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Planning and Prayer

Nehemiah 1:1-11

This is a synopsis, or quick review, of the sermon for January 8, 2023. I am hitting most of the highlights of the message, not reproducing the entire sermon.

In my New Year’s sermon for 2020, I quipped (in jest of course) that we would all be doing well this year because “we would all be seeing 20-20.” Boy was I wrong. 2020 and 21 were years of challenge for all of us. We lost several of our members. We had to put all worship services and meetings on hold for several months. It was anything but “seeing clearly how to go.”

Last year I preached a New Year’s sermon out of Ezra, on getting started again. It was the story of Judah returning to the land after the Babylonian Captivity and re-establishing Temple worship again. The sermon, planned as a single presentation, seems so appropriate I felt led to preach through the whole book of Ezra.

As we begin this new year, we are still struggling to somehow rebuild towards a new post-covid norm, both at the Chapel and in our individual lives. Leaders and players are changing. Some have graduated to New Jerusalem, others have moved on to other responsibilities or situations.

I am hoping to continue the next few months looking at the book of Nehemiah, which follows Ezra, as Nehemiah comes to govern the neglected city of Jerusalem and rebuild it as a trophy of God’s grace. It is my prayer that we too can continue our rebuilding of Vets chapel to serve its community.

The Scripture Reading today is Nehemiah 1:1-11.

Ezra and Nehemiah are very related books. In the Hebrew Scriptures they are one single book. Ezra appears over a dozen times in Nehemiah. He is the major preacher of a revival in Ch 8. Nehemiah arrives in Judah about 12 years after Ezra. While Zerubbabel re-built the Temple, Ezra re-established worship, Nehemiah will rebuild the city wall and make Jerusalem a city, not just a village.

Our story begins in Susa, the winter capital of the Persian Empire. Nehemiah is the “chief cupbearer” for the King of Persia, Artaxerxes I. A cupbearer is a chamberlain, in this case, to the King. He was a trusted servant in charge of caring for the King’s personal needs. They knew the king’s itinerary, traveled with the king when he traveled, set out the clothes the King would wear, advised him of social protocols, and tasted both the king’s meals and drinks, to guarantee both their flavor and safety. Assassination via “mushroom soup” was a potential reality in the royal courts of the Ancient World.

He was also a true believer in his Jewish God. A man of piety, and, as we will see, organizational ability. In the course of time, working in the Citadel, or Palace of Susa, he receives a visitor, a brother or close cousin, named Hanani who traveled from Judah, probably on official business. Nehemiah asked enthusiastically about those who had “survived the [Babylonian] captivity by returning to Judah” (my paraphrase of 1:2). Hanani replied that the city of Jerusalem, even after 100 yrs of the first “return” was a weak, poor, and small village. Not only was there no wall about the city, but the old wall and gates were still there, ruined and burned, visible to all to see. Jerusalem was a “ruined” city. God’s Holy Temple, stood midst the ruins of the old city, unprotected and ungarnished. Not a positive representative of the “Great God of Heaven” whose Temple was in that place.

Nehemiah was horrified. God could not be glorified with such poor surroundings. What could he do to remedy this situation for Judah and the Jews worldwide? He turned to prayer. So often we want to solve a situation, and turn first to planning, then to ask God’s blessing on our plans. Nehemiah did just the oppose, he went into prayer and fasting, then let God lead him into God’s plan.

His prayer begins by reminding God of His greatness (1:5). Now God does not need to be reminded, but we need to remember Who we are praying to. Prayer is not our giving a wish list to Santa Claus, or listing a bucket list of things we want to do before we die. The request in being “processed,” so to speak, by the “Great God of the Heaven,” who created the universe.

In verse 6, he confesses the sins of both himself, Israel, and his fathers. They forsook the Law of Moses, so God “forsook” them to their enemies. Then in verse 8 he reminds God of His promise to restore Israel. Based on the promise of God, Nehemiah asks God to restore Jerusalem to a city of good reputation. This restoration was not for Israel’s glory, or to make Nehemiah proud, but to glorify God before a watching world (1:9-10).

Nehemiah concludes by asking how he personally can help. He is not asking for God to provide some great builder to come along and do all the work. “Lord send us a . . . .” We’ve all been there. Praying that someone else will come along and do the work. Nehemiah reminds the Lord (who does not need reminding), “I am the cupbearer, can ‘the man’ I work for possibly be moved to assist in this endeavor” (again my paraphrase).

As a New Year begins, are there needs at Vets Chapel, and within each of our families, and communities where help is needed? How should you pray about the solution to the situation? Is there a way each of us might be able to be part of the solution? May each of us strive to pray and plan to the glory of God this year.

God Bless you,

CH Jim Odell


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