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Rebuilding the Temple - Lost Relatives

Our Narrative Lectionary reading for this upcoming Sunday is from Ezra 1:1-4; 3:1-4, 10-13. Since last week's reading, the people of Israel were taken into captivity by Babylon. Babylon was then conquered by the Persian Empire. King Cyrus has just become King, and during his first year he frees the people of Israel. He sends them home to Jerusalem with the order to rebuild their temple.

King Cyrus' motivation is intriguing. Is he a believer? Or is this just a political move? Either way the people of Israel are excited. They move back home and live in villages surrounding Jerusalem. In the seventh month of the year, the celebration of Sukkot is approaching. During the celebration of Sukkot the people of Israel would normally pilgrimage to Jerusalem and live in tents they called booths. This celebration reminded them of the time their people wandered in the desert, living in tents, after being freed from Egypt. As they sat in tents around the ruins of Jerusalem, the symbolism of the celebration must have weighed heavy on them.

The text tells us that they found the place of the old altar, and set it up so that they could offer the sacrifices traditionally offered during the celebration of Sukkot. As they begun construction their neighbors offered to help. The text tells us that the people of Israel were afraid of them. Who are these neighbors?

When the people of Israel were taken by Babylon, we are told that the poor were left behind to farm the lands. 70 years later, this is a mix of the poor left behind, and some people from other nations that were resettled as part of Babylon's resettlement policy. Those that offered to help likely had a connection with the Jewish people. They knew what they were trying to do and they wanted to be a part of it. These were the poor left behind. The people of Israel would not accept their help. They identified these people as strangers, outcasts, not lost relatives.

In the absence of the temple these poor farmers had continued worship by offering sacrifices on the mountain tops around the area. Their faith molded and changed to fit their situation, just as those that had gone off to Babylon. Since they were rejected and refused participation in the 2nd temple tradition, by the time of Jesus there was a great tension between these two peoples. We know them as the Samaritans in the New Testament.

In John 4, a Samaritan woman brought this old tension to the feet of Jesus. She asked the great teacher, "Are we supposed to worship on this mountain, or is it really only allowed in the Jerusalem Temple as the Jewish people say?". Jesus didn't miss an opportunity to welcome this old relative into the fold. He replied, "A time is coming, and has arrived, when everyone will worship in spirit and truth." This was a great statement of unification after generations of arguing over one or the other. Jesus ended the age old argument by saying, both and neither. Now we all worship where we are, in spirit and in truth. The temple is not on a mountain, or in Jerusalem, but in your body, you are the temple of God.

As the people of Israel looked at the rudimentary altar they used for that Sukkot celebration, some of them cried out in joy, and some cried out in despair. In the noise it was hard to tell who was sad and who was happy. The cry held both in tension. Joy at freedom. Sadness at those not included. Joy at a new beginning. Sadness at starting over. Joy in worship. Sadness at how it paled to the temple of Solomon. These emotions are held in tension this week. It is the 4th week in Advent for the Celtic Church. We will light candles for Hope, Love, Joy, & Peace. We Hope for the arrival of the great Love that will bring Joy and Peace to all the people. We cry out with gladness and sadness as we are thankful for the first coming, and desperate for the second.


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