Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Third Sunday after Epiphany - C1

Years C
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

There is still a teaching function for the followers of Levi. It is one thing to be high and lifted up, repeating holy words, and another to walk among people. Without the last part of verse 7 and all those named in verses 4 and 7 we lose the teaching function and only have the ceremonial left.

It is this ceremonial function, even of good words from the past, that so often gets us in trouble. Eliciting emotion is the key here - ritual crowd behavior (raising hands or lighters), corporate confession and moaning, and expectation of prosperity get us to lockstep. Standing only on ceremony we don't stand outside the judgment of the past, so easily revised, moment by moment, until we no longer know ourselves. We don't claim any worth for today qua today, as that is for the magic book to decide for us. We don't dare risk what little we have or a lot that we dream about and play the lottery for.

Of course the teaching of the Levites might well simply support the ceremonial. But the integrity of teaching may also allow us ask for background information, corroborating evidence, and rational expectation of consequences for mass behavior.

For the moment I will hope that even though my tongue doesn't wrap itself smoothly around Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah that they will receive some mention for doing what they could to humanize past laws understood to be from a holy one. To help people understand their situation can be revolutionary and liberating.

= = = = = = =

word by word
phrase by phrase
sentence by sentence
paragraph by paragraph
chapter by chapter
book by book
and back the other way

we look for the key perspective
is it a word?
a phrase?
a sentence?
a chapter?
a book?

what is the unit of meaning?
does it come in a blinding flash?
a day-long sermon?

how do word folk
interpret to sentence folk
book folk to paragraph folk?

one of these days we may yet stumble across
a universal solvent for communication
perhaps a babble fish
perhaps an understanding heart

until then we walk among ourselves
proclaiming and muttering
may we do it as well and as kindly
as we can


  1. And what won't leave me is what the efforts of the teachers causes among the people. The interpretation occasions understanding among the people and understanding causes weeping. These are not tears of gratitude, but tears of mourning and weeping. Why would we mourn when we understand God's law, our source and our separateness, a gift given to us by the Lord. Is it grief at the pain and loss of meeting God's will for our life? Grief and loss in becoming separate, returning to our source and all that we must leave behind in doing so? Or it is mourning at just how far we've left behind the law - grief at just how "un-separate" or unholy we have become. True understanding brings on powerful feelings of remorse, of loss, of pain in all we must leave behind. But Ezra exhorts the people - go forth and celebrate! (and share with others) because God finds our understanding to be a holy thing. Our remorse at the distance between us and the law and our sadness at having to travel once again to the law (and all we must leave behind in doing so) are an occassion of holiness for the Lord. Our seeing, our understanding, our turning back are things to be celebrated. And when our journeys are visited again by these griefs, these mournings, it is our God's joy at our understanding that will sustain us on the journey. That will be our strength. Understanding what God requires os us brings great grief and mourning, but we can participate in and be sustained by God's joy at our understanding.


  2. Thanks for your response, Brad, I appreciate your insight connecting understanding with remorse at what can no longer be. There is a component of loss with understanding - some things are no longer appropriate even if they are doable. I'm not prepared, however to posit that understanding leads us to only turn back, as though reclaiming a past Eden is a superior goal to moving toward a new Paradise. In your model all joy is ultimately God's and this joy is based on our backtracking.

    A limitation of these comments is their brevity. This year I was more interested in teachers walking among us than looking at the joy the people were instructed in. I am not yet clear that the encouragement of joy here is a reward for having somehow or other appropriately wept during the ceremony or facing up to loss.

    There may be another level of moving beyond the law read to a Law that is Justice and that this is where holy joy enters. There are plenty of laws to restrict certain behaviors but where law does not belong is in the restriction of loving behavior, kind actions, feasting in fellowship.

    A part of my concern is the way in which a response to the law later comes to do away with foreigners and I don't see this joy of feasting coming to the same result. Here it might be read that joy trumps law, or at least moves beyond it.

    Basically I don't yet subscribe to the notion that we are to mourn to make glad God's heart. My understanding is that what gladdens G*D's heart comes in our working and living together in healthier ways. I see us, including G*D, moving on, together.

    Do you have a word more to say about our joy and how that is to be passed on to those who are unprepared (vs10) or who haven't heard what we have heard? On holy days it may be generosity is what is stimulated by G*D's joy and that needs to be highlighted, not our mourning.


  3. Yes - I don't mean to say that our response should be mourning - only that at least for me in this point in my life, God's law or word or truth (more on that in a minute)finds me in places I don't want to be - and when I say that I don't mean places in which moral majority values parading as Christ's values teach I shouldn't be - rather places such as denial, jealousy, indifference - places where there are no feasts for the soul. God's law exposes my unwanted place to myself. I'm thinking that's what happened at Ezra's reading and that's what the mourning and crying was about. I know that's what I've grieved.

    Certainly God doesn't want our mourning and crying - but instead invites us to places of feasting and sharing. We need to shake off the mourning and rejoice in being found once again and being invited once again to the celebration. Its a human response to grieve the discovery of where we've been found; its a Godly response to rejoice at the finding and the invitation to (you're right)move forward to the feast awaiting us. That joy of the Lord - that godly response - can and should be ours and if we take it on, then that joy, the joy of the Lord becomes our strength.

    Thank you for your response and challenge, you've helped me refine my thoughts and prayers.

    - just a word about the law - I admit to much ignorance and uncertainty about what that really means here - the rules of some prior form of the kind stuff you read in Leviticus? I read it more broadly as God's teachings and precepts for our live.

    Finally, the Psalm this week - really speaks to me of the same thing - being found and exposed by the majestic sweep of God's voice arching across the very firmament -reaching to us in places so remote from who we want to be that we give them names like the "ends of the world." While its a searing heat of exposure from which we cannot escape, so its a "will not let you go" love which is always reaching out to us.

    Thanks again - I've grown from our conversation.


  4. Thanks for your response, Brad, this medium isn't the easiest to use to carry on first-time conversations. I very much appreciate your follow-up. I do feel the grief/rejoicing model is one that is very well attested to. I find, though, that it is not the only one. Mostly, it seems, our responses come from our experience and past learnings. As important as those are I am increasingly intrigued with responding from an anticipated "better" place and so the grieving takes place in the context of rejoicing, rather than preceding it. The possibility here is being so made in the image of a creative G*D that we, too, are able to live preemptively and not simply reactively.

    The mystery of the variety of responses and interpretations of events seems to be rather wide. At least one thought about that is to look at the human/Godly responses options you mention. Instead of putting them separate from one another I imagine a sliding scale that reflects our sense of boundedness and freedom. Here the fully-human/fully-God picture can be participated in by us through seeing the possibility of imitating Christ (though not just on a one-to-one correspondence based on the limited stories in the scriptures).

    Thanks for your closing image of "will-not-let-you-go love". This is indeed a prevenient grace upon which much can be based.


  5. I recognize that the Torah may cause lament and weeping as people discover their unworthiness .... a confessional response. But I find myself thinking of the family members and respected leaders who didn't make it back for the restoration of the wall and worship. This was an event longed for by generations of people in exile. Now, they are the ones privileged to witness and understand its significance.


Thank you for blessing us with your response.