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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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