July 7 Lesson
Lesson for the week of July 7
Scripture: Ezra 3:8-13
By Kim Reindl
Opening questions: Recall a time when you were involved in a congregation facing a major change. What was that experience like? How did people respond?
If you have ever been part of a church building campaign you know that the process of change elicits a wide array of responses within the members of the congregation. There are always those of us who want to insure that the past will not be forgotten. There are always those of us who are eager to move forward and focus on future possibilities. With change, some fear the loss of corporate memory, of the things in the past that have made us who we are. Without change, some fear stagnation and an inability to relate to future generations. The truth of the struggle is that both perspectives are important to who we are. It is in this place where tension is held between past and future that we learn how to be God’s people in the present who are called to be in community with one another.
When the Israelites returned to Jerusalem from exile the link between the people’s past and their future was an important part of restoration. Persian authorities understood that in order to successfully incorporate people into the Persian Empire those people needed to be allowed to maintain aspects of their identifying cultures (i.e., traditions that linked them to their past). Therefore, it was Persian policy to support local priests and cults and thereby win the loyalty of local populations. Cyrus, king of Persia, issued an edict that allowed the people of Israel to return to the land and begin reconstruction of the temple (Ezra 1:2-3). After 49 years of exile, those who chose to return, some 42,000 plus, were given the task of connecting the past with the future.
As the foundation of the second temple was laid, many things were different for the returnees. The land formerly known as Judah was now known as Yehud, a sub-province of the Persian Empire. The age limit mandated for the Levites was changed from 30 years old to 20 years old (Ezra 3:8; Num. 4:3, 23, 30), perhaps because of a smaller number of Levites available. The holy city itself and the temple lay in ruins. Also, kingship within the land would not be restored.
Yet, in the face of great change, connections with the past were evident. With the support of the Persian government, reconstruction and rebirth of religious practices began. With the reconstruction of the altar the sacrificial system was reinstituted, which served to connect the community with the Law of Moses (Ezra 3:2). When the temple foundation was laid praise was given to the Lord “according to the directions of King David” (Ezra 3:10), which established continuity with past worship. Furthermore, post-exilic leadership reflected the Israelite history. The returnees were under the civil leadership of the Jewish governor Zerubbabel, the grandson of Jehoiachin (Jeconiah; 1 Chr 3:17-19) the exiled king of Judah, and under the religious leadership of the high priest Jeshua, (Joshua; Neh. 12:10; Hag. 1:1, 14; 2:2), the son of Jozadak (Jehozadak) who was high priest at the time of the exile in 587 BCE (1 Chr. 6:15).
As the people struggled to move forward while incorporating the past, a mixture of responses was present. Ezra 3:12 tells us that while “many shouted aloud for joy,” others, “old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house.” The sight of the second temple foundation elicited joy in some and sorrow in others. Those who celebrated the laying of the foundation of the second temple may have envisioned the Jerusalem they dreamed of while in Babylon, a Jerusalem of hope and new beginnings. Those who wept at the laying of the foundation may have remembered the glory of the first temple and longed for a way of life that had long been lost.
Change affects the community in different ways. Where some see change as a path to a promising future, others see change as the loss of something important or meaningful. Such is indicative of our life within Christian community. Change is inevitable, yet how we respond to change will vary with each individual. An important aspect of our promise to journey with one another is to listen to and validate the concerns of the other. Whether concerns are rooted in the value of the past or the draw toward the future, all comes out of a place of love for God and one another. In this unifying place of love one cannot “distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping” (Ezra 3:13). The sound is one. Such is the sound of a people struggling to be obedient to God and compassionate toward one another as a community of faith.
Questions for further reflection:
As the people of God, who are called to be in community with one another, how can we best hear and validate the concerns of those whose perspective is different from our own? How is such indicative of Christian community?
Kim Reindl chairs the Discipleship Ministry Team for the North Georgia Conference and is available to lead retreats, workshops, and seminars through Pomegranate Christian Education & Formation, www.pomegranatece.com. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.