Nehemiah 12:27-47 Rev. Kenneth Frey Pentecost 9 7/22/18
1. To remember what God has done for us
2. To offer the sacrifice of praise
3. To dedicate ourselves to God
Nehemiah 12:27-47 At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres. 28 The musicians also were brought together from the region around Jerusalem—from the villages of the Netophathites, 29 from Beth Gilgal, and from the area of Geba and Azmaveth, for the musicians had built villages for themselves around Jerusalem. 30 When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates and the wall. 31 I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung Gate. 32 Hoshaiah and half the leaders of Judah followed them,33 along with Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, 34 Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, Jeremiah, 35 as well as some priests with trumpets, and also Zechariah son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micaiah, the son of Zakkur, the son of Asaph, 36 and his associates—Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah and Hanani—with musical instruments prescribed by David the man of God. Ezra the teacher of the Law led the procession. 37 At the Fountain Gate they continued directly up the steps of the City of David on the ascent to the wall and passed above the site of David’s palace to the Water Gate on the east. 38 The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction. I followed them on top of the wall, together with half the people—past the Tower of the Ovens to the Broad Wall, 39 over the Gate of Ephraim, the Jeshanah Gate, the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate. At the Gate of the Guard they stopped. 40 The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; so did I, together with half the officials, 41 as well as the priests—Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah with their trumpets— 42 and also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malkijah, Elam and Ezer. The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. 43 And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away. 44 At that time men were appointed to be in charge of the storerooms for the contributions, firstfruits and tithes. From the fields around the towns they were to bring into the storerooms the portions required by the Law for the priests and the Levites, for Judah was pleased with the ministering priests and Levites.45 They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did also the musicians and gatekeepers, according to the commands of David and his son Solomon. 46 For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. 47 So in the days of Zerubbabel and of Nehemiah, all Israel contributed the daily portions for the musicians and the gatekeepers. They also set aside the portion for the other Levites, and the Levites set aside the portion for the descendants of Aaron.
In spring 2017, I was in Germany. Our tour of Luther sites ended in the city of Berlin. Now, when you think of Berlin, what do you think of? Most people – especially the older generations – will say, “The Berlin Wall.” Berlin was – and still is – famous for its wall. The wall was torn down in the 1980’s but they left a line on the ground where the wall was so that they never forget. It’s paved into the streets and sidewalks. A portion of the wall still stands also as a reminder of the divided city. The wall divided Berlin into east and west. Jerusalem’s wall didn’t divide, it united the people of Judah. Our Scripture today tells the story of the dedication of the wall around Jerusalem and how all of the people in Jerusalem and the surrounding villages were united in one voice and one spirit under God. We can learn something from this celebration about why we worship our God. You may recall that when Nehemiah received permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, he took a secret donkey ride around the city. He saw the walls were just rubble, a big mess. He knew the task would be long and difficult. You may also recall the peoples around Judah were opposed to the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. They plotted to kill the workers who worked on the wall. In the face of this opposition the people of Judah lost their nerve and said the wall couldn’t be rebuilt. But now that rubble was a tall, wide wall. Nehemiah wrote, I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung Gate. . . . The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction. I followed them on top of the wall, together with half the people—past the Tower of the Ovens to the Broad Wall, 39 over the Gate of Ephraim, the Jeshanah Gate, the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate. At the Gate of the Guard they stopped. Nehemiah had them walk on top of the walls so they could see for themselves how solid they were. They could recall when they thought the project was too big and the opposition too great. Each family could point to the sections they worked on. But was all this their own accomplishment? No. They recognized this happened only because of God’s grace and power. And so they gathered for worship. The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; so did I, together with half the officials, 41 as well as the priests. Just as they walked the walls to recall all that God had done for them, we walk in a circle following the church year. We begin the church year in Advent, celebrating the coming of Christ and his birth at Christmas. We follow his life all the way to his suffering and death on Good Friday. We celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday. We look up at the Ascension of Jesus to heaven and rejoice at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Then we spend half the year looking at Christian life and growth. We conclude by focusing on the End of time and Judgment Day. Then we have circled back to Advent. We do this to remind ourselves all that God has done for us especially in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We follow this church year pattern so that we are not just talking about the things I want to talk about or focusing on what we have done. The church year helps us keep before us the great acts of salvation which God has done for us. Do you ever take time to dwell on all the great things God has done for you? Maybe you think that your life is too messed up or you have too many problems. Maybe your health isn’t good or you have some large debt and you can get so wrapped up in your problems that we can forget all that God has done for us. Think about all the things you do have. You can think of family and friends. Maybe you are not rich, but I think most of us are pretty well off. We can think about the country we live in, the weather that we have, the beauty of nature and more. Mostly, we can recall the promise of eternal life we have in our Savior. Yes, God has done great things for us. And that’s why we worship, to remember what God has done for us. We also worship to offer the sacrifice of praise. Nehemiah recorded, At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres. 28 The musicians also were brought together from the region around Jerusalem. In order to worship God rightly, Nehemiah planned, organized and structured the worship. He got talented people involved in the music of worship. He used these gifts to praise God. Music has always been an important part of worship. Martin Luther said of music, “Nor am I at all of the opinion that all the arts are to be overthrown and cast aside by the Gospel, as some superspiritual people protest; but I would gladly see all the arts, especially music, in the service of Him who has given and created them.” (What Luther Says, #3095) Music and worship are to serve God. We don’t take a self-centered approach to worship asking whether it makes me feel good. We approach worship from the standpoint of giving praise and thanks to God for all that he has done for us. That’s what they did as they dedicated the walls of Jerusalem. And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away. When we were in Colorado a few weeks ago we met a young man from South Korea when we were looking for the trailhead to climb San Luis Peak. This young man had gotten sick on the trail and so we offered him a ride back to town. When we dropped him off, we offered to buy him dinner since his funds were low. He was so appreciative of what we did for him. He thanked us many times and we had a very pleasant evening with our new friend. Because he was so thankful, I would have been happy to do more for him. Isn’t it the same way with God? We take time out of our schedule to offer thanks and praise because he has done so much for us. And isn’t that pleasing to God? Of course, it is. The Apostle Paul said, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:23) I know this passage isn’t talking about worship, but worship should be something that we work at, not to please people but to please God. Worship is something we should work at with all our heart, because we are doing it for the Lord. But we can never forget that our praise and thanks to God is only acceptable because of Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice. When we bring our praises to God, we are celebrating the sacrifice of our Savior who died so that we could live. Have you ever painted with an oil based paint? If you are like me, I can’t paint without getting it all over me. If you use oil based paint, it won’t wash off with water. You need mineral spirits and a rag. When you wash with that, you get clean but the rag gets dirty. Jesus is like mineral spirits in that in order to clean us, he had to get dirty with our sin. He took it on himself so that we could be free of sin and heirs of life. Such a sacrifice is worth our best efforts to worship him. So why worship? To offer the sacrifice of praise, but also to dedicate ourselves to God. By dedicating the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah was dedicating everything in those walls to God. Every home in the city was dedicated to God. Every family in the city was dedicated to God. Every business in the city was dedicated to God. In our worship, we recall all that God has done for us. He has created, redeemed and sanctified us so we are his. That means we are dedicated to God. So my life is dedicated to God. My marriage is dedicated to God. My work is dedicated to God. My finances are dedicated to God. A bus driver complained to a Christian businessman. “Man you get to travel all over the world and see different places and I’m stuck on this bus every day.” The Christian businessman told him that before anyone got on the bus, dedicate the bus to God for the day and treat like a place where God dwells. That advice helped the bus driver see his job in an entirely new perspective. Too often we have limited worship to just one hour a week, at most. We compartmentalize our lives. By seeing ourselves as dedicated to God, we see that our whole lives are worship and service of him who loved us and gave himself for us. Why worship? We worship to remember all that God has done for us. We worship to offer him the sacrifice of praise. We worship to remember that he bought us and we belong to him. So our whole lives are dedicated to God. Why worship? God deserves our all, our best, our always.