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. . . which operated automatically on the Sabbath allowing observers of the law to avoid operating electric switches on that day. Many electrical appliances had a “Sabbath Mode” for the same reason.
It was heart-warming to watch families enjoying celebrating the Shabbat together, particularly one family, including grandparents, reading their scriptures together. Many of these were Hasidic Jews, instantly recognised by their males’ distinct style of dress: black suits, brimmed hat and untrimmed side-lock hairstyle.
This branch of Orthodox Judaism began as a popular emotional revival in 18th-century Eastern Europe in reaction to overly legalistic Judaism. In the midst of their struggles and severe poverty they emphasised the importance of joy, faith, and jubilant prayer, accompanying this with much song and dance. In a sense it was a protest movement that challenged prevailing Judaism.
Despite the fact that we might look on them as quaint, strange and dismissive, there is much in their lifestyle to appreciate. Sharing the same hotel and restaurant with them for a few days caused me to think – I wondered if my attitude to them resembles how many average Australians view the church. They see us as quaint, somewhat strange and are quickly dismissive of anything we might like to say or do.
Last week I began a preaching series titled Challenging Church. The title has two important ideas behind it. Firstly, that today the church is being challenged. Not only is the church finding the ongoing changes in society challenging, that changed society proposes that the church has no place in the ‘new’ world. It is taking increasing courage and strength to stand up against the forces at work.
However, despite that challenge, the church itself is called to be a challenge to the world – the second important idea. As the French theologian, Jacques Ellul put it,
“Christians were never meant to be normal. We’ve always been holy troublemakers, we’ve always been creators of uncertainty, agents of dimension that’s incompatible with the status quo; we do not accept the world as it is, but we insist on the world becoming the way that God wants it to be. And the Kingdom of God is different from the patterns of this world.”
The church is called to be the “light of the world” calling people to an alternative lifestyle undergirded by faith and repentance, and the acknowledgement that Jesus is King over all. While the world may view us as quaint, it is right for it to see us as a threat. Jesus and his church, when it is at its best, has always been a challenge the authorities of this world.
May God grant us the courage, hope, perseverance and strength to both face the challenge of our day, and to be the challenge He has called us to be.
Stephen L Baxter
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