Who are we? Why are we here? What are we doing about it? These are my favorite discernment questions – but they’re also the questions that the people of Israel had to consider as they heard the scripture read in our Nehemiah passage, they are the questions the church in Corinth had to struggle with, and they are questions that Jesus was answering through his Isaiah reading in Luke’s gospel.
The book of Nehemiah tells the story of the people of Israel as they come back from exile in Babylonia. Cyrus the Great and then Artexerxes command that the people of Israel return to their homeland and rebuild their country. Ezra is the first to return and he oversees the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem and reinstitutes Temple worship. Nehemiah is charged with rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem – the ancient fortification of a city on a hill. Nehemiah’s job is completed and in chapter eight, which we’re reading today, the people are gathered for a service of the Word of God.
Ezra reads from the Law of Moses, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These books tell the story of God’s dealings with humankind in general and with the nation of Israel in particular. When Ezra reads the Law of Moses, he is reading the people’s story, he’s retelling their history, their triumphs and failures, their dependence on God and God’s care and provision for them. Ezra reads the laws which the people were bound to follow. Nehemiah, now the governor, tells the people not to weep and mourn over their story, but to feast and give thanks – ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength,’ he says. They were forgiven their transgressions and empowered to begin a new life within Jerusalem’s walls. They heard their story read, they heard the answers to the questions Who are we? And Why are we here? And then they had to decide what they intended to do.
Paul reminds us in his first letter to the Corinthians that everyone, each of us, has been gifted by the Holy Spirit for the work to which we’ve been called. Paul spends a lot of time on the topic in this letter because apparently there was fighting within the church over who’s gifts were the most important. So Paul likens the church to Christ’s body, where each member is necessary, no one more important than any other, but each member needed for the work of the body to be complete.
The work of the body varies from time to time, but always works to bring God’s kingdom to earth. And whatever the work might be, God ensures that the body has the gifts it needs to complete the work that’s been given.
I think that’s important to say again – God gives us all that we need to do the work we’ve been given to do. There is a lot of new work for the parish to do in 2019. We are on the edge of a new era for this parish, as we say good-bye to the Celebration of the Arts as we’ve known it and ponder what comes next. As we work out the answers to who we are and why we’re here, God will make sure that we have all we need to do what we’re called to do.
In our reading from Luke’s gospel, Jesus has just come back from his 40 day temptation in the wilderness and he goes to the synagogue and reads this passage from Isaiah. He’s had time to think through his own answers to the questions of who he was and what God’s call on his life would be. His reading from Isaiah was his own mission statement – the purpose and work of his ministry: to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, bring sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free.
God’s kingdom is a place of good news, where captives are released, where the blind see and the oppressed go free, where God’s favor is declared. We do not need to worry or feel overwhelmed by what lies ahead. If we are doing God’s work, God will supply all that we need. We do not have to do everything – but everyone will have something to do. Why are we here? What are we going to do about it?
In the same way that the members of this parish saw the need for a church in Dewitt, back in the 60’s, in the same way that members had the vision to build this parish building and then add on as the need arose, in the same way, we’ll be able to do all that we need to do. When we can’t see what to do, we will pray and trust that God will provide us with new sight. God will provide the talent and gifts necessary. Like the people of Israel in our reading from Nehemiah, we have been forgiven for our shortcomings and empowered to begin life anew. God’s joy will be our strength.
How will we grow the Kingdom of God in DeWitt? What are the needs of our community that we, with God’s help, can meet? What gifts will each of us be called to exercise this year, so that St. David’s will discern the answers to our questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What are we doing about it? May our listening for God’s voice begin anew. Amen.