Sunday, 18 September 2016

Encouragement from Nehemiah

Nehemiah 8, verse 10 – Now go home and have a feast.  Share your food and wine with those who haven’t enough.  Today is holy to our Lord, so don’t be sad.  The joy that the Lord gives you will make you strong

Nehemiah had been through a difficult time.  Prior to this chapter there is an account of the trials and tribulations that he faced as he took on the task of getting the broken down city walls rebuilt.  His vision was to restore Jerusalem to its proper place and he put a great deal of energy into making that happen.  He did so despite the fact that, as he advanced this project, he met a fair amount of opposition.  Externally there was opposition from the Samaritans and from within Jerusalem Tobiah and Sanballat had plotted to kill him.  But now, the walls have been completed, the gates have been hung, officials have been appointed, life is settling down.  The law has been read to the people by Ezra – and now Nehemiah calls them to a time of celebration.  The joy that the Lord gives you will make you strong. 

I want to draw four things from this particular verse, verse 10 of Nehemiah 8.  I think there are things to learn as we think of Nehemiah and his contemporaries.

First of all, we and the people are told to have a feast.  They are told to go home and have a feast – but I don’t think the location is the important thing.  What is important is the feasting.  A feast is a celebration.  I really think that we are not as good as we should be at celebrating.  Too often church seems dull and boring.  We ought to be asking ourselves why that is.  Anything with God at the centre ought to be exuding joy and celebration.  Of course, I know, as you do, that things can be a struggle, that we face all sorts of challenges.  But when that’s how it feels, when things are getting you down, when everything seems a struggle, remember this: God is with you.  That’s not going to get rid of all the difficulties, but it should make you see things differently.  Let’s do a bit more celebrating, feasting – even if the feasting is just a cup of coffee with someone else.

That brings me nicely to the second point – share your food and wine with those who haven’t enough.  Sometimes we are really good at sharing, and sometimes we are so selfish, and just want to keep things to ourselves.  Let’s give sharing the priority that it should have.  That is surely a critical part of our mission.  We need to share with the desperately poor in other parts of the world – and we can do that through our support of the likes of Christian Aid.  We need to share with those whom we encounter.  Who is it that we would cross the street to avoid?  Now, it might be right, sometimes, to do just that – but, I suspect, not very often.  How, too, do we share with each other as we should.  What is it that the song says: ‘and they will know we are Christians by our love.’  Is that how we live?  Putting it another way – somebody once said, ‘If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?’  Now, there’s a thought!

Third, this verse also says: today is holy to our Lord, so don’t be sad.  I would certainly encourage you not to be sad.  But let’s concentrate on the holy bit.  What are the things that you see as holy?  And what difference do they make to your life?  A holy thing, whatever it is, is a thing linked to God.  In what ways does God touch your life?  And what difference does it make?  That’s another big thought, another big question.

So the fourth thing from this verse takes us back to the point that we have already mentioned – the joy that the Lord gives you will make you strong.  I sometimes say that, out of that wonderful list of the fruits of the Spirit that Paul gives us in Galatians 5:22, the one that I most need, the one that I most tend to be lacking is patience.  I think that’s true but, if there is close-run second, it is probably joy.  Am I bubbling over with the joy of God – because if not, why not?  This joy is so excessive that it just spills over.  It is infectious, overwhelming – and it is part of the presence of God.