Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lessons from a Royal Cupbearer

Pastor Jon is doing a sermon series on Nehemiah at church. I'll admit, I was less then excited about this for various reasons.

First, Nehemiah is in the Old Testament. I find the old Testament a bit daunting. Too many rules, major and minor prophets, kings, tribes of Judah and some really weird stuff. Sometimes, besides the obvious Psalms and Proverbs, and the Big Ten, the OT doesn't seem quite as applicable to this day and age.

And by the way, where exactly IS Nehemiah in the Bible? I do like to follow along with the passage during the sermon, but get frustrated if the reading is half way over and I haven't even found the book yet. Let's just go to the New Testament please. I know a little memory song about the books of the New Testament and that is way easier.

And the spelling, how much you wanna bet spellchecker is gonna be all over Nehemiah. Let's just call him NeHi for short.

Turns out, I have learned an awful lot from NeHi. He was living the life as a well respected royal cupbearer for the King of Persia, Artaxerxes (another spellcheck nightmare) and felt called to return to Judah to rebuild the wall surrounding Jerusalem. He actually got the feat accomplished in 52 days. He was a man of both prayer AND action, which can be a rare combination. He was an organizer, an encourager, a mobilizer, and just an all around upstanding guy.

This week NeHi was fighting injustice in Chapter 5. The people of Judah were being unfairly taxed, worked to death, and selling their children as slaves in order to put food on the table - and this was all at the hands of the more wealthy Jews, their own people. And I thought the OT wasn't as applicable? So NeHi took these Jews to task and some remarkable things happened. First at the end of 5:8, it says, "They kept quiet, because they had nothing to say." The truth often hurts, but don't we all usually have something to say, some excuse, someone else to blame? And then NeHi takes the high road. He admits in 5:10 "I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain". I greatly respect a man, or anyone that can admit they are wrong, and then take the steps to make it right and that is also what NeHi did.

So, Pastor Jon made some sermon points on why we, (as in I) as a community, as a church, as a nation, are often immobile or inactive in the face of injustice.

1. We just don't have very much experience with it. In fact, we are often more afraid of justice rather than injustice. Generally, on a day to day basis, many of us don't experience injustice. Jon related a story where he was speeding and passes a Highway Patrol coming over the hill in the other lane. He saw him tap his brakes in his rear view mirror - Jon was scared. Not of injustice, but of justice. Shouldn't we consider that a privilege?

So does that mean injustice does not exist in NW Iowa? Oh no. Jon then related a story told by some friends of ours that have just adopted two little girls from Algeria. Gracie, their eight year old daughter was riding the bus home when another little girl comes up to her and loudly declares, "That boy in the back of the bus says he hates you because you are black." My heart burns even as I write this. Gracie is one of my students in Children in Worship and she is precious beyond words. That makes me ANGRY.

2. We are often overwhelmed by the scope of it. How does one start to heal the continent of Africa? Or even the convoluted injustices of this nation?

3. It is often politically polarizing. Nehemiah had to ruffle a few feathers when he confronted the wealthy Jews, he even had his own feathers ruffled. I'll admit, it is hard to step out of the comfort zone, lift up my head and SEE. I think it goes way beyond political parties and their views, but it is often these differing views that get in the way of each other and therefore nothing gets done. Nothing changes. I think Satan likes it like that.

I don't know all the answers, and that is the whole point of this post. I need to sift through these thoughts and process them. It does makes me think and squirm a bit uncomfortably,and maybe that is the first step. Maybe someday I'll be brave like NeHi and take a stand.

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