As I’ve been digging into this work that I’ve been appointed to, the work of creating a new worshipping body here in Bennington, Vermont, I cannot help but remember the story of Nehemiah.
I’m not going to relate his entire story. That’s not what this is about. For now, suffice it to say that Nehemiah took upon himself the task of restoring Israel, and he journaled about it. His journal is included among the texts of our Bible, a book called, appropriately, Nehemiah.
It’s his words.
The story itself is about, at least ostensibly, building a wall. Nehemiah understands that the Israelites who were not deported into exile are suffering at the hands of their neighbors because they have no fortifications to protect themselves from raids and plunderers. And so Nehemiah goes to Israel and begins the work of wall-building.
But the wall is only the vehicle for the true work of Nehemiah. To everyone else it looks like Nehemiah is helping the people of Israel build a wall. But I believe Nehemiah understood the true import of his work. He wasn’t helping the people of Israel build a wall. He was helping God build a people called Israel.
When he got to Jerusalem, Nehemiah was saddened to see a fractured people; a people who profited at one another’s expense. A people who were far from God. And so he undertook his great work, and stone by stone, person by person, peasant and noble alike, the people slowly came together, and the wall slowly grew. And by the end, Nehemiah’s wall was built, and he turned his attention, and that of his newly re-formed people, society, towards how to live as a people in society.
How to be neighbors.
There are two things in particular that I love about Nehemiah’s journal.
The first is that there are no miracles. There is no magic, no angelic hosts or demonic horde. No healing or feeding of the multitude; no nets so full to bursting that the boats might sink. There are just men and women, weak and mortal and fearful and misguided, and lost… and the work they do to become what God needs them to be.
Second, well, I lied. There is a miracle. Because throughout the book Nehemiah gives thanks to God. Nehemiah understands that all the work he is doing, and all the work the people of Israel are doing, that none of it is possible apart from God. And so he thanks God, often, praising God for what God is accomplishing through him, and through the people.
The word we translate to angel often in the New Testament merely meant “messenger” in the Greek. It might have been a heavenly visitor, yes, but it might have been the person who lives across the street who stopped by one night, or the shop keeper who had a few words to say, or the person who noticed something remarkable and couldn’t help but share.
It might have been a Nehemiah: a person of strength, and vision, and charisma, and, most importantly, of faith, who understood what God was calling him or her to do, and leaned into that call with everything they were. Someone who understood that they had to have complete faith and utter trust in God.
And that God had faith in them as well.
In the Walk to Emmaus movement, one of the taglines is “Christ is counting on you.”
Nehemiah knew that God was counting on him, and he was determined to be the miracle God needed to happen in Jerusalem.
What miracle are you called to be, today?
What miracle am I called to be, today?