Sermon, Epiphany 3C, Sunday January 27, 2013.
Listening to Jesus
Ezra 8 1,2,5-10
8 1 all the people assembled with one accord 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.5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; 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 worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear[a] and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. 9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. 10 Nehemiah said, “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.”
I have tried to stay close to the action and the stories of the Tour Down Under this week. I cycle and appreciate the fitness and the team work of those Lycra –clad young men as they compete in a very tough on the body sport. In my imaginary middle-aged mind, as I struggle up and down Seppeltsfield or wonder around the back of Angaston, I try to emulate their strength and skill. But it doesn’t take long for me to know that I am not them and my strength and skill is nowhere near theirs.
This came home to me last week when at 7.30 in the morning, after completing what was to be the Bupa 20kms stage from Nuri to Tanunda via the back of Angaston, I was finishing up my congratulatory bottle of Power Aid sitting on the park bench right near the finish line arch they put up in preparation for the race.
As I went to get back on my trust old Trek 1220 to amble home to Nuri I was unexpectedly overtaken by a flashing peloton of about 30 people! They were obviously very well equipped and I could tell that they had ridden a lot further than me! One by one they ambled by as I was trying to look calm and strong and in full control, while underneath sucking in oxygen and wondering if I might have to drop back to granny gear and just drop off the back of this group of riders in shame.
To make it worse, the last two riders in the group were girls! I kept with them for a while, but eventually had to let them go after Kroemer’s Crossing. O, the shame of it! Where was my strength?
I wish I was stronger – not just in cycling, but in work, relationships and personal well-being. I think we all wish for that. Cycling, like all sport and human pursuit, is of some value for strength in living, but when it is all said and done is just a human activity, a sport, a thing some people do because they like it and others watch because they admire the physical strength of others.
In the end, physical strength is just physical strength and the truth is, it fades and it is not what really makes us fully alive human beings with purpose in our steps and a surety of who we are and whose we are as we relate to others in our family, at work and out on the street.
God’s people of the time before the Messiah were never very strong in the world’s eyes. Yes, they had their moments of strength under the David and Solomon, but they are short lived. Most of the time anyone who wanted to have their land or use their land as a base to fight some other super-power in the region just came and settled in!
In their weakness though, they always had a strength. Even at their lowest, in the time of the exile and shortly after, they had an inner strength that enables them to keep surviving and even flourishing. This moment in the book of Nehemiah is one such moment of great strength in great weakness.
Ezra the priest stands before the whole city. This city has been turned into a pile of rubble 40 years prior and this small band of Jewish people are now attempting to rebuild it, one stone at a time. Part of the once grand temple is now complete and there is cause for celebration.
But the celebration is not about their achievements but about the hearing the Word. For the first time in a very long time the people hear the Word of God – the Torah.
Why wasn’t it heard for so long? Well, ask yourself. Why haven’t I heard it for myself for so long? Why haven’t I picked up my bible for so long? Why have my friends given up church…….?
There are lots of reasons. We forget. We are overtaken by our own belief that we can be strong without Him. We are grasping for other things to make us strong. We can’t find a way to listen. We settle for a small amount of listening – an hour one day a week and that’s it. (Better than nothing but not complete!)
From early morning to midday the people listen as Ezra the priest reads the Torah with translation into other local languages as he goes. That’s the answer. What we need is for our pastor to preach longer sermons! We need a whole morning of sermons!
The response to this hearing of the Word of God is weeping. Are thery weeping because they have found the great pearl once lost or are they cut to eh heart for their negligence? Ezra tells them to stop weeping and simply enjoy the Word. No guilt, no sorrow, no regrets – just listen and enjoy and drink in the deep waters of life as God speaks in words they understand. Yes. Just listen. No guilt. No shame, no regrets here. Just enjoying the Word for what it brings to your day…..
Ezra finally sums it up for the people. Your strength is in this Word. This word brings lasting joy and this is your strength as a people – not walls, or soldiers, or power or outward appearances – this Word is your joy. This Word is your strength.
Switch several centuries later: Same country, same people, same faith, same Word but spoken by a special man. Jesus in his home town, after experiencing that high moment of affirmation in his baptism and low moment of deep temptation out in the desert ravines, gets up to take his usual turn at reading the Torah which happens to be set down for today’s church service….
It is from that man, Isaiah. A prophet who lived in weakness but had an internal strength that came from living in the Word.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,because he has anointed meto proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisonersand recovery of sight for the blind,to set the oppressed free,19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
The reaction is different here. Not weeping of joy or guilt – anger.
“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”, says the home boy.
“How dare he suggest that he is it and that I am not”! How dare you suggest that little weak Jesus – a bloke like the rest of us, says he is God”! God could not be found in such weakness, surely?!
But to the thousands who were living in poverty this Word was blessed relief and new joy.
To those not strong in money, wealth, and freedom it was joy unspeakable.
To those locked up in family feuds, relational conflict, dead hearts, spiritual oppression, deep darkness of guilt and grief and regret, it was light breaking in and the release to a new found love of self and of God.
To the physically limited or disabled or deficient, it was hope – hope that life is not wrapped up in my prowess or lack of – but in his acceptance and compassion for me.
Friend, listen to Jesus. He is your joy. His year of favour is yours by faith. Hear his Word on your life. Hear where your strength really lays. Google it, read it on your phone, reflect on it on any screen. Hear it in audio form. Find a place to regularly hear it. Hear it together. hear it here as we sing it, pray it, share it. Talk about it and him. Hear it however you can.
From this comes an inner strength that will remain in the darkest day because he remains in the darkest day. Your strength, ability, well-being, acceptance, place, status and hope do not lie in anything you can manufacture – physical or otherwise.
At the core, at the heart, at the foundation is this Word of the living Creator God who has announced this era of his favour and blessing to all who bring their many weaknesses to him on a daily basis and simply ask him to make them strong enough for the day.