First Mennonite Church
January 30, 2022
Building In The Face Of Opposition
Text: Nehemiah 4:1-9
As many of you know, I was a tailor for many years. I learned the trade by working in a shop, seeing the master tailor measure clients, lay down the measurements on the fabric, cut the pieces, and sew them together. I also took tailoring and dressmaking courses too from a technical school in Mexico, by mail. It is always easier to make certain kinds of garments than to repair them. Many times, I was approached by male members of a certain religious group to see if I could repair their suits. They said, the exterior was still fine, but the inner lining was not. I preferred making new men’s suits than to repairing them, especially the inner lining. I always avoided the trouble of repairing suits.
The work it takes to repair something is often times more difficult than building it in the first place. In the case of Nehemiah’s project, broken walls and charred gates posed great many challenges rebuilding them. There was debris all over, there were salvageable pieces that could be reused, and there was lots of clearing work to be done. Rebuilding is tedious work and requires a lot of determination to take on the project.
The rebuilding report in Nehemiah chapter three gives testimony of Nehemiah’s great organizational and administrative skills. There was wide support for the rebuilding project. There were families or households working on certain section of the wall and gates. There is mention of a father with his daughters working together. There were craftspeople, goldsmiths, perfumers, and business people, called merchants. There were leaders, called rulers, priests, and Levites all doing their share of rebuilding. God inspired them to take on the challenge, regardless of the difficulties.
What we can learn from chapter three is that when everyone comes together, anything can be achieved, regardless of the difficulty. As God’s household that we are, we have been called to work together. Along these many years of serving here, I have witnessed the diligent work of Bud and Raymond as Sunday school teachers for adult, Helen and Catherine for the children. I have seen the careful work of Carolanna and Cindy as treasurers, the leadership of church board members, the Elaine’s work as secretary and her work as skilled florist. We all have enjoyed the work of those who have volunteered in the kitchen. Our potlucks have so good, thanks to people like Bud, Mitzie, Kenny, Carolanna, Bernie, Joan, Catherine, and you all fantastic cooks and chefs. Your participation in the worship service, with music, song leading, reading and many more. I give thanks for each of you and for the skills you have put into the service of the Lord. But, let me tell each of you, there is still a place for you in this labor of love for the Lord.
You have heard the word “liturgy.” It is a word used mostly within a religious context. The Greek word leiturgia, is a compound word of the words laos, people and ergo work or service. Leiturgia, liturgy, means the public work of the people in their service to God. Worship and work in community is service to the Lord. That was precisely how Nehemiah saw the rebuilding project. It was a work done for God by the people of God. If the rebuilding story in Nehemiah had ended in chapter three, we would have the impression that it was a project carried out without any kind of trouble. But as I briefly mentioned last Sunday, even when it is God who calls us to do something in his name it does not mean there will not be challenges or difficulties. In the past, every time God called someone to do something of great significance for his glory, the opposition was also significant. Abraham’s descendants inherited the Promised Land, but not until they endured the wilderness journey, not to mention the Egyptian oppression. Noah saved his family from the flooding, but not after he endured ridicule from neighbors as he was building the ark. Daniel became one of the greatest men of faith, but not after he endured being cast into the fiery furnace and into the lions’ den. Jesus was not glorified and given a name that is above all names, but until after he had endured the cross, its shame and pain.
That is also true at a personal level. We can come to church, read our Bibles and pray before eating our meals, and our Christian life will go smoothly. But the minute God awakens us from our spiritual lethargy and we begin a radical pursuit of God, abandoning the worldly mindset in order to obey Christ, fierce opposition will arise. The first of all enemies we will likely confront is self, the desire for the old patterns of life. Inner conflict will arise. That was the very thing Nehemiah was confronted with.
In Nehemiah three, verse five tells us that the nobles of a group of Jews, the Tekoites, refused to do their share in the project, “they would not put their shoulders to the work.” And later, in chapter six, verses one to 14, we are told of a man from among the Jews was bribed by the enemies of the project to intimidate Nehemiah.
But the fiercest enemies of the project were those from outside. Sanballat and Tobiah were actively against improving the conditions in Jerusalem. Sanballat became angry and was greatly incensed, so ridiculed the Jews. He called them feeble Jews. He wondered if the Jews would breathe life to the charred stones and finish the project in one day. Tobiah mocked the building saying that if a fox would climb on the wall it would crumble at its weigh. Sanballat and Tobiah hurled insults, made ridicule and sarcasm to those who were doing the work. Later, when they realized nothing was discouraging the people and that the project was moving ahead, they wanted to make alliances with Nehemiah. But every time the enemies attempted to stop the project through ridicule, threats or sarcasm, Nehemiah turned to God in prayer.
Shortly after I began ministry here at FMC, as I learned about the people who had been members of this congregation or of people who have had some relationship with it, I began visiting them. I went out to see them at their shops, ranches, fields, once even hauling hay with them, or inviting them out for lunch. There was an occasion in which I met two in their shop. When they learned that I was the new pastor here, they said to me, “So you came to that old church that is crumbling down, both the house and the people?” Their contempt was pretty much on displayed. Most of those whom I visited came and still come on occasions, but never those two.
Every time the opposition rose to a new level, Nehemiah prayed to God. Every time Sanballat and Tobiah expressed contempt towards the people and the project, Nehemiah encouraged and organized the people to address the schemes of the enemies.
The rebuilding project finished in 52 days. The gaps in the wall were closed. The gates and locking bars were finished. In chapter six, verses 15 and16 read:So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days.When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.
My dear brothers and sisters, I give thanks to the Lord for each of you and for your labor of love for the Lord. I give thanks to God for each of you by name, with whom I labor together, carrying out the ministry of this congregation. And it is my praying that as members in the body of the Lord we would seek the unity of the Spirit, and that by “speaking the truth in love, we might grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. It is my prayer that the Spirit of the Lord would strengthen the bonds love among us, so that we may grows and reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.
Today, as we come around the Lord’s Table, let us allow ourselves to be fed by Christ Jesus. Let us ask to be cleansed by blood of Jesus, as we take the drink. As we come to the Lord’s Table, let see in the faces of our brothers and sisters, the family Jesus lived, died and rose for. We are God’s redeemed people. So, let us surrender to him, who gave his body to be broken for our sake. Let us break ourselves for the sake of others as he invites us to do. Let us pray.