What would make God happy? What would cause our Creator to be supremely contented with a big smile, folded arms, nodding head, and misty eyes gazing on those created in God’s likeness? We find one answer in the first verse of today’s scripture: “All the people came together as one” (niv). Why does it always require a 9/11, a World War, or the exile of a people like the one the Israelites experience in Babylon to bring a nation, a people, back together? We forget from whence we come—our Jerusalem. We turn away and step outside of God’s all-encompassing love for us. Yet God wishes for us to desire to remain in God’s love as one people; God calls us to come home and rebuild the relationship.
Ezra and Nehemiah know the Law serves as the people’s spiritual divining rod. God’s chosen ones have turned away from the law brought down by Moses. As the people gather as one in the square before the Water Gate, God’s word washes over them like a river of life bringing them home. Have you ever held up your hands waiting for God’s love to pick you up?
I came late to the understanding of grace. I recognize it now. Sometimes it comes in glimpses; other times in torrents. Occasionally it arrives in unexpected locales. Frequently it covers me in most familiar surroundings, like a church sanctuary. I know when I am experiencing this unmerited love of God because I become weepy in my feeling of unworthiness. As the Israelites in front of Ezra and Nehemiah, I want to fall on my knees with my face to the ground as I feel complete and at home again in the presence of God, who stands smiling before me.
God, we long to hear your voice and to turn from weeping to sharing in your joy when we do. Amen.
How do we feel when we read the Word of God? The Israelites rejoice in God’s law. At the time of the restoration of Jerusalem after the return from exile, Ezra reads from the Law and explains its meaning to the people. They respond by holding a feast because understanding God’s teachings is a source of joy. The psalmist says that God’s law revives the soul, causes the heart to rejoice, and helps us to see clearly. Paul continues with his teaching on spiritual gifts, emphasizing that all members of the body of Christ have an important role. No one can claim to be any more important than anyone else. In Luke, Jesus reads from Isaiah and declares that his messianic ministry will focus on justice, mercy, and healing.
Read Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10. When has God’s word overwhelmed you? How did you react?
Read Psalm 19. How do you seek to speak or sing words acceptable to God? How does this shape your life?
Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a. Within the body of Christ, as within our human bodies, parts compensate for one another. How do you take on more to support the body of Christ when others struggle? How do you allow others to take on your roles when you struggle?
Read Luke 4:14-21. In what ways have you rejected Jesus?
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