A few years back, I started attending a Messianic congregation. I had no clue what that meant at the time, but a friend invited me because I was pursuing the Feasts of the Lord, hosting dinners for Passover and Rosh Hashanah. She thought I would enjoy it. And she was right. I did.
Perhaps, too, she recommended it because I told her that I was drawn to honor the Sabbath, though to be honest, I didn’t understand what that meant. I only knew that was the direction I was heading. On Friday night my granddaughter and I would light two candles and bless the Lord for the commandment to kindle the Sabbath light. Saturday night, we would light the Havdalah candle and sing the Havdalah song with Debbie Friedman on Youtube. In between, we didn’t go shopping, but spent the time playing games, going to the park, and reading. For several weeks I was involved in an online course by First Fruits of Zion called ‘Hayesod’ (meaning ‘foundation’). So when my friend suggested I visit the congregation, I was ready.
I attended on Friday night because I didn’t want to interfere with the lessons I was taking on Saturday morning, nor the rest we were experiencing.
What did I find there? There was a lot of joy and love. There was dancing and praising the Lord. To me, it wasn’t much different from some Charismatic congregations I’ve attended. In fact, some of it reminded me of the Catholic church where I accepted the Lord over 40 years ago. How? Initially it was because of the eternal light and the ark that is at the front (sans statues, crucifixion, and altar). Eventually, I attended on Saturday, where there was a liturgy, bringing memories of the Episcopal and Catholic churches I’d attended.
Most of the men wore kippas and tallit. Some of the women covered their head. Yet I was surprised to find that they turned the lights on and off, worked electrical equipment, and things of that nature. I remember a friend who worked as a police officer in Sunny Isles mentioning that the station would get a call on some Saturdays to turn on a light in the synagogue there (if something had caused it to go out.)
Knowing only this one Messianic congregation, I thought that’s the way they all were. Over time I came to learn differently. There seems to be all sorts of variations in Messianic congregations, though until the recent trip to Israel, had never attended another congregation. (What can I tell you? I’m Sicilian. When you are family, I am loyal to a fault.)
Also over time, I came to realize that even within Judaism, there are a lot of differences. Even in the time of Yeshua, there were 24 separate sects of Judaism. That helped me to understand that that when we humans get involved in something, we end up with many variations – none of them 100% right and none of them 100% wrong. And even though I understood this, I was a little surprised by what I found in the two congregations in Israel.
Okay, so I didn’t know what to expect at the first one, but I was thinking it was more Orthodox than it was. They chant the Siddur, which I found wonderful and full of joy – remember, I come from a liturgical background, so I felt right at home even though the entire thing was in Hebrew. The people were loving and welcoming, providing an interpreter for the teaching and guidance on the page numbers. There were a lot more visitors than I thought there would be. We even ran into two of our roommates from the hostel.
This surprised me. I didn’t share the location of the congregation because I was under the impression that they preferred no visitors. Boy was I wrong! I was also wrong about the orthodoxy of the congregation. Being surrounded by Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, I expected a different form of dress, so was concerned about my attire being offensive. But I was surprised (and relieved) to find that the dress was more casual – like that you would find in most liturgical churches in the United States.
During the service, one of the visitors stood up to take a photo and one of the ladies spoke up (very upset) that it was not to be done. I didn’t blame her, though I did feel bad for the visitor. The service ended with communion, which is something we don’t do often at TAK, though Rabbi Matthew is looking to institute it on Rosh Chodesh.
After the service, someone was taking photos (I think it was a congregant and it was a special occasion.) So I asked my friend if we could get a photo together. I could see that wasn’t a good idea, so quickly shifted gears (and he was very gracious about his response.) Yet, because the members of the congregation live in various parts, they have to use a car to drive to the synagogue.
We visited this congregation a second time and it was even better because I knew what to expect. Maria told me that we have a congregation in south Florida that is very similar. I would love to check it out, but right now I am called to TAK and don’t want to be distracted from my calling.
On our last Friday night in the land, we attended a congregation near our hostel. Here, the attire was even more casual and less modest. They had music like a Charismatic congregation, and it certainly was a blessing to be there. Yet, because of all I expected from a congregation, I was once more surprised that the girl who lit the Sabbath candles didn’t cover her head, nor did the gentlemen called to come to read Torah wear a tallit. In fact, they didn’t don a kippa until they reached the scroll.
None of this is meant to be a criticism. I think our Abba has all different kinds of congregations out there (whether Messianic or Christian, Orthodox or Reformed, and all things in between) to make it easier for us to experience his love and acceptance.
As Maria and I were talking, she shared that she was touched that the kids felt so at home in the congregation that they were going and sitting on the steps of the stage during various parts of the service. I could see her point, yet at the same time, I thought about where we were – in the house of the Lord. Yes, he is our Father, but he is also King. And I thought about how children behave in the house of a human king, especially when guests are present or there is a special occasion. How much more should we be respectful with the Creator and King of the Universe?
I also thought about the Orthodox Jews, who get dressed up for Shabbat. It is a special occasion, one that is celebrated in your best attire, with your best china, and a meal fit for a king. How do we reach them, when we treat this day as we would a casual business lunch?
Please understand, these are just some of the thoughts I’m wrestling with since my experience in Israel. I am truly seeking God in what he expects my behavior and attitude to be (and no one else’s). One thought comes to mind above all else – if we want to reach the Orthodox Jewish people with the amazing sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah for them, should we rethink some of our behavior and attitude?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.