Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (text from The Bible in 90 Days) 10/18/2009
The Heart of Restoration
Lessons: Isaiah 53:4-12 Psalm 91:9-16 Hebrews 5:1-10 St. Mark 10:35-45 Semicontinuous Series Job 38:1-7 [34-41] Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35b (24)
Prayer of the Day Sovereign God, you turn your greatness into goodness for all the peoples on earth. Shape us into willing servants of your kingdom, and make us desire always and only your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Text from "The Bible in 90 Days"
1:4 When I heard these words [about those who returned from exile, and found Jerusalem destroyed] I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 I said, "O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments; 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Both I and my family have sinned. 7 We have offended you deeply, failing to keep the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances that you commanded your servant Moses. 8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples; 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are under the farthest skies, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place at which I have chosen to establish my name.' 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great power and your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man!"
Nehemiah 1:4-11a New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
The exile was a difficult time for the people of Israel. Under the rule of Saul, David and Solomon, God’s people were a mighty and prosperous nation. But their country split after Solomon’s death in 922 bc. In 721 bc, Tiglath-pileser and the armies of Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom (Israel) and made it a vassal state. In 587 bc, Nebuchadnezzar and the armies of Babylon conquered the southern kingdom (Judah) and destroyed Jerusalem. The people of Israel were carried off into captivity, where they lived for years, separated from the land they loved, and from the physical sign of the promise God made to their ancestor Abraham.
But God sent them a Savior. Oddly enough, it was King Cyrus of Persia (a non-believer), who conquered the Babylonian Empire, overturned the decrees of Nebuchadnezzar, and allowed the Israelites to return to their home (in about 538 bc). If their time in exile was difficult, their return to the homeland was even more challenging. Jerusalem had lay in ruins for nearly 50 years. The fields had become infested with weeds. Roadways and walls were in disrepair. The remnant who returned faced the monumental task of putting their country back, piece-by-piece.
The book of Nehemiah is all about the restoration of Israel. But the prophet was wise enough to realize that the restoration God’s people needed was not just the restoration of their homeland, but also the restoration of their hearts, and their relationship with God.
Israel understood that the time it spent in Babylonian captivity was a punishment from God. Their kings had led them astray. They adopted other gods. They did not stay true to the one God, Yahweh, who delivered them from their slavery in Egypt. And because of their unfaithfulness, God’s protective hand was withdrawn from them, and their country was destroyed by conquering armies from foreign lands.
By the time of Nehemiah, they had paid their price. God was ready to begin anew with them. And so Nehemiah begins his ministry the same way that we begin our worship these days: with confession and forgiveness. He acknowledges the pain that God’s people are currently experiencing. He pleads with God to listen to his prayer. He owns up to the offenses of Israel – even taking personal responsibility for them (although the deeds for which Israel had been punished were committed years before Nehemiah’s time). And he throws himself upon the mercy of God’s word. “Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses… if you return to me… I will bring [you] to the place at which I have chosen to establish my name.”
It will take some time before the land is restored, the temple is rebuilt, the infrastructure is repaired, and the hearts of God’s people are right again. But the Prophet Nehemiah will be both a challenging and an encouraging voice for them, as they begin to experience the restoration that God so desperately wants for them.
In this ancient document, we see an aspect of God’s character that is still profound for us today. God is one who desires restoration. God is one who wants to move past the sins and brokenness that separate us, into a new and healthy relationship that is built on love and trust. We need to experience that in our relationship with God. We need to experience that in our relationships with one another.
When our words and actions cause division in the family of faith, or the wider human community, we are working against God’s desires. But when our words and actions move us towards restoration and new beginnings and healthy relationships, we are working with God to bring peace to the world.
David J. Risendal
Exploring This Week’s Text:
- What did the people of ancient Israel do that damaged their relationship with God?
- What did God do to punish them?
- Once their punishment was completed, how did God work to restore that relationship?
Connecting with This Week’s Text:
- When have my words or actions been divisive?
- To whom to I need to make amends for the hurt I have caused?
- How might my faith, and my relationship with God, empower me to make those amends?
Scheduled Readings for "The Bible in 90 Days" 9/13/2009 - 12/12/2009
|Begin Reading At||Sermon Based On|
|9/13||Genesis 1:1||Genesis 1:1-19|
|9/20||Leviticus 1:1||Exodus 16:2-15|
|9/27||Deuteronomy 23:12||Deuteronomy 6:1-9|
|10/4||1 Samuel 28:20||Joshua 24:1-3, 14-18|
|10/11||1 Chronicles 1:1||1 Kings 3:5-12|
|10/18||Nehemiah 13:15||Nehemiah 1:4-11a|
|10/25||Psalm 89:14||Job 38:1-11|
|11/1||Isaiah 14:1||Psalm 104:24-34, 35b|
|11/8||Jeremiah 33:23||Isaiah 25:6-9|
|11/15||Daniel 9:1||Ezekiel 2:1-5|
|11/22||Matthew 26:57||Micah 6:1-8|
|11/29||Acts 6:8||John 20:19-31|
|12/6||Hebrews 1:1||Romans 5:1-11|