There seems to be a movement emerging in the AFL for the group march. Under the banner of some specific cause, people gather in Melbourne’s city centre, and then, collectively, walk to the AFL’s grand temple, the MCG. It’s a might thing to see. People energised by the crowd, caught up in the emotions of the experience, all walking under one banner. To be part of such a movement is to be experienced, for words are often difficult to find. There’s something special about it, something which moves people, something which rallies them toward something greater than themselves, something that is uniquely realised only as a group.
One can imagine the same experience Nehemiah must have had as he recounted the 42,360 people that returned from exile into Jerusalem and the surrounding towns and regions. The period of exile, or being removed from the promises of God, was coming to an end. The temple was rebuilt under Ezra. The walls were now rebuilt. But the city was vacant because the people hadn’t returned to it. What a sense of accomplishment and joy Nehemiah must have felt as he realised God was no sending back those who had gone. He was bringing home the orphans to the land of promise, a place where He said He would never leave.
Imagine what it would be like to arrive at church one Sunday to find a great crowd of people whom you have never seen before all walking in off the street. Imagine 30% of your normally attendance numbers being unchurched non-Christian people who simply showed up. They are full of joy, excited about coming to church, taking up whatever seats they can find (even the “family pews”), keen and eager to experience God coming to them as they hear the word and are touched by his presence. If you were to ask them why they were here, they would respond, “we got told we could meet someone special here who would change our lives, so we had to come and meet this person, do you know who it i?”
This isn’t as far fetched as one would think. We believe the Holy Spirit doesn’t just call us by the Gospel, enlightens us with his gifts, and keeps in the faith, He does that in others as He creates the church. But do we really believe this? If we did than we shouldn’t be surprised if the Holy Spirit starts bringing unchurched or non-Christian people into the church. In fact, we should expect it to be the norm. So why isn’t it? We have a lesson here from Nehemiah. As Nehemiah re-established Jerusalem, he began to create open spaces for the people to return. Surely the church needs to re-establish itself, so it too creates open spaces to which the Spirit can bring home the orphans of God.
Nehemiah realised that God’s lost and exiled people couldn’t come home until certain things were set right in Jerusalem. When these things occurred, God brought His people home. We are the church, the haven for all those who need the hope and joy of knowing Jesus. If God is not bringing home to us his lost an alienated orphans, then we have some real work to do to rebuild the church into the body of Christ. When we do, the Spirit does exactly as Jesus promised. The great crowd of people searching for purpose and meaning suddenly realise that here, in this place, in this church, their search finds its true fulfillment.