Sermon, 1.11.2009"Nehemiah's Prayer" Rev. Erik Bonkovsky Nehemiah 1:4-11
When we last left him, Nehemiah had just heard about the brokendown state that Israel was in. What is Nehemiah's immediate and sustained response to trouble? Prayer. Instead of trying to "fix" things (as we often do), he "sat down and wept and mourned for days," and "continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven." Most of the time, prayer is our last resort when something goes wrong. We'll try everything else before we'll try prayer. First we look to ourselves, and seek out tangible things we can do to solve the problem. Or we look to other people to do the work for us. Or we just vent, and say "I just need to get my ideas out; I just need a sounding board." So we have a lot to learn from Nehemiah's very humble response, which acknowledges how powerless he is to change things on his own.
The elements of Nehemiah's prayer are important here as well. First, there is the element of confession. Our is a culture of entitlement and excuses, so the very idea of confession is foreign to us. If the problem is us and something we do, why do we look elsewhere to place the blame? We see ourselves as if we're some collection of all the failures of our society, and that it's not our fault...instead of the willing participants in sin that we are. Nehemiah takes responsibility for the actions of Israel, and confesses on behalf of his people as a whole.
The other element of Nehemiah's prayer is covenant. Central to the Old Testament and God's relationship with the Israelites is the covenant that exists between them. Nehemiah references this covenant and praises God for keeping his side of the bargain. The gist of the two-fold covenant is this: If you are faithful, obey, and keep my commandments, I will bless you. If not, I will curse you. Since Israel has not been faithful, and not obeyed, and not kept God's commandments, God has still kept the covenant by cursing Israel. He has done what he promised to do. Nehemiah's shame is apparent as he asks God for mercy.
So we leave Nehemiah in a place of shame and of asking for God's forgiveness. He represents a people who have not done what God has asked, and therefore they feel like failures and suffer the fate of failures. For us, we don't have to feel that way. Because of Christ, we don't have to go forth mourning and building our side of the covenant back up. The only thing he has asked us to do as Christians is to accept his salvation, and if we keep our part of that bargain, he takes away all the blame.