Tuesday, January 22, 2013

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


Epiphany 3 - Year C


We can get very ritualistic about special days. Yesterday was both an American presidential  inauguration public ceremony and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Back much further was Ezra/Nehemiah Day.What is not so easily kept in mind are the movie credits that scroll after people leave the theater. We get what we came for and presume we are entitled to all the work of so many to provide it. So we are entertained and leave. You might want to try staying all the way through the credits as a spiritual discipline of thanksgiving through a witnessing of names.

The elided verses in today’s reading remind us of the mundane (someone built the presentation platform) and the sublime (there were interpreters, translators, to help folks understand what was in that strange and wonderful book of yore). Carpenters and linguists, what a combo, each played their part.

Imagine a movie is being made of your congregation, your community, where would you show up in the credits? This may be where the enduring strength of religion lies, each person doing their part with their gift. Religion begins to slip when the credits are shortened to the pastor and/or board. A community begins to falter when the mayor and/or council becomes director and no one else need be mentioned. In yesterday’s inauguration, President Obama had a couple of refrains. One refrain pertinent to this passage (particularly verses 4 and 7) is “We . . . the people.” The conclusion of that speech points to the work needed to hear an ancient book in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah:
     My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride. They are the words of citizens, and they represent our greatest hope. You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time, not only with the votes we cast, but the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideas.
     Let us each of us now embrace with solemn duty, and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.
Without verses 4 and 7 we lose touch with the power to do more than have a book or founding document become rote after generations. In Epiphany we are called to bring our gifts to a party organized for action. Toss your gifts into the common pot and see how they are strengthened and how they strengthen.

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