In the movie A Knights Tale the lead character William asks his father “Can a man change the stars?" “His father’s response was "Yes William. If he believes enough, a man can do anything!” We live in a world that tells us whatever dream, goal, future you can imagine, is all possible. With hard work, focus, and persistence people can “change their stars”. The problem is such a prominent message is a lie. The more common story is about people who tell you all the reasons why your dream is not possible. They place limitations and boundaries around you and attempt to define your world by their self-centredness.
That’s the story of Nehemiah. In ch.4 he faces opposition from the external forces who had laid claim over Jerusalem. In ch.5 he deals with the corruption among the residents of Jerusalem where the rich exploit the poor. And in ch.6 an attempt is made to distract him from his work. All three are common stories of life. Sadly, they are just as common stories about the church.
Try and do something that is outside the small mindedness of ecclesiastical bureaucracies, and quickly you find them stepping over you to tell you why you can’t do that. Try changing the local church, and quickly you find the pew sitters begin to grumble when you call them to focus beyond themselves and their own desires. And the world around us is full of distraction, which tempting as it may seem, do nothing more than prevent the work of mission from occurring.
Nehemiah had an answer for each of these life challenges. All of them began with a right relationship with God. This is God’s work he is doing, and nothing is more pressing, urgent of important than that. He uses this to remind the people, and as a result they rally. In reaction to the external forces, they stand by their particular projects. In response to the internal corruption, they collectively call people to account, and Nehemiah demonstrated his own commitment to the task. In response to the distractions and destructive plots against Nehemiah, he simply ignored them, focussing his attention on the task God had given him.
Being a missional church is not an easy thing to do. We live in a world that throws up every reason why such shouldn’t occur. These things come from outside the church as well as inside the church. They are all designed to tell us why we can’t follow God’s calling to rebuild the church out of the rumble of our divine abandonment. Yet like Nehemiah, we need to be reminded that we are Christ’s body, His church, called to be a blessing to the people around us, called to bear Christ’s presence into the world. Yes we “can change the stars”, but only when that star is Jesus Christ and His call to be His church.
We live lives shaped by a myth of self-created destiny. We only have one true destiny, one true identity, that is Christ Jesus. The world around us, even inside the church itself, will find reasons why we can’t realise this hope. Opposition will come, and often when it comes one can be reassured that the path of following Jesus is the right one. It is the right one, not because of the opposition, but in spite of it, for we know that in Christ, the hope of the world is found, and the world, despite itself, needs to know that.