February 8, 2024
Thursday morning Bible Study on the OT book of Ezra 8:1-23
Good morning this Thursday, February 8, 2024. This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. I know that there are plenty of reasons to awaken to the new day with trepidation and sadness, but this statement of faith in God always helps to remind us that our God is always present with us, no matter the outcome of today. God is always with us to guide and protect His gift of faith that we have received from His Spirit. And, through Jesus Christ, the final victory over evil has already been won on the Cross. It may not always feel like it, and we are faced with a whole generation of people today who seem to think that they have no use for Christ's Church. However, like you, the Church and her members must always remember that this day, and every day, has been made by our Lord. And though the times seem to be against Christ's work, we are to rejoice and be glad for all that God does for us every day of our lives.
This Saturday, February 10th, a group from our congregation will be heading to Sierra Vista to Sierra Lutheran Church for the 11AM installation of The Reverend Kurt Fangmeier as the new pastor of that parish. Kurt is a former member of American, a UA graduate, attended the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, and has had a variety of calls in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We are pleased to welcome Kurt to his new pastorate, and to have him back closer to his home church, American Ev. Lutheran in Tucson. Congratulations Pastor Kurt!
Today we move forward to chapter 8 in the OT book of Ezra, and we will cover the first 23 verses. In the majority of this passage from Ezra we receive a record of all of the family groups and their numbers who have come to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple about a hundred years after the first exiles went back. There is a definite benefit to doing this. It builds community and unity. When I go back to the Swedish Lutheran Church were my relatives started it in the 1870s, I am always drawn to a 2' by 4' stand in the parish hall. On that stand are large photos of all of the congregation's pastors since it chartered, and also every confirmation class since then too. I found pictures of my mother and her four siblings, taken for their confirmations in the late 1930s. It helps me to remember who I am, and where I have come from over the years of my life. Though relatively short pastorates are usually the reality in the ELCA, my first pastor, The Rev. John Landine was at my home church for 40 years. Keeping such pictorial records must not have been an easy task, any more than recording all of the names and numbers of family members who came back from exile to continue the hard work of rebuilding. Today in most of our congregations we do a periodic member directory.
Curiously there are apparently no people in this large group who are going with Ezra who are identified as being of one of the priestly families. We do know from the last day's study that there were large numbers of items of gold, silver, and brass which had initially been taken from the Temple at the time of the defeat of Jerusalem in 597 BCE (before the Common Era, which indicates our more common dating from the time of Christ) It was to be the work of the priestly families to be bearers for all of the holy furnishing which were now being returned by Artaxerxes. To make all of this happen, Ezra had to send back to find some priestly family members who were willing to leave their lives in Babylon. Unlike some of the more legendary parts of the Old Testament, (see "The Bible Unearthed") here we have a list of real people who are becoming immigrants to their home promised land, now some 150 years after the first exiles were taken in 597BCE. Now we have to remember the offerings which had been made for this group to carry with them back to Jerusalem, and that's in addition to the wealth of the plundered Temple furnishings. So Ezra has much wealth for which he is ultimately responsible. This second, Exodus-like journey begins with prayer and fasting (affliction), like the Passover, so that God is made aware that this is a group of faithful Hebrews who are headed back to their homeland from exile. IN fact, this is such an Exodus-like journey that the group starts out by crossing a small river to duplicate the Red Sea story. There is also something else here. Ezra had told Artaxerxes that God would protect this group in their entire journey, so that it was now a matter of saving face, that Ezra could not go back to the king of Persia and tell him that the Hebrew's God would not be strong enough to protect these gifts of money and furnishings. We will see in the book of Nehemiah, that he does not make Ezra's mistake, and instead makes certain that he has protection for his journey. Ezra's journey makes it, by the Grace of God. Next Thursday we will take a more in-depth look at how this call on Ezra unfolds in this new setting, especially since Ezra is a relative latecomer.
In Christ's Love, Pastor Kim.