Nehemiah 4:4-5 (from The Message)
Nehemiah prayed, “Oh listen to us, dear God. We’re so despised: boomerang their ridicule on their heads; have their enemies cart them off as war trophies to a land of no return; don’t forgive their iniquity, don’t wipe away they sin - they’ve insulted the builders.”
We really want the Bible to be gentle. We want it to teach us warm fuzzy things. In so many ways, the church has tried to do that with the Bible. We have glossed over the harsh parts and qualified the difficult parts. That is called apologetics. We just want it to be a nice gentle book from which we can tell bedtime stories to small children. Then we come to books like Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra is just basically bad for us. It correctly advocates for the perseverance and purity of the Jewish race. It has horrible implications for Christians if we read it from our skewed perspective.
Nehemiah is all about rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. There were people who didn’t want the wall rebuilt. They were afraid it would arouse a nationalism that would again bring devastation to the land. It had happened and, unfortunately, it continued to happen. No Roman politician wanted to be governor of Israel because of this religious nationalism. We can only guess what Pontius Pilate had done to be assigned to Jerusalem in the days of Jesus. At the very least he probably didn’t go to all the meetings called by the District Superintendent!
But Nehemiah’s prayer is not gentle, either. To be truthful, he prays the way a lot of us would probably LIKE to pray: don’t forgive their iniquity, don’t wipe away their sin...boomerang their ridicule on their heads (my favorite). In the play “Fiddler on the Roof” the Rabbi is asked if there is a blessing for the Czar. He says, “There is!” The people gasp. “God bless and keep the Czar....far away from us!” The people cheer. You have to admit there is honesty to that prayer.
You know, folks, the church used to be a place where we all could get together. We overcame our differences in fellowship and service. The pandemic has robbed us of these dynamics in some major ways. It hasn’t destroyed them...but it has done damage. It has isolated us in our homes (and we’ve had to do this) and kept us from one another. Even when we’ve been together, it has been tenuous. Faith practiced in the absence of a worshipping fellowship has always produced some bad theology. We must guard against it...or our prayers will be like Nehemiah’s. The good news is that we have to keep alert. We have to consider what we believe. We have to make good choices. It’s not a bad thing to pay attention to these things.
In thy holy incarnation, when the angels sang thy birth,
In thy fasting and temptation, in thy labors on the earth,
In thy trial and rejection, in thy sufferings on the tree,
In thy glorious resurrection, may we, Lord, remember thee. Amen.
Pastor Rick Moser