By Trudy Wischemann
A week ago last Sunday I had the privilege of delivering the message at Lindsay United Methodist Church. Our new pastor, Vai Heimoana, who also serves Exeter UMC, had a busy week ahead and asked me to take up some of the slack. It gave me an opportunity to explore a topic I’d been thinking about for years: the true value of the elders and young people holding down the emptying pews in many of our rural churches.
“Remnants of a former time” is what many of us are, and not just of a time when the pews were full, the Sunday school classes were buzzing, and the choir robes bestowed dignity on the singers who practiced once a week and then delivered their best rendition of the anthems. I think we’re also remnants of times and places where belonging to a place mattered, where community membership counted for something, and where contentment with what God has bestowed upon us was (and still is) experienced.
By some stroke of Grace, the Lectionary’s selection from the Old Testament was in Nehemiah. Nehemiah, along with the Book of Ezra, documents the rebuilding of Jerusalem, not just the physical infrastructure of the wall and the gates, but also rebuilding the community to inhabit it. Through Nehemiah’s efforts, the Jewish remnants who survived the exile were encouraged to rebuild the wall and reclaim their home, then others were recruited to return, including some Gentiles. Not all Jews were included; it was the remnants of the faithful who became the building blocks of the New Jerusalem.
The telling of Jerusalem’s history goes dark in the Bible after Nehemiah. When we pick up the story again 400 years later, the Romans have control of the territory and the Jewish religious/political structure. Nehemiah’s efforts to reacquaint the inhabitants of Jerusalem with the laws given to Moses, to re-establish God’s order here on earth, have been lost. The priests are part of the problem, not the keepers of the solution. It will take John the Baptist and his cousin from Nazareth to turn the tables in the Temple and set us back on the right path. Two thousand years later, we’re still trying to stick to that path.
But who’s to say what would have happened if those remnants in Jerusalem had been lost? What if Nehemiah had not begged the Persian King Artaxerxes to take leave of his job bringing the king his cups of wine and go back to Judah to rebuild his home town? In a way that’s like saying “What if God were not in charge?” But my point really is that God’s building blocks, his raw materials for the future, reside in the present. They’re holding down the pews and the offering plates, and ringing the bells in the steeples every Sunday morning, hoping some will respond to their call.
The pianos are still, waiting to have their covers removed and their keys played once again. The choir robes are hanging in closets, waiting to be worn. The towns are waiting for the faithful to grow in numbers and courage so that they may be re-inhabited as places of the heart. The fields and groves are waiting for hands and eyes to mind their productivity, to protect their future as the base of our sustenance. And the laws of the Lord are waiting to be heard again, and understood this time, as the recipe for Heaven on Earth, the real reward for obedience and self-sacrifice. Take heart, dear remnants, and unite! Amen.
Trudy Wischemann is a neophyte preacher who writes. You can send her your Nehemiah sightings c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.