The most powerful and abiding narrative that underpins the story of Israel in the Bible is that of “exile and return”. The two most powerful ones are the exile, rescue and return from Egypt and the exile, rescue and return from Babylon and for modern Jews you can of course apply this foundational story to the creation of the modern state of Israel.
This motif of exile and return of God’s chosen people is a constant one. The Jewish people are called by God to be a shining light to the whole world. They fail miserably, and in their sin they are abandoned, terrible things happen to them but in the end God never stopped loving them and as if by a miracle they are brought back again from exile.
The book of Nehemiah was written at just such a time after the exile to Babylon, by a kind of miracle a remnant of the Jews have been brought home to Israel to start again.
In modern computer terms the people need a re-boot, to reset them to their factory settings. To be brought back to their senses, their origins, their purpose, their destiny, their God.
How was this done?
They gathered around the scriptures to be forcefully reminded of their role, their rights but also their responsibilities.
Nehemiah gathered all the people together who were able to understand and publicly read from what we call “the Law” in the Old Testament of our Bibles in the open air.
The result was remarkable. Hearing God’s promises made to his people and being reminded of the demands and expectations he has for his people galvanised them again. They wept when they heard the voice of God speaking through his revealed word in the Bible.
This is the same thing that the church as a whole and every community within it needs to hear and experience. To be brought back to and to coalesce around God’s word to us.
The Christian understanding of Jesus Christ is also one of exile and return on a cosmic scale. The story of Adam and Eve is the story of humanity’s estrangement from God and our exile from Eden through sin and God’s plan to rescue us and bring us home from exile was achieved through Jesus Christ – home to communion with God. This is the story of our redemption that we here through the word of God in the Bible.
I might venture to say that one of the reasons for the dramatic decline in the church in this country is that we strayed so far from the Bible, from Christ, from the Holy Spirit and neglected prayer so consistently to the point where we have distanced ourselves from God which is why so many churches have the smell of death about them. A Spiritless church is a whitewashed tomb as Jesus said.
But there is always a way back to God
Our example is that all the churches that thrive nowadays do so because they have stood firm against the world the flesh and the devil and have Spirit filled worship. They read scripture, they meet together in groups and grow together and they all know the reason for the hope that is in them through Biblical instruction and the guiding of the Spirit.
It is tremendously exciting to see with my own eyes the Spirit moving here. There is a real hunger for knowledge, a hunger for Biblical preaching, a hunger for the Spirit, a hunger for God.
My job here is to feed God’s hungry people. My mission is to re-boot Holy Saviour Church and return to factory settings.
I do this by caring about, believing in, and reading and interpreting God’s word to you. This will galvanise our people around God’s word which itself all leads to Jesus the word made flesh– the way, the truth, and the life.
It was Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit (14) , who in Luke’s gospel, validates Scriptural prophesy and authority when he enters the Synagogue , unrolls the scroll and reads from Isaiah 61:1,2 and says
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor,
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
To release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of God’s favour”
We are the poor in Spirit,
We are the inwardly blind,
We are held captive by evil and estrangement,
We are oppressed by the fear of death,
but God is going to set us free, to proclaim the year of God’s favour.
Now “the year of God’s favour” Jesus refers to is called “Jubilee” . You might remember that there was a movement called Jubilee 2000 that campaigned for third world debt relief. Well the concept was taken from the Old Testament.
In Leviticus 25 part of God’s law was that every fiftieth year there must be a kind of societal re-boot when property is returned to original owners and debts cancelled. People are released and set free.
Of course, on the cosmic scale Jesus was offering to cancel the debts of all who came to Him in faith and repentance.
In that synagogue there was a portent of the re-coalescing that will take place of a new people of Israel - us, the church - who would gather and shed tears of joy around the word and Jesus, the word made flesh.
And what of this people; how are we to think of ourselves?
In 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31, Paul continues his theme of spiritual gifts but now talks about the people who practice them instead of the gifts themselves.
In this passage he calls the church "the body of Christ". So ubiquitous is this phrase nowadays that we have certainly lost the force of these words. They were written at a time, about twenty years after the resurrection, when there would have been some people alive who had actually known Jesus Christ in the flesh, and indeed were expecting his imminent return, yet here Paul says;
"You are the body of Christ". The community has become the resurrection body of Christ. This is a profound statement regarding the true nature of the church and our relationship with the risen Christ; we are "in Christ". All the roles from prophesy and healing to administration and other support are equally necessary and to be valued equally in this body constituted by the Holy Spirit.
We are one body, brothers and sisters in Christ.
God is inviting us, urging us as a whole church to come home. Imploring us with all the force of a loving Father to his errant children to come home to the Lord our God and choose life not death.