Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

I Chose You

I Chose You!

Nehemiah was a Hebrew during the time of the Babylonian exile and had an interesting job - he was a food taster for the king. It was his job to taste all the food before the king ate so that the king knew the food was safe. After tasting the food, Nehemiah would then serve the King his food. So Nehemiah would be in contact with the king every meal during the day - and Nehemiah and the King developed a kind of relationship; they got to know one another through that daily contact.
The King, Artaxerxes, was the king of Babylon where the Hebrew people had been living as slaves for the past 80 years. Some of the Hebrews were slaves as we would traditionally think of slaves, working for farms and building buildings and such. But some of the Hebrews had been brought into the palace of the King and worked there. If you remember the story of Daniel - of lions den fame - he was one of the Hebrews brought in to work for the king in the palace as was
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego - the ones who survived the fiery furnace. This is how Nehemiah became a worker in the palace and his job as the food taster for the king - the official title was ‘cup bearer’.
After about 80 years of slavery, King Cyrus who was king before Artaxerxes, had allowed the former king of Israel, Zerubbabel, to lead some of the Hebrews back to their homeland of Palestine - what we would call Israel today. When they reached their homeland, what they found was devastating. Everything was gone. Their houses were gone, the city of Jerusalem was in complete ruins, and their beloved Temple was just a pile of rubble. The Hebrews were just overwhelmed by finding everything in ruins.
Instead of pushing up their sleeves and getting to work putting it all back together, they fell into a depression and did nothing. They just threw up their hands in defeat. But eventually they did move back to where their towns and villages had been and slowly began to rebuild their own homes. They settled into getting their lives back in order and eventually realized that even though they now had places to live, God did not.
We need to stop for a second and remember that the Hebrew people believed that God lived not in heaven, but in his ‘apartment’ in the temple. So if there was no temple, there was no way for God to be with them - and there was no way for them to worship since true worship also took place in the temple in the presence of God.
By now, the King of Babylon had allowed the priest Ezra to bring another group of Hebrews back to their homeland. Ezra then directed the rebuilding of the Temple.
Now all that was left to do was to secure the city of Jerusalem. All the cities during this time period had walls around them to protect them from foreign invaders. Jerusalem had not had the walls restored yet and because of that the Hebrews in Jerusalem, where the Temple was located, were being tormented by foreign military. The people had rebuilt their homes, had rebuilt the Temple but now just didn’t have the resolve to finish what needed done by putting up the city walls. If they didn’t do it soon, Jerusalem and the Temple were going to be ravaged again.
Nehemiah, back in Babylon, gets word of this and it makes him very sad. He knows that if something isn’t done soon, then his people would be in trouble once again. With this news weighing heavy on his heart, Nehemiah carries the meal to the King. Artaxerxes looks at Nehemiah and immediately knows that something is wrong. “What’s wrong Nehemiah?” Artaxerxes asks. “What is bothering you?” Nehemiah tells the King about the walls in Jerusalem and his concern about his people. Nehemiah says that he has prayed about it and really feels God has called him to go back to Jerusalem and supervise the building of the wall. Then Nehemiah looks at the king and says, “Will you let me go?” The king is reluctant because he has developed a relationship with Nehemiah, Nehemiah is doing a good job and the King trusts him. But seeing the real desire in Nehemiah’s face, Artaxerxes says that Nehemiah can go and take with him more of the Hebrews still living in Babylon.

Nehemiah goes back to Jerusalem and does exactly what God had asked him to do - get the walls rebuilt around the city.
The passage we read earlier from the book of Nehemiah explains exactly how these walls get built. The homes are built, the temple is built and foreign armies are coming to attack and Nehemiah knows that unless they do something creative not only are the walls not going to be built, but once again God’s people will be destroyed by the invading armies. So Nehemiah develops a plan.
First he assembles the Hebrews and tells them “Don’t be afraid of our enemies. Remember we belong to God and our God is great and our God will always fight for us!.” Then Nehemiah divides all the workers into 2 groups. The first group would work on the wall and the 2nd group were armed with spears and shields and bows. While the workers worked on the wall, the others stood around the outside of the wall and guarded it from those who would try to invade. And working together, the wall was built and Jerusalem once again was protected and God’s people could work and worship without fear. And the workers declared, “Our God will work for us!”
Another interesting section we find in the book of Nehemiah, in chapter 3 is a list of all the names of the people who worked on the wall! This section makes an important point - Nehemiah is careful to emphasize that
everyone worked together - the leaders, the clergy, the residents of the city and even those who lived outside the city walls. Everyone working together in the face of difficulty got the walls built and life began to come back to order once again.
The Apostle Paul ran into the same problems as he traveled establishing new communities fo faith. For people who were so use to living in a society where their voice didn’t mean much; for people living in the Roman provinces where everything they did was regulated and directed by others, the idea of each person contributing the the work and worship of God was a difficult concept. But Paul wanted the people to understand that to God, everyone is valued; everyone is important; and everyone is needed to make the church work as God desires.
Corinthians 12 is a favorite chapter to read to help us understand the value of each individual in Christ’s church. The first part of the chapter starts out talking about how each person within the church has received the gift of the Holy Spirit who lives inside of you. And this Spirit empowers you with abilities - scripture refers to these abilities as gifts or talents - and Paul emphasizes that each and every person has a gift to offer to the whole body. Everybody. Everybody….. and then Paul challenges us by saying that that the use of our abilities is crucial for the good of the body.
We are the body of Christ - and Paul says - just like our physical bodies we need each part to work efficiently. We need our ears and eyes and our stomachs and our fingers and our knees and our intestines. Without all these parts doing what they do, as we all well know, our bodies don’t function so well when one of those parts isn’t doing what it does. Our knee quit working and we have to limp along and we can’t do the things we’d like to do or our head hurts so we just feel bad all over.
The point being - all those parts, all of us as the body of the Christ - have a purpose and a place and all of us are needed if the body of Christ, this body of Christ, is going to be able to fulfill what God has called us as the church to do.
Listen to Jesus’ words from John 15 - “You didn’t choose me. I chose you and appointed you…”
Remember those days in grade school where you had to choose up sides and you stood there hoping you’d be chosen - well you have. God has chosen you to be the church of Jesus Christ. You are here because God felt you were needed, you were important, you were vital and you are ‘on the team’. And without you, without each of you, God’s team is not complete.
It took everyone working together to build that wall around Jerusalem; it took everyone working together to get the church established during the first century and it takes everyone working together to be faithful to God’s call to be Christ’s church today.
Amen!