Sermon, 4.26.09"Pilgrims On the Road" Rev. Erik Bonkovsky Nehemiah 8:13-18
In this part of Nehemiah the people celebrate Sukkot, the Festival of Booths. During this time Israelites would build booths for themselves out of branches, and live in the booths for a week. The custom of living outdoors in simple booths an indicator of harvest time, like when people set up those stands to sell their fruit right out of the field. This festival would have reminded the people to be thankful to God for the harvest, and it would also remind them that they're a traveling people. The Festival of Booths was a time to give thanks to God for delivering them from slavery and from years of wandering in the wilderness.
For us, the Festival of Booths has two main purposes.
- It instructs us that we ought to be thankful, remembering God's provision in our lives. And it goes beyond having nice things, and food in our bellies. Specifically, God provided his son for us, his only son, so that we could understand the meaning of compassion and draw nearer to God.
- It reminds us that we, too, are a pilgrim people. We need to be defined by the one who was sent to rescue us, not by our home and all the possessions that we've amassed. This is not just about the Israelites' exodus from Egypt, it's the exodus of us being brought out from our doom. We're on a journey; we aren't home yet. We need to remember that, because everything in our culture tells us to get comfortable, get a lot of stuff, and surround ourselves with it, and that this will make us feel at ease. Or we feel like if we obtain the next goal -- house, kids, etc. -- that only then will we be satisfied. But the fact is, we're not going to be satisfied after the next big step; we're still going to be longing. As pilgrims, it's okay if we're not perfect and we don't have all our ducks in a row, because we're still on the way. As quoted from the book Peace Like a River:
"Once traveling, it's remarkable how quickly faith erodes. It starts to look like something else--ignorance, for example. Same thing happened to the Israelites. Sure it's weak, but sometimes you'd rather just have a map."
God doesn't give us a map, he gives us faith. And that should be enough for now, because we are assured of our destination. As travelers, it's not about how good and big and strong our faith is, but it's about how good and big and strong the object of our faith is.
Even if we don't break out the tree branches and dwell in booths this year, we can continue to dwell on these points for seasons to come.