A Time of Reconstruction
All this week, I’ve been reflecting and meditating on this idea of rebuilding.
I firmly believe that we find ourselves, here today, in a period of God-given reconstruction. If you’re like me, perhaps you’ve realized that you need some renovations in your personal life.
Certainly, our church is in a period of rebuilding.
But it’s bigger than that.
Because, as much as televangelists and old-fashioned revivals might tell us different, faith isn’t just a personal matter.
For God’s people, amazingly returned to the promised land with all that they need having been provided, it’s not just houses or city walls that need to be rebuilt. The entire community needs rebuilding; the way people think, the way people care, the way people relate to one another all needs to be built up out of the rubble.
That was true in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, and I firmly believe it’s true today.
Thanks be to God: we don’t have the physical destruction that requires physical rebuilding. But let’s be honest: we, as a community, as a nation, have been beaten down.
We see the light at the end of the Covid tunnel, and what do we find? All of our systems are broken. Government isn’t working; social services isn’t working; health care, education, the economy – it isn’t working as it should. It needs rebuilding; and not just patching, like rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, it needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.
But I believe we need to acknowledge, together, the toll these last few years of our lives have taken on us. If it’s not too painful, think back through these past few years. Every time we begin to feel there’s a reprieve from Covid, our society has been faced with something else. Civil injustice and racism brought to light by the Black Lives Matter movement; the discovery of thousands of unmarked graves at residential schools; protests, blockades, and now a war; and still in this country thousands on reserves go without safe drinking water, though it doesn’t even make the news.
In our own community we’ve lost friends. For long periods we’ve been unable to gather to grieve together, as we’re now realizing just how very different Fort Smith looks today compared to this time in 2020.
And now, in the same week that we’re adjusting to loosened restrictions, our own community finds itself dealing with absolutely senseless violence, as a family grieves, and police continue to comb our streets.
Nobody’s in the mood for rebuilding. We’re tired and worn down. This never-ending series of events has taken its toll.
But for me, one thing is clear: we can’t just “keep on truckin’”. When the path you’re on is leading nowhere good, the answer isn’t to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
The truth is that all of us have experienced a chronic low-grade trauma.
If we had experienced all of this at once, we’d be utterly broken. But, as often happens with chronic traumatic experiences, the damage is done a bit at a time. On the one hand that makes it manageable, or at least sort-of. We learn to adapt with the terrible situations a little bit at a time. The down side, however, is that we end up accepting the situation as “normal”; as a coping mechanism, we end up lowering the bar for what it feels like to be healthy and happy with each new traumatic experience. Finally our bodies and our spirits and our hearts are telling us that something is terribly wrong, but our minds are trying to convince us that the situation we’re in is “normal”.
We, our church, our community, our nation, needs to acknowledge the mess we’re in; and we don’t need to patch things up… we need to rebuild.
God’s Plan for Trauma-Informed Reconstruction:
Thanks be to God, scripture gives us a plan for trauma-informed reconstruction. It took science a thousand years to finally realize that trauma has an effect on the human person, but, not surprisingly, we read about it back in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah!
Now, I know what you might be thinking: after all that we’ve been through, we don’t have the energy to rebuild!
But this is what we can learn from Ezra and Nehemiah. You’ll remember that the people were divided. They returned to Jerusalem in a heap of rubble, and the youth celebrated at the opportunity to rebuild, while the elders wept at all that had been lost. This division became a barrier to moving forward, because everyone was concerned with their own interests.
But God’s solution was for people to see the bigger picture, to see themselves as one family, one body, where the stronger support the weaker, where one shares memories to encourage the other, and where all realize that they need the other: that, in spite of the disagreements or weakness or sadness or pain, they are better together than they could ever be on their own.
And finally, once they are united, we see what I believe is a biblical pattern for moving forward through the pain and trauma we’ve all experienced in the past two years.
1. Do what you can do.
When Nehemiah set out to rebuild the walls, he ordered everyone to start carrying stones. But what did he quickly realize? Not everyone is called to do the same work.
Some were energized, strong, tired of being idle, and finding themselves in trouble because they didn’t have enough to do. They needed to get to work.
But, through no fault of their own, others weren’t able to carry stones. They were anxious, as rumors of wars circled around them; they were weakened by years of exile and division. They became the defenders of the community.
Now, what sort of defenders do we need in our rebuilding? We need those who watch out for us, ensuring we’re taking care of ourselves. We need those who can offer a word of encouragement, or just put on a pot of tea and share the sort of personal contact we all need to re-learn after two years of low-grade trauma.
But that’s huge: like the people of Israel, in our own rebuilding, we need to learn that it’s ok for different people to be called to be involved in different ways, as long as we’re supporting one another, following where Jesus leads.. Some move bricks, some care for and watch out for those who are moving bricks; all together, God uses his people to rebuild their community.
2. Read the Bible.
I’m struck in today’s lesson just how seriously they take the word of God. Before the exile God sent prophet after prophet, but no one cared. At best they smiled and nodded, they said ‘I’m spiritual, not religious: I like to have my Baal statue and my Ashtoreth pole, since there’s many paths to God’. It wasn’t until their society collapsed that God’s people realized that they weren’t taking him seriously.
As we rebuild our personal lives, and this church, and this community and our great nation, we need to be serious about the Bible.
Not to beat people over the head with it. Certainly not. But to submit ourselves to it. To acknowledge that it’s primary message is that I’m wrong, I need God, I can’t do it on my own, and that our one and only hope in life and death is that we are not alone but belong to God. That’s our message. And yes, that sort of dependence is utter foolishness to many in the world around us… until it isn’t. Until it finally clicks, when their eyes are opened and they see how the last thing we really need is any sort of independence or progress on the road that we’ve been on. What we need is to trust in the one who keeps his promises, who can do more than we can ask or imagine when we put our trust in Him.
3. Tune out those seeking their own good.
This is a tough one. Remember when Nehemiah was rebuilding the walls? The governors of the surrounding nations sent him letter after letter, they would send messengers and drop by unannounced… to do what?
Why were they set on discouraging God’s people? Because they were profiting from the mess the world was in.
This is a big one. Part of trusting in God, in being serious about his Word, is learning to tune out those who are seeking their own good, those who are exerting their own power and control instead of learning to rely on God.
Nehemiah, it says, simply ignored the letters. That’s easier said than done, isn’t it!
But part of the work of rebuilding means learning that, if something is really true, we don’t need to justify it, or argue about it. We can simply rely on that which is true, and let those discouraging voices wear themselves out.
Again, this is where it’s important to have those defenders – those people in the family of the church who are encouraging and supporting and making a cup of tea for those who need it!
4. Be Doers of the Word
Finally, as we learn from the Letter of James, we need to be doers of the word, not just hearers. The work of rebuilding our church; the work of rebuilding our community and our society means that we hear God’s Word and then do it.
We hear our need of repentance, so we repent.
We hear our own need for forgiveness, so we offer it to others, lavishly and with patience.
We hear the message – not that we’ve got it all together, but that we need to bind the broken, to build up those who feel beat down, and to call the world into a relationship with God and ourselves, so that all the nations can be blessed through us. So we do it.
For some of us, that means getting serious about the calling that God has on your life for ministry; as more than one person in this congregation is discerning a call to training and a greater ministry in the community. But, for most of us, that means being serious about #1 – doing what you can do. If you can’t do the heavy lifting, encourage those who can. If the only load you can carry right now is to boil the kettle, pick up the phone, and invite someone over for a chat, do what you can do. You never know, the person who looks busiest might really be longing for that invitation, and in need of some friendship and support themselves!
A Time of Rebuilding
Our world, our society, our church: we’re all in a time of rebuilding.
We need to acknowledge the trauma we’ve experienced. We need to push back against lowering the bar of what is healthy, not to place demands on others, but to work together to rebuild a community that is supportive for us all, from the ground up.
God will build his Church. He can heal our land.
For we know he keeps his promises. With him all things are possible, and if we trust him, he’ll accomplish in us, weak as we are, far more than we can ask or imagine.
To God be the glory now and forevermore. Amen.
Note: With our bishop’s permission, we’ve set aside the Lectionary for this year and have been reading through The Story, a 31-chapter abridgment of the entire Bible aimed at increasing our awareness of God’s grand story of salvation found when we read Genesis – Revelation as a single proclamation of God’s love for us and his plan for the redemption of the World. Today’s readings at home were from Ezra 7, Nehemiah 1-2, 4, 6-8. We also read Psalm 147, James 1:22-25, and John 2:13-22.