I recently saw a movie about a team of US soldiers sent to an Iraqi village to supply them with water. While there, they were tasked to fix the pump house and damaged pipes. But they needed help, and the locals were too scared. Eventually the local school headmaster found some others and they began to rebuild the facility with the soldiers. But tragedy struck. Local insurgents killed the headmaster for colluding with the enemy, and they bombed the pump house making it impossible to repair. It seemed senseless, with the local conflict making repair of a necessity impossible.
Nehemiah’s story arises out of similar chaos. As King Artaxerxes cup bearer, Nehemiah hears of Jerusalem’s ruin state. He is deeply saddened by what it says about Israel’s’ connection with God. While the king was merry, he challenged Nehemiah’s sadness. So Nehemiah told him about the shame he felt. Surprisingly Artaxerxes asked him what he was going to do about it, and so with resources and a small military force, Nehemiah returns to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. But he doesn’t do it alone. He inspires various family groups to work on a section, and, as a community, they restored Jerusalem’s walls.
How does it make you feel to know that less than 10% of Australia’s population have any connection with the Christian church? How do you feel knowing that congregations are too busy infighting that trying to live out the gospel? I am much like Nehemiah, it deeply saddens me. These self-destructive churches anger me to see the damage done by putting their own needs before the One who gave his life for them. Too often we feel the task is too much. We feel like we’re just a cup-bearer who is in no position to can’t fix it. We long for someone to fix it for us, and when that doesn’t happen we crawl back into our dismal state.
There are two amazing things in these opening chapters in Nehemiah. (1) Artaxerxes challenged Nehemiah not to whine about it, but to go and do something, and then gave him everything he asked for to make it happen. (2) Nehemiah realises he cannot rebuild the walls alone. He needed others to capture the vision, step up, and do their part. Just read ch.3 and see the list of people, families, and clans, who took a section of the wall and made it their own. The walls of Jerusalem needed to be rebuilt by people who had the vision and the desire to make a difference. No one was going to come and do it for them.
We are the church in this place, at this time. It is no use lamenting and bemoaning the decline of the church if you’re not prepared to step up and do something about it. We all need an Artaxerxes to prompt us to do something about the thing that saddens us. But we can’t do it alone. This is not about a pastor or paid worker, this is about the community coming together, stepping out, and taking their part to rebuild the church one small part at a time. Are you, like Nehemiah, willing to challenge the church to change? Are you willing to find a small group and begin to rebuild the church one small part at a time? The invite is there and only you can answer it.