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.
You may think that Nehemiah 3 is not the most exciting chapter in the Bible. It's a long list of names, many of which we find hard to pronounce. The first two chapters may seem much more exciting.
But wait a minute: this is the story of the job getting done. This is Nehemiah's heart cry being answered. This is people putting faith into action. This is a vast group of people co-operating to achieve a big goal. This is what success looks like.
We love the idea of miracles, but success is often about a lot of hard work.
Nehemiah somehow got things organised. There is a hint that not everyone was enthusiastic, but Nehemiah somehow managed to get the whole wall built. There were no gaps. We've admired him already for his prayer and his ability to get things started. Let's admire his ability to organise. He was able to see things through.
Let's give three cheers today for those who are good at organising. We depend on them. Church would fall apart without them. Projects wouldn't run. People wouldn't be cared for. Dreams become reality when you have good organisation, whether we are talking about plans for a night shelter, a foodbank, pastoral care or just about anything. The book of Acts tells us that the first major problem was an organisational one. Paul gave detailed instructions about the way worship was to be organised, as well as the way that widows and orphans were to receive help.
Let's also give three cheers to people who do the work that organisers give them. In this chapter there are some unlikely builders. There are people who seem to have been called in from outside the city. They were not all talented construction workers; they were people prepared to do their part so that the job would be done. Some of them had to do more than one job. This is what success looks like.
Let's see this chapter as a picture of the church with everyone working together to achieve a great goal. Let's see the organiser and the organised working together effectively. Let's see people working together to get the job done.
I love Nehemiah 3.
Sometimes we know that things need to change. When the story of God's people seems to have gone off track then someone has to do something about it. Sometimes it will take a lot of people to get things back on course.
I love the way Nehemiah goes about things. First of all he prays, as we saw last week, but he does not stop there. Four months after he starts to pray he makes his move.
First of all he lets his sadness show. He was known for being a happy man but this time he let the sadness show on his face. Then he spoke to the king. He was afraid to do this but he prayed again and then he asked the king for help. He wanted time off, safe-passage and a load of resources. We need people like this in the church: brave people who are there in the right place at the right time with the right gifts who are prepared to step out and make things happen.
Next he looks very carefully at what needs to be done. He does it quietly so he dose not draw attention to himself. he needs to know exactly what he is talking about.
Then he spoke to the people. They all knew that something had to be done. It was time for someone to tell them to step up. Nehemiah was the man, and he could already show that God had given him favour with the king. The people reply, 'let us start rebuilding' and they begin to do the work.
It's been said that the job of a leader is to show that things are not as they should be and to help people get from 'here' to 'there.' Nehemiah was a great leader. He had faith. He prayed. He saw what needed to be done. He took action. He motivated people. And as we shall see next time, the job got done.
Our church doesn't need to be full of Nehemiahs, but it could really do with a few. Who is God calling?
Nehemiah was a man of action and bravery. He was also a good organiser. But more of that in the next few weeks. Today we are going to look at Nehemiah as a person who prayed.
Nehemiah believed in God. He also believed that he was part of a big story. He believed in a God who was committed to his people and who had promised to love them no matter what. If God's people were in a mess then Nehemiah knew that it was worth praying for them, because he could call on God's consistent love.
You can't tame this God as Nehemiah knew very well. But you can remind him of his promises. He has promised to love his people. He has promised to restore them when they turn to him. God is a covenant keeping God.
Nehemiah wept because things were not going well. He prayed. He fasted. He mourned. This wasn't how he normally behaved. He knew that God had invested in these people. He was distressed to see the plan of God going off course.
So what about us? Well Nehemiah rebuilt a wall and we have started work on our Community Hall. There's a long way to go and a lot of faith needed. So let's pray today as Nehemiah did.
But more importantly, let's pray as people who are part of a big story. Jesus loves his church. He is in a covenant of love with us. He has given his church the job of representing him in the world. We can't tame God but we are part of his great big plan. Let's love the church, let's love our church.
Nehemiah prayed for success. He asked for success because he was about God's business. And he had a plan which needed God's backing. What a great example.
Jesus promises to bless those who believe.
That sounds a bit trivial but there's nothing trivial about it. Jesus calls this blessing eternal life. Jesus burst from the tomb so he could share his resurrection life with you.
Of course, we can struggle to receive this blessing. That's nothing new. The Bible tells us about Thomas who was a disciple of Jesus, but who found that he couldn't believe the things that his friends were telling him. The stories of people seeing the nail-pierced hands of Jesus made no sense to him. He could not believe and he would not believe until he had seen what they had seen. Thomas needed to see for himself the nail-pierced hands and the marks in the side For Thomas the resurrection had not happened until it happened to him personally.
You and I are not going to get the same experience that Thomas had, but this story encourages us to be like Thomas. Jesus can give us the sign that we need. He can make the resurrection happen for us, personally. John's gospel says that Jesus gave many signs to many people and most of them aren't in the Bible, simply because there wasn't enough room. Every sign was different. Jesus cared for his friends and he revealed himself to them. He cares for us too.
Thomas believed in the resurrection of Jesus because he saw what he thought he needed to see. Jesus says that those who believe without seeing are blessed. Jesus can do many different signs. He still does. If you seek him you will find him. Or perhaps better, he will find you. And that means eternal life.
This Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Bring your faith and your doubts. Come as honestly as Thomas did. Jesus can give you the sign that you need.
Good Friday is a day to look carefully. It's a day of immense sadness but there is much more to it than that.
It's the day when a dying man asked another dying man to remember him when he comes as king.
It's the day a Roman centurion heard a crucified man shouting, and praised God for doing the impossible.
It's the day a good man chose to honour the death of another good man.
It's the day women went to prepare spices and perfumes, little knowing what they were preparing for.
You don't have to wait for Easter Sunday to praise God. but if you get Good Friday you will be ready to celebrate on Sunday.
Please, if you are able, join us for worship at 10:00am this Friday.