Attentive to the Word
Nehemiah 8: 1-18
Sermon by Pastor Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
After only fifty-two days, and thanks to the devoted efforts of many volunteers, the wall and gates around Jerusalem were complete. The enemies of the Jews were no longer a threat to the city and those who lived in and around it. All the people went back to their homes and their work, resuming their normal lives. About a week later, at the beginning of the seventh month, it was the civil New Year’s Day, celebrated as the Feast of Trumpets. All work stopped, and all the people assembled. Normally only men participated in such assemblies, but because this was such a special and solemn occasion, women and children were included, also.
Ezra the priest, carrying the book of the Law of God, climbed to the top of the wooden platform constructed specifically for this event. On his right and left were Levites who would interpret the reading of the Word. As Ezra opened the scroll, all the people stood up. First, led by Ezra and the Levites, everyone praised God, then bowed down and worshiped. Then they all stood again as Ezra read and the Levites interpreted. For six hours the reading and interpretation continued, and the people all listened attentively, standing the entire time. As they understood the reading, the people wept and grieved out of remorse for their own sins as well as the sins of their ancestors. But Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites told the people, “This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep. . . . Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Then Nehemiah sent the people away to feast, reminding them to share with the poor so that nobody would go hungry. Because the people now understood what Ezra had read to them, they celebrated joyfully.
God’s Word has that effect on people. When we read and understand scripture, we are convicted. We feel remorse for our own sins and the sins of all humanity. When we look around at the world we live in, we mourn for all the evil and destructive acts that we humans have committed. We see how God intended his creation to be and how far from its original state it has fallen, and we long for Jesus to return and set everything right again. Perhaps we feel powerless, wondering how our tiny light can possibly make a difference in the vast darkness of our reality. But we can take Nehemiah’s words to heart: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” When we saturate ourselves with scripture, God’s Word, we are convicted, yes, but we are also renewed. Not only are we offered a fresh start: we are also equipped for the journey with joy, strength, hope, gratitude, and perseverance.
You are welcome at Westview Church! Join us this Sunday morning at 9:30 for worship (Discovery Hour is on summer break, but nursery care is available for the littlest ones and Children’s Worship is offered for those age four through second grade).