Rev. George Miller
Date: Feb 12, 2017
Scripture: Nehemiah 1: 1-11
Throughout history there have been many mentions about walls.
There’s the wall of Jericho that came a-tumblin’ down. The wall of Humpty Dumpty in which he had a great fall, and the wall in today’s reading.
One of these walls is about what’s possible when God is on your side.
One is about the foolishness of folly.
Today’s wall- well I like to think it’s about the Tenacity of Teamwork.
Today’s reading shows what’s possible when one person is filled with so much spice of life that they flavor an entire community.
But first- some history: the people of God were living in Jerusalem, a magnificent city with a magnificent temple that sat atop a magnificent hill.
It was indeed the Land of Delight: a place of beauty, a city rooted in faith.
But within the city’s walls crept the sins of injustice, greed, and lack of compassion for the orphan, the widow, the alien, and the poor.
The rich got richer while the poor paid more taxes and struggled to have their daily bread.
The citizens of Jerusalem stopped caring about the commandments and ignored the ordinances.
As a result, a catastrophe came upon them: their Babylonian enemies came and attacked the city.
They broke down their walls, burned up their gates, tore apart their temple, and razed their houses, fields, and businesses down to the ground.
Some of the Jerusalem Jews ran away. Thousands were taken to Babylon as captives. Those deemed not good enough to be captured were left to live amongst their city’s ruins.
50 years later the Persians attacked Babylon and in an act of mercy set the Jewish captives free to go back home.
But what home? Their gardens and businesses were gone; their temple no more, and their mighty wall was in ruin.
For 100 years that’s how the people lived, surrounded by the hopelessness of brokenness.
Until one day- one day in the court of the Persian king there is a cupbearer named Nehemiah, and he decides to do something about it.
What Nehemiah does unfolds over the next 7 ½ chapters, so let’s take a look.
Nehemiah is the king’s cupbearer, meaning he’s a butler, a sommelier.
But more than that- he is a man of faith; a man who is rooted in his family history and a sense of national pride.
Note how Nehemiah is not afraid to feel. He asks how his Jewish kin are doing in Jerusalem, and when he hears the bad news, he cries.
Upon learning that they are living amongst rubble and ruin, he sits, he weeps. He simply doesn’t just “get over it”; he simmers in his sadness, mourning, and choosing not to eat for days.
Nehemiah is not “fine.” There is no “fine” when the place you know and the people you love are living like that.
Nehemiah feels, and out of his feeling, he turns to God with the expectation that God needs to do something.
“Listen to me, O God,” he says. “This is not the time for us to have a vertical relationship. I need you to hear my voice and I need you to pay attention and see what I am saying.”
Nehemiah’s relationship with God is real, how else can he be so comfortable saying to his Creator “Remember what you said to Moses? Remember how you said if we do right you’ll gather us and establish your name?”
Nehemiah takes God to task to remember what God says, and asks that God guides the way.
Though Nehemiah holds God accountable, he takes ownership for the role his ancestors played in the fall of Jerusalem.
Though those events took place 150 years before, Nehemiah doesn’t pass blame, he doesn’t point fingers.
He says “My family and I have sinned.
We have not always done what is right. We have offended you and we could have done much better.”
As American’s we may struggle with this concept, but Nehemiah is not separating himself from his ancestors and what they may or may not have done in the past; he names it and he claims it as his inherited own.
As a result; things fall into place. The Persian king asks Nehemiah what he can do to alleviate his sadness.
Nehemiah replies “Let me go back to the land of my people, where the graves of my ancestors rest, so that can I rebuild our wall.”
And here’s the cool thing- Nehemiah gets done in 52 DAYS what no one else could accomplish in 100 years.
I think one reason is because he delegates, delegates, delegates.
Focused on the City of God, Nehemiah has a goal, he has a vision, he has zero doubt that the Lord will grant them success, so he sets about getting it done via the Tenacity of Teamwork.
He asks the Persian King to write the letters needed to get the supplies and be assured safe passage.
He shows the people the issue at hand and inspires them to say “Let US start building.”
He breaks the job into tiny tasks, organizing teams made up of priests, families, and tradesmiths to
do certain things that they are good at.
When folk worry about safety, Nehemiah hears them and stations security guards. He empowers them to build the wall with one hand while carrying a weapon in the other.
When confronted with the rise of unjust acts perpetuated from within, he holds the folks accountable, reminding them that in God they are ONE.
When people complain, criticize, insult and make threats, Nehemiah keeps on keepin’ on.
And in 52 days, to the glory of God, the wall is built.
This restored wall gives the people what they so needed- an identity, a sense of pride, a way to feel safe, and a chance to once again feel the presence of God.
Think of how spicy Nehemiah must have been. Talk about letting your light shine; talk about being the salt of the earth.
Nehemiah must have shown like a lighthouse; he must have been as spicy as a packet of Goya Sazon seasoning and a bottle of hot sauce combined.
With his feet rooted on the earth, he was certainly filled with the ruach of God and the waters of life.
How he must have spoken; how he must have stood! How grounded in God he most certainly must have been.
So grounded that it clearly was not about him; it so clearly was not about just his immediate family.
So grounded in God that Nehemiah embraced the Tenacity of Teamwork.
We see this in chapter 3 when we hear how the work was organized and who did what. And there is one phrase used in chapter 3 over and over again.
That phrase is “next to.”
We are told that as the sons of Hessenaah built a gate and set up the doors, next to them the son of Hakkoz made repairs.
While Joiada set up bolts and bars, the men of Gibeon and Mizpah were next to him fixing whatever needed fixing.
Uzziel, a goldsmith, goes about doing his thing, while next to him Hananiah, a perfumer, is doing restoration.
Next to, next to, next to.
The phrase “next to” is used 12 times in 12 sentences, telling us that no one worked in a vacuum, no one worked all alone, no one carried all the burden.
But next to, next to, next to was how they worked for the glory of God.
The result of this Tenacious Teamwork is that out of the ruined rubble and destroyed doors, they built not just a wall, but a wall with gardens, pools, and at least 9 different gates in which people could come in and out of.
But want to know what else their Tenacious Teamwork created?
What do you think that wall, and those gates will do?
…About 500 years later, one of those gates will be opened, and one of those gates will welcome inside…a man.
A man made of blessed adamah, baptized in the Jordan waters, and filled with the breath of God.
One of those gates will open up and welcome inside a man who said “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
One of those gates will open up and welcome inside a man who said “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”
One of those gates will open up and welcome inside a man who once sat with the people and said “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.”
One of those gates that Nehemiah and his Tenacious Teammates constructed will open up to allow Emmanuel, God With Us, into the Holy City,
riding on a humble donkey while the people sing “Hosanna” and the people shout “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”
One of these gates will open up and allow inside the Prince of Peace, the one who sat with the people, walked along the shore, and had a horizontal relationship with all of creation.
The Tenacity of Teamwork set the stage for Jesus Christ to enter into all of our lives and to transform the world.
Just think- if a butler like Nehemiah and his tenacious team could do that with a 100 years of rubble and woes, imagine what we can do-
-with our own lives
-with our own church
-our own community.
Nothing is impossible with the Lord when we stay focused on the God of the heavens, the God of the waters, and the God of the earth.
There is no wall too big, no gate too grand, no task too trying.
Amen and amen.