Summary: Just as God used two American generals to rebuild a wartorn world after WWII, so he used Nehemiah to build Jerusalem and will use us to rebuild our society and our church, despite the naysayers and those who say it cannot be done.
No one was quite sure when sundown came, for it was already too dark too see. The enormous clouds of dust and debris had filled the air for hours, and a choking darkness engulfed the sky.
The moments of destruction had been so horrible, so swift and so complete, that those left alive could hardly take it all in, and certainly could not find the words to express their shock. Some of them were, in fact, the walking dead -- blinded, with their flesh torn and bleeding, unable to recognize any landmarks, unsure of where their families might be or, indeed, whether any of them were left alive. The enemy’s power had been overwhelming. The destruction had been complete.
Now fires were burning everywhere in the city. What had not been destroyed in the initial shock wave was now going to succumb to the flames, and there was no one able to respond to the frequent cries for help. The city was fast on its way to being a dead thing, a desert, a pile of rubble where once there had been a flourishing community.
But even more agonizing than the fires which burned the homes and shops and temples of the city were the fires which burned in the hearts of the survivors. Not only did they fear for their own lives; not only did they suspect that those whom they loved were gone like a vapor in the night; not only was there no home to return to, no workplace in which to earn daily bread, not even a grid of streets through which to make one’s way, but worst of all, there was the anguished fear that the nation itself was gone. The nation itself had to have been destroyed. How could any nation, how could any people, survive so brutal and so total a destructive force?
Such are the effects of war. Such, especially, are the effects of an act of war designed to bring total destruction.
This is the first week of August; and exactly forty-five years ago the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the objects of such an act of war. Using weapons never before deployed in the history of warfare, the United States acted to end nearly four terrible years of conflict with a decisive attack that would bring Japan to her knees.
I do not rise today either to defend or to condemn the use of nuclear power in 1945. That we will leave to the military historians and to the political pundits. But I am glad that Baptist Christians all over the nation are asked to observe the first Sunday in August each year as a Day of Prayer for World Peace. I am pleased that we are called upon to remember this day not so much as conquerors and victors, for, after all, in war, nobody wins; everybody loses. I am pleased that we are called upon to remember this day and to stand before our God, confessing our own guilt, remembering how we have taken lives in anger, but, most of all, pleading for peace in a war-weary world.
And I am especially pleased that, as we do so, we can turn to the Scriptures to understand what it is like to be those who must pick up the pieces. In another battle-filled summer in the year 587 BC, after a long and weary siege, the city of Jerusalem was destroyed and the nation of Judah was brought to its knees. Starving, worn out, discouraged, the residents of Jerusalem watched in horror as the walls of the city were breached and as the soldiers of Babylon poured in and destroyed everything … almost literally everything. They took the king captive and blinded him; they leveled the walls and burned the city; they executed many of the leaders of the nation; and, worst of all, they just scooped up everybody who knew how to do anything and deported them to Babylon, so that the only people left were the simple, untrained, unskilled folk. Jerusalem as a city was destroyed and Judah as a nation was no longer possible. This was the end.
But with God, even the end is a beginning. Even the ashes of destruction provide our God with the material out of which to rebuild. Even the stench of death does not stop our God from renewing the life of His people.
And so more than a hundred years after the fall of Jerusalem, God raised up a man named Nehemiah and gave him the task of rebuilding the city. We are going to spend some time with Nehemiah this month. And we are going to learn a great deal about how to build, how to lead others to build, and how to participate in Kingdom enterprises. God the builder raised up Nehemiah when the walls had been destroyed in war, and led Nehemiah to fight a new battle, a new war of the walls, so that the Kingdom might go forward.