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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Allen Jackson » Allen Jackson - The Importance of Community

Allen Jackson - The Importance of Community

Allen Jackson - The Importance of Community
TOPICS: Community

But I lived in Israel for a while, while we studied at Hebrew University and I had to learn new holidays. It's a secular Jewish state. It's not a religious state. You know, one of the questions through the ages is what makes you Jewish? And that has really varied depending on the circumstances of the Jewish people. You know, at one point in the unfolding story of the Bible, to be Jewish meant you lived in the land of Israel and you worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So it was about location. But when the Jewish people were exiled, and then the sacrifices could no longer be offered and the temple was destroyed, how did you understand your Jewishness? Then it became about descent, about your DNA. And then there's the Jewish religion.

So it's a more complex question if we're not... Israel, modern-day Israel, is a secular Jewish state, which means there are some people there who have a great faithfulness to the Lord and there are some people there who have hearts a long way away from him, and Tel Aviv is the gay capital of Europe, second largest city in Israel. But their holidays are different. And the Jewish New Year, the Jewish community doesn't follow the same calendar that we do. We're on a solar calendar, the earth's rotation around the sun. The Jewish community follows a lunar calendar, which is slightly different. And so, their calendar dates are different and their New Year celebration is different. Their New Year celebration in 2023 will be in September.

And the Jewish New Year celebration is called Rosh Hashanah. It's the beginning of their high holy days. In our calendar, it's in the beginning of that fall window, usually somewhere in the middle of September, towards the end of that. And Rosh Hashanah is followed by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is the holiest day of the year in Israel. And Yom Kippur is a somber day. It's a sober day. The nation fasts. Even the secular portions of the nation will, at least, in public fast. There's no food available, I mean, the restaurants are closed, the stores are closed. For many years, we would travel to Israel for a portion of the high holy days.

And I was there one year for Yom Kippur and I hadn't been there when we were staying in hotels. I'd lived there through that, but I thought, and we were staying in a lovely hotel. I thought, "Well, they'll be some food available for the goyim, the non-Jews". Was I wrong. And not everybody traveling with me wanted to observe Yom Kippur so we had to find some place other than a Jewish establishment in order to get some groceries. I mean, there weren't crackers.

So Yom Kippur, and then that's followed for the high holy days by Sukkot which is the Feast of Tabernacles. And the Feast of Tabernacles is an annual celebration remembering the time through the wilderness when they lived in the tabernacles. They didn't have homes yet. They were moving from Egypt to Israel. And if you're in Jerusalem, you'll see on all the patios and even in the restaurants, they'll make a sukkah, they'll take palm fronds and weave together a roof and they'll decorate it with lights and some special ornaments. Looks a little bit like Christmas decorations, and they, the families, a lot of times, will eat their evening meals in the sukkahs, and the children will even sleep in them.

During Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, they're commanded to be happy. I mean, it's a happy holiday. The Jewish community comes from all over the world. It's a fun time to be in Israel. There's a lot of... and it's not a fun time to try to get any work done 'cause everything's closed. And you need the leading of the Holy Spirit to know what's gonna be open when. But then the high holy days come to a conclusion with Simchat Torah. It's when they complete the reading of the Torah in the synagogue. And that evening, the families in the neighborhood synagogues are typically neighborhood-based, not exclusively, but often. And in the neighborhoods, they'll bring the Torah scrolls out of the synagogue into the streets 'cause they've finished the reading cycle for the year and they'll begin the next day with another reading cycle, like, we're gonna begin tomorrow with our reading plan for our Bibles. And they'll literally dance in the streets with their Torah scrolls.

It's a wonderful time of year. And some observe it from a very secular perspective, and some observe it from a very faith-filled perspective. There's a great deal of diversity in how they celebrate, but the whole nation pauses to celebrate. Holy days. They all have very real connections to their story as a people. And I wanna suggest to you that the church, God's people, the community of faith in our culture, has a role in seeing that holidays are more holy days than they are anything else. And that our failure to do that, speaks a great deal to a lot of the circumstances that we see. I don't believe that New Year's Eve should be celebrated because of its debauchery. I like it much better, bringing the Torah scrolls, the Scriptures, out into the streets and celebrating another year of reading the Word of God.

So if I could plant a seed: next New Year's Eve, maybe get together a few friends that did the Bible reading together and you celebrate something you learned through the year. "Well, that doesn't sound like much fun". Unless you love the Word of God. You know, the awkward problem I had when I began to process serving the Lord, and I didn't like being with Christians, right? And I had reasons for that. They were dull and boring, but you know, it occurred to me somewhere along that way that the reason I didn't like being with them is there was so little Jesus in me, that I was more comfortable with the pagans because there was too much pagan in me. But that if I would change, that I would find delight in the people of God. In fact, it's New Year's Eve. I had this little thing in my head, you know, when I would meet somebody, you'd kind of attach a significance to them based on your first impression, right? You know, "Hi, I'm Allen".

Norah: Norah.

Allen: How are you? Norah has an accent. She probably doesn't like cheese grits, you know? Can't make good sweet tea. No, see, four. Hi, I'm Allen.

Tim: I'm Tim.

Allen: Tim, hi. Yellowstone, I've heard about Yellowstone. Yeah, hm, two. And I'm evaluating people in my head. Then I remember praying, "Lord, couldn't you send somebody to church that was, like, a mature God-honoring grown-up Christian? Somebody that, you know, they love their family and wanted to read their Bible and you have to send me, like, broken, messed-up, goofy," right? Can you believe a pastor would pray like that? This one did. It took, you know what finally, the Lord made it so clear to me. He said, "Well, what would you like me to do? Have somebody else do your job"? And here's the change that came in me. Everybody that God put in front of me. Hey, Norah, I'm Allen. Wow, God, that's a ten, thank you for sending them here. Wow, did you know these people? They have so much potential for the kingdom of God. He thought even I could help them. And people became the highlight of my life. Every one of them was a divinely arranged appointment with some intrinsic value that God thought was so obvious, even a knucklehead like me couldn't miss it.

So if you're gonna think about next New Year's Eve, think, "Maybe there are some people we know that like their Bible. We get together and celebrate another year of reading the book," huh? We've had this backwards. So, I made a list, because that's my spiritual gift, of some things that I think those holidays or holy days would bring to us in community. And I'm really thinking about our children. We have to teach them what it means to be godly. And I don't mean bringing 'em to church under protest. Church is part of it but it's far more important. I'm a Christ follower today more than any other single reason because when there was nobody looking, those two people over there, read their Bibles.

I used to look at them and I'd think, "What is wrong with them"? I mean, when nobody was at home, they'd get their Bibles out and read them. I mean, like, with some regularity they'd get my brothers and I together and we didn't wanna do it. We were not cooperative, there were many eyerolls. When they were done, we made fun of them. And they would wanna talk about a Bible story or want us to pray. They would line us up and say we had to love one another as brothers. Now, how many of you know little boys that like to look when they go, "I love you"? I'll punch you, I'll do, and they'd say, "Give your brother a hug". And I'd go, "Poof. You like him so much, you hug him". But they outweighed me, they controlled the rice bowl. We gotta help our kids. Stop, I'm not worried about the world. If the church will be the church, your kids will be okay.

So here's the list. Holidays help us honor God. It's a holy day. It's not a day off of school or a day out of work. It's not my time. It's a day to honor God. Now, I know that's gonna take some reprogramming and some reordering and I'm preaching to the choir. You're at church on New Year's Eve. Deuteronomy 26. This is God's instruction to his people. They've left Egypt. He's trying to get them ready for the Promised Land. They've been slaves for hundreds of years. They don't know how to be a people. They've never been independent people. They've never occupied their own land. They don't know what to do.

So Moses is busily giving them instructions, and they're not particularly receptive. And this is the message: "When you've entered the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the LORD your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name". They don't even have, they don't know where the temple's gonna be. They don't know where the tabernacle's gonna be. All they've got's a tent right now. And wherever God tells you to put the tent, "take the firstfruits of your crop to the priest in office at the time".

Doesn't matter who he is. It's an office, it's a presentation to the Lord. The priest may be good, the priest may be not so good. It isn't about the priest. It's about you and the Lord. "I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the land the LORD swore to our forefathers to give us". And there's always somebody going, "You know, Pastor, that's in the Old Testament". Thank you, Obi-Wan. 1 Corinthians 6 says: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who's in you, whom you received from God? You're not your own; you were bought at a price. Honor God with your body", about things that are not appropriate to do at church. Folks, if it shouldn't be done at church, I'm pretty certain you probably shouldn't be participating in it someplace else. Now I'm meddling. I know, I've gotten beyond.

The second component of these holidays, holy days, is this idea of "lest you forget". We forget what God has done for us. We forget our story. We become presumptive and arrogant. Deuteronomy 4: "Take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children". Do they wanna hear the stories again? No, tell them anyway. You don't sound convinced. Look at Deuteronomy 6: "When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you a land with large, flourishing cities that you didn't build, and houses filled with all kinds of good things you didn't provide, wells that you didn't dig, and vineyards and olive groves that you didn't plant, then when you eat and you're satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery".

See, the Jewish calendar is filled with holy days to remind them of what God has done on their behalf. Our calendar is filled with days to remind us what God has done on our behalf. How is it that Spring Break and Fall Break have become more sacred than Easter? How has that happened to us? Don't talk to me about the secular world. If we spend more money and more energy on breaks than we do holy days, our priorities are struggling. And again, you're in church on New Year's Eve, or you're watching livestream and I'm sure there's something more exciting like Times Square, but the principle, you see, we have to take, we have to share it with our friends. We've got to become agents of change. We don't wanna sit smugly in our self-righteousness. We've got to get on our knees and say, "Lord, this is us on our watch. We've allowed this to happen and to flourish". I'm not against Spring Break or Fall Break. I'm telling you they've become more sacred than honoring the Lord. We forget what God has done for us.

Thirdly, we have a responsibility to teach the next generation. There is strength in shared values. Teach the children why Christmas is important. Teach the children why we have these breaks from school. Teach the children why we get a day off of work. Tell the story. Don't leave the burden just at church. Church should help. We should add momentum, we should give some resources to facilitate that, but parents and grandparents, this is you. We haven't done a great job with this. I read the surveys, I hear the message coming to us that the younger generations don't want anything to do with church and they lecture pastors like it's their fault. Now, pastors may have some culpability. I'm not gonna try to defend that, but it begins in the home. It really does.

And a lot of that emerges from something as simple as we just haven't even cared enough to say that the holidays are really holy days, more than they are about new clothes or a present or a trip or your favorite food. Or it's my time. It would be, what is it we'd be remembering about God's engagement, involvement, in our lives? There is a cultural assault on the values of our lives and particularly upon our young people. Now, that has to be considered and countered, and the holy days are a wonderful way to do that. I'm not against trees with lights on them, I'm not against fat guys in red suits. Doesn't bother me in the least. I'll sing Rudolph and Jingle Bells and I'm all in. But I'm not confused about the reason for the day.

In fact, many years ago, and it's been many years ago, there was a segment in the congregation that was against all that stuff. And I remember the Christmas we put up a tree and I did it as a part of a sermon. We put a tree in there. I mean, they were sharpening knives. You know, I know there's pagan orientations around trees and Druids worship trees and I'm not worshiping a tree. But I remember living in Jerusalem where they don't celebrate Christmas and it wasn't welcome and if you did, there was punishment and we walked to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. It's only about 5 miles, it wasn't, but when you got to Bethlehem, for hundreds and hundreds of years, the Christian Arabs lived in Bethlehem.

And when you got there, the Christmas music was playing and there were lights and it felt like almost Tennessee. And I thought, "I'm not gonna be Scrooge. I'm not confused about the reason, but I don't have to be angry at the secular culture". You with me? But teach the children why we have holy days. Why New Year's Eve could be a sacred day. Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the high holy days. What if we use New Year's Eve as the holy beginning of a new year? What a radical thought. Deuteronomy 6:6: "These commandments that I give you today, they're to be upon your hearts. Impress them upon your children". Well, how do you do that? "Talk about them when you're at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down, when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates".

Now, the ultra orthodox community have taken that very literally. Have you seen pictures where they have leather bands wrapped around their hands and they have little boxes on their foreheads? If you stay in a hotel in Israel there's a Mezuzah on the door. There's a prayer, literally, on the doorframe in all those public rooms when you come and go. But underlying all of that is the assignment to impress upon your children who God is and what he expects of us. That's the first assignment in parenting. It's more important than don't eat sugar. Now, I'm meddling.

There's a fourth benefit from the holidays. It helps us protect one another. We need the strength that comes from the community reinforcement. We believe there is a God. We believe that Jesus was his Son. We believe in the incarnation. We believe in the virgin birth. So we'll celebrate his birth. I know it didn't happen on December 25. I understand that that holiday was borrowed from the winter solstice. Okay, I'm celebrating the birth of Jesus, not long more sunshine. You know, we get sidetracked on some goofy things. We need the strength that comes from that. I believe Jesus died on a cross, physically. I believe his dead body was placed in a tomb and that he was raised to life again and we will celebrate that in a few months, like we don't have good sense. We'll turn the volume up on that every way we know how. People say, "It looks like you're having a party". Yeah!

Number five, the holy days reinforce our faith. See, there's a battle in our soul. Biblically speaking, our soul is our mind and our emotions, our will. Now, you and I both know that's a battlefield. Do you really believe that? That battle rages in all of us. It does in me. I'm pretty confident it will in you as well. And our emotions. Look at 1 Peter 2: "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world". It's a very powerful phrase. I've had the privilege of traveling a good bit and living in some other places in the world and I like to go and see and travel. Not as much these days.

Church is a little confining. But once upon a time, and there were strange foods people eat, you know, and the street food in the Philippines is balut, fertilized chicken eggs. Not a blessing. You know, as much as I loved to go, I understood that I didn't...I'd walk down the street and, again, this was years ago. They'd be hollering out the windows from someplace, if I was in the remote areas, "Joe, hey, Joe". G.I. Joe.

But I had a little blue passport that said at some point I was coming back to another culture. And when I learned as much as I could about the people and their cultures and their holidays and their foods and I ate in their homes, and slept in the nipa huts, and I did my best to be a part. I understood that my citizenship was someplace else. And that's the imagery that Peter's using. He says we're aliens and strangers in the world and we have to abstain from sinful desires which war against our soul. You see, the gatherings of family and friends, at least theoretically, of likeminded people around these holy days, is to strengthen us, to remind us, to embolden us, to hold our place in the midst of a world that wars against those ideas.

In our culture, the line between sacred and secular has been almost completely obliterated. We wear the same clothes to the ball game and the church, we use the same language in most places. We've lost perspective. Spring Break is often considered more valuable in our imagination than Easter. I understand some of the whys, but in that, we've lost a sense of the reverence of a holy God. We have to bring that back if we're gonna live in his victory and in his freedom. So that's my prayer for myself and for you. Let's pray:

Father, I pray that an awareness of a holy God will be more real to us than satisfying our own selfish desires. We need your help and your wisdom that you might be honored in us, in Jesus's name, amen.

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