Tuesday, 14 June 2016

God’s Word for God’s People

I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel... He read it aloud... And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law... The Levites... read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.
Nehemiah 8:1-8

To the delight of many a deacons’ meeting, parochial church council, or fabric committee, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of building projects. In Ezra it’s the temple, in Nehemiah it’s the city walls. Hard work. Bricks and mortar. Blood, sweat and tears.

No less real – and no less hard graft – is the rebuilding of the people themselves. A restored temple and rebuilt walls to be sure, but at the centre of it all is a renewed relationship with God, in community with others. And at the heart of that renewal, the means by which restoration comes, is the word of God.

Picture the scene in Nehemiah 8: thousands crowd into the public square; Ezra stands on a raised platform; unusually, the people have asked him to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses; when he opens it they stand up, he blesses them, and they respond in worship. Ezra reads from daybreak to noon, for about six hours, and the people listen attentively and reverently.

However, reading and listening on their own are not enough. God’s word requires explanation, as we see with the Levites ‘making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read’.

But something more is needed. For, as the story goes on, explaining and understanding lead to responding and celebrating – with weeping first, and then with delight, as the people discover that ‘the joy of the Lord’ is their strength (8:10).

Even this, it seems, is not the final goal of their encounter with God’s word, for the rest of the chapter shows them celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles, recalling how their ancestors lived in the wilderness, with everyone taking part, acting out God’s provision for them.

As they hear, understand, and respond to God’s voice in the pages of Scripture, they are recovering what it means to be the people of God.

Here is a window on the significance of the word of God to the life of the people of God. It reminds us that God renews through his word, that it’s a word for men and women and children, that it addresses the whole community, that it is to be listened to attentively, understood clearly, and responded to obediently, that it makes a difference to how people live.

Minds informed, hearts touched, lives changed – God renews through his word.

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