It was two weeks after the flood waters had finally receded enough for people to see the damage, assess what had to be done, sort through what could be kept, decide what had to be tossed; discern what could be repaired or salvaged, and determine what was a complete loss.
It was devastating, and I didn’t even live here. I didn’t grow up going to the Artcraft theater, or taking laps around the courthouse square. I didn’t spend my summers at the pool or playing in the parks. I didn’t count on the corn or soybean crop for my livelihood. I didn’t have friends who lived next to the creek, whose foundation shifted from the force of the water. I didn’t have family buried in the cemetery along 31 where headstones were washed away.
It was reported that no corner of Johnson County was left untouched by flooding that summer! It didn’t take long to realize it was going to take weeks, months, even years to recover. AND it was evident no one was going to be able to recover, restore, or rebuild on their own. It was going to take teamwork. It was going to take organizing, planning, resourcing, time, energy, and a willingness of folks to work together for the good of the whole.
If there is anyone who knows what it takes to rebuild, restore, and repair something, it is Nehemiah. I challenge you to consider what else was being rebuilt, repaired, or restored under the leadership of Nehemiah and according to the promise of God.
What if Nehemiah wasn’t just rebuilding a wall? What if God was using Nehemiah to rebuild, restore, and repair the identity of the people of God - the followers who were exiled and whose history was long forgotten by many? What if God was using Nehemiah to rebuild, restore, and repair the sense of security and community? What if God was using Nehemiah to rebuild, restore, and repair broken systems and relationships?
What if God is using Nehemiah to remind, retell, reclaim, rebuild, restore, and repair our sense of community, severed relationships, a fractured culture, or dysfunctional systems?
It wasn’t simply the physical walls of Jerusalem that were destroyed, dismantled, or torn apart, it was the people, relationships, and community identity as well. It wasn’t only the wall that was reduced to rubble in some places, it was the way people, groups, families, and systems were divided, isolated, and severed from one another and from God.
God used Nehemiah to rebuild people just as much as that wall.
Could it be the same for us today? Are we in need of being made stronger? Is our society in need of repair? Are their groups within our society in need of restoration?
Long before this pandemic the answer was yes. Long before wearing a mask became a political statement the answer was yes. Long before we let things fall apart this much, the answer was yes. This is not the worst situation humanity has faced and it will not be the last of what humanity has to struggle through. This is not the first clash of power or political divisiveness and it will not be the last.
BUT this can be our Nehemiah moment. It is our moment to stand in the rubble, take inventory, no matter how painful it is to look at, no matter how vulnerable we need to be, and decide to repair what has been broken, rebuild what has been destroyed, and restore what has been neglected or ignored.
This can be our moment to make strong, fortify, and build our connection to first of all God, and then to one another. And by one another I mean it’s time to recognize, listen to, and work alongside those we don’t always agree with; those who we have been taught to fear, demonize, and hate; those who have been taught to fear, demonize and hate us; those we would rather leave to work on the other side of the wall; their side, not our side.
Come on church - come on people of God, we can do better. We can be better.
I think part of the lesson for us in Nehemiah 3 is the realization is nothing gets repaired, rebuilt, restored in and of itself. From the rubble of our lives, the crumbling of any given situation, or the decline of our society, government, or whatever, we cannot rise alone; we cannot be a community of one. It takes courage, compassion, and cooperation to rebuild, repair, or restore what God has gifted us. One stone, one person, on prayer at a time and it takes all of us. All means all.
Pastor Jenothy Irvine