A HOLY NATION
Scriptures: Nehemiah 8: 1 – 10; I Peter 2: 1 – 10
For the last several years you have heard over and over the story of Nehemiah and the re-building of the wall around Jerusalem. It tells of how Nehemiah, upon hearing of the destruction of his homeland, became heartbroken and despondent. Try though he did to mask his feelings from King Artaxerxes for whom he served as cupbearer, his sad countenance did not go unnoticed. The King gave Nehemiah time off to return to his homeland to do what he could to redeem the situation. In addition to time off, the King gave Nehemiah Letters of Introduction to present to the Governors through whose territories he would travel. He sent captains and horsemen as escorts. And he gave Nehemiah permission to gather timbers from the Royal Forest Reserves to provide the lumber he would need to rebuild the City Gates.
You spent more than a Quadrennial “Rebuilding the wall.”
Issuing “Calls to the wall!” “Passing bricks!”
According to the Scripture, when the Wall was finally finished and the Gates hung, a call went out to all of the people who had scattered – the diaspora – to return, and to register by ancestry and Tribe. The listing of names that appears in Nehemiah 8 is an indication of how detailed the registration was. They gathered in celebration of the joining of the Wall and of the hanging of the Gates!
We applaud the work of Nehemiah!
The repair of the wall was critical to National security. But the story did not begin nor does it end with the Wall. It was not about the Wall!
With all of the attention focused on the Wall, two (2) other very important aspects of this story are often overlooked or under estimated.
First, we should not underestimate the role of Ezra. Fourteen (14) years before Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to commence work on the Wall, Ezra, scribe/priest, had already been there on another mission.
While Nehemiah concentrated his attention on the Wall, on fortifying the City, Ezra focused his attention on rebuilding the Altar – the center of worship – and on laying the foundation of the Temple. The new Temple which was constructed fifty (50) years after the destruction of the former Temple built by Solomon, was not as grand. “Many…that had seen the First House, when the foundation was laid (for the New Temple)…wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy.” (Ezra 3: 12). In Haggai 2: 3, 9, the Lord asked, “Does anyone remember this House – Temple – in its former splendor…In comparison it must seem like nothing at all? But the future glory of this Temple will be greater than its past glory.”
Ezra was a student of the Law. The Law of Moses was his specialty. It was not uncommon that while the workers rested for Ezra to conduct study sessions on the “Covenant of God.”
Nehemiah and Ezra did not work at cross purposes, but they worked with different emphasis. Nehemiah worked on the outside. Ezra worked on the inside.
Next, Nehemiah realized that rebuilding the Wall was not an End unto itself. Once the Wall was rebuilt, and the City was fortified, Nehemiah turned his attention to Nation building. He knew that it would not be an overnight venture, but a gradual process.
First, the people of God had to be reminded of the transgressions that led to their banishment, their exile, their estrangement from God, on one hand, then they must be comforted by being shown a way back to God, on the other hand.
Secondly, since the Temple was symbolic of the presence of God among the People of God, it was not only important that they rebuild the Temple, but they must also restore the Temple Order. They must dispel many of the worldly influences that they had picked up while in bondage
or exile or as sojourners in strange and distant lands.
Thirdly, they would hold a Revival, a time of Spiritual Reawakening – Listening to what the Spirit is saying to the Church. (Revelation 2 and 3)
Finally, after having regained peace with God, they would enter a Season of Jubilee, a Season of Peace and of Rest!
To initiate the RETURN TO GOD, Nehemiah sent for Ezra the Scribe, the authority on the Law, and commissioned him to teach the people what it means to be A HOLY NATION.
Nehemiah 8 tells of how they all gathered as one man – all came – to hear.
The place where they gathered was in the Court of the Watergate. The Watergate (Not to be associated or confused with “Watergate” of Richard Nixon infamy) was the place where justice was administered, where oaths were taken and where vows were made. The Watergate itself was near the Gihon (gi’hon) Spring, the only source of fresh water in the City.
This is significant!
Its symbolism is profound!
A wooden structure was erected for Ezra to stand on so that all the people who gathered could hear him. Levites, the Priestly line of Israel, were summoned to help explain those aspects of the Law that may have been difficult to understand. A trumpet blast preceded the Word which was the Trumpet of God!
The people realized as the Law was read that even now they were not able to keep the whole Law. There was none righteous, no not one.
But remember where they were assembled!
They were in the Court of the Watergate fed by the Gihon Spring! (Gihon means ‘gushed forth!’) They were in the Court of the Watergate where the water gushed forth!
“Surely He hath bourn our grief and carried our sorrow…He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes, we are healed.” (Isaiah 53: 4, 5)
“See from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down, Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?”
Water is symbolic of refreshing, of renewal, of cleansing!
The Scripture says that when they heard the Law they wept, they cried aloud. They turned their faces to the earth in shame! Following the destruction of Jerusalem, they had scattered to distant lands. Not only had they picked up some of the practices of their hosts, some had entered into relationships forbidden by Jewish Law. Some had intermarried – had wives and children. They could not just walk away – abandon their families. In response to their lamentation, the Priest said to them (Nehemiah 8: 10), “This is not a time for sorrow, “For the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Look around you!
You are surrounded by symbols of forgiveness, of refreshing, of
~The Quadrennial Calendar~
After having observed what appears to have been sufficient “work on the Wall of the Fifth Episcopal District,” I asked the Lord, “What next?” “What will fortify us – visibly and invisibly – center us, yet be flexible and expansive enough to connect us wherever we chance to be?”
The Lord’s response was to challenge us to walk in our destiny as the People of God, A Holy Nation. The challenge is not that we “strive to be,” but that we “walk in its reality,” here and now.
The “call to holiness” is not new to us. In fact, it is one of the “pillars of Methodism.” John Wesley and his small circle of associates at Oxford were called “The Holy Club” because of their “methodical practice” of self-discipline, of prayer and Bible reading, of fasting, and of benevolence.
At a prayer meeting on Aldersgate Street when his heart became “strangely warmed,” Wesley was convinced that this “moving of the Spirit” was the assurance of his salvation.
When Richard Allen was looking for a religious group best suited for People of Color – slaves, former slaves, bondmen and free – he chose Methodism because “among its privileges are peculiar incitements to holiness!” (If you got good religion, it’s alright to show some sign!) Additionally, Methodism provides order and accountability.
So, as Methodist, holiness is in our DNA!
As with Israel, to make up for lost ground, to fully embrace HOLINESS, is not an overnight enterprise. With that understanding, I propose that we dedicate the entire Quadrennial to do the task.
The First Year will be our Season of Lent – The emphasis will be on Purification and Penance. Themes: The Decalogue (Ten Commandments); the Beatitudes; Lent; Advent; Morality; Ethics; Forgiveness! “Forgiveness means letting go of stuff that you have been carrying far too long.” (Stuck on stupid!) Forgiveness is not always about others, sometimes forgiveness is an act that we (you and I personally) must perform in order for us to move on.
The Color is Blue.
The Logo is Water (Throw all that stuff into the Sea of Forgetfulness, and then post a sign, “NO Fishing!”) Or a Rainbow.
The Second Year will be our Season of Epiphany – The emphasis will be on Restoring the Temple Order. We achieve this through “training.” Themes: Roles of Priest, Prophets, Pastors, Lagos (lay); Regard for the Holy – Holy House/Holy things/God’s people are Holy unto Him/Ministers of the Gospel are Holy unto Him!
(Let me say a word about VISIONING! If teamwork is going to make the dream work, then there must be the clear understanding that there can be only ONE CAPTAIN calling the plays. Submit to visionary leadership! (“For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for battle?” I Corinthians 14: 8) Your pastor is the “team leader.” The team members execute! If the extent of your vision for your church is “I shall not be moved,” and if you are determined to resist any suggestion of change, then the dream will never work.)
The Color is White.
The Logo is a Candle near an Open Bible (“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needs not be ashamed…” II Timothy 2: 15)
The Third Year will be our Season of Pentecost – The emphasis will be on Evangelism/rekindling the Fire of the Spirit. Themes:
Paul’s Missionary Journeys; Seeking the lost; Intentional Evangelism.
The Color is Red.
The Logo is a Flame.
The Fourth Year is our Season of Kingdomtide (Ordinary Time) – The emphasis is on Ministry in the local context. Themes: Care of the Local congregation; Edifice; Community; Mission; Advocate for something/someone – “Latch onto a cause that has eternity in it and let it lift you.” (The Late Bishop Howard Thomas Primm)
The Color is Green.
The Logo is Something in bloom.
These will be our Themes/Emphasis for preaching, Bible study, retreats.
For one Quadrennial, for four (4) years, you don’t have to rack your brain to come up with a Theme for the work in your local church. This is it. Follow it. Make it the emphasis for your preaching and Bible study, and Annual Days, and Retreats.