Nehemiah 8:8, “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”
The Old testament lesson from Nehemiah 8 describes how Ezra read from the word of the Lord from early morning until noon. He didn’t do all the reading himself and as the lectors read they also explained what the word of the Lord was about and how it applied to their lives. The people of Israel had returned to a Jerusalem devastated by the Babylonians 70 before. But now as the rebuilding process was ongoing Ezra called everyone together at the Water Gate.
The people received the word with weeping. But Ezra said not to mourn and weep. This was a holy day to the Lord. Instead they should celebrate, “eat the fat and drink sweet wine.” And then they should send portions to anyone who wasn’t ready for the celebration. This was a day not for grief, “for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
The second sermon for Sunday was Jesus from Luke 4, when Jesus returns to his home town, Nazareth, and as the visiting rabbi is invited to preach. At first everything goes well. He takes the scroll, turns to Isaiah and reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the Poor….to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He then rolled up the scroll, sat down and said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Everyone was impressed with the hometown boy. But then Jesus continued saying, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.”
By the end of his sermon the people were so upset about this son of Joseph that they forced him out town and was about to throw him off a cliff, but Jesus escaped passing through their midst.
These two stories should have at least two cautions. For the preacher who preaches the word and for the people who hear it. Preaching and hearing God’s word is serious business, a matter of life and death.