January 27, 2019 Sermon
“What’s the Hold Up?”
Old Testament Scripture: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel.
Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."
Scripture Reading: Luke 4:14-21
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.
The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Sermon: What Are We Waiting for?
What do you want to do with your life?
Have you ever asked yourself that question?
I know I have. A couple of times.
We all, I think, wonder sometimes, what our purpose is. Why do we exist? How are we supposed to use the skills, the gifts we’ve been given? At least I hope that we’ve all wondered that. I would hate to be the only one who thinks about this. That would be weird.
Of course, there are times in our lives when these questions are almost overwhelming. High school and college graduation, of course. An opportunity to change careers, or even to change positions in the same career can bring on some soul searching. And don’t get me started on the dynamics of family life: Marriage, children, building a home, you know what I mean.
There are times in our lives when we really wonder, literally, what on earth am I here for? What is my role? If all the world is a stage, what part do I play in this sacred drama of life?
Now, the problem is, we don’t always get an email, or a text message, or an Instagram post from God telling us the answer. Often times, we find the answer in unexpected opportunities, or even in crushing failures. We may hear the answer in the gentle advice of a respected friend, or the withering criticism of someone you can’t stand.
It’s a hard thing to discern one’s place in the world. It’s a hard thing to parse out the meaning of events and changes in our lives and know what they mean for us.
In our Old Testament reading, we see the Hebrew people, at a crossroads after rebuilding the temple, not knowing what to do next. They’ve returned to Israel after a generation in captivity, they’ve rebuilt their lives, their town, and their church. But there’s something wrong. The church wasn’t what it once was. The town is not what it once was. Their lives are not what they once were.
They’re at a loss, and the don’t know what they are going to do next. They’ve done everything they can, everything they thought they were supposed to do, but there is still the nagging sense that it wasn’t enough, that they weren’t good enough somehow, that despite their best efforts, their faith, and their skill, they came up short.
And so Ezra, the high priest, does the only thing you can do. They had been in exile, they had been away from the Torah, they hadn’t been able to read or hear the words of God. But today at least, they were home again, they came to church, and and Ezra read the word of God to the people.
In many ways, we find our own patterns of worship here in this scripture. There is reading of the word, there is an interpretation of what it means, there is singing, there is remembering who God is, and it’s a celebration.
They remember the stories of when God brought them through the river, through the sea, when God saved them from slavery, when God gave them into the promised land. They remember the stories of God feeding them in the desert, of giving them water from the rock, of raising up judges and deliverers in times of trouble, of giving them mighty kings and promising never to abandon them.
And it was these stories that helped the people remember who they were, and whose they were. And these stories kept the people going. It was a day of joy, of weeping, and hope and re-consecration. They people ate, and drank, and it was a day to remember.
Now that’s church.
All of us, at times, are at loss as to who we are. We forget, sometimes, why we are here. We lost track of our call to be children of God. We forget what it means to follow the will of our Lord.
I remember a few years ago an amazing new reality TV show that aired for just a couple of seasons, a show that focused on the daily life of five pastor’s wives from Atlanta mega-churches, with all the glitz, glamour and weirdness that goes along with that. I think this made such an impression on me because we had lived in Atlanta, and we knew the names of these pastors, we had seen them on billboards, on TV commercials.
Anyway, the cameras followed these women around as they went about their ordinary lives. At least, the ordinary lives of people who have way, way too much extra time and money and God on their side.
The show was so embarrassing that it was cancelled after a huge backlash from Christians of all kinds: Evangelicals, mainline, charismatics, you name it, it was uniformly hated, and it didn’t last.
Actually, that in itself is kind of a testament to how bad it was, when you consider what kind of absolute trash TV seems to churn out year after year. Do you remember “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo?” That lasted five seasons. “Sister Wives’ is still going strong after 12 seasons. And I can’t imagine a time when there isn’t some sort of Kardashian show. It will be set in a nursing home, maybe, but it will still be going strong.
So, in this era of really bad TV, you can imagine just how bad this show about pastor’s wives was, in order to get shut down in just two seasons.
Anyway, the thing that I most remember about the show, was that in the trailers for it, they interviewed one of the women about the show, and she made a point of telling her story that she had prayed real hard about whether God wanted her to be famous and make lots of money in front of millions of people on TV.
And of course, God spoke to her personally, and said, “yes, this is precisely what I have called you to do. I have called you to debase yourself and your husband’s profession, for money on camera. Please. There is an urgent need for this special kind of work that only you can do.”
You see, for her, this was her call. This was her vocation. This was who she was meant to be, what she was meant to do. God wanted her for this specific role in life, and despite the hardships, and millions of dollars and spin-offs and other deals that she would make, she was willing to sacrifice herself and follow God’s calling on her life. And she was dead serious about it.