And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, 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.”
I love the book of Nehemiah. You may find that weird, but, in the early 1990s when the church in Dallas had outgrown its building, even though so many of our members were sick and dying, we decided that, because no church would sell us their building, we would build our own home. Of course, we then discovered that no bank would loan us money, and no church builder was anxious to build the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender church in the world. It seemed that every possible obstacle was being put in our way.
Nehemiah became my inspiration. He led a people who had been exiled to their home. They rebuilt Jerusalem and, at the heart of the city, a temple where the people could worship and, at the heart of the people, a faith that would sustain them. The passage above is the end of the description of how the priests read the law to the people who had forgotten that God had chosen them as God’s own. The people were so overwhelmed that they wept.
Weeping wasn’t the response God desired, though. God wanted them to celebrate AND to make sure that those who didn’t have anything with which to celebrate were provided for. That was, and is, supposed to be the natural rhythm of the people of God.
We gather to hear the scripture read and explained; to have a great party; and to celebrate what it means to belong to God. Then we go out to live well AND to ensure that everyone else does, too. It seems to be the last part that all too often gets forgotten. Gather to celebrate; scatter to serve. Of course, these days, people aren’t doing nearly enough of either.
Rev. Michael Piazza