February 1, 2024
Thursday morning Bible Study on the Old Testament book of Ezra 7:11-28
Good morning in the Name and Love of Jesus Christ.
I hope you are ready for tonight's rain which will run through tomorrow, though perhaps in a lighter fashion tomorrow.
I just keep thinking that the plants which have suffered with extreme summer heat and drought are finally getting a much-needed reprieve. I hope that it is enough to deal with the next coming summer. Once again, this Sunday is Gospel Music Sunday which is followed by a carry-in meal. Also, Sarah, the VA nurse, will be here to take blood pressures after church, and Miss Vicky will be here to offer any assistance that you might need with your health insurance. Besides, she's just fun to meet and talk with. Remember to schedule yourself to be able to attend worship on Ash Wednesday / Valentines Day at Noon or 7PM. As we proceed through Lent there will be Noon Worship, but evening service will be available only on our web site through the Link to You Tube. There will be two services at Noon and 7PM on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Just a note: I have started reading "The Bible Unearthed", a new archaeological vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts. Finkelstein and Silberman. I have not yet gotten to the section on Ezra, but this text continues to affirm what I have believed about the construction of the history of Israel and its settlement of the Promised Land. It’s a very approachable style.
Today we move on to a section of Ezra which speaks to the heart of stewardship, with its being a combination of the Spirit's movement of the heart and of God's command and expectation of how we respond in returning to the work of God a portion of all that God has provided for the blessing of our lives.
This entire section is about how Artaxerxes approaches both wealth possession, and the need to be certain that he is not offending the God of the Judahites. In other words, he is trying to cover all of the bases for his safety and place in the world. This whole text is about Artaxerxes command to all people, including both Judahites who continue to live in Persia, and to his own people, most especially to the leaders and people beyond the "River" who are to follow this command to give generously to every request from the people who are rebuilding the Temple. My text uses the word scrupulously following the commands of the king's letter. This is a word that we don't often use today when we speak of giving, and like everyone else, I understand that there are times and life circumstances which prevent us from giving in the way that we would like to. But it continues to be important for us to be aware that stewardship is serious business in our relationship with God, though I certainly hope that you are giving regularly out of your joy in God's gift of Jesus Christ for your life, and not out of fear for God's retribution like Artaxerxes. The letter Also speaks to the responsibility of the leaders of the Temple worship center of the Judahites, of Ezra to be certain that he teaches everyone the things that he knows about the worship and life of the community, so that they might prosper in their endeavors to live and worship the God of Creation. The punishments are worldly. They will come from the king of Persia. There must be no failure in any of this, stewardship, helpfulness, compassion, provision of any requests, teaching, and training, after all, the people have been away from right worship and care for one another for a long period of time. They will definitely need help in adhering to the knowledge and priestly training that Ezra brings. In verse 27 of today's text, we see a transition of the language and its style. This is where the comment of Ezra begins and the letter from Artaxerxes ends. We know that some of the Judahites chose to not leave Persia, and they were being called on to send forward offerings for the work in Jerusalem. But for those who chose to return, their entire lives, in the midst of many hardships and difficulties of settling back in the promised land, would be their offerings. You see a big part of our stewardship is not just giving of time, talent, and resources, it is the commitment of our whole selves to the call of Christ to live in this world as His children. It is everything about us, our whole being, our lives in the world, which includes our time, talent, and resources, all are meant to be always and forever in the service of God. We can see it as a sacrifice, but in reality, all of this is just returning a portion of all that belongs to God in the first place.
Let's talk for a moment about how it is that God uses unlikely people, sometimes people who do not understand God's Grace and compassion for His children, who do not see the possibility of the Holy Truth which Christ brings for us in the Gospels, and yet, they too are moved to act in ways which reinforce and strengthen God's purposes and intents with those who have come to believe in the Holy Trinity and its action for each of our lives before God. Even in congregations, the sometimes most difficult people are catalysts for the always changing work of the Gospel in the world. We always have lots of questions when we see these unusual ones being alligators in our midst, and yet, often in the future, when we look back, we see how they too were an important part of God's Plan for all of us.
Artaxerxes wants. a good neighbor in this reestablishing community, so there is a kind of imperialistic thinking here too. These returning people have every reason to be entrenched in their anger over the initial exile. However, when Persia and her people are deeply involved in the restoration of Jerusalem, and the surrounding countryside, then committing to their return and their survival with everything they need, creates the likelihood of another rebellion to be extremely low. The practicalities of governance have changed very little over the course of many centuries. Today we have a good relationship with Germany and Japan, who were literally obliterated by the military power of the United States and its Allies, and yet today we are close friends because of the rebuilding of those nations with our help after the war. Like the situation with Persia and the Judahites, there are certainly difficulties in this too.
I will be back with you on Monday and the study of Mark's Gospel.
In Christ, filled with Grace and Joy, Pastor Kim