't blame them, I don't normally like meeting new people either - but I was disappointed

Oh - I can't finish this report until I quote a bit from the church's newsletter - after "Our Mission" is a heading "Our Core Values" and just under Preeminence of Messiah was this value:

We believe that love must undergird all aspects of our ministry and community.

Is it possible that I've found a church, who deliver much of their service in Hebrew, speaking my language?

Guess I'm going back in winter to find out.


*The name Yeshua is used by followers of Messianic Judaism who wish to use what they consider to be Jesus' Hebrew or Aramaic name.

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