Day 107—Persistence and Dedication—“Celebrating Sovereignty” Ezra 4:1 – 6:22
April 17, 2021, 7:48 AM

Day 107—Persistence and Dedication—“Celebrating Sovereignty” Ezra 4:1 – 6:22

From our contemplation: “Have spiritual disciplines become dull, death-breathing tools in my life?” UH OH!  We are over 100 days into our Bible in a Year—how are YOU feeling about this? Check in with me to let me know. While there may be days of difficulty, overall I pray that this is still life-giving, surprising and useful to all of us. STAY WITH IT, ok??

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The books of Ezra and Nehemiah and Esther are historical books connected by a renewed presence of the chosen people who return to the Promised Land, to Jerusalem, and the challenges associated with rebuilding their city, their temple, their distinctness as the chosen people.

But first we need to know something that makes reading these bible books extra-challenging for us. Just one chapter of Ezra, chapter 4 which we read today, covers about 120 years of history. It doesn’t read straight through as a neat story, but it starts in one place, goes back over the history of the story, and returns at the end to where the chapter begins.

Maybe you don’t need to know this, but I know I had questions (anyone surprised to hear that??) and was trying hard to follow the story.

The exiles from Jerusalem returned in THREE waves:
            Zerubbabel brings a group in approx. 538 BC
            Ezra brings a group in 458 BC
            Nehemiah brings a group in 445

I started to write about the craziness of who the kings were, but I can’t. It is confusing and will involve not just Darius, but Darius II, and not just Xerxes but Xerxes II, neither of which are clear in our reading today. Just note that the book of Ezra begins with the decree from King Cyrus in chapter 1 from 538 BC, and Ezra’s story does not begin until around 458 BC, a difference of about 80 years.

So once again we have a book that is a look-back, a book written after the events have taken place and that are reconstructed, much like the Temple, in order to report correctly on what has happened and how the rebuilding occurred, who opposed it, who finally accomplished it and how they did it. What is important overall is that Darius found the original letter from Cyrus and he honored it!!! Work that had ceased began again, and ultimately the Temple is completed after years of back and forth betweent he kings and the people of jerusalem. (There was no US Mail, so just sending letters back and forth could have taken years.)

Remember the importance of the Temple. It was the central place, the place where God was present with his people, and the reestablishment of the temple meant the reestablishment of the people, and Ezra was determined to reestablish the Temple and thus, to re-ground the Jewish people and to renew their traditions.

I know this will not be in any way as significant, but let’s think about the pandemic for a moment, as if we have not been thinking about it for, oh, every single day since last March.

The pandemic was an enforced exile for many of us, removing us from family, friends and traditions. As we begin to cautiously emerge from this time apart from each other, and apart from our traditions, we have the opportunity to reconnect, to rebuild or even to reject and to forget.

When we choose to rebuild and remember (the word ‘remember’ means to gather together again—to bring the members together, to recall, to bring to mind), we often try to bring back things we are afraid to forget, like special family traditions and practices. In our renewed lives today, however, we have the freedom to decide that some things are not worth ‘remembering’ and we may let them fall by the wayside, while others are absolutely essential.

In a silly example, yesterday I found that going to the mall or shopping is NOT something that I take on again with joy or purpose. I don’t like it. It felt like a huge waste of time. But I also spent time with a dear friend, drinking coffee in my car because there wasn’t a warm place to go, or a place where we really could go in this still-pandemic world, and that cup of coffe was absolutely worth it and felt like a new beginning.

The people of Jerusalem know that the rebuilding of the Temple is essential to who they are, and is essential to their worship, but it will never attain the stature and significance of the first Temple. The difficulties read about in Ezra required deep faith and conviction, sure knowledge and great leadership. We are reminded that nothing can remain the same after catastrophic or great change, but that our faith traditions can lead us on pathways “For God’s name’s sake” to quote from Psalm 23. Yeah though the chosen people have walked through the valley of the shadow of death, they need fear no evil, but they can rebuild again.

The people of Jerusalem were able to complete the Temple, to worship and to celebrate their return with joy. I can’t emphasize those last two words enough Changes lie ahead for the chosen people. Change is all around us as well as we re-emerge from lives of fear, anxiety and isolation into new life. Adapting to these changes and allowing ourselves to see the hand of God in the midst of that change is something we can choose to do with joy.

And a gentle reminder to those of us who have begun to worship only on-line: go back to your church building and attend services in person again (if you feel safe and/or are vaccinated!!). Show up. Get up early on Sundays and get dressed. Re-establish traditions of worship that will require you to regain discipline but which will allow you to be part of the joyful community of God, wherever your church is. Because the church is not the building; it is the gathered people of God, and your community misses you. “With joy they celebrated…” (Ezra 7:22)

Be blessed, and be a blessing to others,

ML

 

 

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