Oh my, Nehemiah!

given on Sunday, January 24, 2010

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Oh my, Nehemiah!

Have you met Nehemiah?  I know I have not met him face to face, but I have met him through his words in the Old Testament.  He is a hard worker who listened to God.  He worked with the religious leader Ezra, but he took his orders straight from God.

Nehemiah was not a religious leader; he was a well-respected and prosperous community leader working for the Persian government.  Still he had a close relationship to God and listened to him when He talked.  He was one of those men who decide something needs to be done and simply does it.

As I got to know Nehemiah through my reading, I found myself admiring him but also wondering how I compare.  Do I listen to God?  Do I get up and follow what I believe God has put in my heart to do?  Do I work well with people and get them to do the best that they possibly can?  Do I reach the anticipated goal?

“Oh my, Nehemiah!”  That phrase is what surfaced in my head as I thought about what all he did and what I did.  I realized that it was a sigh, a deep sigh, one that released all the drive I had in me.  The type of sigh that says there is no way in the world I could possibly manage to do what Nehemiah did.  How many times in our lives do we hear something or realize how mammoth a task really is and simply sigh “oh my” and give up?

Nehemiah heard how the walls of Jerusalem were crumbling and he heard God call him to fix them.  Nehemiah quit his job with the Persian government and traveled to Jerusalem, looked over the problem, and decided it had to be done.  He did not sigh “oh my” and give up.  He developed a plan, asked others to join in, and supervised the project until it was done.

Now I am not an authoritarian on Jerusalem’s history, but the temple in Jerusalem was built in 516 B.C. but the walls around the city were in “shambles,” as stated in the Life Application Bible.  Each time another group of Israelites returned from exile:  (1) in 538 B.C. when Zerubbabel led the first set back to Jerusalem; (2) Ezra led the second group in 458 B.C.; and (3) Nehemiah returned in 445 B.C. with the third group—the reports on how the walls’ terrible condition spread among the Jewish communities.  It was not until Nehemiah heard the reports that he knew he had to take care of the matter.

“Oh my, Nehemiah” … God called him.  This time the words were not a sigh, but a cry for help, God’s cry to him.  Do we hear God cry to us or do we hear the cry of complaints?  Imagine what Nehemiah must have thought when he first heard the reports on the terrible condition of the walls.  He was living his life contentedly, working successfully in a position within the Persian government.  He obviously was settled and well respected in his community.  His reputation was one that preceded him; a reputation for seeing a problem, finding a solution, and organizing the resources to get the work done.  What was he thinking when he heard the complaints about Jerusalem’s walls!  What he knew is that God told him to take care of the problem.

I expect when someone saw Nehemiah coming towards them with that look in his eye, that first thought might be “Oh my, Nehemiah! — the dread-filled sigh.”  Even though they knew that Nehemiah was a man who could get things done, they also knew that they were being called upon for their own contributions to the project.  Work was going to be done and the sigh was one that signaled the acceptance of the task to be done.

We utter that cry, too.  Unfortunately, we do not always see the final picture of the finished project.  We may see others coming toward us and we brace for what will be next.  We do not listen for God’s words or his cry for our help.  Sometimes we know what the project or the need really is because it is so painfully obvious, like the destruction of Haiti’s recent earthquake.  Yet we sigh, “Oh my,” and try to get out of it.

The cry we utter needs to be “Oh my, God,” a cry for God’s direction.  We need to change that deep, dread-filled sigh of “oh my” to one that pleads for God to talk to us.  When we hear the request from someone we trust, we need to cry to God, “Oh my, God, what do you want from me?”  In fact, when we watch the news, when we hear the latest word on a friend or neighbor in need, or when we see a problem that needs a solution, we need to cry or to pray to God, “Oh my, what do you want from me?”  And then we need to listen.

By listening, and expecting to hear God talk to you, we become active Christians.  We no longer just sit and read and follow the daily routines.  We act.  All our lives we grow in our skills and our interests.  We get through those horrible teen years and move into our adult lives, continuing to grown is stature, in knowledge and experience, and in faith.  We are so busy with life, though, that our “oh my” cries or usually sighs rather than prayers, or prayers without listening for God.  Our “oh my’s” are hollow.

The hollow “oh my’s” we utter often are filled with complaints.  We sigh, “Oh my” when we see that the church needs repair, when we hear someone is failing, when we do not like what someone has done, or when a vote did not go our way.  We need to remove the sighs of complaint, replace them with the “Oh my’s” as prayers to God.  And then we need to follow.

The actions that we demonstrate show that God is in our life each and every moment.  We put our faith in God, we work together when called, and the load is never more than we can handle because God is there.  As we carry out the task God has written on our hearts, we find that the “oh my” now has a new purpose—one of praise.  Remember that sense of awe the first time you saw your baby after its birth?  Did you not whisper or shout an “Oh my, isn’t she/he beautiful!” or “Oh my, did I really give birth to this child!”  We often cry “Oh my!” when we see something glorious, awe-inspiring, breathtaking, or amazing.

Imagine what the early Jewish believers thought when they went out to the walls of Jerusalem and say that Nehemiah had indeed been able to finally accomplish the task of repairing the walls when no one else had for well over 70 years.  Don’t you think they said, “Oh my!”; and then they knew that Nehemiah was right and that God did indeed have his hand in the work or it would never have been done.  Not only had Nehemiah gotten the job done, but he also had done it in record time.  He had finished rebuilding the walls in 52 days.  Oh my, Nehemiah!

The scripture read today, Nehemiah 8:1-10, singles the completion of the rebuilding project.  The walls are done.  The people are pleased with their work—because they did indeed do the work under Nehemiah’s supervision—and they were ready for a celebration.  Listen to those words in verse 6, 8-10 again:

Ezra praised the Lord, the great God: and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen!  Amen!”  Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. …They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read. …Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.  This day is sacred to our Lord.  Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

When we do finish our work, whether in our homes, in our communities, or in another country, then it will be time to celebrate.  We come together to worship and praise God, just as the Jewish uttered the cry, “Oh my, Nehemiah, what glorious works you have done.”  Nehemiah knew it was God’s work and stood with Ezra to lead the people in celebration.

The same cry can be heard today as we watch God work through the hands and the hearts of all those in Haiti working frantically to manage the tremendous task of locating victims, healing the injured, and providing for the multitude of needs the people have.  The cry “Oh my, God” now is one of praise for all the people who heard God’s plea and left their comfortable world to carry out God’s work.

I have no doubt in my mind that God moves in mysterious ways, and that the thousands and thousands of workers who have flown into Haiti or into any other difficult situation never expected to be God’s emissary.  For many young service personnel, when their officers said suit up we are on the way to Haiti, the cry “Oh my” was filled with fear and dread.  Yet, I also know that God is talking to them and showing them that they, too, can call upon him for aid and he will give them the skills and the strength they need.  I also am confident that these same young people who never knew God in their lives, now know that a cry “Oh my, God” can be heard.  Finally, I know that as those victims they reach out and touch cry “Oh my,” these new servants of God feel strangely warmed by the praise they are given.

What is our cry today?  Is it an “oh my” cry filled with dread?  Is it an “oh my” cry to God for guidance?  Is it an “oh my” cry filled with praise?  We are sitting right here in our small corner of the world feeling so insignificant that we may not be hearing God’s direction.  We may be filled with such a sense of unworthiness that we fail to realize that we can follow God’s direction.  We may think we are no longer needed.

“On my, Nehemiah!”  Listen to what we are thinking!  We are important.  We are needed.  We can do.  We simply need to cry out to God, “oh my,” and listen.  We need to see that whatever we can do, we do do.  Whatever we can give, we do give.  Whatever needs to change, we can change.  Whatever corner of the world we are in is God’s world.  Whatever skills we have are for God’s purpose.  Whatever we do in God’s name is good, and we praise him:

Oh God, my God, how glorious is your name.

Oh God, my God, how glorious are the works of your children.

Oh God, my God, thank you for the story of Nehemiah

because we see his faith in action.

Oh God, my God, help me hear your call

just as you cried, “Oh my, Nehemiah, I need you.”

Oh God, my God, help me to answer as Nehemiah answered,

“Oh my, God, I hear you and I will.”         –Amen

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