This time of social distancing and sequestering is a time for questions: When will it be over? How will it end? Can we put this virus to sleep so it never wakes up? All sorts of questions.
One of the questions which Yeshua’s people should be asking is “How can we do a better job serving God’s purposes in Yeshua after all of this is over?” But before we can decide how to do a better job, we need focus on just what that job is! What are Yeshua’s people supposed to be doing? Good question!
Last time we conducted a brief overview of a six-part answer to that question. This time, let’s look with a bit more depth at the first two parts of that answer, leaving the rest for another time.
Our diagram reminds us that we are supposed to be forming Outposts of the Kingdom. And what is that Kingdom? We could define the Kingdom of God as that realm where the authority (the reign) of God is manifest, where his will is done and he is worshipfully obeyed. Yeshua spoke of this in the Lord’s Prayer when he taught us to pray for that time when God’s kingdom would come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, a condition where our needs would be met ("our daily bread"), our sins and sinfulness fully dealt with ("forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors"), where we would be free from the snares of temptation and the malice of the Evil One ("lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the Evil One").
Of course, these conditions do not pertain now. While manifest in God’s eternal realm, they do not characterize life as we know it.
Nevertheless, Yeshua’s sinless life, his atoning death for our sins but for the entropy and decay of the cosmos, his resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand, his sending forth of the Spirit, this complex of events has inaugurated the Age to Come when the Kingdom will be fully and universally realized and consummated. The Age to Come is already here, so that Paul can write to the Corinthians that we are those “upon whom the end of the ages has come.” The writer to the Hebrews says we "have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6).
Notice: we have already tasted the powers of the age to come, but we do not yet have them in their fullness. We have just a foretaste. Hors d’oeuvres but not the whole meal. A preview of coming attractions but not the whole movie. Therefore, we are living between the already and the not yet.
Our worshipping communities are meant to be current Embassies of the Age to Come, Consulates of the Kingdom, where people may learn how to become citizens of the Kingdom and where they too will experience a foretaste of the Kingdom in how we act among them and what we share with them of “the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.”
This is hot stuff, isn't it? But this is just part of the work that Yeshua calls us to.
The second part of our answer concerning "What are Yeshua's People Supposed to Be Doing," is that we are called to form b’erot: Face to Face Gatherings of the Father’s Family. In a Jewish context we would call these havurot (singular, havurah). At a later date we will consider the history of this meeting modality, but for now consider these to be gatherings of one’s bayit, a word which etymologically means house, home, or even family, hut actually signifies far more in the Bible and in Jewish life. Leo G. Perdue writes,
[Biblically, together with the term “beit av,” (house of the father)], in view of the literary and archaeological evidence, these terms are best rendered ‘family household’ and ‘extended’ or ‘compound family.’ Family households did not consist of nuclear families in the modem understanding of a married couple and their children but rather were multigenerational (up to four generations) and included the social arrangement of several families, related by blood and marriage, who lived in two or three houses architecturally connected. Israelite and early Jewish families were patrilineal (i.e., descent was reckoned through the male line) and patrilocal (i.e., the wife joined the bet 'ab of her husband).Those who belong to the family are mentioned a number of times in the Hebrew Bible (Gen. 7: 1, 7; 36:6; 45:10; cf Gen. 46:26; Ex. 208-10, 17; Deut. 5:12-15, 21;josh. 716-18; Judg. 6:11, 27, 30;8:20). These texts indicate that the family household was primarily a kinship system that included lineal descent and lateral extension: grandparents, adult male children and their wives and children, unmarried children, and widowed and divorced adult daughters who may have had children. Marginal members of households outside of this immediate kinship structure could include debt servants, slaves, concubines, resident aliens, sojourners, day laborers, orphans, and Levites, together with any family they may have had.(Leo G. Perdue, “The Israelite and Early Jewish Family,”174-175).
So your bayit is your entourage, your posse, your web of relationships. This is why B’reishit/Genesis 14:14 says this when Abram went out to rescue Lot and the prisoners of war taken from the city of Sodom, "When Abram heard that his nephew had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, who had been born in his house, 318 of them.” These were not his children. Neither Isaac nor Ishmael had yet been born. But these men were part of his bayit, his posse, his entourage, if you will, his encampment.
Similarly, we are to form our havurot from our extended familial network, whether related by blood, by heart, and certainly also, by the Spirit. And this of course includes new people whom we invite to join with us. This is how we populate our havurot. Who is it that encamps with you? That’s your bayit.
In the Greek and Roman world there was a parallel term, oikos (plural, oikoi) which is kind of fluid in its meaning. It referred to a kind of extended family, just as bayit did in Hebrew. In modern sociological usage, one may know several dozen or even several hundred people, but it is those with whom we spend quality time face to face who are termed part of one's oikos. While this includes family and friends known through work, recreation, hobbies, or by being neighbors, the term also covers people with whom one interacts socially on a regular basis, estimated to be at least an hour per seek. So again, this is one’s affiliated web, one’s “gang,” one’s entourage, one’s encampment. And in a spiritual sense, this is the core that can and should populate a home church.
Here in our HaB’er project at Interfaithfulness, we refer collectively to home churches and havurot as b’erot (wells). Explaining why we do so will have to wait for another day.
Let's conclude for now by noting that these groups are familial––we are spiritual family to one another. We are all relating to the same Father, through our elder Brother, Yeshua, his Son, as spiritual siblings making and enjoying life together in the Presence and power of Ruach haKodesh, the Holy Spirit, who is tangible, real, and the dynamic empowering Presence who repeatedly provides us with a foretaste of the Age to Come as we live together in between the already and the not yet.
And yes, there is so much more to say. Stay tuned.
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