[From December 14, 2015]
"And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them."
What do you do when a group of people (in this case, about 50K!) have been "away" from God for an extended period of time and come back "home"? The Israelites who returned from Babylonian captivity faced just that. Most had grown up in Babylon and only heard stories (from parents and grandparents) about he worship life in Israel. Now they were home.
After Ezra & Nehemiah helped rebuild the temple, it's interesting that they gathered the people in a large square outside the temple. Instead of offering sacrifices and reciting prayers (which happened inside the temple), they stared a new practice: SCRIPTURE READING! Ezra brought "the book of the Law" (probably the Torah: Genesis to Deuteronomy) and read it out loud to the people. The people stood to hear it (out of reverence & respect?). The Levites (13 specifically named) "helped the people to understand the law" as it was read (sermons?). And then the leaders sent the people home with instructions to go with joy, not sorrow. And the author tells us the people went home to celebrate and rejoice "because they had understood the words that were declared to them."
This is the goal of every preacher, isn't it? To lift up a passage of scripture... to help people interpret & understand it... and then to send them home with an action plan (some way the passage will impact their life). All the while, they "understood the words that were declared to them."
The challenge, of course, is to keep the interpretation focused & clear... not to bit off more than folks can chew on in one setting (or more than I can possibly cover in one sermon!). But when this happens well, then God's transformation has the best chance to take hold.
PRAYER: Thank you, God, for reminding me in this story just how powerful reading the Scriptures can be to us. Continue to help em refine my "interpretation" of passages as I preach, so others can leave worship having understood what was read. AMEN.