Back to the basics
Chapter 21 and confirnmation
Remember last fall we started our STORY adventure with the story of creation? 21 chapters later, we arrive at the end of the Old Testament.
We have been through creation, and Noah, and Abraham. We have walked with Moses, fought with Joshua, and been inspired by the judges. We watched the rise of King David and saw the rest of the kings drag Israel down into the mud. We have been through the exile, the return and the rebuilding and we end up back in Jerusalem.
On the way, we have witnessed great faith and deep doubt. We have read about the building of the nation and her faith, and the utter destruction of that same nation and faith. We have talked about great love and terrible betrayal. We have been from slavery in Egypt to the opulence of Solomon’s royal court, and back to the want of the exile. We have witnessed great godliness and the worst of humanity.
It has sometimes been quite a rollercoaster ride hasn’t it?
Today we move the setting for the story from the royal courts of Persia back to Jerusalem. Many of those who were exiled by Babylon have returned to Jerusalem. The Temple has been rebuilt, Today’s story includes the rebuilding of the walls. Life is getting back to normal. At least life is getting back to what passes for normal.
But something is missing. There is a big hole in Israel’s heart. What could it be? They are back home. They have their temple, their city, their houses, their businesses, their neighbors, and friends, and family… what could be missing…? God.
Sure they had the temple and the priests made the sacrifices there, but God seemed far away, and there was a God shaped hole in the hearts of the everyday people.
So they asked Ezra, the priest, to bring the word of God to them. They asked for the Law of God to be read to them. They all stood attentively listening to the law of God, which had not been read to them for 150 years. The people raised their hands and responded AMEN, AMEN. As the reading continued, their eyes were opened, and their hearts were softened as they heard for the first time in their lives the story of God’s love for them. Their eyes were filled with tears and their hearts were convicted as they heard what the lord required of them and realized how much they had failed.
The Priests and Levites comforted them saying don’t stand here to mourn and weep. Go home and celebrate. They were to celebrate that this day is Holy. It was a day of revival. The people got back to the basics of following the law, loving God, and loving their neighbors. There was something of a revival in Israel.
This is not only the story of the rebuilding of the temple and the rebuilding of the walls, it is the story of the rebuilding of the faith of the people that had been neglected for many years.
We could use rebuilding couldn’t we! Not buildings or walls, but like the Israelites in the story, we could sure use a rebuilding of our faith.
Like the Israelites, our faith takes a beating. It seems like if we aren’t being frontally attacked by illness, death and disaster; we are being attacked from the back by doubts, fears and busyness. There is always something, it seems, that is challenging our faith. Don’t you ever just get tired? Don’t you ever just feel spiritually exhausted? I do.
And when I feel that way, it feels as though God is 1000 miles away.
I think that is what the Israelites must have thought. They must have thought that God seemed an awful long ways away.
Was he? NO. The truth is that we wasn’t for the Israelites and he isn’t for us today.
So what do we do? What can we learn from this final chapter of the Story?
First, thinking about the revival of Ezra and Nehemiah. I noticed that the people were just going about their mundane business. They were rebuilding the walls of the city. There is nothing special about that. Cleaning up the mess, piling the rocks back up one on top of another. It was just work that had to be done.
It was in the midst of that routine, mundane work, when no one was expecting it or paying attention, that that God moved. God moved in the hearts and lives of the people to bring them all to the Water Gate to hear the word. God moves in the hearts and lives of the people to make them WANT to hear from God.
God’s revelations do not always come with smoke and lightning. They do not always come with angels and trumpets. In fact, more often they come as a still small voice speaking in our hearts while we are going about the routine, mundane work of our lives.
So the first lesson when God seems far away, is don’t watch for God only in the spectacular and wondrous. Watch for God in the Mundane. Watch for God in the routine events of your lives. The sunrise, your daily relationships, your weekly chores and responsibilities. Just keep piling one rock upon another and trust that God will speak. And most often he will… if we will just listen.
Second, I noticed that when the people heard God’s voice calling they asked for something very simple. They asked to hear the word of God. They went back to the basics of their faith.
Sometimes we want to make faith too hard. We think we should be doing PHD level work and all God really wants is for us to stick to the first grade fundamentals.
Whether we are mastering a sport, or a new skill in school, or a new job, or a new relationship, the fundamentals are always the place to start.
No matter how complicated the electronics, if it isn’t working the first thing to check is whether it is plugged in.
No matter how complicated and beautiful the piece of music, the very first thing the musician does is make sure that their instrument is in tune.
Our faith is no different. There are a lot of things that can distract us from the faith. In the church we sometimes get distracted by difficult relationships, or politics, or shiny new programs and maybe you will find God there. But if you really want to find God I suggest you go back to the basics. Go back to the fundamentals of loving God and loving others. When all else fails go back to the instruction book of the faith which is the Bible. Which says in the passage we read today, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever should believe I him would not perish but have eternal life.” It doesn’t get any simpler or more beautiful than that. Love God because he first loved you. Go back to the basics of loving and being loved.
So I offer these words to the confirmands today, and I don’t think it will hurt any of us to listen in on this simple advice.
· Look for God in the ordinariness of your life.
· Stay close to the fundamentals of your faith.
· And finally, be ready to change.
The Israelites didn’t come to the Water Gate expecting to change, but change they did. They learned that they had been neglecting one of God’s designated feasts for hundreds of years. They had not been celebrating the feast of tabernacles as God had instructed in the law. What did they do? They stopped and went to celebrate the feast of tabernacles.
God never leaves us where we are. If you want everything to stay the same, don’t ask for God’s help. God is a God of change. So be ready to be changed whenever you encounter God.
No one who encounters God ever walks away unchanged. So be ready to change.
Confirmands, today is a special day for you. It is not a graduation or an ending. This is a beginning. This is the day that you PUBLICLLY confess Jesus as your own personal Lord and savior. That is a big deal. Today it might be easy to feel God’s presence. However, it won’t always be easy. There will be days when God seems 1000 miles away.
When you encounter those days …
· Look for God in the ordinariness of your life
· Stick with the basics
· And then stand back and be ready to be changed
May your walk with God be one filled with joy and close communion. And when it isn’t, may it be filled with a quiet assurance that God is Good; all the time. And that all the time; God is Good.