Ancient Truths, Modern Applications
When I was in the process of getting my doctorate in Homiletics (the study of public speaking) my professor Dr. Robinson emphasized an important truth:
“The most difficult part of the process of developing a sermon is its conclusion—successfully making the jump from the ancient text to the modern world in a way which makes sense to people.”
In my experience as a pulpit rabbi I have found Dr. Robinson’s observation to be very true. And so, here we are—Thursday evening we begin the celebration of Shavuot. We do this in the midst of a virus which has demanded the attention of the entire world. Can there be a connecting point between the ancient Jewish holy day and the current crisis? Is there a lesson for us embedded in the meaning of the celebration of the giving of the Torah? I believe there is.
Hope and Torah
We begin with some larger questions: What is so important about Torah? What is the value of celebrating an ancient text written to people who lived in a world so different from our own? The answers can be reduced to one simple but profound observation.
The Torah, more than anything else, tells us why optimism about the future of the Jewish people and of the world is rational, justifiable and completely and thoroughly warranted even at the current challenging moment.
How is this so?
The underlying message of the entire Torah is rooted in the great fact that an all powerful God rules the world and that He is committed to, and capable of, bringing about a happy outcome of all things. This message underlies the meaning of Shavuot. It all began with a celebration of the Spring wheat harvest in ancient Israel. That harvest might be plentiful or sparse any given season depending on atmospheric conditions. But the harvest came and the people thanked God who gave it. At the deepest level of the collective consciousness of the Jewish people, Shavuot awakened our people’s awareness of a covenant-keeping God who long ago had declared the world “very good. ” It was this God who was happy to look after his beloved Israel.
God’s Covenantal Faithfulness in Today’s World
Now, jump to today’s world…
No doubt about it, COVID-19 is scary. It is an invisible enemy which can make you sick and, in the case of those with underlying conditions, cost you your life. It has touched and changed every aspect of our lives. Jobs and income are uncertain, we have been isolating at home for months, and the path forward is still unclear. Some of us may be facing unemployment, food insecurity, or trapped in unsafe home conditions.
So in these terrible times, how can we keep ourselves from surrendering to fear, anxiety, and paranoia?
Shavuot—the demonstration of divine love at Sinai—and the love-saturated sacrifice of Messiah Yeshua speaks to us. By consciously and deliberately cultivating trust in the God of Israel and his Messiah Yeshua, we can be reminded that invisible viruses will not have the last word. God will.
So as you stand in line waiting to enter the grocery store, standing a minimum of six feet from people whose body language screams of fear and mistrust, know the following. As you sit at home, either surrounded by family or alone, take encouragement. As you scan your email for updates on your job situation, give your burdens to Adonai. I will paraphrase:
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who shall separate us from the love of Messiah? (1)
Shall COVID-19, job loss, meat shortages at Whole Foods, cabin fever, helping bored home-bound kids, or separation from friends at synagogue services keep us from Yeshua’s love?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord. (2)
HaShem will provide us with all we need. So lean into him and use this season to deepen your relationship with him, align your life with his plan for you, and listen to what he is telling you is really important. He will never burden with more than he knows you can carry; in him is the peace that surpasses all understanding. (3)
Chag sameach, dear friends of the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute! Happy Shavuot! May these words bring you comfort and encouragement during this wonderful, holy time!
This article was written by MJTI President Rabbi Rich Nichol.
(1) Romans 8:31-33
(2) Romans 8:37-39
(3) Philippians 4:7