What would it take to get “all the people to gather together” (Nehemiah 8:1)? The largest gatherings we have are sporting events, marches, and something like a Billy Graham crusade.
Nehemiah may use hyperbole when he says “all,” but he emphasizes throughout Sunday’s reading Nehemiah 8:1-12 that the gathering was very inclusive. All the people, men and women, gathered and listened to the reading of the law. They then listened to the interpretation of the reading. They wept as they listened. Some scholars have suggested they were remorseful over how far their lives had drifted from the law’s commands. Others have said the weeping was out of gratitude for the law’s restored influence over their lives. Could it not be both? In the end, they were consoled in the weeping and encouraged to celebrate the law with lives of joy and compassionate service (“Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” Nehemiah 8:10).
Aren’t these the reasons people of faith gather? We recognize the importance of hearing God’s word and allowing it to work on us. We appreciate the interpretations offered by teachers and preachers. We are convicted by the challenge of the scriptures, but also encouraged by their meaning and promises. We seek encouragement and joy, while recognizing that being part of community means sharing with those “for whom nothing is prepared.”
Sunday’s services will reflect Nehemiah’s word to us, as will Sunday afternoon’s IGNITE Leadership Training Event. The Church Council (meeting at 12:15), followed by the committees and ministry teams meeting at 2 will be part of our church’s ongoing pursuit of having excellent vehicles for hearing and growing in God’s word and for putting it into practice. Whatever other details they are up to, those leading Central are trying to fulfill these two aims (hearing and living). Their work is important and it’s a gift to all of us who are blessed by the fruits of the labors. We will commission our 2019 leaders during the worship services. Please thank them for what they’ll do for God, you, me, Central, and our community this year. May we be led to weep for what grieves God’s heart and to celebrate the joy of our salvation.