In September 1962 John F. Kennedy was making a speech at Rice University in support of the space program. You may remember these words as one of my favorite quotes.
"But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain. Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…"
The building program that we begin today is also a challenge. We savor the fact that the task God has given us is hard. And to get it done, we will have to work together.
The book of Nehemiah tells the story of how God’s people, who having returned to Jerusalem from shaming punishment and exile, rebuilt the city walls. These walls were a means of defense and a symbol of civilization. With the walls down, the city was left vulnerable and embarrassed. So God sent Nehemiah to call the people to rebuild.
We read the thrilling story of how God moved to get the work under way… and then we come to chapter 3. It’s one of those passages one is tempted to skip over. It seems to be nothing more than a list of names we can’t pronounce… a “nothing” chapter… just boring detail and data. But on closer examination, we discover that Nehemiah 3 is a roll call of faithfulness and valor.
It is proof that God takes note of what we do for His name’s sake. It is evidence that our labor in the Lord is never in vain. Even if we are not the wealthiest or the most powerful persons, God knows our names and records our service.
To make repairs, various groups accepted responsibility for different sections of the wall – and they all worked simultaneously. 40 different groups are listed as participating. 28 times one reads phrases like, And next to them, Next to him, After him, Beside him. Section by section… side by side… they each did their part.
Some had larger sections… and some smaller. Some repaired parts of the wall. Some worked on towers and others hung new gates… There were different kinds of work to be done.
Different kinds of people were involved in the work.
Priests and Levites and temple workers completed several different sections of the wall. There were men from the city of Jericho. There were people representing all the trades and professions. There was Hannaniah the pefumer. There were goldsmiths and merchants. Most worked sections in front of their own homes. Shallum worked on his part of the wall, "together with his daughters."
There was Malchijah and Ezer, rulers over their districts. Working on another portion of the same wall was Shemanaiah, the guard of the east gate. …Leaders and followers working together.
Section by section… side by side… they each did their part.
Two notations are of singular note… While the workers from Tekoa repaired two sections, “their nobles” are singled out for the only negative comment in the chapter, because they “did not lift a finger to help.” In contrast, Baruch has the honor of being described as having diligently repaired his section.
Every list has its first entry and the first wall builder listed is Eliashib the high priest. Verse 1 tells us that he, along with his fellow priests, “began rebuilding.” Every great work of God has to have its beginning and its beginners. And that’s what we do today… we begin. And that’s who we have the privaledge of being today… the ones who begin the work.
By families, we will go to the wall we have set up. It will serve as a temporary monument to mark the beginning of construction. Photographs will serve as a lasting memorial. As each brick, with each name, is included into the wall… it will signify that each of us is ready to do our part… and to work together… section by section, side by side.