Nehemiah 4:6 “So we built a wall because the people had a mind to work.”
One of the peculiar but consistent miracles of the Bible is how God uses the inherent talent and willingness of men and women to motivate others. Seemingly, at every critical and crucial junction in human history, God has been able to find a personality who was sane, sensitive and committed enough to champion the cause of liberation and redemption.
Such was the case when the world was blinded to the reality of God and given over to the “ism” of polytheism. God garnered the seasoned years of Abraham and used his adventures, journeys, encounters, successes and failures as instruments of divine disclosure. When Israel languished under the brutal pains of racial slavery, having to live and labor under the most untenable of conditions, God retrieved the stained life of Moses and utilized his talents and willingness to champion the cause of freedom.
In the segregated days of the 50’s and 60’s, when the South was the marquis for blatant racial discrimination, God summoned a young trained African American Preacher named Martin Luther King, Jr. God surrounded Martin with a rainbow of capable personalities to prick the conscience of an insensitive society, and opened the door of equal opportunity.
Even now, on the distant shores of South Africa, where the socialclimate is somewhat ambiguous, God used the likes of Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela to broaden the borders of social inclusion.
Yes, my brothers and sisters, one of the peculiar but consistent miracles in the Bible is how God addresses the pains and resolves the ills of humankind through the talents of willing men and women. This is an indication of how concerned God is about the plight and predicament of His people. We do not serve a God who sits on the periphery, looking askance at our pain and anguish. As was so vividly seen in His response to the enslaved conditions in Egypt, He is a God who hears, sees, and moves at His appointed time.
In our text this morning we are privy to peruse again over the redemptive movement of God. The nation Israel existed in a state of social, political, and spiritual stagnation. Several years had passed since their emancipation from captivity in Babylon. Yet, they remained vulnerable to the negative overtones and overtures of their surrounding.
Nehemiah, who was a descendent of the nation, lived and worked as a cupbearer in the King’s palace. When the news of their lamentable plight was told to him, he was moved with an overwhelming sense of compassion to do something meaningful and measurable for the people. The Bible says that Nehemiah first prayed for the nation and when he had finished praying, moved toward relinquishing his position and galvanizing support from the King, and moving toward the rebuilding of the broken, battered, and bruised nation.
As we gather this morning in this magnificent Cathedral to celebrate “Oklahoma Day,” it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the parallel between this historical event and our contemporary situation. It has been said that, “These are times that try men’s souls.” I must add that the assessment is true. Thomas Carlyle says, “The one thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn anything from history.” Certainly these are times that try men’s souls. We are being tried and tested by a drug culture that is aggressively and progressively mangling the minds of our kids. With every dastardly deed and fiendish act perpetrated upon the innocent, we see the crumbling of the wall of human decency. The challenge before us is equal to the one Nehemiah faced. How can we rebuild the broken walls of our culture?
Nehemiah’s story affirms the need and necessity to give of ourselves. Nehemiah was accustomed to eating the finest foods and drinking from the finest goblets as he dined in the King’s palace. Today, we would describe him as being “upwardly mobile.” However, when Nehemiah heard of the pitiful plight of his homeland, by his own volition, was willing to trade places.
The same attitude and disposition is necessary in order for us to initiate this process, today. When we look at the history of the Christian faith, we are immediately captivated by the attitude of giving: in fact, giving is the major paradigm of the Christian faith. The whole of the Christ event is centered around the generous and benevolent nature of God. Quite interestingly, every participant in God’s scheme of salvation possessed a willingness to give of him or herself. John 3:16 says that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. Mary and Joseph were willing to put their lives on hold to fulfill the Word of God. The crowning example is Jesus, himself. Jesus was so willing to become the propitiation for our sins, he sacrificed himself on Calvary’s cross. The Bible says the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Bible says He was bruised for our iniquities and the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are made whole. Giving is foundational if we are going to change the tenor and tone of our times. Time will not allow me to list all those who made such great sacrifices for the betterment of humanity, and yet, in every life illustration there is the echo of a giving spirit.
The question for us today is, “What are we willing to give in service to God?” Martin Luther King, Jr. dedicated his live and career. He was a brilliant man with a bright future. However, when the call of God captivated his life, he was willing to surrender the pastorate of his church and enroll in the danger zone of service. In other words, he abandoned the comfort zone to which he was accustomed.
Nehemiah’s memoirs, secondly, affirms the value of teamwork. Nehemiah surveyed his situation and discovered it was too big for one man to handle by himself. As we look at the multi-faceted rebuilding program of our spiritual and moral culture, it is too big for one man, one, church, one agency, and one political party. To rectify the deteriorating social, moral, and spiritual conditions of our society requires that we work as a team. We cannot rebuild America’s infrastructure without the collective effort of us all. In the days that followed September 11, our emotions ran rampant, our fears were magnified, and the trust we had in most situations were questioned. The one picture that pulled us together was the same picture that was shaking our society. We saw the fall of the walls and yet the coming together of America. It was one for all, and all for one. Our political, social, economic, and spiritual future lies in our ability to continue to work and pull together for the good of all. America is crying out in the highway and hedges for teamwork.
These are the memoirs of Nehemiah, and strangely enough he does not take complete credit for the success. He understood that the success of rebuilding, not only the walls, but also the lives of the people, were the results of a collective effort on behalf of all. Listen to his language, “and so we built the wall.” I imagine that Nehemiah’s helpers were as diverse as America. I imagine that many of them had cultural differences, ideologies and philosophies. Yet they were able to blend their diversity and create a harmonious display of teamwork that resulted in the uplifting and rebuilding of a broken community.
In closing, the 2001 National NCAA Football Champions came from the Great State of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Sooners were never known for their individual players. They were known, however, for a coach that taught the principles of teamwork. When ever they were introduced, the names of individual players never surfaced, it was simply stated, Ladies and Gentleman I present to you the 2001 NCAA Football Champions, The Sooners from Oklahoma University.
This magnificent story of Nehemiah’s is a clear reminder to us that nothing is impossible for the people of God. Though the challenges may be difficult, if we work together, we can meet every challenge. Imagine the jubilation that permeated this once beleaguered community. Imagine the joyous atmosphere that resulted from their community effort. All of the things that we hold so dear, such as pride, self-respect, and dignity were regained from the rubbish of walls that had been torn down. Like them, we can recapture all of the valuable commodities of our culture if we hear the call of God, develop a will to give, and work intentionally as a team.