I’ve been preparing a message from the book of Ezra and a period of time referred to as the Restoration. It documents the people of God’s deportation from their homeland, their exile, and then their return to Jerusalem. It’s a challenge to work through the history of the text, but am so glad I made the effort.
Ezra recalls the people and how they made it back to Jerusalem, and soon after their arrival, came together for worship and to rebuild the temple. They rebuilt the altar, entered into a time of praise and rejoicing, and celebrated the progress of seeing the foundation being laid. It appears that their worship was truly energized and encouraged the people to participate. It had been a while since they had been able to worship as a people in that place, and the unity and purpose of that moment brought them closer together. Despite their individual losses and disappointments, they drew strength from being a community of faith. That’s what worship is supposed to do.
You would think that there would be universal enthusiasm as such a development, but such was not the case. “But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping; because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far way” (Ezra 3:12).
Churches wrestle with attendance, giving, ministries, and opportunities for service that exist around them. Sometimes the difficulty relates to resources, while other times the memories of what God did in the past obscure the possibility of God doing something in the present. It’s not the same, so the tendency is to view the future through the lens of the past.
I have been trying to relate to that faith community in Ezra, and how those older adults could not appreciate the foundation being built. The new temple, in their view, would not measure up to the first temple and for that reason they cried with disappointment. There wasn’t anything wrong with the new foundation, except that it was different than what they had known before the exile. Their emotional attachment to the past kept them from appreciating God’s goodness in the present.
This sort of reaction goes on frequently in the church. There are those who have been involved for 50 years, and then there are those who have been involved for 5 years. It’s no wonder that there are differences when it comes time to do things as a community of faith. The hope is that all the “noise” that results in differing emotions can eventually change into something more unified and understandable to our people and community.
Sometimes there is a lot of noise coming from our churches. It is up to each one of us to determine what that noise turns out to be.