Presented at: Marengo UMC
Presented by: Lance Ponder
Main Scripture: Nehemiah 8:1-6
Mom always made things easy to understand. She had the most patience with the “why” questions of the little ones. Teachers answer those why questions all day long. The world peers in at us Christians and shake their heads bewildered at why we do some of the things we do.
In Neh 8 we read that the people asked Ezra to read the law aloud to the people. He took the book of the law, stood on a raised platform, and read aloud. He paused at key points to interpret, to give people a sense of understanding. All the people of every age, men and women alike, assembled and stood for hours. They bowed down to worship and raised their hands and said “amen” to proclaim their agreement. In this short passage we see the people come together because they want to know God and they want to partake of His eternal covenant with them. The bow down to humble themselves and they raise their hands to receive from God. The word “amen” means agreement and they willingly entered into agreement with the words of God read to them by Ezra. The stood for the readings in part to hear better and to better see Ezra, but mostly as a sign of respect for the holiness of God’s revealed word. The platform Ezra spoke from was practical for the task of holding the sacred writings to be read, but it also established a center point for the attention of the assembly. The words of God were given the center of attention, as well they should be. When we preach, we read from scriptures and we take time to help the people understand. The Holy Spirit reveals God through spoken words, among other ways, and so by preaching with scriptures the words spoken open hearts to receive the Spirit and its wisdom.
The occasion for the event in Neh 8 was the celebration of Feast of Trumpets, better known today as Rosh Hashanah. The people started returning from captivity in Babylon a few decades earlier. The temple was already rebuilt, but the city wall was left in a very bad condition. Nehemiah, the governor appointed by the Persian authorities, was given permission to rebuild the wall. This wall rebuilding project was completed just a few days prior to Ezra speaking on this feast day. The people who returned were still oppressed and times were difficult, but they trusted God would restore them. They wanted to better know the God of their ancestors who created the world, led Abraham to the holy land and made the great covenant with him, and later rescued their ancestors from Egypt and preserved them in the wilderness.
And what was it Ezra told them? If you read Neh 9 you get a good picture of Ezra’s summary. God is good. God created, God provides, God is faithful, God is righteous, and God forgives. Ezra tells the people who God is and what God has done. Ezra then confesses who the people are and what they have done. The ancestors of those assembled received and benefited from God’s grace and for a time kept God’s commands. But then, upon receiving all good things, they grew lazy and rebellious. They forgot God’s commands and went about doing as they wished. The feasts went uncelebrated and the rest of God’s commands went unheeded. Ezra led the people in restoring their vows to service the great and wonderful God.
God made an eternal covenant because He loves us. When this is revealed to us we should want to know Him, to know this covenant, and to believe and thus obey. This is why.
In reading these passages the Lord impressed on me the importance of the statement that time was taken to give understanding. Those of us who have lived our lives in religious settings tend to know a lot of church jargon. Those of us who devote ourselves to deeper study tend to know even more technical church jargon. What is the value of jargon? Consider the Tower of Babel. When God divided the languages it divided the people. When one person could not understand the other, they went different ways. Church jargon also divides the churched from the unchurched. We need to be always mindful of the negative effects of jargon and we should avoid using jargon in casual conversation and especially if we don’t offer simple definitions. Here are a few examples of Christianese terms to be careful using:
If you dare take on the mantle of religious authority or you plunger deeper into religious study here are some examples of terms to avoid using completely in everyday conversation – even with most of your congregation:
Each of those words means something technical and are useful to advanced bible students, but they don’t belong in normal conversations and generally not in any sermons. There are also some classic religious topics that scholars love to sit around and debate. From these debates we can learn a great deal, but public debate on these subjects tends to turn people away from religion and as a result blocks their way to Jesus. It is a good idea, it seems to me, to avoid opening up these debates because they tend to divide believers and keep out non-believers, both of which run against what Jesus taught.
Calvin vs. Arminius (Calvinism vs. Arminianism)
Free Will vs. Predestination
Covenant Theology vs Dispensationalism
Premillenial vs Postmillenial
You get the idea. Even here in the blogsphere, while these subjects and other like them spark some lively discussions, more casual readers are not going to the site a second glance. Maybe that’s okay, but then maybe not.
What do you think?