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Nehemiah 11: Re-Peopling

Monday, October 23, 2017

James Tissot: Reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod

The list we read today is similar to the one we find in 1 Chronicles 9 with a number of differences; still it relates, and perhaps magnifies, the struggle we find when we attempt to recover after catastrophe . . . just as the Israelites re-peopled Jerusalem after exile.  It shows the people in a mode of compliance following their re-commitment to the covenant, much like a recalcitrant child who becomes manageable, and even docile, after a disturbing break with parents.  We humans seem incapable of having much memory when it comes to adhering to our promises; yet God remains always faithful . . . and God always keeps promises. There would be no need to repopulate Jerusalem if the people had adhered to their agreement with God in the first place; yet here we are with the story of a people who turn and return.

In today’s reading, we realize that there would be no need to renegotiate details or to remember who belonged to which tribe if the Israelites had remained faithful. There would be no need to redeem land, reclaim property and rebuild walls if they had lived their promise rather than pretend. Still the returnees struggle to keep balance, and to remember the details of land distribution as originally promised with God.  They tussle with one another, trying to be open and honest.

Here we see a people taking meticulous care with names, positions, professions and locations. They are intent on regaining what they have lost; yet, is it possible to restore all that is gone? The answer lies with Jesus who allows us to be present to him no matter our circumstances. Jesus always redeems.  Jesus always allows us to return.  Jesus always calls us to transformation. In today’s reflection in THE MAGNIFICAT ADVENT COMPANION by Nancy Valko, she closes with this thought: It is when we truly open our minds and our hearts that we learn Jesus never stops telling us what we need to hear. The people of Israel had stopped listening to and for God, and we see the consequence.  They lose all they have, and are taken into exile.  Upon their return, they renew their vows but, sadly, we know the rest of the story.  Shortly after the death of Christ they lose even the little we see them gain in today’s Noontime. And so we consider . . .

God is always speaking.  Do we always listen?

Jesus is always healing.  Do we always care?

The Spirit is always abiding.  Do we always feel the presence of God?

When we were growing up and might complain that “we got nothing out of going to church,” one of my parents would usually reply, “And how much did you take with you when you went?” A good question.  And it is one we will want to ask ourselves as we consider Christ’s gift, his offer to turn and return, his call to re-people the empty places in our lives, his invitation to celebrate his coming.

Adapted from a Favorite written on December 13, 2010.

Valko, Nancy. MAGNIFICAT ADVENT COMPANION. Print.  


Nehemiah 10: The Agreement

Sunday, October 22, 2017

How many times do we stumble after we agree to live out Christ’s Law of Love? Yet God forgives us because God loves us still.

Richard Rohr, OFM, writes, “Grace is the Divine Unmerited Generosity that is everywhere available, totally given, usually detected as such, and often undesired. Grace cannot be understood by any ledger of merits and demerits. It cannot be held to any patterns of buying, losing, earning, achieving, or manipulating, which is where, unfortunately, most of us live our lives. Grace is, quite literally, ‘for the taking’. It is God eternally giving away God – for nothing, except the giving itself. Quite simply, to experience grace you must stop all counting!” (Rohr 145)

In today’s Noontime we hear the familiar words of the ancient Covenant Israel agreed to live out. In Nehemiah 10 we see the listing of all those who again agree to live the Law of Moses: priests, Levites, leaders, musicians, workers. Yet, history tells us their story of continual union, lapse, separation and return. It is the same tale we all live for we are creatures of God.

Jesus arrives to bring this law to all those both in and beyond the nation of Israel. This new Law of Love surprises many. Awes multitudes. Disappoints some. Today we have this same returning we see in Nehemiah 10 of the hopeless finding new hope, the broken encountering healing, and the abandoned entering a new home.

Once we stop counting, we find ourselves more open to the grace showered upon us. When we stop accumulating, we find ourselves more aware of the love that embodies us. On the day we stop judging, we find ourselves eager to enter the new covenant of the new law. Let us rejoice with those who sign the new agreement that is old, the new covenant that is eternal, the new Law that is our everlasting rescue.

Richard Rohr, OFM. A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations. Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2016.

For a resource of verses on love, click on the image above or visit: http://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/debbie-mcdaniel/50-verses-of-love-to-cover-any-shade-of-grey.html


Nehemiah 9:12: Pillar and Cloud – A Reprise

Saturday, October 21, 2017

In this chapter of the Nehemiah story, the people returning from exile have seen the great light of God’s persistent love for them. They recall the promise of this love, and they vow to act for and through it.

With a column of cloud you led [your people] by day, and by night with a column of fire to light the way of their journey, the way in which they must travel.

This ancient image of God leading and protecting, guiding and guarding, is one we modern humans can keep close and cherish.  It relieves us of the burden that comes with thinking that we are in charge.  It soothes us with the knowing that God is present, attentive and alert each morning as we rise into the day and each evening as we retreat into the night.

God says: I love to watch over you as you sleep.  I love to nudge you into my way each day of your journey.  I love to protect you.  I love to travel with you.  There is no danger that I fear.  There is no obstacle I cannot overcome.  There is no challenge too great.  There is no prayer too small.  It is my greatest desire to bring you into union with my Word.  It is my delight to see you treading with prayer on the Way I have set before you.  You are the dearest child of my heart.  Do not fear this day.  Sleep well this night.  I am as gentle as the vapor of the clouds and as fierce as the flames of the fire tornado.  And I am with you always . . . even to the end of time.

Our God appears to us as a vulnerable child who needs protection and guidance from his earthly parents; and yet it is the grown and matured man who heals, protects and guides us, his adopted sisters and brothers.  Jesus lives a life that is both kind and just, and his actions are a clear demonstration of God’s love for each of us.  We must learn to trust this marvelous, mysterious love.

Enter the word trust in the blog search bar and examine how, and who, and what, and why we trust.

For a reflection on Nehemiah 9, visit the  Confession  post on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/2011/12/30/confession/

The cloud image above is from the Pinch of Grace blog that is no longer active. 

For a BBC video of a rare fire tornado in Brazil in August of 2010, go to: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-11086299

A Favorite from July 15, 2013.


Nehemiah 8: Promulgation 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Today’s reflection is a Favorite written during Christmastide on December 30, 2010.

Ezra, the priest, brought the law before the assembly, which consisted of men, women, and those children old enough to understand . . .

I am wondering how our lives might be different if when we gather in our places of worship, like Ezra, Nehemiah and the Jewish people, we might make resolutions to enact what we say we believe.

Ezra opened the scroll so that all the people might see it . . .

I am wondering how our lives might be different if when we make decisions we base them on what it is we see Jesus doing in the Gospels.

Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of the Lord, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read . . .

I am wondering how our lives might be different if when we act in the Spirit of the law as well as the letter.

Then all the people went to eat and drink, to distribute portions, and to celebrate with great joy . . .

I am wondering how our lives might be different if we celebrate the Spirit by acting in the Spirit humbly yet with passion . . . being unafraid of what society might say or think about us.

. . . for they understood the words that had been expounded to them.

I am wondering how our lives might be different if we promulgate the story of how God has saved us . . . and how much God loves us.

I am wondering . . .

The great celebration described in today’s Noontime is the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles or Booths and more information may be found at http://www.christcenteredmall.com/teachings/feasts/tabernacles.htm


Nehemiah 7: Families of Return

Thursday, October 19, 2017

M. Teichart: Return of Captive Israel

How can we assess the measure of joy as the peoples returned to a fortified city with the Temple that housed the presence of the Lord? Millennia later, we have no video or sound recordings, but we do have the listing of the clans who returned from exile jubilant and grateful. And we have their story recorded in Scripture.

God inspired me to assemble the people and their leaders and officials and to check their family records. I located the records of those who had first returned from captivity, and this is the information I found.

What do we find when we examine these verses? What do we find when we examine our own fidelity to God?

Many of the exiles left the province of Babylon and returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own hometown. Their families had been living in exile in Babylonia ever since King Nebuchadnezzar had taken them there as prisoners.

After making drastic changes in our lives in order to survive, are we willing to return to the living God who brings us out of dark deserts of our lives to sustain us daily?

This is the list of the priestly clans that returned from exile, clans of Temple workers who returned from exile, Clans of Solomon’s servants who returned from exile. many people who contributed to help pay the cost of restoring the Temple, 42,360 in all.

After great schism, are we eager to count ourselves among the families of return?

The priests, the Levites, the Temple guards, the musicians, many of the ordinary people, the Temple workers—all the people of Israel—settled in the towns and cities of Judah.

After great sorrow, are we open to the promise of the Covenant of Love that promises healing and transformation?


Nehemiah 6: Doing a Great Work

Jerusalem: The Golden Gate

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

This Chapter in Nehemiah’s story is interesting. The good work he is doing brings suspicion, envy and even anger from certain quarters. What does this builder do? He refuses to put aside the great work he is doing, and when her finds himself in a precarious position he does not hide; but rather, he prays. All the forces of Sanballat, Tobiah and Gesham are no match for this man and his God. The prophetess Noadiah holds no sway over the builder. We hear the story in Nehemiah’s voice.

Now when it was reported to Sanballat and Tobiah and to Geshem the Arab and to the rest of our enemies that I had built the wall and that there was no gap left in it (though up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together in one of the villages in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. (NSRV)

When Nehemiah declines to neglect the great work he is about, his enemies persist.

Sanvalat and Geshem sent me a message which said, “Come, let’s meet together in one of the villages of the Ono Valley.” But they were planning to do me harm; so I sent them messengers with this message: “I’m too busy with important work to come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it to come down to you?” They kept sending this sort of message to me — four times — and I answered them the same way. (CJB)

But Nehemiah sees through the ruse.

I knew they were scheming to hurt me so I sent messengers back with this: “I’m doing a great work; I can’t come down. Why should the work come to a standstill just so I can come down to see you?” (MSG)

Nehemiah sees their deceit.

They were trying to frighten us into stopping work. I prayed, “But now, God, make me strong!” (GNT)

Nehemiah remains firm.

I answered, “I’m not the kind of person that runs and hides. Do you think I would try to save my life by hiding in the Temple? I won’t do it.” (GNT)

Nehemiah asks help of the one who brings good out of harm.

“O my God, don’t let Tobiah and Sanballat get by with all the mischief they’ve done. And the same goes for the prophetess Noadiah and the other prophets who have been trying to undermine my confidence.” (MSG)

Nehemiah remains in the arms of God and does not fear the enemies who unite against him.

After fifty-two days of work the entire wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Elul. When our enemies in the surrounding nations heard this, they realized that they had lost face, since everyone knew that the work had been done with God’s help . . . People would talk in front of me about all the good deeds Tobiah had done and would tell him everything I said. And he kept sending me letters to try to frighten me. (GNT)

Nehemiah lives out his trust in the Lord, knowing that he is doing the Lord’s great work.

Tomorrow, an assembly of clans.

When we use the scripture link to compare translations of this story, we come to understand the value of fidelity, steadfastness, and trust in the Lord.


Nehemiah 5: Praying with Nehemiah

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

We, like Nehemiah, can rebuild the ruin we see around us when we rely on God. Some of us make large, visible changes for good in our culture; but most of us make small, incremental changes that we think invisible. Yet, in the mind of God our actions are essential to the moving forward of God’s plan. Our prayers are also essential, as Nehemiah shows us.

St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3We are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.  By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation   as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it.  But each one should be careful how he builds.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is,   because the Day will bring it to light.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.  Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.  Do not deceive yourselves.  If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.  As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness” and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”  So then, no more boasting about men!  All things are yours whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

What do we do when enormous hurdles block our way forward, we can remind ourselves and others of our true calling. We can pray unceasingly, and we can build kingdom wherever we are planted, for we are God’s builders. We can be wise as St. Paul recommends, and be fools for Christ as Nehemiah was, building as directed by his creator, giving without thought of recompense, hoping for the goodness of the promise, and loving those among and with whom we dwell – even our enemies.

And so we pray.

Nehemiah lives in a world rife with conflict . . . yet he remains loyal to God and the faithful.

Nehemiah lives as a target for the gossip and machinations of his numerous enemies . . . yet he maintains his integrity.

Nehemiah lives among people who refuse to live by the terms of the covenant they have heard, witnessed, and sworn to uphold . . . yet he remains sincere and authentic.

Let us put aside the cares of this world and build God’s kingdom today, for we are God’s co-workers in the kingdom.

Amen.

Adapted from a reflection written on December 23, 2007.

For more about Nehemiah and how his prayer-life affected his work-life, click on the image above to visit the “Bible in a Year Blog” or go to: https://oneyeardevotional.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/powerful-prayer-nehemiah-1/ 


Nehemiah 5: Self-Interest

Monday, October 16, 2017

How does Nehemiah confront oppression in the process of rebuilding Jerusalem? When we examine this chapter of his story, we find that Nehemiah operates with transparency, honesty, and generosity.

When Nehemiah receives God’s call, he answers it in a very big way; he does not do things in half measures.  We see that he regards his work in re-building as his vocation and he does not take monetary re-payment for the work of the rebuilding.  Nor does he take credit for this amazing feat.  In contrast to his predecessors, he takes no reimbursement for his work in the rebuilding Jerusalem’s city walls and Temple.  He makes both the physical and financial outlay knowing that God will sustain him.  In this way, Nehemiah shows us how to understand our true relationship with our creator.

Nehemiah is an excellent administrator who prays constantly, and who is constantly guided by God.  He is neither self-serving nor glory seeking.  He understands that God does all, and is all. He speaks with God as his good friend and says: Keep in mind, O my God, in my favor all that I did for this people. 

Together with the priest, Ezra, Nehemiah creates a physical structure that enables the faithful to return to Yahweh.  He invites the Jewish people, magistrates and peoples from all nations to his table – something unusual for an observing Jew of his era – yet he listens for God’s voice and does whatever is asked of him to realize the work laid out by his God.  He rises over a foreign king, distant and local enemies, long-entrenched customs, gossip, and even the in-fighting raging around him in order to achieve this incredible goal of taking the rubble that surrounds him in order to participate in the making of God’s kingdom for both God and God’s people.

We, today, can be new Nehemiahs.  We can create around us structures that are collegial, safe, and predictable.  We can form relationships that are open, honest, and supportive.  We can refrain from nay-saying, gossip and destructive thinking.  We can seek solutions, listen more than we talk, think of self last, and remember that God does all and is all.

Adapted from a reflection written on December 23, 2007.

Tomorrow, praying with Nehemiah.


Nehemiah 4: Hostile Plots

Sunday, October 15, 2017

We may recognize a familiar pattern in many lives.

Just when we believe our work is moving forward with purpose and success, an obstacle blocks our way to make forward progress impossible.

Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he mocked the Jews. (NRSV)

Just when our relationships are most fruitful and supportive, a loss brings stress that strains the bonds we have built over so many years and with so much effort and prayer.

But when Sanvalat, Toviyah, the Arabs, the ‘Amonim and the Ashdodim heard that the repairs on the walls of Yerushalayim were going forward, and the breaks were being filled in, they became very angry. (CJB)

Just when our work place is most fulfilling and rewarding, stealthy plotters threaten chaos and destruction.

When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall he exploded in anger, vilifying the Jews. In the company of his Samaritan cronies and military he let loose: “What are these miserable Jews doing? Do they think they can get everything back to normal overnight? Make building stones out of make-believe?” (MSG)

Just when our prayer life is fruitful and healing, duplicitous schemers find their way into the heart of all that matters to us.

When Sanballat heard that we Jews had begun rebuilding the wall, he became furious and began to ridicule us. (GNT) 

We may recognize a familiar pattern in many lives, and when we do, there is only one path of return to peace. We best thwart all hostile plots when we place our lives in the hands of God.

When we compare varying versions of how evil plots threaten the new-found order brought out of chaos, we open our hearts and minds to the healing order of the Spirit.

For more information on Sanballat, Nehemiah’s nemesis, visit: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13167-sanballat 

Tomorrow, dealing with oppression.

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