Brick by Brick
They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are 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.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. –Nehemiah 1:3-4
When I was a child, I was very accustomed to walls. The yard of my childhood home had many of them. The man who owned the house before my parents bought it in 1979 must have had a love of cinderblocks. There were cinderblock walls that separated our yard from our neighbors. There were also cinderblock walls that terraced the slope of the backyard, creating three levels of the yard.
My brother and I spent hours climbing on these very walls. It was a challenge. Could we make it all the way through the yard by only walking on walls and never having our feet touch the ground? Would we be brave enough to walk along the tallest wall? Could we sneak across the top of the wall along our property without the neighbor yelling at us? We got to know those walls pretty well!
By the time I was in high school, the walls were in pretty poor shape. The previous owner had never properly finished the walls. The cells of the cinderblock were never filled with concrete. The walls were never properly capped. Over the decades since they were built, water had seeped into the walls and rusted out the rebar. Some were leaning and the integrity of the walls were failing.
It was about that time that my father undertook the project of rebuilding the walls. With the expertise and guidance of an experienced mason, my father and the mason rebuilt the walls. Some needed to come down brick by brick. Others needed to be reinforced by many cubic feet of concrete. All of them needed to be filled and strengthened by new concrete and rebar. It was a backbreaking project with calloused hands and sore muscles, but the walls were ultimately restored.
The exiles in Babylon heard of the condition of the wall that protected the city of Jerusalem. It had been destroyed when the Babylonians conquered the city some 50 years earlier. The state of the wall in Jerusalem caused Nehemiah to be sad and to mourn. Nehemiah would take action and journey to Jerusalem to repair the wall and restore the city. He would rebuild that which had been broken.
This season, there are many things that are broken in our community and our nation. We are experiencing a society that has seen the effects of the pandemic both in the virus and the associated lockdown. We find ourselves divided as never before along multiple lines of identity. Our politics are fractured at all levels of government. Like the walls in my childhood backyard and the walls of Jerusalem, we are in need of rebuilding.
This is exactly the moment where we come in as followers of Jesus. Our world needs us. It’s time to pick up the pieces and rebuild. It’s time to rebuild better than we were before. As followers of Jesus, we can start the process of rebuilding by listening.
First—and most importantly—it is listening to God through his Word. This is at the heart of our current 7/77 emphasis of reading the Bible together and listening to what God is saying. I truly believe that God’s Word has the power to change our hearts. And if God changes our hearts as individuals, then God has the power to change hearts in our community, nation, and world. It starts with the work that the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives this very moment.
Second, rebuilding comes through listening to others. Let’s face it, we all probably have some pretty strong opinions regarding the state of our nation. We’ve been through a lot over the course of the last year. But rather than shouting at each other, we need to start by listening and then proceeding with an honest and compassionate civil dialogue. We have the opportunity to change the course of the dialogue in our nation and it comes from listening.
Rebuilding is backbreaking work that results in callouses and sore muscles, but it is necessary. It is the task at hand for us in the coming weeks and months. We are called to be light and truth in a hurting world, and I can’t imagine a more important time than this for both light and truth. Let’s get to building!