Today began like most any other Sunday morning, minus the extra hour of sleep. We pulled into the parking lot with fifteen minutes to spare before service time, got the kids checked in and walked them to their spaces, entered the worship area and received the day’s bulletin, then finally sat down in a couple of seats to unpack my pencils and prepare for the service. As I read over the announcements and verses we’d focus on, I noticed the title for today’s sermon, “A City Within a City.” That’s when it hit me like a runaway train, the reason I draw every service, my purpose in sharing those drawings with you. Two years ago we worked our way through a series we called ‘Planted’. That series was about our calling as a church and as individuals to flourish where we are placed rather than waiting to grow until we’re at te place we want to be. One of those messages was A City Within a City. The details of that first installment of A City Within a City came rushing back to the forefront of my mind after reading the same title this morning. This ability to instantly recall the message from two years previous was the result of that first drawing fulfilling its purpose, art reviving memories retrieving words reliving a message. This is revival. This is why I draw.
The details of Nehemiah are not totally unfamiliar to me, so much of today’s springboard passage was nothing new. What did strike me as a profound detail I’d never considered is the timeline. The book of Nehemiah is a personal journal of one man’s mission to rebuild a city and re-establish a kingdom. We are basically reading Nehemiah’s diary. His first entry recounts a moment where he learned of Jerusalem’s demise. Hearing this conjured up such extreme sadness, Nehemiah was literally overcome with mourning for days. That sounds reasonable enough on paper, the destruction of a city is an emotional event that would logically require multiple days to complete the mourning process. The catch is, Jerusalem met its fate hundreds of years before Nehemiah started his ancient blog. Dean really put this in perspective for us by giving an applicable analogy. Nehemiah’s relationship to Jerusalem’s previous destruction on a timeline is about a relative as we are to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. That’s right folks. President Lincoln has been shot and his prognosis is grim. Please, stop crying now so you can finish reading. I’m sure no one reading this shed a tear, but that is exactly what Nehemiah did, and then some.
Why? What was so devastating to this guy about the ancient state of ruin for this city that it brought a grown man to mourning for days a hundred years later? His love for the community. Nehemiah was not broken over damaged architecture, charred landmarks or disrespected memorials. He was broken for the shattered community.
The question that faced us all this morning was not your typical altar call; ‘Have you been saved?’, ‘Do you need to talk with God?’ Today’s question is two-fold. Do you care enough about your community to mourn over its broken state and your contributions to its brokenness? What are you going to do about it?
Two years ago, A City Within a City encouraged us not only to grow, but to flourish where we are planted. My drawing from that day depicted a city-scape. The jagged horizon of city buildings and smokestacks was contrasted by the rolling lines of trash in the foreground; you realize you are standing in a dump on the outskirts of town. Among the serrated skyline and rolling curves of over-full trash bags and mangled metal, out from a small clearing of dirt, a single flower stretches skyward. Flourish where you’re planted, building a city within a city.
Today we took that call to grow a step further. Grow inside your realm to foster deeper, meaningful community. Through that, nourish your community and those within it. Today’s drawing began as a re-creation of the landscape from 2011 then evolved to contain a new focus.
I kept many details from the original composition; the city skyline, the trash impeding on the foreground, and (of course) the lone flower seeming out of place but blooming anyway.
Now standing central to the page is a stoic figure, overlooking the city and all its inhabitants. Strapped around his waist is a work belt, loaded with a hammer and building supplies. This person is ready to work hard and get dirty in the process. This figure is the church (ekklesia). The church is the city within the city. The city is only as effective as its members.
I embedded a reference to another piece from earlier this year in the lighthouse on the other side of the bay. Along with establishing itself as a city within a city, we are set in place as a city on a hill. A lighthouse is an immediately recognized landmark for a city. Its importance is as evident as its individuality. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
The question remains. Do you care enough about your community to mourn over its brokenness? What will you do about it?
The church has been content on the sidelines for too long.
It’s game time.