The Hope of the Word
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
January 24, 2016
They have forgotten.
It happens you know.
It happens all the time.
It happens to us and it happened to them. More than a century has gone by; more than three generations have gone to their graves singing foreign songs in a foreign land.
But now they are returning from Babylon back from exile. They are returning to their beloved city on a hill to rebuild and renew. Yet that shining place is razed and ruined. Charred beams and weeds fill the temple courtyard and scavenging packs of animals walk freely through the holes in the city's walls.
Word comes to Nehemiah, a faithful Jew serving the Persian King, word comes
from his brother in Jerusalem that they need help: they are threatened by their enemies all around. The city walls need to be rebuilt if Jerusalem is ever again going to be a Holy City on a hill.
The Persian King, grants his eunuch advisor, Nehemiah, permission to leave and bestows upon him, his eunuch advisor the title of governor of the province of Judah.
Nehemiah arrives with supplies, plans and a vision. The wall is rebuilt we are told in 52 days. But here's the thing. Though the external restorations have been accomplished. Though but a shadow of itself the temple is reconstructed, the breach in the walls repaired.
But the people have forgotten what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God. The people have forgotten who they are and whose they are.
They have a temple, they have a wall, but their souls are stone, broken and shorn.
So Nehemiah—does what he can. Uses the gifts he has and calls for the King of Persia to send back Ezra the priest. For their local priests in Jerusalem are dispirited, dismayed and beat down by daily life. It happens to us all. They are a people without a faith.
Nehemiah realizes that they need a priest who believes. And more than that they need the word of God. As it was then so it is now.
Scripture. Torah. The Law.
God's holy wisdom in words is if we read it—if we soak in it—it will be our on-ramp to faith; our entrance to God's ways and God's love. But we have to read it,
hear it, feel it—before we can embody it.
While they await Ezra's arrival Nehemiah commands that a giant scaffolding be erected by the Water gate. A giant scaffolding so all can see and hear. Then when Ezra arrives Nehemiah commands all the people to be at the Water gate at dawn. Men and women, all, all, all.
Nehemiah instructs Ezra—to read the Law—to read God's word to the people
from dawn to dusk all day long, read it and explain it in such a way that the people will understand.
Ezra—by all accounts is not a particularly compelling man or charismatic preacher. He isn't amazing, or inspiring—instead he is faithful—nothing more, nothing less
for the word of the Lord, God's covenant is written upon Ezra's heart, his soul is not stone.
As Ezra mounts the platform and unrolls the scroll, the people stand with him, it is probably not unlike, not all that dissimilar from when Jesus enters his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, 500 years later and unrolls the scroll and proclaims the words of the prophet Isaiah
"The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, liberty to the oppressed and sight to the blind, to declare the year of God's favor."
It was probably vastly similar for it was on that day at the Watergate that the people began to hear the word of God again—for the very first time.
What would that be like for us?
What would it be like to hear and to know, to read and to mark, to learn and inwardly digest, what would it be like for us to hear the word of God and then for our souls to fill and our lives to change? What would it be like to know who we are
and to know whose we are.
I think we know.
But then I think we forget. I know I do. But listen with me for a moment and see where your soul goes.
In those days, a decree went out from Cesar Augustus, that all the world should be registered...
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene, came to the tomb, and saw that the stone had been removed...
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth...
He saw the crowds, he sat down and he began to speak...Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted...
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude...
On the night before he died, he took the bread
So it is my friends. In the beginning was the word and the word was with God, and the word was God. The words became sentences, the sentences became paragraphs, and the paragraphs became the stories of the people of God.
It was on that day, in the rubble strewn streets of Jerusalem standing at the foot of that ramshackle wall, that the people once again began to hear and to believe. It was on that day the people began to remember. May we too do the same.
May it be for us as it was for them. As It was on that day that the people stood and heard the word. And the people said, "Amen."
Copyright Bonnie A. Perry January 2016