Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
What happens when God's word is proclaimed? The story of Ezra's reading of the law describes the response of the hearers. Attentive listeners responded with "amens," upraised arms, bowing, weeping and finally celebrating.
Those of us who have been called to preach the gospel yearn for some sign that our words are touching minds and hearts. A nod or a smile is encouraging, even a frown or a puzzled look is helpful. I have preached in Lutheran churches in the United States and Central and South America, so I am used to (or resigned to) mostly respectful silence. I have also preached in a few Pentecostal and Baptist churches where "amens" and encouraging words are part of the tradition.
A worshipper in one of my Brazilian Lutheran congregations once spoke up during a sermon and the entire crowd almost fell off their pews! We all need to keep in mind though that what is important is not the response given to the preacher. The vital question is: How do the hearers respond to the living Word carried in by the preacher's paltry words? That's a question that can only be answered out in the world. That is a discipleship question!
Gracious Lord, may your Word continue to move me, change me and empower me to be your disciple in this love-starved world. Amen.
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 (NRSV)
1 All the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel.
2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month.
3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.
5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.
6 Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law.
10 Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."