Road to Recovery (4): Community
Nehemiah 3:1-32 (message)
1 Corinthians 3:6-23
Children: Jesus sending two by two (teams)
one body, many parts
Road to Recovery: Israel returning from exile ... and in today’s reading the project is to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Isaiah 49:17, "Your builders outdo your destroyers, and those who laid you waste go away from you."
READ Nehemiah 3:1-32, 4:6
Today we read the roster, the directory (get your church directory today), of persons who worked on the construction project, beginning at the Sheep Gate and ending where it started. Nehemiah gets commitments for every section of the wall and sets it up so that friendly competition will drive it forward. Two different trade guilds work side by side – goldsmiths and perfumers – and I’m sure they end every day by comparing their work with their neighbors. The two half-districts of the town of Keilah work side by side, and over dinner the related clans boast about who will finish first. Several towns are named, some of them by half-districts, Jericho, Tekoa, Gibeon, Mizpah, Zanoah, Beth-haccherem, Beth-zur, Keilah, and Jerusalem. A walled city enhances regional security and stimulates the regional economy, so Nehemiah has all the Jewish settlements pitching in.
Everyone is included on this team’s roster, and everyone gets to play. Craftsmen and merchants, men and women, priests and laity, rich and poor, city folk and country folk, soldiers and civilians. Every segment of Jewish society in the return from exile is represented. There is division of labor: Some are skilled in working with stone and others are "burden bearers". And, when security becomes a bigger issue, some stand guard and others hold weapons for the workers. So today, every one of us has something powerful and significant to contribute to the work of the kingdom of God.
For the common good – the wall of Jerusalem – he forms them into a fresh community. That’s why, incidentally, he was so concerned about banking reforms: for the poor to be exploited is bad for the common good and for the fresh community necessary to accomplish the task before them.
He creates teams rather than committees: A group of people as committed to each other as they are to the task. And when they all bring their gifts to the table, some exciting things begin to happen.
Last night, District Band festival (Caleb played)
– each musician brought a part of the sound
Witness of the community, community as evangelist
ReImagining Evangelism, Rick Richardson
Juergen Moltmann, A Broad Place
the witness of the Scottish community at the POW camp
Stories of our newest members – it is the community!
"There is something special here"
Vow of the membership covenant (particular to Bethany):
Do you commit yourself to discipleship in the connected spheres of worship, community and mission?
Do you commit yourself to the practice of reconciliation to guard the unity of this congregation?
But, lest we forget that we’re dealing with people here, it’s not picture perfect. When listing the first of two sections rebuilt by the people of Tekoa, Nehemiah reports, "Their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord" (3:5).
Ever met someone who thought that they were too good to do the dirty work? Ever been that someone? On gender roles in households, it’s been said: "I’ve heard men complain of doing women’s work and women complain of doing men’s work, but I’ve never heard the work complain about who did it." Nehemiah was never allergic to work, and he doesn’t appreciate seeing that rationalized in others. He knows that hard work is the path to success.
It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that we are somehow above that work that we despise. We like having reasons to think that we are important, and an exemption from work sounds like a good one to me! But Jesus said, "Whoever wants to be great among you must become your servant . . . . For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:43-45).
We are called not just to learn from Nehemiah’s example. We are called to be followers of, apprentices to, disciples of Jesus. We are called to the power and grace of a team. We are called to put the common good above our own comfort or convenience. We are called to a life of serving, not to a life of being served.
To serve rather than be served is to devote ourselves to God’s best for those around us. Often enough, it requires getting "down and dirty", something the nobles from Tekoa were unwilling to do. Always, it requires love. Mother Theresa of Calcutta, the most famous recent example of serving and love, wrote, "Works of love are always a means of becoming closer to God" (Meditations from A Simple Path, excerpts collected by Lucinda Vardey, 1996, p 73, New York: Ballantine).
A prayer of Mother Theresa (p 28):
[Difficult word: "calumniated" – slander, libel, defame]
Deliver me, O Jesus,
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
From the desire of being popular,
From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being suspected.
[Deliver me, O Jesus.]