In the fifth century B.C., a bureaucrat from Susa located in modern-day Iran received a message from his family. His religious homeland was in shambles. He convinced the Persian king and queen to finance a scouting expedition to check on the place. Although he had never visited before, he was touched by what he saw and heard.
When he arrived, he discovered something akin to the disasters we see on television after a hurricane or tornado. The place was a mess, the widows were destitute, and a few greedy landlords named Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, were running over everyone. A feisty priest named Ezra over-simplified the solution. He wanted most people to just come back to worship and obey the law. Ezra had successfully rebuilt a temple but failed to restore the community. He blamed most of their problems on the issues of marriage in Jerusalem at the time and paid very little attention to the deeper sin that tore apart all of their relationships. The crumbling wall and a lack of community to go with it were just outward signs of much deeper problems.
Like a Baptist relief worker with a yellow hat, Nehemiah rode in on a horse to assess, rebuild, and restore. He recorded his memoirs in the book that we have named after him. In just 52 short days, the people rebuilt a wall and were positioned for spiritual renewal to love their city.
For 57 days this fall, we will study Nehemiah together as a church family. Our Bible study lessons will come from Robert Lupton’s book Renewing the City. Bob has engaged in Nehemiah-style rebuilding efforts in the city of Atlanta, and he has some excellent reflections on Nehemiah and practical applications for us to use in Tallahassee. When you attend Bible study this week, you will receive a copy of this book as our gift to you. Fran Buhler has written an excellent study guide for teachers and small groups to accompany the lessons. Each Sunday in worship, I will preach from the same text that the teachers use.
Each day throughout the series, you’ll have the opportunity to read a devotional written by someone from First Baptist. It’s called “52 days with Nehemiah.” Pam Cooke has compiled and edited each one, and they will be available in either booklet form or daily by email beginning August 25 in worship.
Nehemiah’s experiences, the people’s reactions, the infrastructure project on the wall, and the spiritual reforms are a template for the kind of community we can be here in Tallahassee. By learning and practicing scripture together, we can neighbor our community for Christ. Let’s Love Tallahassee by studying Nehemiah.