Rebuilding Our LivesPosted: November 16, 2011
Rebuilding Our Lives
2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres.
3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
6 Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!
The Jews were sustained in exile for sixty years by their memory of Jerusalem. But after the Persians conquered Babylon and the Jews were allowed to return home, they found Jerusalem was in complete ruins. What a disappointment. Some of the returnees turned around and went right back to Babylon.
Slowly hard working courageous people began to restore the olive groves, the vineyards, the terraces on the sides of the hills that made farming possible again. But no one had the energy or organization to begin the awesome task of rebuilding the temple or restoring the Wall of the City. About fifty years after Jews began trickling back to Judah two leaders arose, who challenged the people to put their minds and hearts to the difficult tasks of rebuilding – Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra challenged the people to leave off some of their personal pursuits to give their time and their energy to the communal project of restoring the temple, and Nehemiah challenged the people to restore the City Wall.
I never cease to be amazed by how relevant our lectionary lessons are to the life of our community of faith. At the Fall Meeting of the Congregation Nehemiah-Zig-Roebuck-Ezra will talk with us about the need to restore our church’s roof, and bring other parts of our building back from ruin. So let’s take a moment and see how Ezra and Nehemiah motivated the people to undertake the needed repairs and rebuilding of Jerusalem.
Both Nehemiah and Ezra began with prayer. And I’m not talking about a lick and a promise kind of prayer or a 30 second devotional at the beginning of a business meeting. We’re talking about sustained deep prayer over many days. Too many churches begin too many meetings, too many projects without divine discernment informing the decisions and sustained prayer supporting the plans. We can collect all of the information, compute all of the measurements, write the best requirements document, and if the Holy Spirit isn’t in it, it ain’t a gonna happen.
So both Ezra and Nehemiah started with prayer. Then each of them recruited a small group to pray with them and make plans. When Nehemiah undertook his night time survey of the Wall, he took a small group with him. Ezra enjoyed the prayer fellowship of the priests. Leadership groups, who are steeped in prayer, are essential, if a community of faith is going to commit to a major undertaking.
After praying and organizing their leadership groups, Nehemiah and Ezra called a meeting of the entire community. Everyone has to be on board. Everyone has to give their opinion and everyone has to be invited to pray. Pray first, talk second. God can speak through the least likely member of the community, but we all have to pray first.
When we are part of a community of faith, we have three commitments to the community: talk it up, pray it up, pay it up. If we believe in the community of faith where we belong we talk it up with other people. We tell other people about the importance of good spiritual friends who make a difference in our lives. If we see a movie we like, or discover a new restaurant that is really good, we tell other people about it. Just so, when we experience transformation in our lives as the result of our spiritual friends praying with us and for us, we should tell other people about the wonderful difference a praying community makes in our lives, and how having good spiritual friends who hold us accountable makes a big difference in our ability to change and grow. We talk it up our church.
We also pray it up. We lift up our community of faith in prayer and we pray with and for our good spiritual friends. We even pray with and for the difficult people in our lives. God is so good, that God even gives us people in our faith community we aren’t going to like, so we can stretch and grown and learn to be tolerant and accepting of others. Always remembering that we are a special gift to some other people who have to learn to tolerate and accept us.
Finally, when a community of faith comes together to undertake a project like, rebuilding a temple, or a City Wall, or a leaky roof, or rotting wood siding, or replacing heating and air conditioning units, everyone has to pay it up. God doesn’t make regular deposits in the church’s bank account, because God has already given us all that we need to do what God wants us to do. It reminds me of the moderator who stood up in front of the congregation and said, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is we have all the money we need to support the budget. The bad news is that it is still in our pockets. We have to pay it up. God has put all the money in our pockets we need to do what God wants us to do. We just have to give it.
Now here’s the last step Nehemiah and Ezra took to get the job done. They set up a system of accountable giving. Notice what Nehemiah did with the Wall. Eliashib and his priests took the sheep gate and the section of the wall from there to the Tower of Hananel. The men of Jericho took the next section, and then the sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate. Each family, each group and organization as they were able took responsibility for a section of the wall. People with greater resources assumed a larger portion of the work and accountability was obvious. So they strengthened their hands for the good work, because if they failed to do their part, everyone would know. When Nehemiah-Zig-Roebuck-Ezra makes his presentation at the Congregational Meeting we need to begin thinking accountability. We can do what needs to be done, if we are willing to be held accountable. The same is true in terms of the stewardship drive. God has given us all we need to do what God wants us to do, if we are willing to be held accountable.
Now allow me to take a minute to talk about these same principles applied to our personal lives. When we find ourselves devastated by life, a loved one dies, a relationship ends, a divorce occurs, a job comes to an end, a business fails, a major illness strikes, we often find ourselves in need of personal rebuilding. We have to pick ourselves up off the floor, make changes and go on. And that is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t. Just think of physical therapy after a stroke. It’s hard. It is a spiritual challenge.
So where do we start? Prayer — begin with prayer. Rebuilding our lives is a spiritual challenge, so begin with prayer. Get anybody and everybody to pray with you and for you. Stand up during joys and concerns and ask your good spiritual friends your community of faith to pray with you and for you. And if you can’t come, because you are in the hospital, or you are stuck sick at home, ask to be placed on the prayer list, and ask the pastor and the Care Giving Committee to come have prayer with you. Remember the Letter of James 5:14-16 “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick person. . . . pray for one another that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous has great power in its effect.”
And please note there is something powerful that happens, when we ask others to pray for us. When we ask other people to pray for us, rather than insisting that other people should intuit our need, it means we’re willing to at least give it a shot that maybe we can be helped by prayer. Even if we have our doubts about prayer, asking others to pray with and for us is like saying, “I believe but help my unbelief.” When we practice laying on of hands in Reiki, the practitioners need to believe in what they are doing, and the clients need to believe. Faith is necessary, active demonstrable faith. Asking for prayer is active demonstrable faith.
Now after other people have prayed with us and for us, we have to do our part. We have to be willing to make changes in our lives. We can’t keep doing the same old thing and expect different results – that’s the definition of crazy. We have to be willing to change, and transformation is hard.
And not only do we have to implement a plan of change, we have to empower other people to hold us accountable. And that’s when things get really tough, because if we empower people to hold us accountable, then rather than just praying for us, our good spiritual friends begin to ask us whether or not we are doing what we said we were going to do in order to change – accountability.
On the subject of accountability let me share a story. I was going out to preach in a little country church, and I had Geoffrey with me. Before the offering I put three one dollar bills in the offering plate to give people the idea. When the offering was collected I looked down in the plate and there were three one dollar bills, a quarter and a dime. Geoffrey ever the wise one said, “gee Dad, if you had put more into it, you would of got more out of it.”
We have great challenges in our individual lives and in our life together as a congregation. Let’s pray. Let’s invite others to pray with us and for us. Let’s seek God’s guidance and wisdom, rather than relying on our own insight. Then let’s work together to be accountable. Let’s remind one another of the changes we need to make and empower other people to hold us accountable. And maybe just maybe we can be transformed by the power of faith. If we put more into it maybe we’ll get more out of it.