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Sermon Ideas For Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 Part 3

Nehemiah 8:1-12 concern the excitement of a fascinating discovery and public reading of a lost book of Scripture. However, any book that we discover has the potential for celebration of some sort.
Many films have been adapted from books. Some films, however, have directly celebrated the value and significance of books. Here are two examples that can bring cinematic images to bear upon the written word.
84 Charing Cross Road (David Jones, 1986) is based on a hit play which is itself based upon a best-seller novel, and was preceded by an adaptation for television. This film introduces us to Helen Hanff (Anne Bancroft), a witty and brash New York writer and to Frank Doel (Anthony Hopkins), a reserved English bookseller. They have a touching transcontinental relationship, carried on by correspondence, and eventually by gift exchanges, spanning over two decades. What brings them together is their love of books. In the difficult economy of post-World War II, Helen sends her want list to a London bookstore which has run an ad in the Saturday Review. She is delighted by the reasonable prices and personal service, but even more by the new worlds that these used books open up for her.
Another example of a film dealing with the power of books is Matilda (Danny DeVito, 1996), based on Roald Dahl's children's book. This is a modern day fable about a precocious child, Matilda (Mara Wilson), who, despite living in an intellectually deprived environment, discovers the joy and the power of reading, with a special fondness for Charles Dickens. Matilda's parents are boors, and her school headmistress is an ogre in the cautionary tale tradition. Matilda's classroom teacher is sweet and innocent, but powerless.
Notwithstanding the negative forces in her environment, Matilda is determined to resist any forces that would deprive her of the love of reading. It is true that part of Matilda's enjoyment comes through escapism. But there is more to it than that and even if there were not, who wouldn't want to escape from Matilda's world?
Matilda's family is crass and inconsiderate. Her father, Harry Wormwood (Danny DeVito), is consumed by used car scams, and her mother, Zinnia Wormwood (Rhea Perlman) is obsessed by bingo. These self-centered, lowbrow, vulgar and shallow parents cannot imagine that books would have any appeal. They ignore or shun Matilda, except when they order her to stop reading books in order to watch television. Their theory is that you can't get anything from a book that you can't get faster from television. To top it all off, her older brother is a brat.
At the age of six and a half, Matilda asks to go to school. Her father's response is the question: "Who would sign for the packages?" (Incidentally, the packages are stolen car parts, such as bumpers, which he superglues to lemons for sale at exorbitant prices.)
Things are no better at school. She attends the gray and Gothic Crunchem Hall, whose motto is: "When you are having fun, you are not learning." The headmistress, Agatha Trunchbull (Pam Ferris) is malicious. As if her bulk alone were not menacing enough, she wears a leather-belted tunic and mountaineering boots over thick socks. Further, she wields a mean riding crop. The sense of menace she imparts is emphasized by low angle camera shots. Indeed, the headmistress can be downright sadistic. For example, she applies her training as an Olympic discus and hammer thrower to a student. Swinging the schoolgirl by the pigtails, Trunchbull tosses her so that she barely clears a spiked wrought iron fence and lands in a patch of flowers. The impact of this incident on the viewers is heightened by the use of the girl's point of view as she flies through the air.
The two bright spots in Matilda's life are her classroom teacher, Miss Jen Honey (Embeth Davidz) and her local library, to which she makes a daily trek. Reading is not merely a means of escape for Matilda, but also a means of empowerment. In this fable, the power that comes to Matilda through reading is symbolized as telekinesis, which she uses in response to a misuse of parental and school power.
Matilda learns that Miss Honey is the niece of Miss Trunchbull. She further discovers that Miss Trunchbull murdered Miss Honey's father so as to come into possession of his home and other assets that rightfully belong to Miss Honey. Using her new power of telekinesis, Matilda gets even with Miss Trunchbull and restores to Miss Honey the things that Miss Trunchbull had commandeered. Finally, Matilda brings about her own adoption by Miss Honey. In the tradition of the fairy tale, the story ends with the two living happily ever after. In keeping with the cautionary tale tenor of the entire film, this ending invites us to reflect on the larger meaning of the story.
In these days when so much of our information, even of news, comes as we passively watch snippets, there is need for a call to read. To answer this call, we need not turn away from television and film, but rather add to it. There is a much neglected treasure of both sacred and secular literature, from which we can receive information and inspiration, solace and empowerment. That's the prospect that was so exciting to the people in Nehemiah's time. Shouldn't we become excited, too?
Harold Hatt
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