I have heard a story like this on several occasions. It goes something like this. A woman tells me that she ran into someone from her former church. The woman mentioned that she is divorced now. And her friend from her former church was stunned and could not even carry on a conversation with her. There was so much judgement within the other person that they could not carry on a civil conversation. They just walked away. The divorced woman knows she would no longer be welcome at that church as a divorced person.
I don’t get that. I don’t understand how someone who has suffered the pain of a broken marriage would then be shunned by a church. Church is supposed to be the place we go when we are broken. A failed marriage is painful. There are many reasons why marriages don’t work. But the simple fact is, no matter how hard two people may try, some marriages just don’t make it. But that is no reason to cast someone out of the circle of God’s love. This is the time when a person needs to be brought into the circle and surrounded by love and care. Both people need a church family where they can find healing. They are going to feel like they have failed. They are going to feel broken. This is a time when they need to be embraced by God and by a church family and told, “It’s ok; we all get a new start.”
Today we start a new series about Building a New Future Together. It’s about getting a new start. Because there are times in our lives when we all need a do over. We are going to spend a few weeks in the Old Testament book called Nehemiah. I am going to guess that most of us are not very familiar with Nehemiah. But it’s a great book of new starts and new beginnings. Nehemiah is a book about rebuilding our lives. I think most of us can recall a time in the past, or maybe right now, when our lives could use some rebuilding. Can I hear an “Amen”?
Let me start with a bit of context. The people of God lived in and around Judah and Jerusalem. In 586 BCE the capitol, Jerusalem, fell to the Babylonians. Many Jews were taken to Babylonia to live in exile. The temple which was the center of their worship was destroyed. And the wall around Jerusalem, which protected the people from invaders, was also destroyed. This was a devastating time for God’s people.
Some forty years later, the people were still living in exile. God called a group of Jewish exiles, refugees, to work for God. These were the four people: Esther, Zerubbabal, Ezra and Nehemiah. Nehemiah was called to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was living in Susa, a town in Babylonia (which is modern day Iran). He was a government worker, working for the King. By this time the temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt but things were still in bad shape in Jerusalem. The people were scattered. That is where our story begins.
One of Nehemiah’s brothers, Hanani, arrives in Susa from a trip to Judah, the region where Jerusalem is. Hanani reports to Nehemiah that the Jews who survived the exile and are living there are in bad shape. The conditions are appalling. The wall of Jerusalem is in rubble and the city gates are in cinders. This is devastating news to Nehemiah.
Why are walls so important? Because the city walls are what protect the people.
All ancient cites were surrounded by walls. Mike Slaughter writes that “Walls represent boundaries or structures. People without structures or boundaries create children without structures or boundaries, which creates families without structures or boundaries, which creates communities without structures or boundaries, which creates nations without structures and boundaries. Without walls a community or people are vulnerable or defenseless against attack. So when the people of God do not have clear God boundaries and God structures in our life, then we are very vulnerable to the attacks that would come against our families. There are also some very practical physical dimensions of a community without walls. If you don't have walls, it's not a safe place for trade. And if you don't have trade, you don't have economy. And if you don't have economy, you have poverty.” So you can see that walls were essential.
God uses several people here to begin to rebuild the lives of the people of Judea. Zerubbabal is called to go back and build the temple. Before you have walls you have a temple. A temple is the place where the people of God come together in community and recognize their identity. Ezra, who was the priest, re-establishes the altar. The altar is the focus of worship. And Nehemiah comes and re-establishes the walls which give the people safety.
It’s like this. We are the body of Christ. We cannot do this by ourselves. Each of us has a part to play that is necessary for God's rebuilding purpose in the world. God has equipped every person here. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s get back to today’s part of the story.
Nehemiah sits down and weeps. He mourns for days, praying and fasting. We don’t see this yet in the scripture, but Nehemiah is going to lead a huge rebuilding project. God is going to use him to do great things in Jerusalem.
But before Nehemiah can do anything, he sits down and weeps. He weeps for the brokenness of all his people.
Pastor Mike Slaughter writes that “Restoration begins with brokenness. God uses people whose hearts are broken by the things that break the heart of God.” Think about it. Nehemiah has a good job working for the King. He probably has a pretty comfortable life. But when he hears about his brothers and sisters living in poverty in Jerusalem and living at risk because there is no city wall to keep them safe, his heart breaks.
And did you notice what else he does? He sits down. He stops everything in order to pray. We have to stop, and to sit down in order to know the heart of God. We have to sit down in order to get in touch with brokenness.
We are all so busy. We keep busy because we don’t have to pay attention to our pain if we are busy. We can numb the pain with work, or shopping, or sports, or hobbies, or addictions. But if we STOP, and put ourselves in the presence of God, we will have an opportunity to see our own brokenness and the brokenness of the world. This is when the rebuilding can begin.
Here at The Village we want to be a church where you can stop, and pay attention to the brokenness in your own life and the world, and give it to God. We want to be a church where you can find healing and rebuild. Like the woman I talked about at the beginning of my sermon who went through a divorce, we want to be a church where hurting people like her can come and find community.
Some of you have come here because you have been beaten up by the world, and you need the healing that God has to offer. Sadly, some of you have even felt beaten up by other churches, and you need the healing that God has to offer through a church like this, where everyone is welcome and accepted. The rebuilding of lives starts with naming our brokenness and giving it to God.
Because here is the thing. Everyone is broken. And God loves us in our brokenness. Some of it is caused by other people, and some of it is caused by our own choices. But whatever the cause, God loves us and God wants us to have a new start.
So we need to be like Nehemiah. We need to take time to sit down with God and name our brokenness.
What is your brokenness? What separates you from God? What separates you from your brothers and sisters in this room? We all have something we want to change.
This is the good news: God can heal us. God wants to rebuild our lives. God wants us to know that we are loved by God and we can be whole again.
I want to invite you to write down your brokenness on a piece of paper, and give it up to God today. Whatever it is that you need to let go of, write it down. We are going to pass around a basket to collect your pieces of paper, and we are going to put them on our altar table and give them to God.
No one will see it. I will throw them away for you after the service. Only God will see what you write.