We find ourselves involved in so many different things these days that it’s hard to keep track of it all. A large part of our brains are taken up just juggling the dozens of passwords we need for various online subscriptions, which seem to be constantly changing. It raises the question: given that we’re connected to so many things, what does it mean to really belong to something?
It’s in this context that Anzac weekend reminds us how precious our communities are and the enormous sacrifices that have gone into protecting them. Today we remember those people across the generations who gave up their own future so that we might have one.
Along similar lines, the Book of Nehemiah provides a beautiful picture of what it means to belong to and fight for a community of people gathered by God. At the start of the story Nehemiah is working for the Babylonian ruler King Ataxerxes when he receives God’s clarion call to rebuild the broken down walls of Jerusalem. Incredibly his foreign boss blesses this mission and sends Nehemiah to restore the ruined city. This begins a rollicking adventure, which sees the dispirited squatters in Jerusalem rebuild their city walls in 52 days, despite constant threats from their neighbors. As Nehemiah says to the Israelites at one point: “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your people, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
This improbable project was made possible because each family and group worked side-by-side along the unbroken length of the wall, united and unflinching in their common purpose. They literally formed a human wall as they rebuilt the stone one. Anzac weekend, like the Nehemiah story, reminds us of those who were united in a common purpose and protected our community with great courage and at huge personal cost.
It also reminds us of the church, and what it means to belong to this community of faith. An important part of the Nehemiah story is the recording of all the exiled families that returned to the city, 42,360 in all. Recently, our church community showed great solidarity and common purpose by giving generously to the ministry of St Paul’s at a time when we needed to repair the walls of our finances which had been recently damaged. It was such a strong response that we even exceeded the ambitious target we set ourselves! Another way we belong to this community is by keeping records of who we are as a collective group. So, just like those ancient Israelites, we’re taking a St Paul’s Census, which allows us to keep reliable records so that we can communicate more effectively with the church. But more than just record keeping, it gives us a clear picture of the human wall of protection that surrounds this church—in New Testament language, the living stones of this temple of the Holy Spirit.
As we remember the brave people who made our larger community possible, it’s a perfect opportunity to recommit ourselves to this church by signing on as part of our upcoming Census later this week.
Rev Jonny Grant