Summary: When Ezra read the scriptures to the Hebrew people who had not heard it for over 80 years, it changed their lives.
Scripture: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Intro: How many have flown somewhere before? Well, when you get on the plane the attendants go over with you the safety information. I remember the first time I ever flew, I paid close attention to these instructions. I read every word of the booklet in front of my seat. But now when I fly, I find myself reading my novel and not even listening to the attendants.
We get so used to things that we often ignore them. We don’t appreciate the trouble that others have gone to or the importance of what we are missing out on. Well, the people in our scripture lesson today did not ignore what they were hearing.
• This was their third return to Jerusalem after captivity by the Babylonians.
• Nehemiah the governor had them busy rebuilding the temple when some old scrolls were found.
• These scrolls were the Law of Moses – what are now the first 5 books of our Old Testament today.
• The people had not heard the word of God for 80 years!
The scripture tells us that all the people gathered together to hear. All the men and women and everyone who could hear, they gathered to hear once again the words that had been taught them by their ancestors.
And when the scribe Ezra opened the scrolls, they all stood up! It was common for folks to sit down to hear someone teach. But they must have been so excited that when the scrolls were opened, they stood. They recognized the importance of what was happening in their midst. They recognized what they had missed out on for so long.
Many churches today observe this practice of standing when scripture is read. When I was in Greece, I was able to attend a Greek Orthodox Church – St. Demetrius in Thessaloniki. They stood anytime scripture was read. They also knelt down on the floor and bowed to pray. No matter how old or how crippled one was, they stood up and knelt down – over and over again during the service. This active participation helped them realize that they were in God’s presence.
The Greek people really do seem to appreciate their faith. When I was riding the bus in Athens I noticed that at several points along the way, the bus riders would all give the sign of the cross over their chest – not just once but over and over. I asked someone why and he pointed out to me that each time they passed a church, they recognized the sacredness of it and that they remembered their faith by signing the cross. Also, when I was in Greece, all along the highways, there are little church boxes beside the roads. This is for travelers to stop and pray for someone – maybe an accident they have witnessed or seen, maybe a tired traveler they have met, or maybe just an opportunity to lift up a personal prayer. You pull over on the side of the road and write your request on a slip of paper and light incense as you pray. They don’t take their faith for granted even in the daily circumstances of life.
Do we appreciate what we have? Well, let’s take spouses. Many marriages fail today because one or both spouses fail to show gratitude to the other. Let’s face it – many of us take our spouses for granted now and then – some more than others. Dan did not clean the kitchen to my specifications the other day and instead of being grateful that he did anything, I threatened to trade him in! Now, we were joking but sometimes the name calling and ingratitude couples show one another is anything but funny.
How about our cars? It seems that we don’t really appreciate our car until it tears up. Am I not right here? We covet the newer models. If only I had that convertible mustang – boy I’d be good to go then! But if I think about it, my car does exactly what I need it to do – take me from point a to point b. And in relative comfort. But I am guilty of not appreciating my car.
And our health – now I can talk all day about this one! We don’t take care of ourselves like we should – and then one day we end up in the hospital or off our feet and well, we begin to wish we had done better. Why don’t we appreciate what we have!! Why don’t we treat our bodies with respect? Why don’t we use every day to serve God when we can, in the best way that we can, by taking care of ourselves better?
Look at all this church has been blessed with! We have Bibles in the pews. Most of us have Bibles at home. We have more information and knowledge about God now than the Hebrew people had and yet, we’ve heard it all before. Many come to church out of habit or out of feeling guilty. Many come to socialize. Few come to hear the word of God…or should I say few are EXCITED about coming to hear the word of God!