January 18, 2024
Thursday morning Bible Study on the OT Book of Ezra 6:16-22
Grace and peace to you in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ.
A reminder that we have a special Sunday School Class on January 21 at 9AM. During this class we will discuss how it has come to pass that the church/Church has taken a turn away from the myriad laws of Moses in the first five books of the Old Testament, and has moved to a far more grace-centered, informed by the 10 Commandments, New Testament approach to follow Christ's model for how we discern with prayer and faith how we live together as the community of all who accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. I hope to see you there.
Today we are in Ezra 6:16-22. As we have been reading Ezra, this part of the description of how the nearly completed Temple will now be used, and try to come to understand why the King, one hundred years or so after Cyrus, feels bound by the commands of a former king of Persia to assist The Judahites as they move to begin worship, which certainly includes animal sacrifice as an expiation for the sins of the people. During the time of the building of Jerusalem and the Temple, there was a celebratory worship, but it was accomplished by the builders who were not really priests, and especially not priests who had been purified for the task of getting that worship started. In chapter 6 it is clear that now, the correct kind of preparation for starting worship is in place, and the people who will be in charge of it are all purified for the purpose. All of this is similar to the start-up of a congregation. This generally begins with a synod sent mission developer, who finds a place to gather people who are interested in worship, and then, hopefully interested in chartering a congregation which then sets about the task of building a church, setting programs for the dispersion of the Gospel message like focus groups, Sunday School teachers, worship assistants, outreach groups who will head out to welcome many more diverse people to the new church, and arrangements will be made to call a first pastor to serve the Gospels in their midst. The one great big difference is how all of this is financed. For a new church start, there is always assistance from the larger church, and ultimately it falls on the shoulders of the new worshiping community to provide the necessary finances. But this is not the way that the Judahites began. Their finances were provided by more than one king of Persia. When we read today about the numbers of animals which Persia will provide for the festival of celebration of the Passover, At the hand of God, moving the heart of the Persian King, every need has been provided for, including the costs of this massive number of animals that will be sacrificed, not this time for getting forgiven, but instead, having come to realize that God has done this all for them, bringing them home from exile, and doing even far more than that, are celebrating God's love and kindness to them. Earlier, they would have considered the task before them as their own work to seek a renewed relationship with God. In a reading of Ezra, we discover that it was the belief of the exiled people that Cyrus was seeking to placate the Judahite God, asking for prayers and renewed hope for the people who had come from outside of Persia. Cyrus, and the kings who followed him, were truly the tools of this rebuilding and extravagant worship with God as the driving force behind all of it. Perhaps one of the most important learnings for us from this passage is more about God's desire to provide for us in greater ways than we could ever hope for.
I have to tell you that in my own life, my internship in Des Moines, IA was lonely except for my family. 3000 members was such a large number of people to attempt to even know names. In my first call there I was so busy in my ministry that there was neither time for my young family with a new one on the way, nor for my wife. Everything was in a seat behind the 70-80 hours of serving the Gospel every week. It was not coming to American, that I really found my joy in serving the Gospel. My spirituality had a chance to blossom through preaching, celebrating the sacraments, teaching, and welcoming everyone who came through the doors. Early in my ministry at American there was one new member class of 40 people, and to have the honor of having two of our congregations’ members move on to become ordained clergy was amazing. That happened too in my first call with two members moving into ordained ministry, yes, and even one from my internship site who credited me as the driving force for his ministry. I didn't enter into ordained ministry for the Gospel of Jesus Christ ever thinking about who I might inspire to become a pastor, yet God has given me more in that way than I could have ever hoped for. The same thing is true for the Judahites. This new beginning festival in the Temple is more than they ever dreamed would be possible for them in their relationship with God. The ones who have returned from exile need cleansing, and the priests are ready to move on to that for them. However, unlike the time of the building when outsiders were troubled and troubling for the Judahites, now everyone who wants to become a part of this new community is welcome to join in. The biggest issue here of course is that to join, the men need to be circumcised. This is after all, an outward sign of that inward change which coming into the relationship with the God of the Judahites requires. Of course, in the Christian community that outward sign is Baptism.
This is the end of the study for today. God bless you.
In Christ, Pastor Kim