Pray | Plan | Build – People
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5, 6, 8-10
Ezra reads the law to the people
(When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns,) 1 all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.
2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
The whole world seems a bit joyless at the moment. It is easy to spiral down into a joyless sense of relentless trouble that seems to almost remove our capacity to remember who we are in Jesus, what we are as his church and to find fulfilment in what he is still calling us to be and do in his world.
But what happened to the dislocated, disconnected and disrupted people of God returning from their most destructive period in their history (exile in a whole other foreign country) shows that that sense of being ‘settled’, at peace, sharing a fulfillment in working together in the Lord’s plans is all very real and very possible in any kind of weather – even ours.
Joy comes in different forms … I had varying moments of joy in our few weeks off.
- I got to do 3 hot laps in a Mustang around The Bend racetrack at Tailem Bend. Petrol head joy!
- I actually caught a 40cm salmon off the rocks on the bottom of the Yorke Peninsula. Fishing joy!
- But then Christmas gatherings, and camping, sitting back quietly observing the family we are becoming.
- And the joy of helping Mitchell, our son, and his wife Olivia move into their first manse and remember our own 30+ years of ministry and removalists boxes everywhere in new manses and moving and all the Lord has done.
- Tuning in to Bethlehem in Adelaide to listen to our oldest son preach his first public sermon. Deeper “Parent and Marriage’ joy.
And then there is God’s joy in God’s people …
Before this day we hear of in Nehemiah 8, a whole generation of God’s people had been defeated and destroyed by forces way beyond their control much more than we have this last two years.
The geo-politics dominated by the Babylonians at the time brought complete upheaval, dislocation and disconnection to God’s people as they were overrun and shipped off to be servants of an entirely different people and place and faith for forty years!
But the geo-political landscape changed (as it is now changing). The latest superpower, the Persians, rose and allowed the Jewish community to head home and start to rebuild their lives as they got to work rebuilding the broken home city.
Nehemiah and the Priest, Ezra, are the leaders of this small rebuilding community. Like the coach of the bottom of the ladder team, they are under great pressure. There are plenty of locals who dismiss and shame them for their rebuilding work. Then those same locals fear them as they actually begin to rally, find their identity and their place again.
Eventually after planning praying and building, they come to this moment of achievement – the city walls of defence and the temple walls of prayer and blessing are now rebuilt.
Time to pause and marvel at what has been achieved together. Nehemiah and Ezra call a gathering.
It is Rosh Hashanah (New Year). But unusually, they don’t gather in the temple. They gather at the town square at the Water Gate. Why? The temple has lots of restrictions. The town square has none. Everyone can gather without restriction (like we used to!!).
The community ask the priest (Ezra) to read the scroll of Torah (The Law of God
… Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly … 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
It is a mixed crowd. Some of them know what the priest is talking about, and some have no clue. The people who know the words and their meaning translate and interpret throughout the crowd to those around them.
What a picture. God’s Word being proclaimed in the public square. Friends, family and associates translating into different languages and helping those who are not sure what it all means to understand what God is saying … Maybe this is what St Petri is and where it needs to be?
Here’s the result …
5 Ezra opened the book. … and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ‘Amen! Amen!’ Then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
But then something unexpected happens. The people start weeping!
Hang on. Where is the joy? What are they crying about? They have achieved so much and worked so hard. They have finally rebuilt their “normal” – city, walls, protection, temple, faith. Where is the back-slapping joy – like the last day of Vintage or the day when you take possession of your new house or job or promotion or financial windfall …?
They know they did not achieve new start alone, and this is the Law of God being received. God’s Law does two things. It shows us the beauty and perfection of our holy God and our complete lack of all three!
Just like King Josiah who when he first heard the Law read tore his clothes and went into deep mourning for his and the nations many sins (2 Kings 22:11-13), or like Peter who when confronted by the grace and power, the acceptance and calling of Jesus on the beach one day with that huge catch of fish, and blurts out, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8), the people ‘get’ their absolute poverty of goodness and God’s whole bank full of it now gifted to them.
This is our joy in 2022. Josiah and Peter are right.
- We weep for our lack of understanding, our dark thoughts and constant doubt and complaining or even cynical attitudes and lack of love and forgiveness.
- We weep for our self-serving searching for life on our own terms … Our self-congratulation for all the ‘settledness’ and peace we enjoy with no thanks to the Lord for it …
The Law shows us we are dead in our tracks – Covid or not, vaccination or not, science or not, success or not, achievements or not.
But there is a return to joy and life by the Lord’s doing now …
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites … said to them all, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.’
10 … ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’
11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, ‘Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.’
This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’
Be still. Recognize who you are and who we are and what we are about again. No need for complaining or spiraling down into endless fear and worry and faithlessness today.
Jesus our Great High Priest has not just read the Law he has completed it, to its full demands in his own lifted hands and pierced, weeping body in the public square.
Jesus the Great Leader has gathered men and women in the public square outside the building – some who don’t understand and some who do. We all began our calling in the Water that is his Gate for new life.
13 For we were all baptised by[a] one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 And so the body is not made up of one part but of many. (1 Corinthians 12:13-14)
And today, eat and drink in his joy. The finest fair of forgiveness for it all and new life in the middle of it all.
In this year of 2022: year three of the latest world pandemic is upon us and geo-politics rumble on our joy is his Law that kills me and his final word, the Gospel that raises me.
We are here to translate and interpret what we hear from Jesus in one to another to one another and others in the public square all the time. This is being church – this is our mission:
… In the weeping and the joy, the speaking and the listening, the raising of hands, the praying on the ground in humility, awe and joy for the achievement of Jesus for us and all of them.
I want to PLAN, PRAY and BUILD PEOPLE with you in God’s renewing, rebuilding, restoring work here this year.
I want to lift my arms and put my face to the ground in respect and love for this Jesus who loves us all – men and women and those who understand and those who don’t.
I want to work with you in the public square of this postcode to translate God’s Word and interpret it with you for everyone.
I want this town to come to a moment of this weeping and this joy eating.
God has got a mission to restore and rebuild and heal and he has a church through whom he continues to do it.
No more weeping around here as 2022 begins. Just him. Just his Word.
He is the joy.