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For the Joy of the Lord is our Strength

 

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

1 all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. 2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6 Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. 9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

I love, love, love Nehemiah 8! Nehemiah 8 plainly, completely, and joyfully describes my professional and Spiritual life. It basically says what happens when a community gathers together to hear God’s word (scripture) preached. Several things happen.

  • The Ezra blesses the Lord and the blessing is then reaffirmed by the community. God is honored and worshipped. The people bow their heads and claim through their actions of putting themselves low to the ground that only God has the ability and power to lift them up.
  • God’s word is communally interpreted. To interpret means to make sense of something. On a typical Sunday I feel a lot of anxiety when I preach because I often feel like it is my sole role to tell people what the scripture means (afterall, I did spend the better part of my 20’s in seminary writing theological papers etc and now I have a fancy a shirt with an bright white collar). But no- sole interpretation is not the responsibility of an appointed authority. It is a communal activity where everyone is invited to help the group simply “make sense of the words.” Pretty cool.
  • Next- people weep. Don’t get me wrong, I am not motivated in my call by the sight of tears. However, Nehemiah wants us all to understand that we are all guilty of violating the law (being sinful) and that we are truly in need of a loving and forgiving God. This leads to the Good News!  The good news is that we indeed have a loving and forgiving God and the preacher gets to tell the people that they need not cry.
  • Great joy! God is joyful because God’s people have been drawn near to God. The people’s relationship with God is renewed, repaired, reaffirmed and celebrated. The people also experience Joy because through their relationship with God. This joy extends beyond their hearts and minds to the physical life. Feasting and enjoying the good things of creation occur for all. God’s love and the fruitfulness of God’s creation are distributed equally and shared with all people.

This will happen Sunday and every Sunday.  This is why we go to church.

Joyfully yours~ Pastor Erik