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January 27, 2013
Nehemiah 8:1-10 Luke 4:14-21 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
In or around the summer of 1984 I arrived in Fort Dix, New Jersey with my friend Mark Wagner. Our trip there was not a summer getaway, but a trip paid for by the United States Government. We had arrived at Fort Dix for eight weeks of Army Basic Training. Because we had arrived on a weekend, we were housed in the reception center for the first few days instead of the normal day or two. Before we were assigned to our training company, Alpha-One-Five, we were issued our uniforms, sized for, and issued, boots, and purchased those things that our Uncle Sam insisted we own but were to purchase at our own expense. Later, as we proceeded through training and as we arrived at our final duty assignments we were occasionally issued more gear, until we finally had what was considered to be a full-issue of gear. A full issue of gear included a half of a tent (because you were expected to share a two man tent), a folding shovel (called and entrenching tool), a sleeping bag and a number of other things. Over the years that I was in the service, once in a while our unit would inform us that we would be issued more personal equipment; the definition of a “full-issue” had changed. When that happened, every one of us who had been in the service for a while would immediately ask, “Why?” “Why?” was an important question because the United States Army hates to waste money on soldiers. They often are fond of wasting money on other things, but rarely, if ever do they give soldiers things that they don’t need. Did you catch that? Whatever you were given, the Army expected that you would need it. When we arrived in Honduras in 1988 for two weeks of transporting vehicles into the jungle for the Corps of Engineers, we were issued a new, jungle hat that offered more protection from the sun and jungle rains than the standard issue baseball cap. We were also issued live ammunition. Not much, only five rounds each, but as soon as it was issued we knew that this was serious business. We knew that Uncle Sam would not issue live ammunition if we weren’t expected to need it. Likewise, as our unit trained in Fort Campbell, KY and prepared to deploy for Desert Storm, when our supply sergeant was authorized to order Kevlar body armor for the entire company, we knew our situation was both real and serious. Uncle Sam never gives you things that you don’t need. These experiences in the Army connect some of the dots for me as a Christian. They inform me of how the world works and, in a way, how God works. While God operates on an entirely different understanding of the world than the United States Army, some things are not so different. After seventy years of captivity in Babylon, a remnant of the people of Israel, the few who remember and still want to go home, are permitted to return and they do so in several waves. The first wave is led by Zerubbabel with the consent of King Cyrus and who rebuilds the temple but what they build pales in comparison to its former glory under Solomon. After the temple is built, efforts at reconstruction fade. Ezra the prophet (and priest) leads the next group. That group returns to Jerusalem, begins efforts to restore the purity of God’s people, they build houses but not much else and are at the mercy of their neighbors because the walls of the city lay in ruins. The third wave is led by Nehemiah, the cup bearer to Artaxerxes I, the King or Emperor, of what used to be Babylon. It is that this point that things change significantly. Zerubbabel was a good builder, a capable administrator, but not a strong leader. Ezra was a strong religious leader but not so great as a political leader. Nehemiah had lived in the Kings court and he knew politics. He is appointed as Governor of Israel and rules on behalf of the Emperor. With Nehemiah’s arrival, the people are motivated, the interference and threats of their neighbors are silenced, and the walls of the city are rebuilt in such a short span of time, only 52 days, that it was, and is, believed to be a great miracle of God. Although worship had begun after the rebuilding of the temple, it is only after the walls are completed that the people feel safe enough to lay 1
down their weapons and gather together as families to hear the word of God spoken for the first time in seventy years. (Nehemiah 8:1-10)
All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.
So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.
Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The builders had built, Nehemiah the governor took care of politics and security, Ezra had rebuilt the organization of the church, its leadership and its people, each citizen had contributed labor according to their skills and abilities, and now each priest did what they were good at so that everyone could hear the words of God for the first time in years. All the pieces were in place, builders built, teachers taught, workers worked, and leaders led. Remember that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth to tell them that the gifts of the Spirit were to be used for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7)? God had given the people of Israel the gifts that they needed, at the time that they needed them, but security and blessing happened only after each person put those gifts to use for the common good. When Jesus began his ministry he knew what his gifts were but he also knew exactly what he was to do with them. Jesus knew his mission. Jesus knew exactly what God had called him to do. (Luke 4:14-21)
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Paul’s message is that gifts alone are not enough. We see this in the story of Zerubbabel, and Ezra, and Nehemiah, and the people of Israel. It wasn’t enough when they knew their mission but failed to use the gifts that they had been given. It wasn’t enough when they all had gifts but forgot the mission. The pieces finally came together when the people began to use God’s gifts for the common good, in order to complete, together, the mission that God had called them to do. Jesus knew his gifts and they were impressive, but he changed the world because he used them, not to make himself important or powerful, but for the common good and to accomplish the mission for which he had been sent. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, Paul continues to describe even more of the gifts that God gives to his people through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 3
Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. Earlier, Paul told us that these gifts were given for the common good, but here he goes even farther saying not only are they for the common good but that all these gifts, and all of the people to whom they are given, are together, one body. The fingers were not made for the benefit of the fingers alone, likewise with the heart and mind and every other part that makes us human. Each part was made so that all might benefit. The mouth eats, so that not only might the tongue enjoy the taste of the food, but so that the entire body might benefit from its nourishment. Likewise, God, through his Holy Spirit, has given gifts to each follower of Jesus Christ so that we might use them for the common good, so that the entire body might benefit. While God operates with a different understanding of the world than the United States Army, some things are not so different. You see, we knew that Uncle Sam gave us things only when we were expected to need them. We were issued sleeping bags that were good for temperatures down to 20 degrees below zero (F) because in in Europe, where we were expected to fight the Russian Army, winter temperatures can be that cold. We were issued live rounds in Honduras when they knew that there were leftist insurgents in the area that might attack our convoys (thankfully, they never did). Our supply sergeant was permitted to order body armor and other supplies when Uncle Sam expected us to deploy into a war zone (and with some mixed feelings, I thank God that didn’t happen either). My understanding of the way that the United States Army operated informs me and helps me to understand the gifts of God. While God clearly loves us beyond words and surly more than Uncle Sam ever did, neither is God wasteful. Paul seems clear in explaining that we have been given gifts so that we will use them for the common good. Just like Uncle Sam, we have been given gifts because we are expected to need them and because we are expected to use them. Just as we give gifts to our children, God sometimes gives us gifts simply for our enjoyment, a beautiful sunrise, a loving spouse and family, a cool breeze on a hot day. But when we begin to look at these gifts of the Spirit, we must also examine ourselves. With these gifts we cannot say that God has given them simply for our enjoyment. We must look deeper and ask, “Why?” We have all received the gifts of God through the Holy Spirit. But we are not only gifted. We are gifted and called. Because God has given us gifts, we must ask ourselves, …“What is it that God has called me to do?”
You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at email@example.com. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at http://www.scribd.com/Pastor John Partridge. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.
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