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Sermon for The Third Sunday after Epiphany - Year C
Nehemiah 8:1-10; Luke 4:14-21
"Hearing With Joy, Doing In Peace"


READING:  Nehemiah 8:1-10;Luke 4:14-21
SERMON :  "Hearing With Joy, Doing In Peace"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-or03se.y-c 405000

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
God.
          
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
             thing??  

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
                 our sin?

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
         favour...

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.



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