Living in rubble, rebuilding in faith

Preached on: Sunday 15th May 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Nehemiah 4:1-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints: AVAILABLE SOON

Lord, as we prayed, may any words that come from this pulpit that are not of You be cast aside like dust and may the words of Your Holy Spirit, that are from You, go deep into our hearts this day, we pray. Amen.

When speakers start sermons, they often play a clever opening line or they might come up with a joke or something that kind of draws people in to what they’re going to say. Now, I think Scott is an expert at that but he’s learnt from the master because Jesus taught in parables, Jesus taught in stories. Well, I’m sorry, nothing clever from me today, all my creative efforts are on the floor.

I want to start heavy okay, because chapter 4 of Nehemiah is an incredible chapter and I think it deals with evil. So, I want to ask you three questions that you do not need to answer to your neighbor but I want to just put those questions to you now as we think about this chapter:
• Do you believe in this thing called evil?
• Do you believe in the devil? Do you believe in the satan?
• Do you believe that there are unseen forces in the world, unseen evil forces even around Brightons and Falkirk?
Heavy questions and questions with no context. We’ll hold those as we get and start to look at this chapter.

But, you know, we’re four weeks into Nehemiah and I can’t help thinking that we need a bit of a recap.

Nehemiah, we remember that the story of Nehemiah and Ezra, the book before it, are set at the end of exile. Exile is one of the big themes of the Old Testament. Way back in Exodus, Moses is telling the children of Israel what God is saying and it’s kind of simple in some respects – follow God’s ways, things will work out; don’t follow God’s ways, there will be consequences. And so, what we then see through Exodus, Leviticus on, we go into the Kings and the Chronicles, what happens? The children of Israel just cannot obey, they just cannot obey, and repeatedly they’re warned and then eventually the consequences follow, and the twelve tribes of the north are scattered and the two tribes of the south, eventually, Jerusalem is attacked the walls fall down the temple is destroyed and they’re carted off to Babylon.

And so, we pick up the story again upon the return. But upon the return things are still a little bit disappointing, because the temple is rebuilt and well it’s not quite as good as the previous temple and, get this, they spend the good part of 60, 80 years with Jerusalem in a shambles, a complete shambles, The walls are broken down, people come in and out, trade doesn’t work because there’s no security, there’s no sense of community, it’s a mess. So one of the questions I ask myself which we won’t talk on today is ‘Why did the people in Jerusalem not get on with this themselves? Why did it need a Nehemiah to be called and to come and help them?

I put that to one side.

But let’s think about this extraordinary construction project. It’s extraordinary because, what we were learning last week was, it was all being put together by people who were completely unskilled, completely unskilled at building walls. But what happens? Well, we’ve got three weeks of thinking that the story is quite good, we’ve got three weeks of thinking ‘Nehemiah, that’s a good book for us to study as we come out of the pandemic because it’s about rebuilding.’ and Scott our minister has been talking about the rebuilding that we need to be doing locally and this is a good book because it’s all going well.

I’ve got news for you today. As George read, the news wasn’t all good because there was so much opposition, and we face opposition. But, from this chapter, I want to draw out four types of opposition that Nehemiah and his crew in Jerusalem were facing: ridicule, intimidation, discouragement and fear. So, we’ll jog our way through each of those and see whether there’s application for us when it comes to that today.

First of all, ridicule. If you’ve, if you’re near a Bible I’d encourage you to open it, we’re on page 487, because I’m going to be taking bits out and reading through. And the first bit I want to read is this bit that George started with, that big deep breath and chat at the start of chapter four ‘When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria he said ‘What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish it in the day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble?’ Bits of leg! ‘Tobiah the Ammonite who was at his side said ‘What they’re building, if even a fox climbed up on it then he would break down their wall of stones.’ Ridicule! Now, we touched on this a little bit last week so I’m not going to go too far into it but I think Christians get what ridicule is, particularly today, in the world of social media, it’s out there everywhere, it’s so easy to ridicule and still in this day Christians cop it more than most others because they’re an easy target. You bunch of wet, bleeding-hearted Christians, nicely settled in your religious bubble, wet and wimpy. It’s got to the point where Christianity is labeled as a bigots religion and it’s got to the point, bizarrely, where Christianity is regarded by the world as immoral. Oh, I think that’s an extraordinary flip by the enemy and I think we’ve only seen it in the last few years. But what, it’s easy to then become defensive about all this stuff isn’t it?

What’s Nehemiah’s response to the ridicule? Have a look at verse four. Now this is a really tough prayer. It’s known in the Bible that by the fancy word of an imprecatory prayer. It’s a prayer which is calling God’s judgment on an enemy and we get very nervous about talking about those sorts of prayers in the Bible but if you take any time to read the book of Psalms you’ll see it there all the time. But let me read Nehemiah’s prayer verse 4 ‘Hear us, oh our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in the land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.’

I don’t know what your prayer life is like but I’m a bit reluctant to pray that bravely, that God might keep His judgment down on my enemies, but it’s there and you know what, we all prayed that this morning already. What do you think in the Lord’s Prayer those words ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ actually means? It means that we want God’s justice, the justice of the heavens, to also be played out on earth and if you take that forward, that has consequences.

Now, we have to be very careful about how we pray those sorts of prayers but it’s there and there’s a lot of learning to take from it. It could be a whole sermon series, don’t worry, the clock’s back, I won’t be that long,

God is a God of justice, and evil will have its day of reckoning.

Now, we have to move on verse six.

‘So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height for the people worked with all their heart.’ The people worked with all their heart. I love that simple phrase. Isn’t it good when people work with all their heart? Nice and simple. But the problems are still going on throughout the chapter.

The second one, intimidation. If we look and see what happens down in verses seven and eight when Samballat, Tobiah and the Arabs, and the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs of Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry and they plotted together to come and to fight against Jerusalem and to stir up trouble against it.’ Now, I don’t think we need too much imagination to see what that looks like because our screens have been full of it in recent months in the Ukraine but I think we’ve become dulled to all of those atrocities, and we need to think more deeply on what intimidation looks like. This is the magazine Barnabas Aid, you often see copies at the front of the church and many of us read it. Its strapline says ‘Bringing hope and aid to suffering Christians’ and it’s a magazine that shares good stories, good news stories about people in the suffering church around the world, but it also has horrendous stories in it. Stories of Christians who are stopped from worshipping, who are intimidated, Christians who are killed.

If you’re a Christian in China or a Christian in Pakistan you read this Bible very differently and with a very different lens to we might read it here. If you’re a Christian in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, if you’ve got one of these you hide it. We don’t know what intimidation is to some extent but there is intimidation in Scotland.

The Free Church in Stirling was kicked out of its accommodation, its rented accommodation, because its landlord had the view that they didn’t fancy that church’s teaching on marriage, Now, that case was challenged and thankfully the law of the land found in their favor. Or the street pastor in Glasgow, bundled into a police van in Buchanan Street because he’s simply reading the Bible in public and being processed, not for a crime, not for a crime, but for a hate incident and so he’s registered, and he has a not a criminal record but a police record, for preaching the gospel on Buchanan Street. Now that’s been challenged as well. Or even closer to home, the good folk at Grace Church, Larbert wanting to embark on a building program were horrendously intimidated and told that they were bigots because they had a homophobic attitude. Not true. But the intimidation that that church, just in our area, has had is absolutely incredible. Now I’m tempering, okay I’m tempering what’s happened overseas with Christians intimidated and killed, with the type of intimidation we get here but it’s real and we can too easily cower and stay away from it.

Verse 8 ‘they plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.’ Well how do you face intimidation? What did they do? You’re probably not going to be surprised by the answer – verse 9 ‘But we prayed to our God and we posted a guard day and night to meet the threat.’ Prayer and action. These are just such consistent themes throughout Nehemiah. Nehemiah is a leader and he is consistent in prayer. Prayer before action. And that’s what we’re talking about today because it builds on the last three sermons we’ve heard this that this man started with prayer ‘they prayed and posted a guard.’ Prayer and action.

But the enemy’s still not beat, is it?

And in verse 10 and verse 11, verse 12 we read that ‘Meantime, the people in Judah said ‘The strength of the labourers is giving out and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.’ Also our enemies said ‘Before they know it or see it or see us we will be right there amongst them and we will kill them and put an end to the work. Then the Jews who lived near where they came and they told us 10 times over ‘Whatever you turn, wherever you turn,.’ they will attack us

So here it comes, old discouragement. Now, I don’t know about you, if you want to discourage me you don’t need to tell me something 10 times over. The Jewish trends, the Hebrew translation there is that they were being told time and time and time and time again that this just couldn’t be done. For me, just tell me once or twice that I can’t do it, that’ll encourage me, that’ll discourage m, I mean.

But what’s all this about?

There’s a change, if you can see, between mockery and intimidation which are all external, to discouragement which is inside the camp, which is a real cancerous way of getting it people. Now, to be fair, to be fair, these detractors, they probably had a point because as construction projects go well, it wasn’t exactly the easiest. 150 years of rubble, trying to rebuild the wall. I was worried that the kids were going to start pulling the Lego about up to bits and take it and I reckon we’d have been here till 5 o’clock building it there. Building, rebuilding in rubble is not fun, and the picture that we have of the project is that it’s basically being opposed by everybody inside and out and you can kind of hear that you can kind of hear that conversation with Nehemiah ‘Listen laddie, that’s not how we do around here. You needn’t think that this building project is going to be successful. Not only that, look at our labourers, they’re all tired, they can’t do it anymore.

So, discouragement then leads to that fourth tactic of the enemy, fear.

Ridicule, intimidation, discouragement – fear, I think sometimes is like the ultimate enemy. It’s contagious and it can paralyze us. Indeed, Annabella was praying that just before I started to speak. So the passage is not teaching us to ignore fear but it is teaching us how it affects us and how we can tackle it. It teaches us to face fear. If you look at Nehemiah verse 13 onwards ‘Therefore in face of what was going on he said I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points on the wall at the exposed places posting them by families with their swords, spears and bows and after I looked things over I stood up and I said to the nobles and the officials and to the rest of the people ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord who is great and awesome.’ Remember the Lord who is great and awesome.

Now, this is no Churchill rallying cry, this is no President Zelenski, land of hope and glory, rally round the flag, we can do it. It’s not like that at all. The focus is on God who is great and awesome. Then down in verse 20 he says ‘For our God will fight for us.’ Same theme – prayer and action – prayer and action. And I want you to see that Nehemiah is not naïve. This is a hard job. It’s a struggle, but he leads with faith, not faith in flesh and blood, but faith in God.

Now, all of us face situations which create fear in our heart and, like I say, it’s paralyzing. As I use the word ‘fear’ I can almost paralyze myself. It doesn’t need to be great matters of state, it doesn’t mean that that we are facing a church that’s under real attack, it’s an everyday stuff. The stuff that we muddle away through. Fear about things in family, in our place of work, money worries, health worries, just the general disappointments of life. We know that. We know we face fears constantly.

Someone here today who often quotes to me that verse in James ‘perfect love drives out fear’ perfect love drives out fear. That love is the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, it seems to me that when we look at the time of Ezra and Nehemia,h we are just like those people in Jerusalem and we are trying to rebuild, in a time just beyond the exile, the temple is rebuilt but it’s just not what it used to be and the wall,s the walls of our natio,n the walls of our church.

I cut a lot out of my sermon last night because I was gonna say things about the nation and I was gonna say things about our church but I’m a guest in this pulpit and that is not my role. You can have that conversation with me later but is it not fair to say we are living in rubble. Broken bits of Lego everywhere.

But Nehemiah’s words and his character, they lead me to say something else to us today. At this moment, amid the rubble in God’s goodness, we have a hard-working and motivated Nehemiah with us in our presence. You don’t need to look around, he’s not in the building today. And actually, he couldn’t speak these words from the pulpit, so let me speak very, very plainly. Repeatedly, you have heard our minister referring to his calling in this congregation. Repeatedly and from the very beginning of his time with us he has challenged us to have a vision. Keith’s out with the kids but during vacancy, Keith repeatedly said to us where there is no vision, that people perish, words from the Old Testament. Scott, he’s worked with us to consider our purpose and our values that underpin our vision. Rrepeatedly he’s called us to pray, to be a praying people. Repeatedly, like Nehemiah, he’s surveyed the job at hand and he’s challenged us on the state of our walls. Just last week, he was calling for volunteers because there’s work to be done, the walls need built.

I see him ridiculed. I see him intimidated. I see him undermined by naysayers. Lord, forgive me, I’ve probably been one of those people who’s been a naysayer. And don’t get me wrong, our minister is not perfect, nobody’s perfect, Jesus was perfect, but can I urge you, can I urge you to pray for our minister, reflect on how we’re treating our spiritual leader. Hebrews says this, Hebrews chapter 13 towards the end ‘Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.’

Now it’s not just about Scott. All of us are leaders. All of us are to imitate. Paul says ‘Be imitators of me as I am imitators of Christ.’ Nehemiah didn’t get the job done on his own. Let us think about having the trowel and the sword, that picture from Nehemia,h so that we’re working and we’re praying. Let us recognize that there is an enemy. Sure, things come along but there is a spiritual enemy because one of the great themes of the Bible is that God’s people face opposition. Right at the beginning of the Bible whatever you make of the story of the Garden of Eden and the serpent, that is the satan. All the way through the Bible. And the only way that God’s people conquer evil is through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Paul knew this we. We touched on this at the prayer meeting on Thursday night. Paul in Ephesians says ‘This our struggle, it’s not against flesh and blood’ and that is hard to see isn’t it. Sometimes we just think our struggles are about the things that are actually in front of us but Paul says ‘our struggles are not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’

These things are real. Real evil forces. And if you try to confront ridicule and intimidation and discouragement and fear without that understanding, the reality that there are unseen forces and that we need to be on our knees, whether literally or metaphorically, in prayer, you’re gonna fail, you’re gonna fail.

Paul ends that passage in Ephesians with this ‘and pray in the spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert.’ I love that word, Christians should be alert. I think alert is a modern word. I think it’s a word that says, be on your guard, be ready. We need to be alert people – prayer and action.

My time’s up. There’s so much more in this chapter. I’d encourage you to get into it. I’d encourage you to keep reading Nehemiah as we’re in the series, because it’s so rich. Think about those people in Jerusalem. Why were they so lame? Why were they so ineffective? Why did they do nothing for nye-on 100 years after the exile, and had this city that was just a shambles? That needed Nehemiah? They could have done this job without Nehemiah and God’s grace he sent him but why?

Let me close there, but as we go into singing our final song ‘An army of ordinary people’ let’s sing that to the Lord with a sense of inspiration. We are an army of ordinary people, a kingdom where love is the key.

Everyone investing in the eternal

Preached on: Sunday 8th May 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-05-08 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Nehemiah 2:10-3:5
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Rebuilding is not about the building
– Rebuilding is a whole-community effort
– Rebuilding is costly

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word:

Come Holy Spirit and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and renew our minds.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Last week I was getting Hope ready for school about half seven or so in the morning, she asked me the question ‘Dad, can I wear nail polish to school today? and I just feel the nerves rise up within me. The worry about what to do in this moment and not because applying nail polish phases me any longer. Two years of a pandemic and especially at the start when you’re trying to figure out how to pass time with a three-year-old, nail polish is a key winner because ‘Well Hope, you need to sit for five or ten minutes to let it dry’ so you know ‘just wait a wee bit longer.’ So, I’m quite adept at applying the old nail polish to Hope’s nails now. No, no the worry was not about applying the nail polish but whether we should because there’s part of me that begins to worry, here’s a five-year-old and is she worried about what people think about her and that her friends are wearing nail polish so she wants to nail polish, and if I say no then what’s that going to do for her self-esteem. And I got in a bit of a tiz and in the end she wasn’t allowed to wear nail polish and apparently, according to her mum, I made the right choice. So, score!

But I hope it’s not the only one of us who finds moments where we’re under the influence of people around us and our culture around us, we all are, whether it’s the culture or the media, whether it’s friends or family, whether it’s maybe practices in the workplace. There are things that influence us. Influence what we should pursue or invest ourselves in, or chase after. But, more often than not, the things that we’re told to pursue just raise anxiety and worry, they create competition and pride or even envy and bitterness, they’re not life-giving. So, what are we investing ourselves in? What do we esteem or chase after?

We’re now into week three of Nehemiah and we chose this book because of its focus on rebuilding. And we’re aware that we’re moving into a different phase with the pandemic and we’re also aware hopefully, sadly, that our denomination is in exponential decline and actually that affects a lot of the denominations. So this week’s focus on rebuilding helps us to think about how we might rebuild our own faith, but how might we might rebuild the community of faith as well. And we’ve seen in Nehemiah’s story the importance of prayer and repentance and it was great to gather with folks this morning at quarter past ten, if you didn’t make it along you missed out, because I just left me so encouraged from that time and I’d encourage you to think about maybe joining over the next four Sundays. We’re going to pray each Sunday from 10:15 to 10:30 up to Pentecost Sunday on the 5th of June. You don’t need to come and pray out loud, you can just listen in, but if that’s not possible for you then there are many other ways to be praying whether it’s at home or in a fellowship group or in a team that you’re maybe part of. Get involved and be praying for our congregation and wider denomination. But this week we move on once more and see the next bit of Nehemiah’s story, of what it says to our situation.

In our passage we saw how Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem. He traveled for four months from Souza to Jerusalem and, understandably, when he arrives, he needs a bit of a rest so, for three days, he rests. He prepares and then he goes and scouts out the city to see what needs doing. But he keeps all of his plans close to his chest probably because of the opposition he knows is out there against God’s people, and that’ll become more of a focus maybe in the next few weeks, but the time comes, eventually, for Nehemiah to make a move, to gather the people and share with them what is upon his heart. And so, he says to them ‘You see the trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and we will no longer be in disgrace.’ We will no longer be in disgrace – it’s a theme that was there in chapter one but we didn’t dwell on it much due to time constraints, but this theme of disgrace is important for Nehemiah and for God’s people and it should be important for us too because it’s not so much that the people are in disgrace, it’s more about the worry about what that then causes for God’s glory and name, because a diminished Jerusalem with its walls and gates and a mess portrays a diminished God to the people around them. And so, the neighboring peoples would think ‘Well, your God can’t be very powerful, look how we beat you up and tore down your walls. Your God can’t care for you very much because you’re not able to rebuild.’ And so, they’re in disgrace and because they’re in disgrace the name of God is in disgrace. And so, as I’ve got on screen here the rebuilding is not about the builder, the rebuilding is not about the building, it’s about the reputation of God, it’s about God being seen to be worthy of worship, that he is the true God, their focus, a spiritual focus enabled, fulfilled through material means but with a spiritual focus, and it carries on into chapter three.

Chapter three we read at the very start that ‘The high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the sheep gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place.’ Now the order of things in scripture is very important at times and so the fact that Nehemiah begins with the sheep gate is important. At first, it seems like well, that’s just another gate but actually, the Sheep Gate is where the sacrifices were brought in and so they’re saying that’s that was the gate they began with, that was the important gate because God is important, we’re putting God first. And they dedicated it, they gave it over to God, they made it holy and all this because the rebuilding was not about the building, it was about God’s name and glory, about the true worship of God.

So, what about us and every day, as we think about rebuilding things after the pandemic, as we think about rebuilding our denomination in light of its decline? What is the focus for us? Is it about just keeping the building open and keeping the lights on? Is it about getting back to the glory days? If you lived in the height of the church and just wanting that memory to become reality again? Is it about the reputation of the denomination? Is it about feeling successful here that ‘Well hey, we’ve got kids?’ What is it about for you? What is it about? I feel church wouldn’t be a wrong thing to aspire for or a wrong thing to pray for, there might be very good reasons for that and based on Nehemiah chapter 2 one good reason would be that a full church might show that there’s a greater proportion of our community to recognize that God is worthy of praise. That would be a good reason. To see a full church, that would be a good reason to pray, for more people, and for worship not to make us feel good, not to massage our ego, but that God might be glorified and given His due worship. But for that to happen it needs to start in each of our lives. This needs to start in your life and in my life. We need to know that God is worthy of praise in all the seasons of life. We need to know that God is worthy of praise. So, let me ask, has your passion for God diminished of late? Is God less worthy, in your eyes now, of your praise? And I don’t mean happy clappy, be like Scott, hands in the air kind of praise, okay, and passion, you can express your passion however you want to, but is it diminished from what it was? Is God less worthy now in your eyes?

When I was in my mid to late 20s I was in a youth worker job and it came to a very sudden end and it was a very painful experience and left a lot of wounds for me and a job did open up straight away. That was a very a fitting job and actually would bring a lot of benefit in the end but for that first year of my job, that new job, I did not like it. I was in a fellowship group and every two weeks I’d go along and I would just moan about my job. I did not want this job and in that first year what ended up changing was my perspective and part of what changed was recognizing that God was worthy whatever the season of my life, that God was worthy of my praise whatever the season of my life. Now that might not be exuberant happy praise but He is so worthy of my worship and praise whatever the season. Have you come to that point yet? Have you matured in your faith that you’ve learned that lesson? Often it can only be learned the hard way I’m afraid, but if we don’t learn it then in our estimation and our perspective of God, God’s worth ends up going like this and our faith ends up going like this. We need to learn the lesson if we want to mature in our faith, that God is worthy of praise whatever the season.

And so, rebuilding is not about the building, it’s about God’s worth, about His glory, about His reputation. And that’s the first thing to learn from our passage today. Now let Nehemiah lays this concern before the people and he calls the people then to get involved and they respond with ‘Let us start rebuilding.’ and they begin the good work. And then, into chapter three, if you go and read it in detail, you can read list after list after the list of wall and gate and who gets involved, in what bit of work, and I saved you the pain of reading through all of chapter three but you probably – well done to Ian, by the way, for all the names, you did well this morning brother – but if you go into chapter three and you read it in detail you’ll find that not once is Nehemiah mentioned. I’m sure he was involved in some way but he’s not mentioned, and if you look in detail, the people that get involved come from eight different places. They don’t all come from Jerusalem. Some of them come from places as far away as 15 or 20 miles. So, again, they weren’t getting involved because it benefited them, they got involved because the rebuilding was not about the building. And they come from all different walks of life. They are male and female. They are high and low in society. They are different professions, so it’s not just builders and masons and carpenters that get involved, there’s perfumers and everything in there. Basically, all walks of life. It didn’t matter because there was this passion for the glory of God and so they got involved. And it all goes to show that rebuilding is a whole community effort, everyone needs to be involved to make it happen and everyone’s got a part to play. And, of course, that echoes the New Testament where Paul talks about the church as a body and he says ’Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all of its many parts forms one body, so it is with Christ. Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.’

Now, the image of the body, the church as a body, conveys many things of our need for one another, of our care for one another ,of our value of one another, however, in the context of the passage, it comes straight after a passage about our spiritual gifts, about the things God has given us to use for the common good, and so, we need to remember that part of the lesson from the image of a body is that we have a part to play and that, when we don’t play our part, the body is weakened.

So, let me ask you, where are you serving? Where are you serving within this community of faith? Where are you using your time and your talents to build up the church, to care and to further our purposes within the community, that God might be glorified? A stronger church and a witnessing church that sees people come to faith that glorifies God?

This past week I have the huge privilege of being at a great many meetings, admittedly, but it’s actually a real privilege at times because, for example, on Monday night I was at the Safeguarding Panel meeting which on the surface sounds really boring and tedious and who would want to be on the Safeguarding Panel, although they’re lovely people, so don’t tell that personally. Now the reason it was so encouraging is because well, I know many other Kirk Sessions don’t have Safeguarding Panel meetings because they don’t have children that they’re working with and so they have no need to meet, but we do because we’ve got children amongst us that we’re reaching out to and so it was great to see some names coming forward. But we also have a Pastoral Care system that many other churches would be envious of and, of course, it’s not perfect and we can always improve things, but we have pastoral visitors that keep in touch with people who are housebound and maybe more vulnerable and needing a bit of support and it was great to hear of names on Monday night coming forward to be involved in that as well. That is a great thing. I’ve had emails coming in this week talking about starting the teas and coffees next Sunday so please come along for that because it’s not just a nice thing, it’s a great thing that we have an opportunity to be family because when you’re in your pew how many people do you talk to, just a few that are around you and we get up and we go home and who knows if we see each other the rest of the week but we have that moment after the service to have a talk, have a catch up and to know what we can be praying for one another. So, come along to tea and coffee, give it a shot, especially if maybe you didn’t do it before the pandemic either. And then I know I didn’t manage to make it yesterday because I needed to save some time for the family, but yesterday morning the Up-and-Coming team met for a strategy breakfast – I’m always up for a breakfast – but I’m also up for an Up-and-Coming strategy session and it was great that they’re thinking about how can we invest in our children and young people and particularly they were thinking about intergenerational things and they were thinking about the zero to tens. And there’s people who have had a busy week of work, they’re here in church by the way, or serving through in those halls, and still they gave up a Saturday morning. Incredible people, a privilege to serve with them.

So, what about you? Where are you serving? You know, I need someone to come forward and lead the Communications Team, I need someone to come forward and lead the Discipleship Team, I need someone to oversee the publication of Bright Lights because this is all on me right now, I’m already busy enough. So, there are three jobs but there’s many more. Now, you might be at an aging stage of life where mobility, strength, energy etc is a dynamic, and that comes, but I bet you can pray, I bet you know how to move, work your telephone. I’ll give you a list of people I pray for or a list of people you can call. Every one of us has a job we can do. Every one of us. And if you can’t name a job that you are doing, it’s time to step up, and on your pews today there are these old cards that we have not had out since the start of the pandemic and on the back there’s a list of areas and you could fill this out today and leave it with the door duty team at the front or back and say ‘Well, I don’t know exactly what to do but I’m willing so here’s my details. Here’s what I’m willing to help with.’ Please, please get involved because there are some people who are carrying too much. Because, if we want to rebuild, well every one of us has to be involved, it’s a whole community effort.

But we know from Nehemiah’s time that there were people who didn’t get involved both within the community and outwith the community and that brought challenges, it brought setbacks and disappointments I’m sure, but it was also costly and it goes to show that rebuilding is costly.

The first instance I want to flag up for us is with the nobles of Tekoa who ‘would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.’ Now, when we read that, we think ‘Oh, here’s a bunch of snobs who just can’t be bothered. They just want to put up their feet and kick back.’ and that’s how it reads at first but, what we need to understand, is that the Hebrew for shoulders here refers to the back of the neck and it carries with it the imagery where an oxen would refuse to yield to the yoke that was placed across it to enable it to do its job and so, what’s actually happening here is not that the nobles are lazy but the nobles are prideful and they will not yield to the leadership of Nehemiah and the group of people around him, they are refusing to yield to leadership and so the rebuilding comes with a cost. Sometimes we need to give up our pride and sometimes we need to re-engage. And I wonder if that’s an issue for you. I don’t think it’ll be an issue for a lot of us but it might be an issue for some of us, because maybe you’ve chosen to disengage from church because of leadership, it could be my leadership, it could be the leadership of the elders or a leadership of someone within one of the teams, and because of something, you’ve decided to kind of reject them and step back and disengage. And maybe you’ve done it because you’ve genuinely felt hurt, I can understand that, but can I help you follow the logic of your choice through. First Corinthians says you are gifted to benefit the community and bring glory to God then, by you choosing to disengage, you are robbing God of glory and robbing this community of benefit and that’s challenging, and so I’d encourage you to think about getting re-involved, not to massage my ego or make me feel better, not to say that what has been done is okay but so as to say that God is worth it, God is worth it, that you’ll get involved again and you’ll serve and you’ll use your gifts and it will be costly I’m sure. I’ve had to do it in my life. Maybe it’s time for you to do it in your life. But there was also another cost for some people and more broadly for the people. Earlier on, in Nehemiah 2, we read that Samballat, Tobiah and Geshem heard about the rebuilding work and they began to mock and ridicule the people saying, what is it you’re doing, because it just seemed crazy to them. Here’s a bunch of people, there is a mess, there is no way that this is going to happen. It just seemed foolish and so they mocked and ridiculed the people. Imagine what the people would have been feeling. I’m sure they must have felt a degree of embarrassment, we all do, and if they’d allowed that embarrassment to take hold the work would have stopped. There was a cost to their rebuilding. They had to sacrifice their embarrassment. And I wonder if that’s an issue for any of us? Maybe we’re not willing to own up to being a Christian or that we go to church. Maybe we feel too embarrassed to share our faith or even to say to someone ‘I’ll pray about that for you.’ It’s a bit of a bold step and it can feel embarrassing but if you never say it, that person is never going to know that there’s a God they could turn to. Or maybe it’s embarrassment of getting involved in church, you might think ‘Well, I can never do that, I’m not able to do that.’ But there can be a false modesty, brothers and sisters, that holds us back because God is able to work through you, you just have to be willing to step out in faith. So, where might you need to sacrifice your embarrassment for God’s glory?

Now, what helped Nehemiah and the people overcome and pay these costs? Well, it might not seem obvious at first, but hopefully you can follow my logic, because in response to the critics, Nehemiah said ‘The God of heaven will give us success. We, as servants, will start rebuilding but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.’ And that’s a true statement. These opponents did not share in the kingdom of God because they didn’t have faith in God. That’s true, but the converse is also true, Nehemiah and the Israelites did share in the kingdom of God because they had faith in God and because they shared in that kingdom they were willing to sacrifice for that kingdom. They were seeing that that is where they were called to invest despite the cost, despite the embarrassment, they were willing to invest in that. And it makes me think of what Jesus said he said ‘Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moths and vermin do not destroy. And why do you worry about clothes’ (or Hope, why do you worry about nail polish, I can understand why she does, we’ll get on to those other lessons) ‘see how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness through faith in Jesus.’ We share in the kingdom of God and we’re called to invest in that kingdom to give it our focus to give our attention and time and talents and money and through all to then invest in what is eternal, what carries eternal worth, rather than what is fleeting. And so, I wonder can we be that people? Can we be a people where everyone, everyone is investing in the eternal,, the eternal kingdom of God? And when we do that, we show that God is worthy of our praise and when we do that, we show that everyone has to be involved and that we’re willing to pay the cost. That’s my prayer for us this morning as we think about these chapters of Nehemiah. So let us take a moment to pray. Let us pray.

Father, You will have been speaking to us in some way, maybe through the sermon, maybe through a prayer or a hymn or part of the reading that’s been unexplored. Lord, whatever it may be, take it deep and bring forth a fruit a harvest from that seed that would be to Your glory. Lord, if there’s been something that’s challenging, give us grace to receive it and to respond. Lord, if we’ve needed a word of comfort may we know Your presence with us to uphold us and strengthen us in this season. May we know that you are a worthy, God, of our praise and love, and may we keep following You in the highs and in the lows. Oh Lord, lead us forward as a congregation and blow away the chaff from our time together and from the sermon, and just take deep what is of You, the furtherance of Your purposes in Your kingdom, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Introduction to the Nehemiah teaching series

Preached on: Sunday 24th April 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this introduction.
Bible references: Nehemiah
Location: Brightons Parish Church

In a moment we’re going to hear our Bible reading and it’s a new teaching series that we enter into. When I met with a few others to think about what we might teach upon across this year we were mindful that, as a nation, we are moving into, hopefully, a new season and a new dynamic with the pandemic where, maybe, in some ways, church life would begin to rebuild again and restart in different ways. We’re also conscious that as a denomination, we are having to rebuild too, that we are having to enter a time of pruning back because of how things are within the denomination, and so, again, we’re building and rebuilding and as such, it made sense to turn to that quintessential book about rebuilding, the book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament.

In the book of Nehemiah, we find Nehemiah in exile because he is part of the Jewish people was taken into exile and many years later, he’s now in a position of influence and authority, and the people were taken there because they had disobeyed the Lord and He had disciplined them and there’s been two stages of return already so far. Under two other leaders, one of whom was Ezra and we have the book of Ezra just before Nehemiah, but now we meet Nehemiah who’s on the cusp of another return and another stage of the rebuilding work and we might get into bits and pieces of other dynamics of the history but that’s just to help situate you as we come to the reading today.

I encourage you not only to watch and read it on screen with us, but we have the Bibles out on the pews now as well and so I encourage you to get open up one if you don’t have an app or something with you. You’ll find on your newssheet that at the top of the newssheet every week is the Bible reading that we’re going to have and the page number so you can even be prepared for it. So follow along, keep it open during the sermon, make sure I’m not preaching heresy or something really rebellious and you can make sure that what I’m saying is from the Word of God.