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Bible Tuesday for January 24, 2016

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, January 24, 2016

Nehemiah 8:1-10

8all 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. 2Accordingly, 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.3He 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. 4The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash-baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 5And 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. 6Then 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. 7Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. 8So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

9And 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. 10Then 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.”

So frequently I write notes on “exilic texts”, that is, the parts of the Bible written during or about the Israelites in exile in Assyria and Babylon. FINALLY, here is a text written after all the Israelites return from exile to their homes!

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of the Israelites rebuilding the ruins left behind after the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. When Cyrus of Persia defeats Babylon, he allows all captives of Babylon to return to their homes. He goes a step further and finances the rebuilding of various cities, including Jerusalem. Cyrus even funds the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.

The new High Priest of Israel is Ezra and the new, Persian appointed, governor of Israel is Nehemiah. Just as the Israelites were freed by God from Egypt and allowed to return to the Promised Land, so here the Israelites are freed by God through Cyrus to return to the Promised Land.

There is a very important scene in Exodus where all Israel is gathered at the foot of Mt. Horeb/Sinai and Moses returns from being given the Law of God and stands on the side of the mountain and proclaims this law to all the Israelites. So now in the above text, Ezra stands on a wooden platform flanked by twelve men (representing the 12 tribes of Israel) and reads the Law that Moses received from God to all the adults of Israel. Rabbinic teaching is that this platform stood on the Temple mount. These Israelites hear the word of God and weep! So hungry have they been for the way God—so different from the Babylonian religions. So eager are they to please God and put the punishment of defeat and captivity behind them. To show their ascent to the Law of God, the people lift their hands in praise and then lie prostrate on the ground in complete humility before God.

The significance of the above event cannot be overstated. It is commemorated in the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah, that is, The Giving of the Law. This event shapes both Israelite and Christian worship, even to this day. Nehemiah is careful to record that all the men and women stood to receive the word of God as Ezra opened the scroll. To this day, Jews stand for the reading of the Torah, and Christians for the reading of the gospel. In addition, while Ezra reads the Law, the twelve men and the Levites go about and translate the Hebrew into Aramaic and other Babylonian dialects the people now speak, and interpret the Law for the people. This is exactly what preaching is to do, both in synagogues and churches. Preachers are to translate the biblical language into the common vernacular and then interpret the passage for that community.

Psalm 19

1The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

2Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.

3There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;

4yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,

5which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

6Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.

7The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple;

8the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes;

9the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

10More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.

11Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

12But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.

13Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

The Jewish Study Bible states regarding this psalm, “This psalm is recited as part of the preliminary morning service on Saturday and at festivals. In is divided neatly into three sections: vs 2-7 are a hymn specifically on the sun, vs 8-11are a hymn focusing on Torah, and vs 12-15 are a petition to be saved from sin, and for prayers to be heard. Many scholars believe that either two psalms have been combined, or that a later psalmist who composed vs. 8-15 incorporated the earlier vs 2-7, which have a different topic, style, and poetic structure.”

Verse 15 is a common pre-sermon prayer said by many pastors and priests, sometimes even aloud from the pulpit. The Jewish Study Bible states about this verse, “This verse is reused as part of the conclusion of the “Amidah”, the main daily prayer. In its original context, it is unclear if “the words of my mouth and the prayer of my heart” refer to the immediately preceding verses, asking forgiveness from sins, or if this entire psalm serveds as an introduction to a larger liturgical complex.”

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.14Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,3and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

As noted last week, the Christian congregation in Corinth faced an awful lot of challenges, one of the biggest being themselves. A close reading of I & II Corinthians finds a congregation deeply divided. First, it is both a Jewish and a Gentile congregation, with both groups arguing superiority. Second, it is a congregation made up of the very wealthy, the very poor, and seemingly some folks in the middle. There also appear to be political and ethnic divisions. All of these divisions manifest themselves in the new life of the church as well. As we read above, folks are actually arguing about who baptized them and therefore who has the better baptism!!! They argue over who has the better spiritual gift!!! But lest we find these arguments ridiculous, certainly our congregational arguments are no more or less so.

Paul’s paragraph on spiritual gifts teaches that the mere fact that the Holy Spirit gave the gift imbues value into that gift; value which should not be snubbed or underappreciated. How difficult it is to set aside thoughts of hierarchy and socio/political importance when entering the church, whether through the door or the font.

Luke 4:14-21

14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When 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,17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“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, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And 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. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

This text immediately follows the temptation of Jesus as recorded in Luke. The devil has departed from Jesus, waiting for a “more opportune time.” But Jesus was filled by the power of the Holy Spirit at his baptism, which seems to have carried him through the fasting and tempting wilderness time right into ministry. But in the gospel of Luke, Jesus hasn’t done any ministry yet. He was born, heralded by angels and gazed upon by shepherds. Jesus wowed scholars at the Temple when he was in junior high. And then there was his baptism where a dove landed on him and a voice was heard from the sky. But from the observer’s eye, Jesus hasn’t done anything up to this point. Yet Luke tells us, “a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.” I wonder what the report said? It must have positively predisposed people to him since his synagogue teaching earned him “praise by everyone.”

Then Jesus went home to Nazareth. He went to synagogue that Saturday morning, recited “The heavens are telling the glory of God…” with the rest of the congregation, and then stood up to read the scroll and the congregation stood up to hear it. Jesus read a well known, well loved passage, and then sat down to preach on it. Jesus then translated and interpreted that passage for the congregation.

The hometown crowd already heard about the dove, so Jesus merely translated the bird from sign (dove) to symbol (God’s power rests on and fills me). Then Jesus interpreted for the congregation what it meant for them that the Holy Spirit actually rests on and burns in Jesus. “All those things that the Holy Scriptures say God will do, I am now doing. Today. Right in front of your very eyes.”

Unfortunately…the sermon wasn’t very well accepted.