Reaffirming Old Truths in a New World
The Scripture Reading today is Nehemiah 9:1-2 & 36-38.
Those who have been around Vets Chapel for a long time may remember the most unusual chapel service we ever conducted. I think it was in the early 2000’s, maybe near Valentine’s Day, when we conducted a chapel wide “Reaffirmation of our Marriage Vowes.” I wore my dress-blues, and most of the men wore suits with carnations. The ladies were dressed in “Sunday best” and many had corsages for the occasion. During the service all the married couples stood as I read the marriage vows for the men, and they recited it after me. Then Nancy read the vows to the ladies, as they recited them back.
That event did not change any legal status. The certificates we handed out did not hold any significant change in the relationships. We were not any “more married” than we were before. Nor did any who did not participate become “unmarried” as a result of their non-participation.
What then was the purpose of this event? It was a time to stop and reflect on the past vows made, and a chance to renew and revitalize the marriage relationship made in the past.
Often times we allow “life” to get in the way of “living.” Busy schedules, kids, careers, and activities, often very good activities, crowd out “relationship.” And marriages become a “fact of life,” a convenience, or even a nuisance as we struggle to do all the things we need to do in order to juggle and keep all the balls of life’s activities in the air. A chance to slow down and recharge our batteries and rebuild our relationship is vital to healthy couples.
The same is true of our spiritual relationship. We need always to remember, God is a person. Our personhood is based on His being a person. He desires to have fellowship with us. Now He will not cease to be God if we ignore Him, but we will profit so much if we understand He is a person, as we are, and we can call on Him as a friend or make Him our friend. Much better than calling Him a friend, He can be “our best friend.”
Friends do what is best for their friends. If God is our friend, we need to respect Him and do things that build our relationship to Him, and avoid things that will destroy that relationship.
This is exactly what we see in this passage in Nehemiah. On the first Yom Kippur holyday after rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, the returned Jewish religious observers made a “renewed” covenant with their God. Notice in 9:2, that the Israelites who had separated from “foreign religious practices” (my understanding of the term “foreigners” in v. 2), were the ones confessing their sins and the sins of their ancestors.
I must pause a moment here. “Sins of our ancestors” means that the “returned exiles,” as they called themselves, confessed the disobedience of their fathers to God. Every people and nation has such disobediences to confess. The purpose of the confession is to remind the confessor that he/she is not “special” over any other people group. All have sins to confess. All are equally sinners before God, individually or collectively. There is no nation or people who has done it right and received the “blessed state” being above any other people on earth. We talk in our world today about “national blame.” Yes, we need to confess the “sins” of our fathers. We inherit the product of their labors for good or for ill. In such confessing, we become humble persons who should except others as equals to us before God.
Now let’s return to the restated covenant Israel made with God. First, they vowed not to give sons & daughters in marriage to Pagans. Foreigners does not refer to those not of Jewish blood, it refers to those not of the Jewish faith. Purity before God is most preserved through the generations by marriage of Jewish believers to Jewish believers. The same is true in our lives today. We must preserve the future of our faith by propagation of Christian children through Christian homes.
Secondly, the Israelites vowed to support the Temple and its workers with “temple tithes.” This keeps the institution of instruction in religion alive and active. Thirdly, the taking of wheat to the storehouses at the Temple was a way of providing for the poor and needy in the community of faith and beyond.
Lastly, they would obey the Lord in the matter of the Sabbath. The Israelites were to close businesses one day a week, and spend time in worship and rest. We can’t be so busy that we neglect our relationship to God, or give our bodies needed rest from the pressures of the world.
While we do not live under the direct “theocracy” of the Old Covenant, we do need to reflect on their lives and see what kind of renewal of our salvation covenant may be in order to improve and preserve the relationship to God.
God Bless you,
CH Jim Odell