READING: Nehemiah 8:1-10;Luke 4:14-21
SERMON : "Hearing With Joy, Doing In Peace"
Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
The story of Nehemiah takes place after the exile in Babylon is
over - around the year 475 BC.
The people are poor and demoralized and frightened,
they have returned from slavery to face a totally ruined land
and a destroyed city.
Nehemiah is sent to be the Governor of Israel by King Artaxerxes
to help the people rebuild the land and Ezra the priest shows up
as well to help the people rediscover the worship of the one true
One day, just after the walls of the city have been rebuilt,
everyone is gathered in the square before the Water Gate
and the Torah is read,the Word of God,
and it is a big day - a special day -
Ezra reads the law as requested by the People,
and priests circulate in the crowd during the six long hours
he reads and interprets the law and explains its meaning
to the people... and the people mourn as they listen,
they grieve for themselves and for their nation
because they realize that the nation had failed to remember
the Word of God heard so long ago,
and so had been brought to ruin.
Nehemiah and Ezra,
and all the priests who have been teaching the people,
they see this mourning, this grief, as the people hear
and understand the Word of God,
and they say to the people when they see it:
DO NOT MOURN OR WEEP. THIS DAY IS SACRED TO OUR LORD. DO
NOT GRIEVE FOR THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH.
And at the end of the reading - Nehemiah sends the people away to
their homes to enjoy good food and sweet drink, and to share
their tables with those who have nothing to celebrate with.
It is a great story with a great message,
and it is all the more so for me
since it is told about characters I do not like very much.
Ezra and Nehemiah are, after all,
the same two men who told the sons of Israel to divorce any
women they had married who were not daughters of Israel -
a judgement on Ezra and Nehemiah's part that I cannot but
feel was wrong - a judgement that, I believe, the books of
Jonah and the book of Ruth were written to contradict.
Still, after reading today's lesson -
I see that Ezra and Nehemiah are not all bad -
I am reminded that they cared enough to rebuild the city
and to teach the people the Word of God,
and to do so with compassion and with love,
- urging the people to rejoice instead of to weep,
- to celebrate the Word instead of to grieve because of it.
I must conclude that Ezra's and Nehemiah's love for God
and for the people of God led them to make mistakes
as well as to do good....
Nehemiah didn't always understand
the spirit of the Word of the Law, and so he,
and Ezra with him,
made mistakes as he attempted to do good.
But isn't that like us all?
Don't we use the word of God at times in such a way
as to hurt others -
and this even when we think that we are doing the right
Ezra, the high priest, who knew the law very well,
a man who was passionately committed to God and to his people
condemned the Samaritan wives of the people of Israel,
and don't we at times condemn others because of where
they have come from? Because of the country
or the family of their origin?
And don't we think too much of the hurts done us in the past
when we argue with our husbands or wives,
and all too often recall the past offenses of our
children when we are trying to decide whether or
not they deserve a special privilege?
Don't we sometimes forget the Spirit of the law when faced with
a proven offender -
don't we often condemn as the Word of God condemns,
without also remembering that the Word of God also
goes on from judgement to bestow new life
and new hope upon those offenders?
Don't we all too often think of the Word of God as a negative
word and don't we often use that word in a negative way when
speaking it to others?
Indeed, we even use the word of God to hurt ourselves with..
Think about it:
Don't we often allow ourselves to be burdened with guilt and
sadness because we come to realize that we have not lived up
to the standards we have set for ourselves,
to the standards that the Word clearly points to...?
Don't we forget the healing nature of the Word of Truth and the
redemptive purpose God has in all his speaking
and accuse ourselves without at the same time allowing
the grace of God to sweep away our sorrow along with
Each of us may well hear the Word of God with tears at first -
the word is in fact meant to convict people,
just as the word I proclaim to you now is meant to
convict you -
but the word that convicts, if it is the word of God,
is also meant to redeem;
to show us what is true and good and possible for us,
and to move us to accept the saving love of God
and to go forth in joy rather than in tears.
John the Baptist announced the Word of God,
the word that called for the people' repentance
so that the people might be ready to meet their saviour
and rejoice in his kingdom.
And as you will remember many of the people wept at their own
sinfulness when they heard John speak,
but they went on from weeping
and they were baptized for the forgiveness of sins,
and went forth as new people, with a new life.
At Ninevah, Jonah, against his own desires
preached the judgement of God to the people
and told them as God had told him, that they would perish.
Jonah preached the word despite his own desires
because he knew what would happen -
that the people would hear the word of God,
and be truly sorry for their sins and call out to God
and be saved.
John and Jonah knew how the Word of God works,
and so did Ezra and Nehemiah.
When they spoke that word,
they wanted the people to understand that its
purpose is to bring joy and peace,
not bitterness and grief.
And so, when the people of Israel, who had forgotten the Word of
God and paid for that forgetting with Exile in Babylon,
heard the law of God, and felt convicted by it,
when they understood and yet felt burdened by it
Ezra and Nehemiah told them that they should rejoice -
that the day of their hearing the word was sacred to God,
and that God's joy was their strength.
We are called to rejoice too in the word of God,
to remember that the reason it is given is not simply
to convict or to judge.
but rather to point out the way to wholeness
the way to the kingdom of God,
the way to that joy of the Lord which is our strength.
That is what is behind the words from Corinthians today.
They were written, as I have said many times before,
to convict the sinners there of their awful behaviour,
but they were also written to reform them
and to give them and their church new life
by the renewal of the Spirit of Christ in them.
Paul proclaimed the word of God - and that word chastised the
people there who judged their neighbours to be either worse
than them or better than them,
but that Word was proclaimed not for that reason,
rather it was proclaimed to offer
the people of Corinth peace and hope and love
and joy - those things that we talked
about during Advent this year.
Hear the word with joy - for it is meant to bring you joy,
and do the word in peace, for it is meant to bring peace.
Criticism, of others, or of ourselves,
can only be seen as being the Word God wants us to hear or
speak, if it's purpose is to bring redemption
and if it is offered with the spirit of redemption
the spirit of the Saviour who loves sinners,
and came to save the lost.
As you listen for the Word of God about yourself,
or the message of God for another person,
you can tell if what the messenger is saying is genuine
by how they speak and act out the word.
Does the person who claims to be speaking the truth about
another man or woman speak that truth in love?
Are they speaking the Word of God as a redemptive word?
are they willing to visit at the person's home,
do they help the person overcome their problems,
to get a job,
to become literate,
to avoid temptation,
or do they only criticize and speak of how far from God's way the
behaviour of the person they speak about is...
The healing word of God is sometimes a critical word -
but it is critical only in the sense that a doctor's
diagnosis is critical - it points to the disease
so that the right medicine might be applied.
The Word of God is critical only in the sense that it is
important for the person to hear it so that their
healing may begin - so that their wholeness,
and indeed the wholeness of the whole body,
be it the church or the nation
may be brought about.
When we criticize without love the least of our brothers
when we put down each other or ourselves
without offering the love and the hope of God,
we hurt the whole body.
When we hear the word of God without hearing his plan for our
redemption, for our joy and our peace, we hurt ourselves.
It is hard to hear the Word both humbly and in gladness -
especially when the Word seems to convict us
and remind us of how much we have left to do,
but remember what the living Word of God says,
what Jesus said:
The spirit of the Lord is upon me: Because God has
anointed me to preach good news to the poor; He has sent
me to proclaim freed for the prisoners and recovery of
sight for the blind; To proclaim the year of the Lord's
This is the word of God for you - no matter what your situation,
DO NOT MOURN OR WEEP. THIS DAY IS SACRED TO OUR LORD. DO NOT
GRIEVE FOR THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH.
The word of God is meant for your redemption, and for the
redemption of the world.
The peace of God be with you, and the joy of the Lord which is
your strength, accompany you. AMEN
copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1998 - 2006
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.