It was a cushy job. And he knew it. It was probably the best job in the kingdom, and he was well aware of how lucky he was to have it. Work wasn’t always easy to find especially when you were a foreigner. Many of his friends worked as labourers, and in unskilled positions. Even those who had followed a professional pathway found a lot of doors closed because of their race or religion.
There had always been those barriers, and stumbling blocks but he had risen above them. Pulled himself up by his own bootstraps so to speak and made good. A real rags-to-riches story. And he never let a day go by without thanking God for being where he was.
It was a cushy job. And he knew it. It meant that he didn’t have to work in the hot sun and that he never had to worry about going hungry or having a place to sleep at night. It meant security for his family. It meant having a comfortable place to live, and plenty to eat. And he really didn’t relish the thoughts of disrupting his life at all. It was a cushy job. And he knew it and he wasn’t going to let anything ruin the good thing he had going.
His name was Nehemiah, and the bible tells us in Nehemiah 1:11 that he was cupbearer to the king. And while that might not mean much to us, it meant a lot to Nehemiah. You see it really was a cushy job, he did exactly what his title implied he did. He carried the king’s cup.
In a time when kings were deposed in a much more permanent way then what happened to Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole, there was always a fear that one might find oneself drinking strychnine wine. Thus you had a cupbearer whose job it was to ensure that your cup was not hazardous to your health. He carried that cup with him everywhere he went, it never left his sight, and he could always reassure the king that when his drinks were poured that there would be nothing wrong with the cup.
Now the only drawback with the job was that Nehemiah always got to have the first drink out of the cup, just in case. But being an optimist, Nehemiah’s outlook was “so far, so good.” Nehemiah had it made, and he knew it.
Nehemiah Was Where He Wasn’t Supposed to Be
The history of war, colonization and cultural genocide is wrapped up in the story of humanity.
And the story of Israel is no different. You can read the story of the Jews through the Old Testament and their power as a nation peaked with King David and his son, Solomon around 1000 years before the birth of Christ. After the reign of King Solomon, the Kingdom split in two. The Northern Kingdom, called Israel and the Southern Kingdom called Judah
In 722 BC, Israel was conquered by the Assyrians, and it was at that point that the 10 northern tribes of Israel were dispersed. Thus, becoming the 10 Lost Tribes, not to be confused with the Lost Boys of Peter Pan lore.
And then in 586 BC The Southern Kingdom, or Judah was conquered by the Babylonians, who in turn were conquered by the Persians fifty years later.
If you want to keep going, the Persians were defeated by Alexander the Great and the Greeks in 334 BC, who in turn were conquered by the Romans in 146 BC, who eventually fell to the Germanic Kings around 476 AD. Are you keeping score?
Historians tell us that when the Babylonians conquered a nation, their strategy was to destroy the very culture of the nation. They took the young men and women away from their homes and made them slaves. They outlawed the national religions and restricted the language.
And so, the reason that Nehemiah wasn’t where he should have been, was a government mandate. He wasn’t allowed to be in his spiritual home, Jerusalem. He had no choice.
And we understand that in a way now that would have been inconceivable before March of 2020 when suddenly we were told that we could no longer be in our spiritual homes. In our case that would be Cornerstone.
But remember that things didn’t stay the same for Nehemiah, he didn’t have to stay away from his spiritual home.
The Persians conquered the Babylonians in 536 and they, on the other hand, were kinder, gentler conquerors.
The website, study.com sums it up this way, “The Babylonians sought to fully integrate conquered peoples into their empire, the Persians were far more affable; conquered peoples were allowed to practice their own religion, speak in their native tongue, and continue to appoint their own local officials (who were, of course, subject to the authority of an appointed satrap).
And our story is set under Persian rule. Six years after those who had been exiled from Israel had been allowed to return home.
But, for whatever reason, Nehemiah had chosen not to return with the other exiles.
Six months ago, mandates and restrictions were lifted for local churches in Nova Scotia. And many of you have returned to your spiritual home.
However, there are folks around the province and around the world who, for a variety of reasons have chosen not to return to in-person worship services after two and a half years of living with the pandemic.
They had a church home prior to March 2020 and attending church in person was a regular and integral part of their lives. They considered it a priority.
But things changed, and since then some have chosen to attend a different church than the church they attended before COVID.
Some others have chosen to stop attending church altogether, and others choose to join their church each week in front of a monitor or television set.
And regardless of what they have chosen to do, they all have reasons for their decisions.
Now, in a local context, as pastor of Cornerstone, those who have chosen to attend another church are not a major concern. If they found a place where they can connect and be fed spiritually, then I’m not worried about them.
But for each of us who have invested our lives into those who make Cornerstone their home, we’ve married them, baptized them and dedicated their children and it hurts when they move on.
So, please, if the day comes that you make that decision, please don’t tell me not to take it personally.
However, I do worry about those who have decided to stop attending church completely.
If I didn’t think that church was important and corporate worship was important, then I would have followed in my father and grandfather’s footsteps and been Captain Guptill and not Pastor Guptill.
For those people, I would say please don’t give up on the church, and please, please, please don’t set the example for your children that church attendance is irrelevant or unimportant. Because someday you will wonder why your children have no interest in God or his people.
For those of you who are still worshipping online, I would just ask that you ask yourself, why?
And maybe you have good reasons. But this might be a time to examine your habits. If you have returned to school and work, the gym, and the hockey rink, then maybe it’s time to take your pyjamas off, put your Sunday go-to-meeting clothes on and come home.
Let’s go back to the story.
Nehemiah 1:11 O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honouring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favourable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” In those days I was the king’s cupbearer.
We will probably never know why Nehemiah stayed in Susa, but if I had to guess I would say it was because 2) He Was Comfortable Being Away
It’s easy to get comfortable in this life, and comfortable is nice. It’s, comfortable.
Nehemiah had a good job, he lived in the palace and got to attend fancy dinners and hang out with the King. He had probably considered returning to Judah, but that would have entailed risk and who knew what was at the other end.
He would have had to find a place to live, a new job and make new friends. We don’t know for sure when Nehemiah left Judah originally, but things would have been different when he returned. And that’s not easy, or comfortable.
Cornerstone isn’t the church it was in February 2020.
There are folks who were here then, who aren’t here now. There are people who are here now, who weren’t here then. It might not feel as familiar, but I’ve checked and not one of the new people bites.
Our programs have changed, things are different, and for many of us, things being different is not in our comfort zone.
If we are honest, it was easy to get comfortable during COVID.
Working from home, fewer activities we were expected to be at. Watching church in our pyjamas.
I’m a bit of a homebody, so for me to have to stay home and read every evening after work, wasn’t a challenge at all, it was quite comfortable.
When the first lockdown happened, it impacted how we could worship. And for two years we followed all the guidelines set down by the province and the Department of Health. By the time the guidelines lifted, I was on a first-name basis with Dr. Strang
And so, for the first four months of COVID, on Sunday Morning there was just Stefan and me here to Livestream the service, well and the guy who banged on the door every Sunday wondering why we weren’t open.
And we got comfortable with that, then we were allowed to open our doors with restricted capacity and things became a little more difficult.
And for the summer of 2020, our service simply consisted of preaching and scripture reading and, on most Sundays, around 35 folks gathered for worship.
It was weird, those who attended were wearing their masks, staying socially distanced and not touching one another. And that wasn’t as easy or as comfortable as when there was just Stefan and me.
And then, in the fall, we were able to add music, some more chairs and children’s ministry and then a service at Windgate. And then we were locked down and opened up and locked down and opened up again and again. And each change required us to step out of our comfort zone.
Change is never easy. It was forced on us in March of 2020, and we didn’t have a choice, and many people became comfortable working from home, shopping from home and worshipping from home. But each step in returning to normal was a step outside our comfort zone.
But as Christians, we aren’t called to be comfortable, we are called to be obedient.
Over the past two years, many of us have become comfortable with having “church light”.
We’ve justified our reduced attendance and reduced commitment. We’re playing it safe; we’re being responsible, being online is almost the same as being there in person and church looks different than it used.
I was talking to a long-term pastor last week, and he told me that for the first time in his 30 years as a pastor, he was actually thinking about quitting. His reason? He said he was disappointed with his people.
If we are going to do what God has called Cornerstone to do, it will require all of us stepping outside of our comfort zones.
When John F. Kennedy was president he wrote “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.”
If we are convinced of the validity of the gospel and the value of Cornerstone, we will need to step outside of our comfort zones. Worshipping together isn’t just about us, it’s part of what makes Cornerstone a welcoming church and makes it easy for those who normally don’t attend church to start attending church.
When Apple computer’s co-founder Steve Jobs approached John Sculley, vice president of Pepsi, about coming on board with Apple as chairman of the company, he asked him this question, “Are you content to spend your life selling fizzy water or do you want to change the world?”
And so, we have to ask ourselves do we want to spend our Christian life simply being comfortable or do we want to change the world?
The prophet Amos warned the people of Israel in Amos 6:1 NIV Woe to you who are complacent in Zion. . . I wonder if we could replace the word complacent with comfortable?
It’s easy to get comfortable but singer Jon Bon Jovi warns us, “Don’t get too comfortable with who you are at any given time – you may miss the opportunity to become who you want to be.”
And then one day, into Nehemiah’s comfortable little life came an interruption.
His brother had just come back from Jerusalem and we pick up the story in Nehemiah 1:2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came to visit me with some other men who had just arrived from Judah. I asked them about the Jews who had returned there from captivity and about how things were going in Jerusalem.
He was just passing time. You know you run into somebody from the old hometown, and you say, “how’s everybody doing?”
You don’t really care but it is the proper thing to do. “Hi, how are you? Oh, really and everybody in the old neighbourhood? Good, good.”
You know how it’s done but this time instead of hearing that everything was going just fine he was in for a shock because this is what he was told, Nehemiah 1:3 They said to me, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”
He Was Challenged Now to be frank that wasn’t what our hero wanted to hear, he wanted to hear that everything was going all right. But that wasn’t the story. In fact, the story was just the opposite, things were going rotten.
And that got to Nehemiah, he may well have been living in exile and living the life of Riley, so to speak, but he was still a Jew at heart and Jerusalem was still his spiritual home, and to hear about the tragedy surrounding those who had chosen to return to Jerusalem broke his heart.
His reaction is recorded in Nehemiah 1:4 When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.
Nehemiah was upset, and the news shook him. Probably if he had stopped to think about it before he would have realized that was what was happening, but he had never stepped out of his comfort zone before long enough to be concerned about anything except for his own welfare.
And then God intrudes into our comfort zone to remind us that there are men and women, boys and girls out there who don’t know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and that they are going to die and go to hell, and then he has the nerve to remind us of Matthew 28:19–20 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
And we won’t be obedient to Christ’s command if we insist on remaining comfortable.
We’re not here simply as a comfort club for the saints we are here to make a difference.
And so, in his concern, Nehemiah began to pray and began to ask God, “Why don’t you do something?”
But the problem didn’t go away, and it weighed down Nehemiah’s spirit, and this normal happy-go-lucky guy began to look down and act down until even his boss noticed that this wasn’t the same old Nehemiah. In Nehemiah 2:2 So the king asked me, “Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.” Then I was terrified,
Hey Nehemiah, what’s wrong? How come you look like your puppy died? And Nehemiah explained the entire thing to the king, because when you are concerned about something you like to spread the concern around.
And so, Nehemiah poured out his heart to the king. And the king did something totally unspiritual; instead of asking “what is God going to do about this?” he asked, “What do you want me to do about this?”
And so, Nehemiah gave a typical Christian response and said, “let me pray about it.” As if he hadn’t already been praying about it for five months.
And while the scriptures don’t give us a complete description of the conversation that Nehemiah had with God, we can only presume that it went somewhere along these lines.
“God, it’s me, Nehemiah, ah look the king wants to know what he should do about Jerusalem. It’s like a real answer to prayer; you know when I prayed that you would call up somebody to fix the walls around Jerusalem. I’m really glad that you answered the prayer, so like what do you want the king to do?
You want him to give me some time off? Sure, like I could always use a vacation but what do you want the king to do concerning the walls of Jerusalem? You want him to give me some time off so I can go and fix the walls surrounding Jerusalem.
God, that isn’t what I had in mind when I prayed that you would call somebody to fix the walls. I mean like what’s wrong with my brother Hanani? Like here am I, send Hanani. Oh, you want me huh?”
Have you ever had discussions like that with God? “Hey God, why don’t you call somebody to do this?” And the next thing you know he’s saying, “Hey not a problem, go for it.”
And you are thinking, “No God, you don’t understand, I wanted somebody else to do it.”
But Nehemiah bit the bullet and went back to the king and told him Nehemiah 2:5 I replied, “If it pleases the king, and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.”
4) He Was Committed I like Nehemiah’s vision at this point, notice he didn’t say he wanted to go look at the wall, or he wasn’t going to pray over the wall, he wasn’t even going to look to see if it could be done. He said that he was going to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, plain and simple.
And we have to realize that in this life God doesn’t expect us to operate as the Lone Ranger. As God asks us as individuals and corporately, that is as a group to do things, we need to realize that he will never ask us to do anything that he won’t provide us with the ability to do. And so, Nehemiah decides that he’s off to rebuild the wall surrounding Jerusalem.
The Bible doesn’t tell us at this point how long Nehemiah said he would need to do the job, but if we jump ahead a bit into Nehemiah 5:14 we discover that it took Nehemiah twelve years to complete his task.
Nehemiah didn’t really plan on doing the job in a week, a month or even a year. He realized that he had to set a realistic goal. God does perform miracles, there is no doubt about that, and the fact that Nehemiah was able to reconstruct the walls of Jerusalem at all was a miracle, but God often uses men, and women and the talents that they have to perform his miracles.
As we look at where God wants Cornerstone to be and to go over the next few years, we need to not only look at what God can do, but what God can do through us. How much are we willing to do to see the task completed?
Nehemiah surrendered twelve years of comfort, twelve years of his “cushy job” and twelve years of his life. And because of that willingness, God was able to perform a miracle through Nehemiah’s life.
How willing are we to allow ourselves to be used for miracles? How often are we willing to pay the price? We set the goals, we dream the dreams, and we see the visions. But are we willing to go to the mark and say; “Here I am God, I am willing to do whatever go wherever and give however much you ask.”
And so Nehemiah packed up everything he had, piled it on the back of his camel, and struck out across the desert toward Jerusalem. When he got to Jerusalem, he looked at the rubble surrounding the gates and walls of the city and after surveying the damage he called a general meeting of the people and told them what God had laid on his heart.
When Nehemiah had shared the burden on his heart with the people of Jerusalem, they responded in Nehemiah 2:18 by saying Nehemiah 2:18 . . . “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!” . . .
Welcome back, now the question is, are we willing to say, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!”