Is our focus on God?

Holy Trinity Church, Huddersfield
Sunday 27th September 2020

The earliest known photograph of Holy Trinity Church, Huddersfield, A sepia picture showing the chuch surrounded by fields.
The oldest known photograph of Holy Trinity, Huddersfield

A week away for us to celebrate my wife’s birthday. Little did we know how things would turn out. The blogs I published in the week were pre-written and schedulrd to publish on the Wednesday and Friday so as not to publicised that we were away, too many people have published holiday pictures on public social media and then had their homes burgled to make saying where you are an intelligent thing to do. However, we have been to this place, Thoresby Hall Hotel in North Nottinghamshire.

An aerial view of Thoresby Hall, showing autumnal colours in the surrounding woodland.
Thoresby Hall, Nottinghamshire

In church we tried to watch the morning service from the hotel room and then the ‘coffee’ afterwards on Zoom, but wifi was intermitant in our room so it had to wait until the early evening when we got home. The email we received promoting the service said “‘Reboot & Rebuild’ looking at the story of Nehemiah the great wall rebuilder. Bev Playle will explore what it means to ‘Restore & Reform’,”

Vicar Mike led the service saying. “We had that sense of normality returning.” I am sorry to disagree here, anyone who has been listening to the scientists knows that we are in it for the long term, we are at best only a third of the way through the Covid-19 crisis, and that is if an effective vaccine can be developed quickly. Those who are mourning the loss of corporate worship at Easter and Pentecost this year can expect it not to be back to normal next year plus they will need to find a way to celebrate the Christmas between the two Easters as Christians in Exile as well.

That the Church is in Exile, or like being in exile has been mentioned a number of times in our church in our YouTube services. It is behind the sermon series of a return from exile, which I find ill judged seeing that pandemics tend to last for about two years, but an email I received from church back in January on my Birthday has turned out to be more prophetic than the sender intended. It included this Bible verse:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Jetemiah 29:11 NIV

17 days after I received that verse the first official Covid cases in the UK were announced. The context of the Jeremiah verse is important. It was written to a nation about to go into exile. The place where God promises to “prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,” is not in Judah where they live but in exile in Babylon, They have to stay faithful in the exile.

To be fair to Mike that is what he got round to saying as my mind was going on a stream of fantasy. He spoke of people having that sense of normality returning in the context of the disappointment that has been felt as people saw schools opening again as a sign that things were returning to normal, He spoke too of people who had stayed faithful to God and said that we are a people of hope and faith. The bidding to worship included this:

Psalm 65

For the director of music. A psalm of David. A song.

Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion;
    to you our vows will be fulfilled.
You who answer prayer,
    to you all people will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
    you forgave our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose
    and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
    of your holy temple.

You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds,
    God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
    and of the farthest seas,

Other things before the service included welcoming returning and new students to our church, and a family part which showed two of our younger members having a scooter race where the younger one going forwards easily beat the one trying to scoot backwards, going forwards is best.

Bev’s sermon was the last in series on Nehemiah, ‘Reboot & Rebuild.’ Next week a new series, she did not tell us what it would be.

What happened next in Nehemiah’s story? We have heard how the walls of Jerusalem have been rebuilt, the gates rehung , Ezra has taught the people and at the beginning of the reading the temple sacrifices have restarted.

The reading was a long one, from 12:44 to the end of chapter 13. Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem after a time back in Persia when he gets back he asks, “What is going on?” Tobiah, one of the people who had been trying to detract from the rebuilding work has been given a had been given a room in the Temple. Also the High Priest’s son has married one of the daughters of another detractors, Sanballat. The Levites and Temple musicians are not being payed. There had been a lack of resolve in Israel.

There are three areas that Nehemiah reforms:

  1. The area of the Temple: Ministers were not able to do the ministering. Are we still giving what about our time?
  2. The sabbath verses 17-22. The focus of worship is on remembering who God is and what he has done. Restoration comes from re-creation. Can we help others to get rest?
  3. Married partners and purity. What Nehemiah does looks like racism, turning people away for being, or being married to Moabites and Ammonites. The New Testament emphasises that God is for all people, The Book of Ruth, is about a Moabite who had committed herself to God and his people. The big deal for Nehemiah was the people were unfaithful to God. We cannot l our focus on God and godly living to slip.

The people were messing it up and Nehemiah could not leave it. Nehemiah was a rebuilder and reformer. Nehemiah’s personal prayers at the end of each section. makes this read like his prayer journal. Verse 22 says, “show mercy to me.” He knows that he needs to be purified. That actions such as when he pulls out someone’s hair, he has lost his temper and taken it too far. So he asks for God’s mercy. It is clear that what he does is motivated by God.[1]

God says I know you have blown it again but you can be free with me. We have freedom in Jesus who came for you and me and all who wish to be restored, God knows we can’t do it on our own and has sent his Spirit.

Rededicate, recommit Jesus says we can turn it around, put your hand in mine, will you take it?

[1]I am sure no abuse was intended here. But I have heard claims that “I am doing this for God” used to cover up abusive actions in the church. Abuse can never be justified. I know Bev and I know that no abuse was intended or even present, but I have seen statements like this used by those who do abuse, that I feel I have to point it out here in the hope that those who inadvertently abuse will think about what they are doing.

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