We practise believers' baptism. We believe that baptism should be done at the request of the person being baptised. It is something we enter freely.
J Almost two thousand years ago, John the Baptist's cry was 'prepare the way for the Lord!' This baptism was about getting ready for God's big move. It was about God raising up a family who would do his work. He called people to opt in.
Then Jesus arrived and asked to be baptised. John thought that this was the wrong way round but in the end he agreed. As Jesus was baptised the Holy Spirit came down upon him and a voice from heaven said that he was God's beloved Son and that God was pleased with him. A picture of this event is the centrepiece of our stained glass window.
The early believers found that they had a similar experience. They didn't see a dove but they experienced the Holy Spirit deep within, crying out to God as Father. They made it their aim to please him. They knew, from deep experience, that they were loved. Generations of believers have found the same thing.
On Sunday the baptismal pool in our church is open. Together we will celebrate.
Jesus died shouting the words 'It is finished,' He prayed, telling that Father that he had completed the work he had been given to do. Here in Nehemiah chapter 6 the wall is built. Nehemiah has completed the task he set out to do. That isn't the end of the story, but as far as the wall is concerned it is 'job done.'
Lots of people get enthusiastic about Jesus and about church, but meet them a while later and they are saying things like, 'I haven't lost my faith but ...' Too often we lack the staying power to complete the work God has given us.
Nehemiah is a great example of someone who will not give up until the job is completed. He says he is involved in a great project and he won't step down from it. If we want to complete anything it will help if we see it as a great project, as something that is worthy of our energy. I'm not talking here about a feeling that we 'ought' to do something; I am talking about a passion that works deeply within us. I hope you believe, as I do, that church is a great project.
I take my hat off to people who are prepared to train for months or years to run marathons, to become doctors or to master a musical instrument. But I also admire those who like Nehemiah believe in the big story of God and commit their lives to it.
Nehemiah shows at least three characteristics of people who get the job done.
1. He refuses to be distracted. He knows his mission and no one can deflect him from it.
2. He behaves properly, so that people who spread rumours about him will not have a leg to stand on.
3. When he succeeds he gives the glory to God. Because it was always about God.
More on Sunday …
While Nehemiah makes sure that the wall is rebuilt, everything else is spiralling out of control. People are short of food, giving up their properties as security for their debts, paying ridiculous rates of interest and tax and even being sold into slavery.
The wall is essential but it is not enough. The poor are suffering while the rich make money out of them. Nehemiah, as always, jumps into action. The rich need a stern talking to.
Before anyone jumps at me, I'm not saying it's a sin to be rich. I am saying that we who believe need a heart for those who are poor. There are times when, as in the biblical letter of James, the rich need to learn to weep and wail. Nehemiah tells the rich to stop charging interest and to stop taking people's source of income as security for their loans. He tells them, in no uncertain terms, that God cares about these things. He also tries to act as an example, as someone who helps those who poor and someone who treats them well.
We could respond to this in so many ways. There are lots of good projects we could support, local and across the world. We could campaign against laws and practices that hurt the poor. We could give money to the church's Care Fund. We could make sure that the less well off are supported . If you are short of ideas take a look at the justice section of the BMS World Mission website.
Nehemiah prays that God will look on him with favour. He knows the way to God's heart, as much here as in any other chapter of the book.
It all looked so good. There was a big job to do but everyone was doing their bit. It was early days, but everything was going smoothly. Then it got tough. There were people who didn't want the wall built . They were powerful. First they tried ridicule. Then they made direct threats. Slowly the job got more tiring. Those who travelled to the work thought it might be safer staying at home.
I'm guessing that, for most of us, the life of faith is tougher than we first thought it would be. We too face opposition, fatigue and the thought that everything might be simpler if we chose an easier life. (If you've never felt this, maybe you could do with taking your faith more seriously?)
Nehemiah knows what to do. First he prays. Prayer was the key to getting this far and it will be the key to getting further. It's an honest prayer, the sort of prayer we could do with praying more often.
Then he takes action. It's time to stand up to the opposition. The key thing here is that he gets everyone together and encourages them to act as one group. Sure, it was great when everyone was doing their own little bit; that's how jobs get done. But a 'you in your small corner and I in mine' approach leaves everyone vulnerable. People learn to conquer their fear when they are together and when everyone has everyone else's back.
You may have your own 'small corner' where you serve Christ. Great. But remember the picture from our prayer evening: a strong church is a church that prays together. Remember our strapline: Discovering God Together. Individuals get picked off easily. It's harder to defeat an army.
It's all age worship this Sunday with breakfast at 9. As Nehemiah says, the best way to celebrate a sacred day is with food, drink and rejoicing.
Sunday is special to us because it is the day of resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead and we make a big deal of it.
The Levites tell the people to be still, but they don't mean 'be quiet.' They mean stop weeping, calm down. Stop mourning all that is wrong and start celebrating all that is right.
Sometimes we need help to see the celebration. We can feel lost, lonely or guilty. Church, at its best, provides a place where can refocus on our great God and be amazed at all he has done. We hear God's word once more and it energises us.
So this Sunday: the joy of the Lord is our strength. Sometimes it's just right to party.