First, let me restate that I am a Christian and that my denomination of choice is United Methodist.
Also, let me include the framework of my personal study—a year-long Bible study that pairs an Old Testament reading with a New Testament reading.
For my study, I am using the Wesley Study Bible (WSB) which is a ‘new revised standard version,’ that is considered the basis for Methodists even though I often read other translations like the New Living Translation, The Message, and the New International Version.
Why is this important? Because I want to share a quote from the WSB notes that has stuck in my brain for a couple of weeks:
As individuals, families, and congregations evolve, growth entails finding meaningful ways to integrate the present with the past, to connect new members with those who have a long record of faithfulness, and to honor history while embracing change. The weeping of the elders carries a moving double significance. Their disappointment with the new construction is at once a sad refusal to welcome the future and an important challenge to a new generation that they have much to achieve to rival the community’s former glory. Only the elders carry with them the historical memory of the community. They are the only ones who can raise this criticism. The combination of joy and sorrow reflects the multifaceted nature of the community, old and young, Jews of Babylonian and Persian origins, along with those from Jerusalem; lay and clergy, along with their differing hopes, fears, and expectations. Out of this group characterized by difference more than similarity, once again, God will fashion a faithful people. As Wesley notes, “The mixture of sorrow and joy here, is a representation of this world. In heaven all are singing and none sighing; in hell all are wailing, and none rejoicing; but here on earth we can scarce discern the shouts of joy from the noise of the weeping, let us learn to rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” (p.573)
The context for this study note is Ezra 3, especially verses 12 and 13:
But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many should aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish
the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away. (NRSV)
Reading Old Testament scriptures can be confusing as they are not necessarily written in a chronological order and the texts are written by different authors. Therefore, reading the text takes discernment, especially prayerful discernment.
The context of the book of Ezra is summarized in the introductory notes of WSB helps:
Written sometime in the early period of Greek occupation of Israel’s land (after 332BCE), [the books of Ezra and Nehemiah] tell an idealized story of a reconstituted but small Jerusalem community threatened with obliteration by imperial rule, interethnic strife, and the abusive excesses of an elite class. (p. 569)
Therefore, the scripture is talking about the rebuilding of Jerusalem as the religious center of the faithful Israelites.
John Wesley believed that they study of scripture needed to be done with attention to four elements or, as we might refer, filters:
- the scripture itself,
- the tradition of Christianity,
- reason (or logical reasoning), and
- human experience
Using these four filters is considered Wesley’s quadrilateral.
For some, this structure for Bible study may seem weighty, or maybe even unnecessary; but for myself, I think it is important because it helps me understand how the scriptures can speak to me in the 21st century just as it did in the ancient centuries. The themes are timeless.
(I understand that is a great deal of background information about studying scripture, and how I personally study. If I did not do that, then how would anybody understand the significance of the study note I shared in the opening?)
Today, as churches have to reshape themselves; it is difficult to manage the old with the new. It is difficult for people to let go of what “has always been” in order to embrace the possibilities of “what can be.”
As I read Ezra, I understood how the elders of the faith community were thinking, yet the challenges of ancient society caused things to change. Being allowed back into Jerusalem to rebuild the temple was critical to the elders, yet the circumstances could not possibly be the same as it was when it was first erected.
The very same circumstances exist today. In each faith community, the shifts in one’s culture, the wear and tear on a building, the elders versus the younger generations force the church to evolve.
As I read through the study note included in the opening, I was reminded how difficult it is to take a long-standing faith community symbolized by its very structure in the heart of a community, must change.
Read again the first lines of the note:
As individuals, families, and congregations evolve, growth entails finding meaningful ways to integrate the present with the past, to connect new members with those who have a long record of faithfulness, and to honor history while embracing change.
No process of rebuilding is easy. The elders will weep. The youth will cry for change. But, in God’s world, the constancy of grace and love should bring the generations together. It will not be easy, but God’s timeline only sees one goal—to love one another as one wants to be loved.
The faith communities today are struggling, but the more I study scripture, the more truth of God’s world becomes evident. We are gifted with the opportunity to live in this world, and to do all that we can to experience earthly life to its fullest.
Today’s faith communities are struggling, and the goal is to find ways to carry God’s grace and love forward to others. The culture changes, it merges with different cultures, technology creates new ways to communicate.
Change is a constant, but God’s grace and love do not change. We are taxed to do all that we can in any way that we can to share God’s love with one another; and that means love one another in any way we can. The faith communities must then accept change within its own parameters in order to grow God’s kingdom any way that we can.
What we must remember is that this earthly life we live is just a human experience and the promise of life eternal guides us in living Christ-like lives now. Hence the emphasis I added to the study note via underlining:
. . . let us learn to rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
Life is what we make it during our earthly journey, but it is just a hint of the glory that awaits us. Please join in me in prayer:
Dear Lord, our God,
As we continue our earthly journey, growing in faith,
fill us with the grace and love you show us
so we may share that grace and love with others.
Help us to find ways to join the generations
with compassion and empathy
in order to lead others to know you personally.
We want to rejoice with those that rejoice
and weep with those who weep
as members of your family, always. –Amen