Benedictine University and MySpiritualAdvisor.com’s Mark Kurowski reflects on how people could stand for six hours and listen to the Bible being read to them.  It really happened.  It was a turning point for the way the people who heard it behaved.  What does this have to do with us today?  Listen to this podcast of his reflection for the 3rdd Sunday of Ordinary Time to find out. Please read Nehemiah 8:1-10.

For MySpiritualAdvisor.com, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 1/27/2013The 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time.

 Please pause this audio and read Nehemiah 8:1-10.

[Read Leviticus 19 just like it would be read by Ezra at the Water Gate to the people when Nehemiah came and rebuilt the City]. This is a hard passage. We do not know what passage it was that Ezra read in the hearing of the people after Nehemiah had returned to Jerusalem and helped rebuild the City after many years of the Hebrew people being in exile. It could have been the passage I read from Leviticus 19. What I have just read is a hard reading to hear in this age and time. It is very specific. It is very plain. It is very hard.

The thing that is remarkable about Ezra standing amidst the people and reading this and others like it for over six hours is that the people respond in a way that is astonishing. If this would have been read at the gate of any city today, Ezra would have had to duck because a sandal was coming at his head.

But that is not how the people respond to the reading of the Law. As a matter of fact the Scripture says, “All the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.” Why is that?

         It might help if we understood the context of this reading. The first seven chapters of the Book of Nehemiah is the story of the rebuilding of Jerusalem. At the time of Nehemiah’s writing, Jerusalem was in a state of disrepair. The people of Jerusalem had been taken into exile about one hundred fifty years before into Assyria.   Nehemiah receives a word from the Lord in prayer to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the City with the remnant of people there.

So, he does. The Lord helps him persuade the king of Assyria to send him with money enough to rebuild the place. Nehemiah goes back, rallies everyone together, and they repair the wall around Jerusalem and restore it to its place as the

City of God. This is where we come in with the reading for today.

         The people are so delighted with the renewal of their city that they ask for the Book of the Law to be read. They ask because they understand that the hand of the Lord was in the events that led up to their renewal. When the book is opened, they stand and give it full attention–for six hours!

They listened as the priests walked among them explaining how the Law was to be implemented in their lives. They raised their hands in praise and prayer. Then when Ezra had completed the marathon reading, all the people fell down on the ground with their faces to the ground and said, “Amen. Amen,” which means “It is truly so. It is truly so.”

         I have attempted to come down amongst you like Ezra did amongst the people and read the Book of the Law. [Teasingly] But why haven’t you stood? Why haven’t you fell face down?

         In the rural church the big thing expected of the priest is that he or she will go into each house of the people for long visits. It is expected that the priest will while away as long of the afternoon as the member of the church wants of the priest’s time. When I was a rural pastor, I did that. One of the things that I came away with when I did it is that each house was decorated according to the interests of the people who lived there.

There was one woman where her interests were sewing and computer work. She had one room dedicated to the computer and her husband had renovated a garage so that they could make it a sewing room. They built a whole pole barn for his hobby, remote control airplanes. There was another couple and his hobby was woodworking. There was a whole barn built for his tools. Some others in the congregation had collections of knick knacks with rooms full of them.

         What brought these collections of activities and knick knacks to life was the dedication of the people to what they did. What they did was important to them. Their understanding of its importance was one of the focal points of their lives.

         Here in this passage from Nehemiah, the people had not just built a room, but a wall around a City for God. The movement of God in their lives was such that even if the Law of God did not please them, they were pleased to hear it. They were pleased to hear it because worshiping God and living by his commandments was at the center of their existence. no matter how hard it would be to keep the Law, the people of God rejoiced that they had been called by the covenant relationship they had with God to keep his commands as an example to all the earth.

Every Sunday, after the scriptures are read, the reader says, “The Word of the Lord.” We respond by saying, “Thanks be to God.” What if the passage challenges the way we are living our lives? We still say, “Thanks be to God.” What if the passage challenges the way our children live their lives? We still say, “Thanks be to God.” What if the passage challenges our political position? We still say, “Thanks be to God.” What if the passage demands that we change the way we have lived our lives since we can remember? We still say, “Thanks be to God.”

         We say, “Thanks be to God,” because no matter what the Word of God read from Scripture is, it is binding on our lives.   even if we don’t like it, we trust God that what he has said in the Scriptures to teach us and guide us is good for us.

When we read Scripture, we are not just trusting in the Book and its words, we are trusting in the relationship that God has with us. We are trusting that even if we cannot fulfill the moral law which is spelled out for us in the Old and New Testaments, we know that God has forgiven our sins through the eternal sacrifice of the blood of Christ shed on the Cross.   That relationship lasts forever because of who God is.

The people in Jerusalem rejoiced because God was their deliverer. He called Nehemiah. He molded Nehemiah into a man who could be trusted by everyone.   Through that trust He moved the heart of the king to provide Nehemiah with the supplies to rebuild Jerusalem. The Lord moved the hearts of the remaining Israelites to work together to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem.   the people knew that it was the hand of God that did that.

         I was talking with a member of one of the Churches I have served one time. That person said that during the five months they did not have a pastor in their local church the spirit there was down. They prayed that someone would come. All the while, a priest was discouraged by the situation where he was.   He prayed that God would send him someplace where he and the Church could do something wonderful for the Lord in the community. Then, remarkably, the Lord touched the heart of the Bishop. [In mock disgust] There they were, overjoyed to be appreciated by each other.

So we know that when the people of Jerusalem needed to be restored, God was faithful. When that church to be restored, God was faithful.   When that priest needed to be restored, God was faithful. So, we can trust that God acts in our best interests. We can trust that what his law calls us to do can be trusted because he is faithful. He will not steer us the wrong way. Therefore, I encourage you to read the word of the Lord and trust that the Lord is calling you to do that which can be trusted.

About ten years ago, as I was fulfilling my duties as President of the Little League, which primarily were to make sure that things got done, I had to try to discipline one of the coaches for irresponsible behavior toward his team and the league.   In his anger that I had to deal with him for something he did, he turned to me and said, “You act like you run the place!”   I said, “Well, I am the President.”

The Word of the Lord is binding on our lives. It is not just a stale book.   The way in which we read it and listen to it says a lot more about our faith than the truthfulness of the Book itself. How willing are we to say, “thanks be to God,” and be changed?

         So, I invite you to listen intently to what is read during the liturgies in your church and to pay attention to what you read in your daily devotional reading. Instead of critiquing God, which we in our society are so wont to do; I invite you to listen to the word like the people of Jerusalem did so long ago. I invite you to listen to the Word of the Lord as people who know that God has been faithful in our common life and can be trusted. I invite you to be molded and shaped by the Word and not just entertained by it. Amen? Amen.

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