The Story, Chapter 21 “Rebuilding The Walls”

June 18, 2017

The Story, Chapter 21 “Rebuilding The Walls”

Nehemiah 8:1-12

The first known Father’s Day service occurred at the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South in Fairmont, West Virginia, on July 5, 1908, thanks to the efforts of Grace Golden Clayton. Mrs. Clayton had asked her pastor, Dr. R. Thomas Webb, if a Sunday service could be held to honor fathers. While missing her own dad, who had died in 1896, she especially wanted to have a service in remembrance of the over 200 fathers who had died in the Monongah mining explosion that had occurred a few miles south of Fairmont on December 6 of the previous year. (It was the worst mining disaster in U.S. history, killing more than 360 men and boys, and leaving about 1,000 children fatherless.) Although the Fairmont service was the first known to honor fathers, it did not turn into an annual event, nor was the idea promoted (a large July 4 celebration in Fairmont and a tragic young death from typhoid fever having taken over the news at the time).

Several other people across the nation had similar ideas throughout the years, but Mrs. Sonora Smart Dodd is credited for being the one to popularize it, starting events that led to Father’s Day becoming a U.S. national holiday.

Her story began as she sat listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909. Mrs. Dodd thought that it might be nice to honor fathers as well. Her father, William Smart, had raised his SIX children alone on his farm in Washington after his wife died giving birth to their sixth child.

Mrs. Dodd proposed to the Spokane Ministerial Association and the YMCA that they celebrate a “father’s day.” She chose the 5th of June because it was her father’s birthday. 

The idea received strong support, but the good ministers of Spokane asked that the day be changed to give them extra time to prepare sermons on the unexplored subject of fathers.

The first Father’s Day in Spokane, Washington, was observed on June 19, 1910 (the third Sunday in June), and became an annual event there. Soon, other towns had their own celebrations.

In spite of widespread support, Father’s Day did not become a permanent national holiday for many years. The first bill was introduced in Congress in 1913, but in spite of encouragement by President Woodrow Wilson, it did not pass. In 1966, Lyndon Johnson issued a proclamation designating the third Sunday in June to honor fathers.

Finally, in 1972, when President Richard Nixon was president, Father’s Day was signed a law declaring that it be celebrated annually on the third Sunday in June. It has been an official, permanent national holiday ever since.


Children’s Sermon: Read true statements and ask how they know they are true.

  • The sun will rise in the east tomorrow
  • The earth is round
  • I will get in trouble if I hit my sibling (and get caught)
  • Other things?

What are some things that you’re not sure of?  I’m not sure what I’m having for lunch.  I’m not sure what the weather will be like tomorrow.

What makes you sure of some things and not sure about others?


Today in Sunday School you are going to meet a guy named Nehemiah and find out what he was sure of. Let’s pray.


Intro:  In this chapter of The Story - the final chapter in the OT we cover a lot of history from the lives and writings of three OT prophets: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi.  Most likely all contemporaries during the years of 458-430 BC as Israel returned from Babylonian Exile. 


On page xiv of the introduction toThe Story  you have a timeline which puts everything in it’s place.  


In 538 the first group of around 50,000 exiles returned to Jerusalem under Zerubabel’s authority and began to rebuild the temple.  The prophets active during this time were Haggai and Zechariah.  Although they faced opposition, the temple was completed in 516.


The next event we mark in this period of history, we discussed last week.  Xerxes was the king of Persia who took Esther as his queen.  From this position she was able to save the Jewish people from extermination and this event is still celebrated every year and is called . . . Purim.


In 458 the second group of exiles returned under Ezra.  His mission was to establish the law of God as central to the people of God.  This group too faced opposition but Ezra had King Aretaxerxes on his side supporting him and his people.


Finally in 445 the final group of exiles returned home (although some Jews decided to stay in the places they had established in Persia - but that’s how the knowledge of God would have been shared there!). The leader of this final group of exiles was Nehemiah.  His mission was to again, turn the heart of the people to God and also to rebuild the wall surrounding the city. Yes there was opposition! But Nehemiah was clever and had the support again of Artexerxes.


The OT ends with the book of Malachi and his ministry.  He does not mince words as he speaks the truth to the people of God.  And after that, there is 400 years of silence between the Old and New Testament writers.  Much history happened but the word is silent until Christ is born - but that’s a story for next week!   


While each prophet quoted this week has much to say, this morning we will focus on what is written in Nehemiah 8:1-18.  Let’s read that together and as we do, I have a quest for you.  Can you find the elements of a worship service in this passage? You will hear a Call to Worship, the Preaching of the Word, the Response (doing of the Word), and Celebration.  READ


It has been 140 years since the people of God had assembled as a nation.  This was their homecoming!  They gather to participate in what sets them apart from all other nations and identifies them as the people of God - they gather for worship.  They were hungry to be reminded of who they were.  Isn’t that one purpose of gathering together on a Sunday morning as we do?  To be reminded of who we are as a community of faith called by God to live faithfully in the communities we indwell on this earth?  I pray that this is something that happens in you as we gather.  I hope that you leave worship reminded of who you are in Christ.


So Ezra reads the Scripture but something had happened to the nation while they were in captivity, they lost the ability to understand the Hebrew language.  But the priests were there and they explained what the scriptures meant - preaching.  The purpose of preaching is for the preacher to interpret Scripture for the hearers in such a way that they can understand and respond.  Being able to understand the Word of God in one’s own language is something we take for granted.  One of the reasons that the Gutenberg Printing Press was such a big deal is that it produced the Bible in Latin - the common language so that all could understand. It’s why the work of Wycliffe Bible Translators is so important as they bring God’s Word so that every tongue can have it in an understandable way.  In the year 2000 they celebrated the 500th language translation the Bible and are working towards the remaining 1600 languages by 2150.  Having the Bible in our own language is something we take for granted - and so many different versions that we can argue about which one is best! While nations around the world have never hear the Word spoken in their native tongue.


But the people didn't just worship God, hear the word and go home.  They reacted to the word.  Their first reaction was a call to repentance and they wept for the sins they had committed. But the priests were quick to say - not today. They were not saying that there is no need to lament and repent, but on this day of national worship, there was cause to celebrate and rejoice. For what reason?  Verses 9-10:  

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”


So on this day of worship, there was joy and there was sharing of really good food (tradition of Sunday Dinner comes from this idea).  And, it was the sharing of this good food with those who didn’t have as much.  I am reminded of this when the deacons pack up extra food after a meal and take it to shut-ins.


The final part of this passage tells us that the people wanted to get back on track as the worshiping people of God so they acted on what they had heard and celebrated the Feast of the Tabernacles for which they gathered branches and built temporary shelters on their roofs as a reminder that they are not a permanent part of this world anymore than they were a permanent part of Babylon.  


If you look at the front of your bulletin you will find James 1:22.  Could we read that out loud together?  READ  The people of God realized that God had called them not just to gather for worship and hear the word and repent of their sin and celebrate but that they were to actually go and do those things.  If we leave this place not motivated to act, has worship actually happened?


This is Hezekiah’s Hands week.  I believe that began because God spoke and some people responded.  Our lives are to be lives of response to what God is calling us to do and living as God has called us to live.  How is God calling you to live in obedience to him today?    


Concl:  The mission of the people of God is always to return to him as a community of faith.  Through corporate worship, through the hearing of the word, through the doing of the word, through the celebration of all that he has done.


Where are you lacking this morning?  Where do you need to ask God to help you grow and invest more deeply? What have you heard that you need to respond to?


The final words of the OT prophet Malachi tell the people they are guilty and must repent - they are spiritually apathetic. These are the same people that got all worked up and emotional when Ezra read the Law.  How is your spiritual temperature?  We are in the same position as they were.  They were waiting for the Messiah to come and we are waiting for him to come again - how do we wait?  I think that what Malachi found to be true of the Jewish nation in his day will be similar to what Jesus finds among Christians when he comes.


I want to conclude with a little fire and brimstone from the last words to the OT, written by the prophet Malachi.  He has proclaimed the wrath of God on Israel because of their unfaithfulness, but here at the end of this chapter there emerges a remnant of faithful people who are invested in a God-life that will transform them and the community they live in.  READ Malachi 3:16-4:6


People of God, choose this day whom you will serve and then listen for God and when you hear his voice, act on it.  Amen.