This upcoming sermon (on which I am still working!) is titled 'Facing Hard Times'. It is appropriate for so many of us in Covid limbo and particularly for this man we meet in Nehemiah ch. 1. Living as a captive in Persia he has made the best of conditions forced upon him. Showing loyalty and a sense of responsibility he has risen within the king's household. As cup bearer he is chief steward, right hand man, close to this fearsome foreign power. But miles away from his people's story in Judah and Jerusalem. Doing his best.
His story is vivid. In Nehemiah 1 it all changes when his brother Hanani returns from travels (perhaps he was a trader), He has actually been back to Judah and Jerusalem. Nehemiah questions him about what he saw. The response begins a sequence of events to change history and teach us key truths. He reports 'The survivors are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates have been burned with fire. God's holy city - centre of so much promise and history is in ruins. The great story of Exodus, prophets priests and kings seems over and done with. Disgrace is a miserable word. They knew they once belonged to a great future. They were God's people on the move but now their disobedience has led to this ruin.
What happens next is a sequence of actions which prove to be key principles about how God works with people and people work with God. It is serious spiritual stuff.
First, SERIOUS CARE. When Nehemiah hears about the trouble and disgrace he takes it intensely personally, seriously. He really cares, with compassion and urgency about what is happening to God's people. He grieves, mourns and fasts. Consumed with a deep sense that this new really matters he really cares. God has always been able to work with people who care about the things God cares about. Look at any of faith's movers and shakers you'll find they are first moved and shaken into deep concern.
Like William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army in his last sermon: While women weep as they do now, I'll fight; while little children go hungry, I'll fight; while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, where there remains one dark soul without the light of God I'll fight. I'll fight to the very end.
Serious care means involvement with God's concerns. The text doesn't warrant us pondering whether Hanani felt any strong feelings. After all he had actually witnessed the destruction. But his name is not at the top of the book. It's Nehemiah takes it hard and personally. As we shall see.