On Sunday January 24th our minister Rev. Christine Gillespie led worship at Wesley Chapel. Worship began as we sang, ‘Sing for God’s glory that colours the dawn of creation’ before Christine led the opening prayers and the Lord’s Prayer. We sang ‘Christ is the world’s light, Christ and none other’ before we heard the readings from Nehemiah 1 and Mark 1.35. We sang ‘Christ, our King before creation’ before Christine preached.
Christine said that it can be said of some people that they are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly use; a known church insult. That is not really the way God interacts with people in the real world. In John 1 the Word became flesh and dwelt among us; Jesus who will be called Emmanuel. At the ascension of Jesus he told his disciples to go out into the world to witness, but to wait until they have received the Holy Spirit to empower them. They were not to go out until they were equipped for the task. The book of Acts shows the exciting story of witnesses travelling from place to place spreading the good news of Jesus, working to earn their keep, and even being imprisoned, so that God was revealed through their actions; that is true of both the Old and New Testaments. God sees what is happening in the difficult events of life.
Nehemiah’s events are set firmly in history at about 430BC. He was a Jewish exile working as the cupbearer to the King of Persia. He would have had access to the king and therefore some influence. He would have had a comfortable life and was a cultured man. However the Jewish exile had happened 140 years earlier after Babylon had overrun Jerusalem and destroyed it, so Nehemiah had been born in exile, so had never lived in Jerusalem. The Babylonians had taken most educated people away in exile and Nehemiah was a descendant of those exiled Jewish people. Then Babylon had been taken over by Persia, who had allowed the descendants of exiles to return to their homelands.
Nehemiah had received news from Judah about Jerusalem the capital of Judah. It would not be easy to return to the ruined city. We can see how the civil war is destroying Syria now and how difficult it will be for people returning to Syria, once peace is established, to come back to ruined and neglected homes. People had begun to return to Jerusalem and had begun to rebuild. However those who had not gone into exile began to be jealous and fearful of being pushed out when descendants of the exiles return. They think that they had better stop the rebuilding or the king could lose taxes owed to him. That was probably what Nehemiah had heard, so he wept, prayed and fasted and offered all to God, praying He would hear and answer his prayer. Nehemiah confessed the sins of his people and his father’s house and his own sins. He recalled the way God had redeemed people in the past and prayed for God’s help now. Nehemiah was an educated man and a good organiser. He prayed for 4 months; I was astonished to hear he had persisted and wrestled so long in prayer in that way. He prayed for God’s blessing on his work. Christine wondered how he felt after he had heard God’s call and in the 4 months of prayer he prepared himself for action. All his future actions would be grounded in prayer.
Do we as Christians pray in the same way before we undertake actions together? Mark’s gospel described how Jesus went out early to pray before he taught or healed people. A traveller had probably brought the bad news to the King. We are bombarded with national and international news daily on the media and letters telling us about current news issues; we feel overwhelmed by the information overload. Nehemiah responded to the news by caring, weeping and praying, so he could change the heart of the king. How do we respond? Do we listen to God’s call? What about those who bring the news? What about those who support them? What about our call? When we are called to share the news we will find sometimes that we are in some way an answer to prayer. We can pray knowing God cares about those who need his help.
We sang ‘Beauty for brokeness’ to lead us into the prayer of intercessions. Worship concluded when we sang, ‘Behold the servant of the Lord.’