Next to them Meremoth son of Uriah son of Hakkoz made repairs. Next to them Zadok son of Baana made repairs. Next to them the Tekoites made repairs, but their nobles would not put their shoulder to the work of their Lord. (Nehemiah 3:4-5)
Nehemiah was the cup-bearer for King Artaxerxes of Persia. One day he received a very discouraging report about the Jews that had returned to Jerusalem after their long exile in Babylon. When Artaxerxes saw Nehemiah’s sad face—he had never been sad in the king’s presence before—the king gave Nehemiah permission to go to Jerusalem to repair the wall that had once protected the city and its citizens.
After Nehemiah returns and assesses the damage, we see the beginning of the work he led in today’s scripture. If you were to read all of chapter 3, you would see that Nehemiah uses some variation of the word “repairs” 38 times.
When Nehemiah went to Jerusalem to repair the walls around the city, he was doing more than just repairing the walls. He was also repairing the peoples’ faith and worship, their hearts and souls, their happiness and desires, their hopes and dreams. Repairing the walls was the outward and visible sign of repairing every aspect of their lives.
This morning—I write these words on the Sunday after our recent election—I prayed that the message from Nehemiah 3 could pervade our land, permeate our relationships, and inspire the “better angels” that have always brought out the best in us.
Although we don’t know what it was like for Nehemiah to return to a city, land, and country that had been destroyed, I believe we do know something about how much the political divisions in our country are hurting, even destroying, so much of our common life. Regardless of how any one of us may feel about this election, I believe we could all agree that some serious repair work needs to happen in our land.
One of the things that is most remarkable about the third chapter of Nehemiah is all the people that are mentioned by name. What might this suggest? I believe it invites each one of us to be on the list of those who are needed to do repair work right now. Another remarkable thing about this chapter is all the specific places that Nehemiah recounts where those people did the repair work in Jerusalem. What might this say to us? To do our nation’s repair work right now, I believe that the specificity of all these places asks us what spot, what place, and what arena are we called to.
As we review our lives and relationships, I believe we can all see things we have done or not done that have either been repaired or torn, increased or decreased, woven or shredded. The ways we talk to and about each other can either build up or destroy. The ways we treat each other can either nurture or decimate. If you are in despair about the results of our election, I pray that you don’t resort to disparaging others or trashing our democratic systems. If you are in jubilation with the results, I pray that you don’t resort to gloating over or shaming those who see things differently. Before we are either Republicans or Democrats, we are children of God together and Americans together, and if we call ourselves Christians, we are disciples of Jesus together.
Although our leaders are important, and although they do set the tone of our nation, either for good or for ill, we can’t give all the responsibility for our common repair work to them. The best leaders bring out the best in us, and they challenge us to participate in what our nation needs. This means that we all have a role and responsibility for the repair work that our country needs right now. If we continue to indulge in inflammatory rhetoric, and if we continue vilifying or demonizing the “other” side, we will only increase and deepen the divisiveness and nastiness that has been all too prevalent lately. But if we put our “shoulder to the work of the Lord” while praying that God would heal our land through how we speak to and treat each other, then we can live with hope.
- For the sake of our common life together, is there anything you need to stop doing?
- For the sake of the repair work, our land needs is there anything you need to start doing?
- In today’s lesson, we read that the “nobles would not put their shoulders to the work of the Lord.” In order for you to not join them, how and where might the Lord be calling you to apply your shoulder and efforts to His work?