February 19, 2012
Dear Chapel Friends,
I sure miss discussing our readings with you all! Below, I’ve provided notes on what I noticed as I read Nehemiah, particularly as it relates to our search for a leader and our need to recommit to our mission, but summaries just don’t cut it compared to dialogue. Oh, well, here goes:
Like his contemporary Ezra, Nehemiah the priest urges rebuilding the temple and the walls of Jerusalem as an act of faith in a forgiving God, who eagerly renews covenants with those who acknowledge their drift from Moses’ laws (1:5).
But Nehemiah’s ‘urgings’ ring with the passion of an Old Testament prophet. Appalled that the gates of Jerusalem lie in “waste,” Nehemiah proclaims that, with the “hand of my God” upon him, he will faithfully guide his people so that they might head his command to “rise up and build” (2:17-18).
Indeed, Nehemiah tolerates no slackers, as we see when he disparages the “nobles” who “put not their necks to the work of their Lord” (3:5), but the rest of chapter three reads like a script for This Old House or a calendar of events for Habitat for Humanity: they repair the gates, set up doors, and repair sepulchers, houses, and towers. No shoddy materials, either, lots of goldsmiths involved. A good leader, Nehemiah also names names, giving full credit to all the families and individuals who repaired the architectural consequences of their forbears’ sins. Similarly, in chapter four, Nehemiah praises this community of builders who also serve as protectors of the people: with one hand they build the wall; “with the other hand” they hold their weapons (4:17).
Predictably, while all this building goes on, others “mock” the Jews and threaten to tear down their work (4:1); others, those lazy nobles again, practice usury to profit from the work (5:5); and still others plan to take-out Nehemiah. But the authority of Nehemiah’s anger and defiance suffices to force turf-protectors, parasites, and would-be assassins to cease and desist (5: 6-12; 6:11).
Chapters 7-13 continue this building-and-naming theme. While most readers find tedious the endless catalogue of those who did the work and settled in Jerusalem—totaling over 42,000 (7:66)—we should understand the importance of naming. The role-call stresses accountability, acknowledging those who have taken a stand. The listing also praises those who back of their words and their work with “treasure” (7:70). I doubt that Vicki or Carl would approve this strategy, but they would no doubt approve the giving spirit.
Finally, couched in the middle of this book about building and naming, we find chapter 9, “Nehemiah’s Confession,” a first-class summary of the books of Genesis and Exodus, stressing the breaking and the renewing of covenants with God. Wisely, Nehemiah teaches that he wants us to build the House, but he also teaches us to live in that House according to our covenant pledge.
In this Pristina House today, Pastor Artur preached on Psalm 126, a prayer thanking God for his great works. He related that to—guess what?—the book of Ezra and the great work of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem, and then to Acts and the story of Paul’s escape from jail. In reviewing these stories of great works, all in the past tense, he challenged us to show up now to do more works of faith. Pretty strong stuff.
I have attached here another shot of the sanctuary so that you can see the international appeal.