"Life Under Construction -Reach Out"
This sermon was delivered at Cobleskill United Methodist Church on September 26th, 2021 ,the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost , by Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
Life Under Construction - Reach Out!
Nehemiah 3:1-12, 6:14-16
Organization of the Work
Then the high priest Eliashib set to work with his fellow-priests and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set up its doors; they consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred and as far as the Tower of Hananel. And the men of Jericho built next to him. And next to them Zaccur son of Imri built.
The sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and set up its doors, its bolts, and its bars. Next to them Meremoth son of Uriah son of Hakkoz made repairs. Next to them Meshullam son of Berechiah son of Meshezabel made repairs. Next to them Zadok son of Baana made repairs. Next to them the Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord.
Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah repaired the Old Gate; they laid its beams and set up its doors, its bolts, and its bars. Next to them repairs were made by Melatiah the Gibeonite and Jadon the Meronothite—the men of Gibeon and of Mizpah—who were under the jurisdiction of the governor of the province Beyond the River. Next to them Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs; and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. Next to them Rephaiah son of Hur, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs. Next to them Jedaiah son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house; and next to him Hattush son of Hashabneiah made repairs. Malchijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath-moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens. Next to him Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs, he and his daughters. Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid.
The Wall Completed
So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem; for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.
This past Thursday during that heavy, heavy rain I drove out to Grosvenors Corners and dodged rain drops as I dashed into the United Methodist church building. Inside was a group of United Methodists from around this area representing what we’ve come to call the Mosaic. We are a cooperative parish of United Methodist Churches that formed a couple years ago under the auspices that we are stronger when we work together than when we work apart. This was our monthly meeting and I’m not gonna sugar coat it, it wasn’t all pretty. Every single person there had something discouraging to report about church life right now. This is a hard time to be a church. Quite possibly the hardest time to be a church in the last one hundred years. Attendance is down; volunteerism is down; programming has had to adapt to the pandemic; the parts about church that we used to love have had to change or disappear completely; and all of that means that morale is down. Everyone was stressed.
But something happened in the midst of that sharing. As one person shared about a stressful part of church, another person from a church across the county said, “hey, it’s exactly the same at my church!” We realized that we had more in common than we had different and we got a new sense of purpose for why Mosaic even exists in the first place. We need each other more now than ever. Now was not the time to be islands in crisis; now was the time to reach out and lean on what binds us together. We went on to talk about how to draw closer together, problem solve as a group, and keep our spirits high in the midst of the rebuilding effort to come.
We’re under construction. Maybe we thought 2 ½ years into Mosaic we’d have a lot of it figured out by now. We don’t. The challenges that we face are ever changing. And that’s true of a lot of things right now as we grapple with an ongoing pandemic and all the detours and road blocks and challenges thrown our way. That’s why we’ve been doing a series called “life under construction.” Because I thought by September of 2021, we’d have things figured out more. I thought life would be settling back into normal rhythms. But it’s not, and maybe it never will be back to normal. We are, all of us, under construction. We have to start picking up the pieces and building the future we want to see, or it may never happen.
So what does all this have to do with a bunch of hard-to-pronounce names in the book of Nehemiah? Everything. It has everything to do with this. You see, all those hard-to-pronounce names are people, ordinary people, who answered when they were asked: can you help rebuild this life we once knew? They were priests, they were jewelers, they were perfumers, they were daughters, they were ordinary people with no titles at all. But they were all of them alike in two key ways: they shared the same faith and they were all desperate for change. They wanted to restore a better life for their people. And so instead of each one of them working in their own little corner of the city on their own private houses, they each take a section of the communal city wall and start constructing.
You notice the Bible does not once say that any one of them were such-and-such, the stone mason. Or such-and-such, the general contractor. These were people who had no business building walls, yet this is the situation in which they found themselves. This is where God had called them to be. They all realized that none of them could survive and flourish unless all of them made sacrifices for the common good of their people. God made it possible for them to do what needed to be done.
We are not surrounded by the physical ruins of our life like these Israelites were, but we are still in the dust and fog of a major season of deconstruction. Our trust in one another has been deconstructed. Our familiar ways of supporting one another, like visits, hugs, and smiles have been deconstructed. Our systems of civility have been deconstructed by angry rhetoric and disrespect for one another’s personhood. Our loyalty to our communities has been deconstructed as habits of isolation have become ingrained in us. If we were the people of Israel in Nehemiah’s story we might be the ones sitting in the ruins of our own homes too frustrated, defeated, and isolated to realize that we are surrounded by a city of other people feeling exactly the same way.
The task before us is simple. We need to look around and see that we’re not alone. We need to understand that everyone is hurting right now in ways that we can see and in ways that we can’t see. We need to reach out and start rebuilding the community that we want to see. The community God wants to see. It’s not just our lives that are under construction. The Kingdom of God itself is under construction. And it’s you and me who have been called to pick up the pieces and start laying the stone.
What is truly to be commended in this Biblical narrative is that people from all walks of life decided that the good of the whole was worth some investment and sacrifice on their part. It wasn’t just about rebuilding their own individual house, but about sacrificing some of their own time and energy to help the good of the whole by pitching in with the city wall.
It took sacrifice and it took risk. But in the end it was worth giving up some of their personal liberties for the safety of the whole. Not because their leader was telling them to, but because their faith in God necessitated it. Some things are more important than personal liberty. Doesn’t sound familiar does it?
The dominant narrative on behalf of religious people lately has been that personal liberty is more important than the good of the whole. And that’s unfortunately a grave misunderstanding of the cross of Jesus Christ.
God empowers us to be the people we need to be. To show up. To rise up. To take one for the team. Maybe that means getting a shot; maybe that means wearing a mask even when it’s uncomfortable; maybe that means fighting the isolation that has become ingrained and showing up for the communities and the friends and the family who need you most; maybe it means being quicker to listen than we are to speak in political arguments; maybe it means investing into what we believe in and creating the future we want to see.
Construction of the kingdom of God won’t happen when you’re sitting over there alone, and I’m sitting over here alone. We must reach out. We must make sacrifices. We must take risks.
We are not a region of island churches; we are not a church of individuals; we are not a community of people who only look after themselves. We are God’s people, hoping to live into God’s future and it’s about time we started acting like it.