Hello! Today we finish the book of Nehemiah and I have to admit I don't think this really ends on a particularly positive note. Without spoiling anything too much, Nehemiah becomes very militant in running the temple. While I am left with many questions after today's reading (which is always a good thing!) I am overall thankful the message of the book of Ezra-Nehemiah. It feels very applicable to many mainline protestant churches who are in the dying stage of their life and who have to make a decision to either let the church die with fond memory or to reinvent it and begin life anew. I love diversity and community driven narrative of Nehemiah that says "no one person can accomplish this task" which also feels crazy true as we look around burnt out church leaders and pastors alike. If the ships going to turn, it's going to take all of us going all in. What about Ezra-Nehemiah was meaningful to you?
Scripture to Read
(I tried to use our churches fancy camera for a tighter shot and for whatever reason the equally expensive microphone on top of the camera has this really, really, really annoying little "bleeping" in the background. (I think the microphone is so good it's picking up inaudible sounds in my computer monitor) I tried to soften it as much as possible but it's definitely noticeable. You might want to skip today (and tomorrows) audio reading if it annoys you.
Questions to Consider
What does this teach me about God?
What does this reveal the people were struggling with at the time? In other words, what was on the "news" of the day that this is in response to?
What, if anything, feels applicable to today?
- My Thoughts -
At the top I mentioned that I didn't find this a particularly enjoyable and I trust you know why by now. Nehemiah has people that fail to take care of the temple's coffers or who fail to follow the covenant beaten, shamed, and scorned for their failings. I get it, I get it, the people just came out of exile and they don't want to do anything to make God mad enough to send them back to exile. I get it that they literally just enacted this covenant again and people are already screwing up so they are all a little frustrated. I get it. Sadly, I also get the violence, too.
There are plenty of deeply traditionalist/literalist readers of the Bible that exile family members over their sexuality, their divorce, their interracial marriage, their faith group (or lack thereof), their abortion, their political allegiance and many more reasons. Talk to any millennial or young adult about why they don't attend church and probably 7/10 times they'll tell you about the shame, the scorn, the pain that was inflicted in the churches walls trying to teach a doctrine.
But here is where things are so, so, so sticky. What is the loving action? For myself, and I hope many of you, the loving thing is to be loving and let God decide who enters heavens gates. But, many others would argue the point that if churches are "grey" in their interpretation of the Bible they willingly let sinners go to heavens gates prepped for failure. In other words, you had the chance to stop the train from hitting that family but you never flipped the switch, you are equally as guilty as them.
Nehemiah presents us with a troubling scenario of asking "how much is too much in staying true to our faith?" If we're too loose with our beliefs than we don't matter, but if we're too rigid no one can make it. What are some of the "unchangeable" parts of your faith for you? What are the things that you could be convinced otherwise? Is one side stronger than the other?
Our prayer for today is inspired by hymn 207 in our United Methodist Hymnal - Prepare the way of the Lord. (ohhhhh a Taize song! I LOVE Taize. Super pretty and incredibly meditative. The best way to do Taize is to keep your eyes open for as long as its takes to learn the lyrics to the chant and then close your eyes and repeat the chant over and over until you are in a kind of "trance". Yeah I know, sounds super cult like, but you'll know what I mean!)
Prepare the way of the Lord, prepare the way of the Lord,
and all people will see the salvation of our God.