Aged Sages of Biblical Renown: Nehemiah: A Builder Who Risked it All
Scripture: Nehemiah 2:11-18
- Prelude – “Give Thanks,” arr. by Mary McDonald and Larry Shackley; Duet by Pauline Olsen, organ, and Donna Grubbs, piano
- Welcome – Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 152 – “I Sing the Almighty Power of God,” by Isaac Watts; Josie Carroll, hymn leader; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Hymn 117 – “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” by Isaac Watts; Josie Carroll, hymn leader; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Special music – “Peace,” by Jeff and Sheri Easter; Patty Shoop, vocalist
- Scripture – Nehemiah 2:11-18; Margaret Cox
- Sermon – “Aged Sages of Biblical Renown: Nehemiah: A Builder Who Risked it All,’ Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 474 – “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” by Thomas A. Dorsey; Josie Carroll, hymn leader; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Postlude – “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” arr. By Michael Ryan; Pauline Olsen, organ
Yesterday we had an election that would determine the direction of this country for at least the next four years, probably longer. The time before this election has been tumultuous, to say the least. To a great extent it feels as though the country has been torn apart, not quite to the level of the Civil War, but close. No, it may not cost the number of lives we saw in that war, but it will have a cost, and the cost is and will be significant. So, in these next three weeks I would love to try and offer a few things that will help us rebuild, heal, and bring peace; even if it’s just our own souls or this community but especially to this country. And yes, it will continue to be about Aged Sages of biblical and national renown.
Today we’ll examine a short set of verses out of a biblical book we spend very little time exploring. It is, however, perfect for today. It’s the story of Nehemiah; of Nehemiah getting permission to return to Jerusalem; a place that had been destroyed, and his call to take on the task of rebuilding. Then we’ll close by sharing communion. The following week I’ve asked three of our veterans to speak. We sometimes lose sight of the fact that we’re able to have free elections and opportunities to worship because of the sacrifice made by those in our military. We’ll be taping the service on Veterans Day, and I really appreciate Andy, Ken, and Jim for taking timeout of that day to offer us some perspective. Then, two weeks from today, I’ll turn to Jesus and we’ll explore that day he happened upon a group of leaders who were preparing to stone a woman who had been caught in adultery. The name of the sermon is Aged Sages of Biblical Renown: The Stone Droppers. If there was ever a time when we needed to hear what Jesus had to say about judgment, this is it. So we’ll explore that in a couple of weeks. And then from there, we move into Advent. Before getting into Nehemiah, let’s talk a bit…
I remind you that my oldest son is a ship’s captain. As he worked his way up from being a deckhand to a second, then first mate, and then to being a captain he attended all of the required classes. What he learned became the foundation that allowed him to face the multitude of challenges you face when out on the water, and when you have responsibility for the others who are around you. One of those elements that were primary to his position as mate and now as a captain is navigation. He and I have often talked about what navigation is. It’s my hope that talking about this gives a few additional needed resources as we look at Nehemiah. Here’s what I mean. If we are to take on the twelve elements I listed before, we need a few additional navigational pieces.
First, navigation involves appropriate maps; maps that identify landmarks given by those who have gone before us. Here’s ours: (Bible). Also, appropriate navigation involves charts; charts are more specific than maps. Charts identify the specifics that are needed for safe travel. They involve specific depths, currents, and additional dangers.
Ours include a variety of things (see the doors to the sanctuary): Again, scripture, tradition, experience, and reason.
It involves understanding the tides and times and how those can enhance both danger and opportunity; when the sea is full and when it empties out, when it’s deep and when it’s shallow. (Fellowship and Relationships) It involves winds and understanding; exactly how winds can shift and change and the inherent challenges they cause. (Prayer and study) Navigation involves specific experience and local knowledge, an understanding of each piece of each place, and how specific things in that channel can shift and change, including appearances (our own context). It involves knowing the laws of the sea – and I don’t mean simply the dangers of being in the water, but the laws involved in navigation – and for us, it’s the Constitution, our charter, and other elements of law. Navigation is a combination of a whole lot of elements. So is our role in these times.
So, now on to Nehemiah. As we examine this passage there a few things I would like us to recognize as we think of our own mandate of building and rebuilding – especially in times like this. Nehemiah offered us a process of inspecting the realities of what was going on, and how he was, therefore how we are being called to respond to the realities that surround us. There are twelve simple things we can pick up from him.
- He heard and recognized and then honestly named the pain, as did God. Their beloved city had been destroyed. He named the darkness. So what is ours today?
- So, he prayed for guidance, and specifically about what he might do in response to the pain.
- He waited for an answer. And once the answer came, he was given clear direction. It was the formation of an initial plan.
- He took action once the direction was given. It involved steps he was willing to take, some of them uncomfortable.
- His initial plan involved gaining permission, then making a difficult journey, and then an inspection. He understood the laws and protocols and rules, took them on in a holy and responsible way; and then, once at the site, he did a thorough examination of what he might be facing in order to rebuild.
- Once he saw the need, he created a more specific plan for rebuilding. In other words, he detailed out what needed to be done.
- He then recruited the needed leaders that would implement and oversee the rebuilding; offered them both the purpose of rebuilding, and ownership of their specific area of responsibility.
- He then had each leader recruit and train their own action teams; each to take on specific areas of what was needed in order to complete, not only their area, but the work overall.
- Once the planning, recruiting, and training were done, they all went to work, and did it with passion and joy.
- In the midst of it, he prayerfully and powerfully, unapologetically faced his enemies, particularly those who were seeking to manipulate and destroy the work. He prayerfully confronted them and backed them down so that the work would continue.
- At specific identified times, he evaluated progress; and, when needed, made the appropriate changes in the plan, but all of it also covered in prayer.
- As individual pieces were completed, they celebrated, and when the entire rebuilding project was done, they offered worship and thanksgiving to the God who made it all possible.
What Nehemiah did took time. It took energy and focus. It took determination, passion, and especially perseverance. He continually went back to God for direction. It is a story and a process that would translate to any and every situation that involves rebuilding. There is no doubt but that Jesus, Paul, and the early church knew of Nehemiah’s efforts.
They sought to emulate what he did, but in their own time and their own context. We can see it throughout the teachings of Jesus, particularly in Matthew 5 and Sermon on the Mount. We can see it in Paul’s letters; in scriptures like I Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. We can see it in the early church as we examine the Book of Acts. That said, there is one more element that can help us, as it did Jesus, Paul, and the early church. And it begins with a question. What did Nehemiah have that allowed him to know how to do what he did? In other words, what do we need, beyond the 12 pieces listed above?
Friends, it’s our turn to do what Nehemiah did, but in order to do that appropriately, we have to follow God’s lead. We have to navigate our way through the challenges, but we need to rebuild. And it is what this sacrament is about. Think about it. Jesus began the rebuilding process even before the tearing down had taken place. They remembered his words, created a plan, navigated through the obstacles and we’re the outgrowth of all of that.