As we begin a series of sermons on the book of Nehemiah, we want to draw some parallels between the situation of Nehemiah building the walls of the city of Jerusalem and our own situations as we are building the kingdom of God. First, Nehemiah was not an important or influential person in life – he was a cupbearer to the king (Neh. 1:11). This means he was considered to be disposable, since his life was less valuable than the king’s, and everyone would rather he be poisoned rather than the king. However, he still saw himself as a leader with the power to make a difference. Second, he was a man of depth. He cared deeply about what was going on with the people of Jerusalem, even though it didn’t affect him directly in his life in the palace. He didn’t skim over their problems, and he allowed his heart to be impacted (verses 2-4). Third, he trusted the power of God more than any earthly power. When he found his heart affected by the serious issues he learned about, he took them straight to God to find wisdom on how to help (verses 5-11). Fourth, he took personal responsibility. He didn’t pawn it off on anyone else or say, “It’s not my problem.” He was prepared to risk his own self to use whatever influence he had to help his brothers, but he trusted himself in the hands of God and was willing to do whatever it takes. When it comes to our work in building the kingdom of God, we need to be like Nehemiah in these four areas, and we can trust the results to our faithful God.
Listen to the full sermon:
Stewardship of Influence – Sermon by the Rev. Charlie Holt from The Church of St John the Divine on Vimeo.
Paul uses the second half of chapter 4 of his letter to the Ephesians to remind them of what it looks and feels like to be separated from God. Can you see any evidence in our culture today of people whose thinking is futile, whose minds are darkened, and whose hearts are hardened? I sure can. This is clear evidence of separation from God. On the other hand, if you are actually in a relationship with the living God, there should be clear and visible evidence that your thinking, emotions, and behavior have been transformed. Our lives are designed to be a mirror, reflecting the glory and goodness of God. However, in order for a mirror to reflect the light, it has to be facing the light. Turn the mirror away from the light, and it reflects only darkness. In the same way, if we turn ourselves away from Christ, we cannot reflect His glory.
Therefore, even the small things in life matter, because they can turn us ever so slightly away from looking full at God, and our reflections of Him start to dim. Pay close attention to the smallest things that might be deceiving you and distracting you. Do not let your heart become hardened… in your marriages, your family relationships, your friendships, your church communities.
The good news is that you do not have to do this alone. God has given us His Spirit to keep our hearts soft, our minds vigilant, and our thinking true. He allows us to be restored not only to God, but also to one another, that we may flourish not only as individuals but as the people of God. We are beloved children of God, and we are meant to be imitators of Him. He wants to see us flourish, full of His grace and His love and His presence.
Christ Aligned and Spirit Attuned – Sermon by the Rev. Charlie Holt from The Church of St John the Divine on Vimeo.
Being a part of any community can be difficult, and the Church is no exception. It is absolutely essential for us to be mindful of the significance of our calling as members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and that we remain united to each other in Him. Paul reminds us of this in Ephesians 4, and he urges us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” There can be no divisions in the Body of Christ, but that is a really difficult way to live. In fact, it is impossible without a miracle of the Spirit of God creating and maintaining the bonds of love between us. He has gifted us all uniquely in order to “build up the Body of Christ,” and we are all required to participate. In fact, this Scripture specifically says that the work of the clergy is to equip the saints for work of ministry! It’s not the clergy who are the big shots in ministry – it is every member of the Church! We need to view each other as gifts of God, purposely designed to encourage each other, build each other up, speak truth to each other in love, and together do the work of God. Each of us has a unique contribution we are called to make to the work of God, and it is critically important that we stay plugged in and engaged in the Body of Christ.
God’s Gift of One Another – Sermon by the Rev. Charlie Holt from The Church of St John the Divine on Vimeo.
Like Simba in the Disney movie, The Lion King, we are prone to forget who we are, thereby sacrificing both the privileges and the responsibilities as children of the King. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is to us like what Rafiki’s knock on the head was for Simba… A wake-up call. The Lord calls us to dive in to the heart of the challenges of this fallen world. The truth we have is the hope of heaven and earth. God forbid we brush off the troubles of the world by saying, “Hakuna matata, no worries.” Paul says that God has entrusted us with the administration of the gospel to engage in this sinful and broken world. The problems surrounding us are bigger than us, but Almighty God has given us His Spirit to strengthen us and fill us with all His fullness. I experienced this firsthand when I was a part of what God was doing in Central Florida during the situation surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin. I saw God’s Spirit move mightily to bring unity and power in His Church during that time. I have seen the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge, and His power is at our disposal as His children. He can do more than we could ever ask for or imagine.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21
Immeasurably More – Sermon by the Rev. Charlie Holt from The Church of St John the Divine on Vimeo.
Like the Pharisees, we have a tendency to only worry about the mask we’re putting up on the outside, rather than worrying about what is on the inside. But Jesus speaks directly opposing to that tendency, saying that what matters most is what is found in the heart. Henry Drummond emphasizes it well:
“[Religious people] are inclined to look upon bad temper as a very harmless weakness. We speak of it as a mere infirmity of nature, a family failing, a matter of temperament, not a thing to take into very serious account in estimating a man’s character. And yet here, right in the heart of this analysis of love, it finds a place… The peculiarity of ill temper is that it is the vice of the virtuous. It is often the one blot on an otherwise noble character.” – Henry Drummond, The Greatest Thing in the World
We don’t need to be obsessive-compulsive about the outward behaviors, because they will never be able to deal with sin. Only God can address our heart problem, first by sending His Son to die for us and second by putting His Holy Spirit inside us to write His laws on our hearts and transform us from the inside. Stop worrying about the outward behaviors and traditions, and instead focus on Jesus’ work that allows you to come directly into the presence of the Holy God. He wants our hearts, not our outward appearances, and that then allows us to enter into true community with the Body of Christ, the Church.
A Matter of the Heart – Sermon by the Rev. Charlie Holt from The Church of St John the Divine on Vimeo.