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You Are Here: Updates > A Thanksgiving Sermon: Nehemiah 8 and Luke 24
Nov
25

A Thanksgiving Sermon: Nehemiah 8 and Luke 24

(I preached this ser­mon at Lenoir-Rhyne last Wednes­day dur­ing the weekly chapel ser­vice. It was a Thanksgiving-themed ser­vice, so it seemed fit­ting to post it today. Happy feast­ing to everyone!)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

All of us here are already think­ing ahead to our plans for the hol­i­day.
And though Thanks­giv­ing is cel­e­brated as civic hol­i­day,
it is only nat­ural, and fit­ting, for Chris­t­ian believ­ers
to con­nect the hol­i­day that’s all about grat­i­tude with our faith.
Our most nat­ural reli­gious impulse is to thank God
for our lives, our fam­ily, our friends, our work, our homes, our coun­try.
All these are indeed won­der­ful gifts of God.

In the Scrip­tures we heard today,
there are reports of two Thanks­giv­ing feasts.
Both of these Thanks­giv­ing feasts are set against a back­drop of dis­as­ter.
In the book of Nehemiah, the exile of Israel is still a recent mem­ory.
Less than a hun­dred years have passed
since the Baby­lon­ian empire invaded, routed the Israelites,
rounded them up, and car­ried them away to a far-off land.
They didn’t know how to know the Lord at all
when they’d been stolen away from the land that He orig­i­nally gave them.
But, in time, a new Per­sian emperor came to power;
some of the Israelites found favor with him;
and he granted Nehemiah the right to go home to Jerusalem,
rebuild the walls, and re-establish Jew­ish life in their cap­i­tal city.
It was not an easy task—
some­times the Israelites them­selves were their own worst ene­mies in the process.
But at last the day came when the peo­ple of God
could assem­ble before their Lord once more.
Men and women alike were gath­ered for this solemn moment:
prob­a­bly chil­dren and teenagers too, any­one who could under­stand.
The peo­ple were atten­tive:
they wanted to hear what Ezra the priest had to say.
And what Ezra had to say—was what God had to say.
He read them the book of the law of Moses,
words the Israelites had not heard in a very long time.
Dur­ing the read­ing, inter­preters of the law stood near at hand—
this was so impor­tant to the read­ing of the law
that Nehemiah records care­fully all of the inter­preters’ names
and even today we know exactly who they were.
They read from the book clearly,
and they helped the peo­ple to under­stand the Law,
and they gave the sense of it, so that the peo­ple under­stood the read­ing.
Under­stand­ing was cru­cial.
Notice the first reac­tion of the peo­ple, as they under­stood.
They wept.
After gen­er­a­tions of star­va­tion,
after decades of famine of the Word of God,
the Israelites heard again what their Lord had to say to them,
and they wept:
for sor­row, at their depri­va­tion;
for guilt and alarm, at their fail­ure to keep the law;
for the sheer jolt and shock of at last hear­ing from the Lord
Who had been silent among them for so long.
But then notice how Ezra the priest and Nehemiah the gov­er­nor respond.
There is no shame, no sack­cloth and ashes, no stern exhor­ta­tions.
There is a sim­ple state­ment of good news:
“This day is holy to the LORD your God.”
This day that you under­stood the Word of God: it is a holy day.
And then a com­mand of joy:
“Do not mourn or weep. Cast off your sor­row, shame, and guilt.
Have a feast instead! Eat the fat and drink sweet wine.
Share with any­one who has noth­ing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord.
Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
And that’s what they did: 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.

In the gospel of Luke, another dis­as­ter hov­ers over the scene.
Two of Jesus’ dis­ci­ples are on the way to Emmaus,
and sor­row cov­ers them like a shroud.
All they can think of is the squash­ing of their hopes
in the cru­ci­fix­ion of their beloved Lord.
When the risen Jesus draws up along­side them,
they do not rec­og­nize him, but only mar­vel that he doesn’t seem to know
about the calami­tous events of the past week­end.
But he does know; he knows bet­ter than they do;
he not only knows, but he under­stands.
“Was it not nec­es­sary,” he asks these slow and fool­ish of heart,
“that the Christ should suf­fer these things and enter into his glory?”
And begin­ning with Moses and all the Prophets,
he inter­preted to them in all the Scrip­tures the things con­cern­ing him­self.
Dur­ing Jesus’ inter­pre­ta­tion and their grow­ing under­stand­ing,
the dis­ci­ples’ sor­row begins to lift.
They are grad­u­ally ready to feast once more.
They don’t want to lose Jesus’ com­pany just yet,
so they invite him to share the evening meal with them.
It is at the holi­est moment of the feast,
when Jesus takes the bread and blesses it,
that their under­stand­ing comes to fruition,
their sad­ness chased away for­ever.
Like their ances­tor Israelites assem­bled with Ezra and Nehemiah,
the Emmaus dis­ci­ples rejoiced
because they had under­stood the words that were declared to them.
Their hearts burned within them while Jesus opened the Scrip­tures to them.
In this feast of the Word, they could see at last their risen Lord.

So it shall be for you also, peo­ple of God.
Lis­ten atten­tively to the Word of the Lord,
strive to under­stand,
let the Word and the words of God burn in your hearts.
Give thanks for the feast of the Word,
rejoice and do not be sad,
go forth and make a great feast!
For the joy of the Lord is your strength.
Amen.

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2 Responses to A Thanksgiving Sermon: Nehemiah 8 and Luke 24

    David Espenlaub says:

    Great Mes­sage Andrew.

    Sarah Wilson says:

    Thanks… it was Sarah who preached it actually!

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