Summary: We Christians will be seen as wacky, using our own value system; we are wall-builders, giving the world something it really needs; and we are walkers, plodders, keeping at the task faithfully.
Anybody who is reading today’s newspapers can understand at least a part of Nehemiah’s frustration. The newscaster reported from Saudi Arabia this week that when fall comes in a few more weeks the midday temperature will drop all the way down to 110°! Tough times in the Middle East!
But I’m sure the last six weeks or so had been the toughest and yet the most exhilarating weeks in Nehemiah’s life. Tough, because of the heat; because of the exhaustion of long, long days of work; because of the details to be thought through and managed; tough because the enemy was always at hand, and carrying a shovel in one hand and a weapon in the other was a guaranteed way to pick up a nervous breakdown.
But they had been exhilarating weeks too -- exhilarating and exciting and fulfilling because the work was going so well. So much accomplished in so short a time under such extreme circumstances. Nehemiah in only a few months’ time had conceived the plan to rebuild the city walls, had gotten permission to do it, put together the funds and the manpower, motivated the workers, and was now nearly finished with building the wall around the city of Jerusalem.
The only thing that had really troubled him had been the opposition, the naysayers and the critics, the cynics and the footdraggers, who had tried to work against him.
Two Sundays ago you and I met Sanballat the Samaritan and Tobiah the Ammonite, as well as Geshem the Arab, who tried to ridicule the wall-building project, but we also saw that when you are at work for a Kingdom-building God, you don’t have to be intimidated. You don I t have to be frightened by the "what-ifs". You just go ahead and do what God calls you to do, no matter what kind of put-downs you hear. And we heard the powerful counsel of God’s builder, Nehemiah, “Do not be afraid … remember the Lord, who is great and terrible … and fight [for what you believe in].”
And then last week we watched as Nehemiah confronted some frightened folks within his own workers -- people who felt they had been cheated and exploited, people who thought their own safety was at stake; and we saw that Nehemiah cared more about people than about the wall, that he took care of his hurting people – but that at the same time he did not lose sight of where he was going and what he was about. And we learned that people want to be remembered, people want to be able to leave behind something of value. We learned that the way you do that is to sacrifice, that you carve out a legacy of giving and caring and building something that lasts. And so last Sunday we prayed together Nehemiah’s repeated prayer, "Remember me, O God, for my good, for all that I have done for this people."
Now today, with the wall just about finished, you might expect that all of Nehemiah’s conflicts would be past him. You might expect that the only thing that is left is to have a dedication ceremony and start thinking about retirement. But not so. Not so. Nehemiah is walking along the wall one day, checking out the work, and messengers bring him a letter. The letter was written as if it were an invitation, but Nehemiah smelled a rat in this summons. Let me share the story with you: Neb. 6:1-16