Nehemiah chapter three has certainly tested my faith in the words found in the Second Letter to Timothy that “all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” For how in the world can the list of names of folks who worked on the wall of Jerusalem teach us anything? Nehemiah chapter three is also one of the reasons I am not a big fan of reading the entire Bible straight through from Genesis through Revelation. Many people are gung ho until they reach the chapter in Genesis known as the begat chapter: the list of literally everybody and their brother and where they came from.
The question is: “What is there to possibly gain from this exhaustive list of those who helped to rebuild the Jerusalem wall? How can this chapter which is so exhaustive and so tedious that it would put all of you who have not already fallen to sleep out like a baby if I read it aloud this morning be inspired? How can it possibly be useful for teaching, reproof and correction? How can this tedious list of names possibly help train us for righteousness?
And how does it possibly fit into what we have already learned from Nehemiah to help us build something great here in Farmville? How does this exhaustive list of names help us, help First Christian Church, do the work that God is calling us to do? How does a who’s who record of Jerusalem wall builders help us renovate our facilities and break new grounds of ministry to meet the needs of our community and our world? What can a register of wall builders teach us about meeting our church’s budget in a sluggish economy? What can this chapter teach us about anything?
Well, I believe that the best answer may rest in this simple fact that this list is what it is: an exhaustive directory which is so tedious that it is virtually impossibly to read aloud. For that in itself reveals something very important the nature of Kingdom work: the work for which God calls each of us to be a part.
First of all, this work we are called to do is too great for just one person. Nehemiah understood that rebuilding the Jerusalem wall and repairing her gates was simply not possible for one person. One of the greatest dangers in hiring full-time pastors, youth directors and music directors in the church is the laity becoming lazy expecting the staff to do all of the work. After all that’s what we are paying them to do. To do so we don’t have to do. However, most of us hopefully know that that is not the way it works. Lori and I were called here to serve God in this community with you and not for you. It takes much more than one or even two persons to do the work God is calling us to do.
Secondly, we learn from this list something of the importance of diversity and inclusiveness. Since you have probably never read Nehemiah chapter three in your life, you are going to have to trust me when I say that the list of crew members contain the names of 38 different individuals and 42 different groups. Nehemiah included every strata of society in the rebuilding of the wall. They were priests. They were artisans. They were rulers. They were ordinary citizens. They were men. They were women. They were young. And they were old. And they were even non-residents of Jerusalem. One did not have to be born and raised in Jerusalem to have a part in rebuilding the wall. Everybody in the community was somebody and everybody had something very important to contribute.
In the twelfth chapter of Romans we read that everybody is somebody in the Body of Christ and everybody does have something very important to contribute. There is not one person in the church who does not have something very important to contribute to the mission and ministry of the First Christian Church of Farmville. There is not one person in the church who God has not gifted for ministry. And we need everyone to participate if we are ever going to become the church which God is calling us to become: Young and old, men and women, long-time member and new member.
We also learn from the list of names and their varied backgrounds that some of these persons were doing a type of work in rebuilding the wall which they never dreamed they could do. In the very first verse we read the High Priest worked with other priests to rebuild the sheep gate. How many of you can picture me and bunch of other preachers building or repairing anything? I think that is why so many of you helped me after my house flooded. In verse 8 we read where a perfumer is making repairs. In verse 14 a ruler of a province is making repairs. It is fair to say that chapter three of Nehemiah is full of persons doing things that they did not know they could do.
Many of you say “I can’t be a deacon or an elder.” “I can’t teach a Sunday School class.” “I lack the gifts to do that.” “I lack the skills to do this.” “I can’t afford to give any more to the budget.” What we learn from Nehemiah is that when we seek to accomplish something to the glory of God, God will empower us and work through us to accomplish God’s purpose. You have heard the saying before, “God does not call the equipped; God equips the called.” Any minister will tell you countless stories of the best deacons and best Sunday School teachers they ever served with were persons who never thought they could ever serve in that capacity. And we have all heard testimonies of the blessings which come from giving more than we thought we ever through we could give.
When I visit with my parents in Elizabeth City, one of the best and worst things we do when we are together is reminisce about days gone by. Lori and my mother love to talk about my many physical abnormalities I possessed as a youngster. Sometimes they talk about the shape of my cone head I had during the first month of my life. Sometimes the subject of discussion is the enormous ears that stuck out from the side of my head as a child. Sometimes they talk about my buck teeth before I had braces of for four long years, complete with head gear. Some days they talk about the tremendous cow lick I used to have. Thank goodness that’s gone! Well, recently, the topic of conversation was my severe speech impediment.
My speech was so bad that my school required me to take speech therapy every year from first through fifth grade. I even had surgery on the bottom part of my tongue to remove a piece of skin which kept my tongue from doing what it was supposed to do. None of my teachers ever understood a word I said in Kindergarten. “R’s” were impossible to say and substituted with the “w” sound. Some words were so difficult to pronounce, I often replaced the word with a sound. The turn signal on the car was the “tick tocks.” The windshield wiper became the “mmps mmps.” I often substituted words I could not say for more simple words I could say which sounded close to me. When I was thirsty, I would say I’m “dirty” and then point to my mouth.
So you can just imagine how a big eared, buck toothed, cow lick haired boy with a speech pediment behave socially through grade school and Junior High. I was one of the, if not the most timid, shy, reserved, introverted, reticent, withdrawn kid in school.
There is no way anyone who ever knew me would ever guess I would make my living the way I make it week after week.
We must never say, “I don’t have the gifts to do that. Or I don’t have the skills for this.” Or, “I can’t give that.” Instead, maybe we should say, “You know, I don’t know if I can teach or if I can’t. But I’ll give it a try. And then I’ll trust God to work somehow work through me.” “I don’t know if I can increase my giving, but I will give it a try, and trust God to take care of me.” You might be as surprised as a High Priest priest working on a sheep gate, or a perfumer repairing a wall, or the ruler of a province laying bricks, or a bucked tooth, shy little boy with a speech impediment preaching in front of over a hundred people every Sunday morning.
“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”