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Nehemiah for Today: 3 – Let’s Get On With It!

July 22, 2017

Yesterday the door bell went. At the door was a women I knew slightly by sight but no more. She was concerned. She didn’t know what to do and so she had turned up at my door. She wasn’t concerned about herself, or even about a friend or someone in her family. She was concerned about a man that she hardly knew. She was concerned because this man was homeless and sleeping rough in our little town. She wanted to help him but didn’t know what to do.

She asked about local organisations that could help. I told her about Foodbank and the little bit of help that is available locally but for more I told her that he would have to look to the city. Though even there, I know that the local authority and homeless charities are overwhelmed by the need. I know that the number of people living on the streets of Norwich has increased massively over the last couple of years.

She was helpless and I was helpless too. At least I was helpless to sweep in and sort all of his concerns for him (if he even wanted me to do that). I did though find out that local shopkeepers have been letting him have their good edible food that had gone out of date. I found out about another business who is letting him use their toilet facilities to wash each day. He is looking for work and I know that some are paying him to do gardening jobs.

I realised that some problems are too big for just me to sort, no matter how much I would like to! I also realised that I am not alone in wanting to help; to help this man but also to help more generally. I am part of a community and this man’s plight is not just my problem or his problem; this is a problem for all our my community in church and across my town.

This is what Nehemiah realised (see Nehemiah 5 at the end of this post). He realised that to get his nation back on its feet he needed to get everyone doing their part. He and his friends had done a lot already. With community help they had rebuild the walls, they were also buying back people from slavery and lending money to those with nothing. But her realised that there was another problem that was undoing all that he was trying to do. It was the well-off members of the Jewish community. They were lending to the poor too, but at huge rates of interest. The rich were lending, not to help, but to get even richer. So Nehemiah tackles them too, head on. He gets them to do their part too. He gets the whole community rich and poor behind this scheme to rebuild his nation. Then things start to really come together.

Nehemiah had started by listening hard to find out what the problem really was. He listened and then prayed. He prayed hard for four months, finding God’s solution to the problem. He recognised his own part in the problems and the part he could have in putting things right. He prayed and put his plans in place. He then used his influence as a senior government figure to get the resources that he needed to be able to make a difference. All of the time he worked as God’s servant. He sought to do what he knew God wanted of him and his people. That was where we stopped with Nehemiah 2 from last week.

Now moving to Nehemiah 5, we find the walls rebuilt but there are still problems in Jerusalem.

Again Nehemiah listened carefully to find out what the problem really was, and he found it; high interest loans given to the poor by the rich. He had obviously been praying and focusing on God because, despite being one of those rich Jews, he remembered that God had forbidden his people from lending with interest, particularly among themselves. He has remembered where Moses had instructed God’s people that, When you lend money, food, or anything else to another Israelite, you are not allowed to charge interest. …. if you charge other Israelites interest, the Lord your God will not let you be successful in the land you are about to take.” Deuteronomy 23.19-20

Nehemiah realised that there were still serious problems for his people. So he listened. He prayed. He listened to God through the Bible. Then he planned again. He planned by digging until he found the root cause of the problems. He was already acting charitably but he realised that his charity was only a sticking plaster and not a cure. He could have been overwhelmed by the problems but through prayer and God’s wisdom he was able to break the problems down and find something powerful that he could do. He was a rich nobleman, and spokesman of the King. So he, more than anyone else was in the right position to tackle the problem of the nobles lending with excessive interest.

This throws the problem of that homeless man back onto me. How can I (and my community) address his problem, and the similar problem of so many others? Is homelessness the main problem or just a symptom of deeper problems? Is there a link with the rise in drug use? Is there a link with the large number of struggling families? Is there a link with the number of children in the high school who are dreading having to be at home during the long summer holidays? But there is no point in saying all this, if all I do is moan. I know that moaning won’t do any good.

So, following Nehemiah, it’s back to prayer for me. Back to listening for the answers to questions like:

  1. What is God saying?

  2. How is the love of Jesus to be shown here?

  3. Where is the Spirit already at work?

I know that there is a real task of listening ahead. But whatever comes out in the end, I know that the help that comes will be beyond me. I will need the Father’s wisdom, Jesus’ love and the power of the Spirit every step of the way. I will also need lots of friends, from throughout my community. I know that charity alone is not going to be enough. I know that with the Spirit’s guidance the overwhelming mass of issues will settle. That one or two clear actions will be identified. I know that real good can be done, but only with God firmly in the driving seat.

I pray too that I may be fearless and creative, like Nehemiah. Above all I hope that I remember that I am not alone. God is already at work here in this town. I am not alone in wanting to help; to help this man but also to help more generally. I am part of a community and this man’s plight is not just my problem or his problem; this is a problem for all our my community in church and across my town. This is God’s problem too!

 

—–

Nehemiah 5.1-13

Some of the men and their wives complained about the Jews in power 2 and said, “We have large families, and it takes a lot of grain merely to keep them alive.”

3 Others said, “During the famine we even had to mortgage our fields, vineyards, and homes to them in order to buy grain.”

4 Then others said, “We had to borrow money from those in power to pay the government tax on our fields and vineyards. 5 We are Jews just as they are, and our children are as good as theirs. But we still have to sell our children as slaves, and some of our daughters have already been raped. We are completely helpless; our fields and vineyards have even been taken from us.”

6 When I heard their complaints and their charges, I became very angry. 7 So I thought it over and said to the leaders and officials, “How can you charge your own people interest?”

Then I called a public meeting and accused the leaders 8 by saying, “We have tried to buy back all of our people who were sold into exile. But here you are, selling more of them for us to buy back!” The officials and leaders did not say a word, because they knew this was true.

9 I continued, “What you have done is wrong! We must honor our God by the way we live, so the Gentiles can’t find fault with us. 10 My relatives, my friends, and I are also lending money and grain, but we must no longer demand payment in return. 11 Now give back the fields, vineyards, olive orchards, and houses you have taken and also the interest you have been paid.”

12 The leaders answered, “We will do whatever you say and return their property, without asking to be repaid.”

So I made the leaders promise in front of the priests to give back the property. 13 Then I emptied my pockets and said, “If you don’t keep your promise, that’s what God will do to you. He will empty out everything you own, even taking away your houses.”

The people answered, “We will keep our promise.” Then they praised the Lord and did as they had promised.

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