BCEC Churchwide Theme for 2022-23: Flourishing in Change
Pastor Daniel Chan 8-28-2022
The world has been facing many challenges in the past two and half years. It started with COVID 19, followed by the war in Ukraine, international politics, high inflation, energy shortage, supply chain disruption, climate changes, and recession fears. As a result, the whole world needs to adapt to a new normal. This new normal leads to many changes in society. The church and individual Christians are not immune from such changes. We find ourselves having to make changes in church operations and personal habits. These changes have caused discomfort, disorientation, and anxiety to many of us. However, by the grace of God, we believe that the church of Christ can still flourish and grow in the midst of change.
As I meditate on the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, I see many similarities between us and the Israelites returning to Palestine from exile. After living in a foreign land for multiple decades, many Israelites, some of whom were born in exile and had never seen their ancestral land, returned to Palestine to rebuild their homeland. They quickly found numerous unexpected changes in the region. Many “foreigners” have moved in and became political leaders of the land. They viewed the returnees with suspicion and did not want such “outsiders” to flourish. When the Israelites tried to rebuild the temple, a symbol of their identity as the people of God, they met great political oppositions. As a result, the construction was paused for over 16 years. Even when the temple was finally finished, Jerusalem was a deserted city. The city wall was in ruin. People were not eager to live in the city for security reasons.
Almost 70 years after the second temple was completed, Jerusalem was still in a pitiful state. People who visited Nehemiah in Susa told him, “Those who survived the exile and back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” (Neh. 1:3) The report prompted Nehemiah to ask for a furlough from the court of the Persian king to return to Jerusalem. The king granted his wish and appointed him governor of Judah.
Upon arrival, Nehemiah assessed the situation and determined that the city wall must be rebuilt. But he soon discovered that resistance to the rebuilding project was very strong. Other governors in the region first teased about the Israelites’ ability to complete the project, then they planned to use force to shut it down. Yet the bigger challenge came from inside. Tolerating a broken wall seemed to be easier than rebuilding it. People were exhausted by the difficulties of the work and were ready to quit. On top of that, some rich Israelites were forcing poor Israelites into slavery as a condition to give them food. After Nehemiah dealt with internal complaints, external threats emerged again. The adversaries started to spread rumors that the Israelites were planning to revolt against the king once the wall was completed. Under such an attack, Nehemiah wrote in his journal, “They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hand will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.’ But I pray, ‘Now strengthen my hands.’” (Neh. 6:9)
Under those difficult and ever-changing conditions, Nehemiah and his builders pressed on. The wall was finally rebuilt. The Israelites celebrated by inviting Ezra the priest to read the scripture to them. The Word of God moved them to tears. Then Nehemiah announced, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh. 8:10) However, there was one more task remaining–to repopulate Jerusalem. Before the wall was rebuilt, people had safety concerns about living in the city. They eventually settled in the suburbs and were slow to return to dwell in Jerusalem. Nehemiah asked the leaders to return first. Then he told other people to draw lots to determine who should move back to the city. Jerusalem flourished when people volunteered to return to make it strong. (Neh. 11:2)
Learning from the Israelites, let us rebuild our church in the face of changes. May our church flourish as we adapt to the new normal and continue to make disciples for the Lord.