My name is Femi, still spelled F-e-m-i, and I am one of the elders here,
and I'll be reading the scripture this morning.
And in the same meditation of that song, we'll be rising to read the scripture for this morning. So would you please rise?
We'll be reading from Nehemiah chapter 8, verses 1 through 12, and from Ezekiel chapter 47, verses 1 through 12.
And I hope you enjoyed your bonus day yesterday, especially Dian Taylor.
The word of the Lord, Nehemiah chapter 8, starting from right before verse 1.
On page 690.
When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns,
all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate.
They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses,
which the Lord had commanded for Israel.
So on the first day of the seventh month
Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.
He read it out loud from daybreak till noon
as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women,
and all others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion.
Beside him on his right stood met Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah,
and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael,
Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam. Ezra opened the book.
All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up
Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, "Amen! Amen!"
Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
The Levites--Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah,
Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan,
instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law
of God, making it clear and giving the meaning, so that the people understood what was being read.
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and the teacher of the Law and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all,
"This day is holy to the LORD your God.
Do not mourn or weep." For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.
This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve for the joy of the LORD is your strength."
The Levites calmed all the people, saying, "Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve."
Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy,
because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
Then Ezekiel chapter 47,
The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple
toward the east (for the temple faced east).
The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar.
He then brought me out to the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east,
and the water was trickling from the south side.
As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand,
he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through the water that was ankle-deep.
He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through the water that was knee-deep.
He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist.
He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross,
because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in--a river that no one could cross
He asked me, "Son of man, do you see this?"
Then he led me back to the bank of the river.
When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on either side of the river.
He said to me, "This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea.
When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh.
Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish,
because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh. So where the river flows, everything will live.
Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets.
The fish will be of many kinds—
like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh. They will be left for salt.
Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail.
Every month it will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary
flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing. This is the word of the Lord written for his people.
You may be seated. Anybody that can pronounce all those names deserves an applause.
Thank you Femi. My name is Mike. You can stop bowing.
I'm part of the pastoral team here. It's good to be with you this morning. Nick and Manohar are in India.
Nick will be back sometime this week, we hope.
It's good to be with you.
So Nehemiah 8—
they finished the temple 15 years ago; they finished the wall a few days ago.
It only took them 52 days, as
has been stated, and now they have time to turn inward.
You're wondering, "Mike, how are you gonna tie those two passages together?"
It's around one word, the Water Gate.
And it says that the people came, and they gathered as one people. They were attentive.
Their ears were attentive to what was going to happen, to what was going to be read.
Now the Water Gate was significant in that
it was the place where the spring of Gihon was, and that was the primary water supply for all of Jerusalem.
And so it was a large place where people could gather.
We know from Ezra and previous readings that there was around 42,000 people possibly in attendance that day.
It wasn't in the temple courtyard because the temple courtyard where the Law would typically be read
would only have been men, and this was men and women, boys and girls, anybody
who could understand, is what the text says.
The Law, God's Word is for everybody.
If you're not familiar, the Law is the Torah. The Torah is the Pentateuch, another name for the first five books of the Bible.
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
And it says, "from the beginning of daybreak to noon."
Now we don't normally stand for Scripture reading, but some of you are like--
because you had to change positions, you had to change your attention, you had to do something physically
to match what was happening cognitively,
what was happening in your soul. And so all of a sudden we had to stand
and position ourselves
There's some things that are said in this passage that are really simple
that I want to draw our attention to today because I think obviously God put them there for a reason,
and in a church like this where the majority of people—I was talking to a pastor this week,
and he said, "I don't think anybody in our church has an undergrad degree."
I said, "Well, come on over, because I don't think anybody in our church doesn't have an undergrad degree."
I know of 12 to 14 of you that have an MDiv,
and you're not in ministry. You just like to learn.
So you got a preacher that's up here most Sundays that you just love
because he takes you deeper and deeper and deeper until you're finally lost, and then it's over.
And I love the fact that he takes us deep into God's Word,
and he unpacks it relevantly and
But there are some times when our learning gets ahead of us, and we forget to listen.
And I think God is pointing that out as one of the things in this text.
Right off the bat, it says, "And they listened attentively."
We can listen
cognitively and we can try to keep up with the notes and the slides and the charts and the various things that go by,
but are we listening with our soul?
Are we listening to what God is saying to us?
What he's wanting us to hear from his word, what he's wanting us to acknowledge from his presence.
And they're listening to the Torah,
which for them was their
salvation story. It was a story of creation.
It was a story of God calling Abraham, and Abraham taking his family and saying, "Come on guys. We're going." "Where are we going?"
"I don't know, but we're going."
And off they went, and they had kids, and the
family became a clan, and the clan became a people, and the people, became a nation.
And they were marked by who God was.
But they were people. They were human.
And so they grumbled, and they fought back, and they fight amongst themselves,
and every once in a while, they would say, "Oh, yeah, we got to stop this. We belong to God." And there would be a reckoning.
They found themselves in bondage in Egypt.
Moses comes against Pharaoh. The battles ensue.
God's victorious. The people escape through the walls of the Red Sea before they tower down and
drown the people in the armies of Egypt.
They head to the promised land, but they can never stop grumbling, so God lets them take a forty-day trip over 40 years.
those who grumbled, those who fought back, have died off. The children enter into the Promised Land
only to find that there's obstacles. It's not as good as they thought it was going to be. The people are giants.
"How can we do this? Oh, yeah, God."
And the seesaw goes back and forth, and finally, God lets him go into exile.
He brings them out of exile,
gives them a place. They rebuild the temple; they build the walls,
and they're standing in front of the Water Gate.
Now the Water Gate is a unique place.
If you left the temple courtyard and went out the eastern gate, which is the primary gate of Jerusalem,
then you would go by it.
You would go by the spring of Gihon.
And it would be a daily place, a daily gathering place where everybody was welcome.
Water Gate. We've got our own Watergate. That's not quite what this one was, but
the Water Gate shows up in Ezekiel.
Ezekiel was a prophet, and God showed him
a prophecy. Now the prophecies often were relevant to the day, but they also had a
forecasting type of them. They talked about something that would happen in the future. So
centuries later when we saw things happen, we would recognize that this was predicted
prophetically, and it's come to pass. So we can trust that God's in control. God's in charge, and he speaks and he lets us know
what's coming and we see it. And we praise Him, and we give him the glory for it.
And in the prophecy, there was a reason that the
division was happening, and that's that the people were starving spiritually. They were thirsty, and
the prophet Ezekiel is shown that there's a spring
in Jerusalem, and begins to flow, and the flow becomes a stream, and the stream becomes a river.
Every thousand cubits, it's deeper and wider. In every place the river goes,
And everybody that gets into the river lives.
And it changes the salt to fresh, and it does things that just don't happen. And the trees along the river bring
miraculous fruit, and there's medicinal leaves on the trees, and it's a place of healing.
It's a place to belong; it's a place to be. There's all tribes and all nations, finally end up in this river.
And it's symbolic of what what Jesus has done.
So around the globe today, there are
several billion people
worshipping the same God that we worship.
And so the name Water Gate has significance. It meant something in the bigger picture
of things. In the New Testament, in John 6, Jesus picks up the theme of water.
He says, you know, "If you thirst, drink of me."
To the Samaritan, he says, "If you knew who was talking to you, you'd be asking me
because I'll give you water that will satisfy every thirst you'll ever have."
And the people of
Nehemiah's day, they are standing in front of the Water Gate and they're spiritually thirsty. They're hungry.
They have the security.
They have the place. And now they find themselves in front of God in his word, because that's the form that they knew him in.
And the word is read,
and it says, "Ezra opened up the Law, and the people said, 'Amen! Amen!'"
Now "amen" just simply means "so be it." So the people were agreeing last Sunday when Lloyd was speaking.
What's he say every time he's up? "Are you with me?"
And you guys are like—well three of you are like, "Yeah, we're here." And the rest of you are like—
I was preaching in Rochester, New York, and
it was one of the funnest Sundays in my life, honestly. The middle two sections were all
black people who just loved the Lord, loved to worship. Gosh, they were fun. And the outsides were white. It was really quiet out there.
And the matriarch of the group sat in the third row. And
about three minutes into this white guy's sermon the organist came up,
sits down, and I'm watching him but I'm not saying anything because I'm hoping he's just forgot something.
And he goes into it, and pretty soon, believe it or not,
this white guys in cadence with the organist. And it was so fun to preach that day. It just pulled it out of me.
Afterwards the matriarch comes up. She goes, "I am so sorry. Were you used to that?" I said, "Sister, that was fun."
Lloyd asked you that because when we come together, we're one.
With one voice we're attentive in ears, and he wants to know: Are you with me? Do you understand?
Can you say, "So be it"? "Let it be"? Let's go!
Amen! And it's okay. If
we put this field--or this group--over in Kohl Center, and there was a great
final going on in basketball or we took you to the Packers or whatever. You quiet people would be the noisiest people in the place.
And it says that the people
bowed their heads.
It says they raised their hands. It says they
put their face to the ground.
They did all kinds of things as
they were thinking through their salvation story, as they were listening to the Torah.
And it was impacting them, and they were responding in kind with their body what their spirit was hearing.
Because we're meant to come to God, body, mind, and soul. This isn't just a Sunday thing.
I led a guy to Christ one Sunday morning. And I said, "We gonna see you next week?" He goes, "You do this every week?"
He said, "I thought it was a concert. I go to those when I have the money."
You know that we come together, and it's meant to
do something to us.
We don't listen to the depth of sermons that we listen to just to know about God.
We listen to the depth of sermons that we listen to to know God, to be touched by God,
to be embraced by God, to be rebuked by God, to be better people because of God, to be better people in God.
It's meant to change us.
Every time we prayer—we pray—we expect change. If you don't need something different, why pray?
And so the people are actively participating in listening to the Torah.
And something's happening.
A people that have been absent from God are
beginning to understand
God has pursued them, just like the song Nicole sang.
They were just people
ignorant of the fact that this Almighty God loved them to this depth,
that he had chosen them--that he had called them out when he called Abraham.
And that the promises he had given were theirs.
And they could hold on to them, and they forgot that, and they complained. And as they listened to their history,
they began to weep. And
they begin to be remorseful, and they began to bow their head, and they began to feel sorry, and they—
they bow down. And they realize they have not done
What God invited them to do.
They have not reaped the blessings. They have not reaped the pleasures of the promises
because they went their own way. They demanded their own king when he's like, "I am your king."
"Yeah, but they don't--they have one and we don't."
Worldliness was fine and healthy back then, too.
And they begin to understand as the word is read over them,
I'm a sinner.
To the point where
Ezra steps up, and he says, "People, this day is holy. Don't mourn; don't weep."
And Nehemiah steps up behind him next, in verse 10, and he says,
"This is a holy day to God.
Go and drink good drinks and, and eat good food. And if you see somebody that doesn't have it, share with them.
But rejoice!" So
off they go.
Now, I want to say something to you that probably sounds like it's coming out of the other side of my mouth.
If you raise your hands, if you bow your head, if you touch the--your face to the ground, none of that is worship.
Those are just actions to help you understand so your body aligns with your spirit.
So in one you're coming before God.
What matters is what's going on in your heart.
That's what God is looking at.
The other actions are for our benefit. They focus us.
They help us acknowledge. Yes, he is worth
kneeling in front of; he is worth raising my hands to. Three weeks ago, I was over at the Capitol for
School Choice Day. It was National School Choice Day, and there were about a thousand kids, and they're singing songs, different schools, and they're
dancing, and I was mildly bored, and just kind of putting it up until we got to the good stuff, and
kids were having a great time, and I wasn't. And
pretty soon the speakers started. Now, they're all political speakers,
but the last one finally got up, and I paid attention. I found myself squared to him, listening—
Happened to be the vice president of the United States of America. Regardless of your politics, the office commands respect.
I remember in first grade, we had a field trip. We had to walk a half a mile, the whole elementary school
We walked up to Highway 99, just north of—or south of Everett, north of Seattle.
And they gave us little flags to wave, and we had no idea what we were doing.
But then motorcycles with sirens and lights came by, about 50 of them.
And we're like, yes, this is it! We thought it was over, and then this thing of limousines shows up, and finally there's a limousine
that's a convertible.
There's a guy riding up on the back, and we thought he was pretty cool because we don't get the ride in the back
like that and sit up on the seat. Had no idea it was John F. Kennedy.
But we did know something just happened; there was somebody important going by, and then there were more motorcycles, and that was really cool,
and then we had to go back to class, and that wasn't—
we were aware that we were in front of somebody that commanded the room.
Somebody that commanded what was going on. Their very presence was larger than life.
We serve a God.
Psalm says the universe is his throne room, and he uses the earth as his footstool.
We serve a God that is amazing.
We serve a God that doesn't need to care about you or me, but
he does. He knows your name. He knows the number of hairs on your head--
easier for some than others.
But he cares.
He knows the darkness.
He knows those times.
He delights in you, says he dances over you.
Now when we know
we've failed God--and believe me, that's an often occurrence
with me. Look good on the outside, but man, I
wish I had my interior act together as well as I look on the outside.
The thoughts, the rumblings, that happen in the soul—probably just like yours.
And I come to church, and I'm like, "Oh, yeah, time to repent. Here we go again."
And he says, "Get up.
I'm here. Let's dance.
Let's eat good food; let's drink good wine.
Let's enjoy the day.
Because this day is holy.
It belongs to me.
So let's not bring your sins into it; let's just forgive them.
Let's acknowledge them, repent, and get it over with, because we're going to dance.
We're gonna do something better than that. We're gonna live in a better way. We're gonna talk differently. We're gonna think differently. We're gonna rejoice.
We're going to appreciate one another and love one another."
And today as we do the first of the month
we come to our own story of our salvation. Our own
Water Gate, as it were.
The servers want to come.
And instead of the Torah being read, we rehearse the Gospel.
And the Gospel says that on a hill just outside of Jerusalem, a
stream began to flow.
It was the blood of Christ.
Symbolically, just like Ezekiel prophesied,
that stream would begin to flow, and it would begin to get broader and broader until it encompassed the ability for
mankind to—all of us—nations, tribes, every tongue—to get in,
to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord,
Savior. But then to enjoy living in the kingdom.
But we come and Jesus said,
in first Corinthians 11, he says, "This is,
represents my body, and this represents the cup. Take it and eat it. Drink it, and remember.
And that should cause different reactions in each of us. It should cause us
to bow our heads and to quiver
because we have sinned against God, make no doubt about it.
But then we step into his forgiveness, and
we say, "I know I can't do this on my own.
I know I have disappointed you, God, but I choose you as Lord and Savior.
I choose you as my God and King."
And he says, "Then get up!
Let's live differently."
Let's eat the cup—eat the bread and drink the cup in recognition that we are free from sin.
There was a reason Ezra and Nehemiah said,
"Don't weep. Don't mourn.
This is God's day.
This is a holy day." And when God owns the day,
he's in charge,
not the world.
It doesn't matter what they say about you. It doesn't matter what they think about you because God has decreed, "You're mine.
You're a child of the King, and I love you.
You're worth it. My son joyfully endured the pain of the cross for you
so you wouldn't have to."
Our sins didn't take us there.
Our freedom takes us to the throne room of God where he invites us in, and that's amazing.
And to that, we should get happy!
Sixteen of you—good!
This is a majority white church.
So we're gonna take communion. Now,
when you take communion, we're gonna ask you to come to a station, and, and they're gonna serve you.
The cups are double-stacked. I've heard people say, "Well, I got some juice, but I didn't get any bread." It's in the second cup.
Take it back to your seat and contemplate
what Jesus has done for us,
the blessings that he's given us because of his joyful sacrifice for us.
And then eat the bread and drink the cup.
Niccole and the team are gonna lead us in through four songs. This is gonna be the shortest sermon of the day—no amens. And
I want you to listen to each song as they take us through: We are sinners;
God has redeemed.
He has set us in a place, and he is sending us out, because that's who we are:
We're a church,
victorious. You're the people of God, and
it's a good thing to celebrate and to know. Father, as we
humble our hearts,
in light of your story,
Thank you for forgiving us, each of us as we've acknowledged our sin in front of you, and you have freely
forgiven us and invited us into something better.
Thank you for the pain that you endured on our behalf, for the brokenness of your body.
I honestly don't understand why you would do that for me.
But you did. I thank you. In
Jesus' name, amen.