Number 2 Read: Nehemiah 1.1-4
Do we really care? Nehemiah cared enough to weep
On hearing the news of his people in Jerusalem, Nehemiah says: “I sat down and wept.”
Perhaps he really hadn’t any idea that things were as bad as they were: maybe it was hearing first-hand accounts of the suffering of his own people. Whatever the actual cause, Nehemiah cried.
I don’t do a lot of crying – but I have cried plenty during the last 12 months. I guess, in truth, that is partly because my own Dad died from Covid Pneumonia quite early in the pandemic and I still feel the … (I’ve hesitated, searching for the right next word. But I’ll go for…) pain of being separated by 350 miles and a virus when it happened. And so, every time I listen to the story of another death, or take another funeral, or hear more ‘statistics’, I somehow identify with the loss. And I guess because of family links into the health service, I also feel the strain of nursing staff (and many others) carrying incredible burdens. I find it all very real.
And you do too.
And Nehemiah did. He knew the city; he knew the people; he understood the loss and the sadness and the sense of tragedy. And, he felt that pain in his soul.
And he was moved to tears.
Perhaps he felt there was nothing he do to make any of it right? And so he wept.
But know this: if the pain of others doesn’t touch your soul (if it just stays ‘surface headline deep’), then you will never want to change anything. And sometimes, the commitment to do something – anything - leaks out of the corners of your eyes.
“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept.” (Nehemiah 1.4)
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you wept at the sadness of Mary and Martha, sharing in their sorrow, even as you prepared to call Lazarus from the grave. Help me to weep, with the eyes of faith – that share in the pain of others, whilst still believing that ‘tomorrow will be a good day’. Amen
Number 3 Read: Nehemiah 1.1-4
Nehemiah cared enough to mourn
Nehemiah has been made aware of the troubles of his people and he has wept for them. What follows now is a ‘spiritual realignment’ in his life. ‘For some days’, says Nehemiah, ‘I mourned and fasted’. He is preparing himself to make a response to the pain his people are experiencing, but he is determined that his response flows from God’s heart and not his own. Lent offers us the opportunity to realign out spirits with the heart of God. The tradition (not one I find personally helpful – but that is irrelevant) of ‘Ashing’ is about a mourning our sin and recognising our failures. For many people ‘fasting’ – the abstaining from food for a finite period – is a spiritual disciple to help bring us closer to God. Some people make this a regular part of personal spiritual practice and others fast for specific days during Lent.
Perhaps, for us, the detail of Nehemiah’s practice is less significant than the purpose of it. How can we be assured that our response to the needs of the people around us, flows from the heart of God? How can we ensure that our plans are those of God? We have thought and prayed around the themes of ‘rethinking church’ and we have developed a notion of ‘re-emerging church’. In all of this, we have begun to discover a call of God on our lives as Church to focus beyond the wall of the church building, and to seek to serve, to help, to heal and to travel with those who perhaps do not sit comfortably with our traditional models of Church. We have a vision of an ever growing Table to which all are invited, and around which a conversation begins. (The Truro community Hub is a dramatic manifestation of that Table!) In a very real sense -as we continue to pursue God’s plans and purposes, ‘we mourn and fast’ – seeking God’s heart for his world and for our response. Perhaps we can use the spiritual disciplines of Lent to continue that exploration.
Prayer: Lord, give me a heart that seeks your heart, that working together we can heal broken hearts. Amen
Number 4 Read: Nehemiah 1.5-7
Nehemiah cared enough to repent
Lent lets us hold up a mirror to our walk with God. As Charles Wesley pleaded in his hymn “Show me, as my soul can bear, the depth of inbred sin; All my unbelief declare the pride that lurks within”
And we can search our hearts because – and only because – we know that we are loved by God
As Nehemiah reflected on the pain and troubles of his people, his explanation for their experiences was that they had not lived as God had asked of them. Now, many of us will be uncomfortable with such a simple ‘cause and effect’ notion – but that was what Nehemiah concluded. The point I want to draw from these verses though is a different one. Nehemiah cared enough for the people in Jerusalem, to not only ask about them, to weep, mourn and fast for them – he actually identified with them in their sinfulness. Did you notice?
“I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.”
This is one stage beyond caring for – it is accepting responsibility for my part in….
We do not yet know the true health and social crisis that this country will face when finally we re-emerge into Covid-Reality. We do not yet have the faintest idea of the troubles that will face those in developing parts of the world. But already it seems widely accepted that those of limited financial resources and those of poorer backgrounds, will be disproportionately impacted. The pandemic seems to have increased the social, economic and health divides that already existed before it. As people striving to challenge injustice and to create a fair world as a Kingdom principle – this widening divide perhaps gives us reason to pause, and like Nehemiah to consider, ‘what is my part in this devastation?’ Only when we identify with, as well as weeping for, will be commit to make a difference.
Nehemiah cared enough to repent
Prayer: Show me how to stand for justice:
how to work for what is right,
how to challenge false assumptions,
how to walk within the light.
May I learn to share more freely
in a world so full of greed,
showing your immense compassion
by the life I choose to lead.
Martin E Leckebusch (born 1962)
© 2000 Kevin Mayhew Ltd
Used By Permission. CCL Licence No. 7766
Number 5 Read: Nehemiah 1.8-11 Nehemiah cared enough to intercede
So far, in answer to the question ‘How much do you care?’ we have remembered that Nehemiah cared enough to ask, to weep, to mourn and to repent. But he is not finished yet. Having identified with the failures of his people, he is now prepared to speak on their behalf. And today, we find Nehemiah as ‘intercessor’, pleading the case of his people before God.
An Intercessor is one who stands between, who makes a bridge between (in this case) the people and their God. The Lord in Ezekiel, searches for one to ‘stand in the gap’ on behalf of the people (Ezekiel 22.30) – but finds no-one.
But here Nehemiah cares enough to stand in that place to please the case of his people. He is bold to remind the LORD of his promises: “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’ (1.8-9) And then he is bold to ask the LORD to act of their behalf: “Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name.”
Nehemiah cares enough to intercede - to stand in the gap for his people.
So, how does this speak to us in our Lenten Wilderness experience this year? It teaches us to move beyond the saying of our prayers to the pleading of our case! It shows us how to take a generalised ‘Lord, be with those who are struggling’ and to focus the power of prayer into ‘Lord, I plead with you to change *this*’ whatever *this* might be.
When we intercede, prayer gets specific. And when prayer gets specific, somehow it seems (and I don’t know how any of this stuff ‘works’), that prayer becomes more powerful. Perhaps the key is that prayers often include ourselves, and our circumstance, but as ‘intercessor’ we stand before God on behalf of others. Always, ‘others’. We seek the goodness of God unselfishly, for other people.
There is a wonderful verse in the Book of Job which I stumbled across today. It sets powerfully the task and the significance of The Intercessor. And, (in this week when our LentenLens considers ‘community’) reminds us just how important it is to care enough to ‘stand in the gap’ on behalf of others. Job says,
“My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend.” (Job 16.20-21)
Do we care enough to intercede?