Pastor's Ponderings: Old Testament Bible Study on Ezra 2:68 - 3:5 (November 9, 2023)
Blessings and Peace to you on this cool crisp autumn morning.
It is really difficult to realize that we are so close to the celebration of our national holiday of Thanksgiving. I hope that you are able to gather with your family and/or friends to celebrate this day. Indeed, we have so much to be thankful for in our nation. Yet today we see a polarization of our citizens and of their way of seeing others as a toxic presence while they build themselves up and look for ever-growing power and wealth. As a spiritual leader in our community and nation, I must tell you that I am concerned about the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ being set aside for the gain of political and economic power. We must always move toward the Great Commandment and its second about our neighbors. In this Jesus is patently clear. There is no one who is excluded as our neighbor, and to add to it all, Christ makes it even clearer that He is the One and Only Judge of all of us. Our doing so makes us most presumptuous as we try to become the judging Christ for the lives of other people. It is the Holy Spirit who transforms that change of heart and mind in which we all are called to participate. Before I segue to our reading from Ezra for today's bible study, I have one more comment to make. The world is still tempting people of faith to slip away from the great grace-filled Truth of Jesus Christ. Who do you want to blame for the problems of your life and of our world? Muslims, Jews, gays, Hispanics, women, the poor, or any other group you can name, and probably have? Jesus opened His Heart of Love for everyone, and every one of them, and us, sinners!
Now with regard to this issue of maintaining the faith of the community in its appropriate form for worship, which gathers the community together with the reminders that what God has requested through the leaders of the faithful people is truly important in the relationship which God has opened to Himself with all of His children. In the case of the people who have returned to the area of Jerusalem and the surrounding land, it becomes vitally important for everyone to gather for right worship, and to remember the words of the Law recorded in the books of Moses. I have to wonder how it was that the Pentateuch, the first five books of the O.T. were held onto during the period of the exile, or perhaps they were maintained by oral tradition, and recorded during the exile in Persia. At any rate, what takes place in Jerusalem are expressions of faithfulness through large offerings for the work of rebuilding the Temple from the tribal leaders of the Jews, those heirs of the original 12 brothers, and after a period of time, the gathering of all of the people who have returned to come to worship which is a giving of themselves to their relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The same thing is true for us today and is certainly one of the reasons why we come to worship. This is the time when in midst of all that is going on in our lives, we set aside the time to be with our God. We offer our sacrifices and acknowledge the sacrifice that God has made to be open to us, even in our sinfulness, His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The worship in which these returned exiles participated was based on the books of Moses, which pretty graphically described how often, how physically the sacrifice was to be performed, who was to lead it, etc. Today in the church our worship is pieced together from the Scripture from the Psalms and prayers to the Gospels and the writings of Paul which shares with us the very first early church consecration of the Sacrament of the Altar. Another thing which worship is to always call us to is the memory of the mighty acts of salvation which God has performed to care for we who are His children. For the Jews it was the act of being set free from bondage in Egypt, and the way in which the newly freed slaves lived as they journeyed through the wilderness. This is the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, booths, (We might more readily speak of tents.) the temporary shelter which housed God's people on this many years long journey. For us in the Christian church today, worship always needs to bring us to the salvation which Christ brought to us by His Sacrifice on the Cross, paying the price for our sins. Our journeys begin, not in Egypt, but on the day of our Baptisms when, through the faith of our parents, or our own faith if we were older, that day on which we were set free from the bondage to sin.
A very important reason for renewing and establishing worship on the site of Temple was the people coming together to appeal to God for His protection. After all, these people, like the Jews of 1947, were being placed back into the promised land by a foreign government, Cyrus and the Persians. Of course, there were already people there, especially after the 50 years of exile. Farms were running, Businesses were flourishing, and families were growing. The fear of the current residents of being displaced was in all likelihood, shown by their aggressive approach to the new/returning interlopers. In some ways we are in the same circumstance here in Arizona, what used to be Mexico, and as Eastern settlers moved in, there were bound to be hard feelings on the part of those who had lived here generationally, both indigenous communities and the Hispanics. Those feelings of animosity still exist to this day. In our gathering for worship, we too are asking God for His intervention in all the tough circumstances of our lives, and hopefully, in some of the happy ones too.
Just as a point of information: Jerubbabel is the heir of King Jehoiachin, and thereby is established as the Davidic leader. There were no kings of Israel at this point since this community of people was still under the oversight of Persia. His duties would have been administrative, but also would have included some duties for worship. Jeshua was more involved directly with the worship because he was an Aaronic priest. Those family connections brought people to leadership. (whether they were any good at what they did or not) Both of these men had work that blended the worship and the administration of the community. Note: Ezra came to Jerusalem about 100 years after the first people who returned. Next Thursday we will speak about Ezra 3:6-13.
In Christ Love, Pastor Kim