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1-23-22 “It’s Time to Celebrate!”

“It’s Time to Celebrate!” (Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10)

David Peterson / General

Mission / Nehemiah 8:1–10

Sermon type: Topical-Textual

Proposition: Because of God’s word to us we have an eternal purpose, grounded in an eternal person, aiming at an eternal destiny, which fills our lives with joy.


1. The Gift of a definitive Word from God

2. Ours is a time that looks with distrust—fear of authoritarianism, the overreach of theology

3. It means missing out on …

I. The Gift of Knowing What You’re Doing Wrong (Neh. 8:9)

II. The Gift of Knowing to Whom You Belong (Neh. 8:1)

The Way Our Stories Shape Us

The American writer Marianne Wiggins wrote the novel Almost Heaven. One of its central characters is a middle aged woman called Melanie John. We meet her in the psychiatric unit of the Medical College of Virginia suffering from hysterical amnesia. Five weeks earlier she was a happily married mother of four living in the Richmond suburbs.

One day five weeks earlier she and her family are in their car heading down the highway. Her husband Jason, the love of her life, is driving. The four kids are in the back. Melanie has been writing in her journal when a gust of wind catches a sheet of paper and rips it out the window.

Jason pulls the car over to the side of the road, Melanie gets out and heads into the field at the side of the road to recover her writing. That’s when she hears the awful screech of tires skidding, smells the burning of rubber, and turns around to see another vehicle slam into the rear of her family’s car. The vehicle explodes. Jason and the children are killed instantly.

Melanie’s system copes by shutting down, by blocking out all memories of this day and of her family. The last 20 years, the family years, are erased from her conscious memory. She remembers the day 20 years earlier she graduated law school and went to work in the law office on Broad street. But meeting Jason and falling in love, the day of her wedding, the birth of her children, the building of their house, the times they all spent at the beach, the fights and the love – she can’t remember any of it.

The amnesia acts as an emotional anaesthetic, but it also robs her of herself. She has no sense of who she is. Inside that shell of a body who is Melanie John? What is her life about? Where does she fit? What’s her place, her purpose? Without the stories of the last 20 years she has no way of knowing. Without the stories of her past there is no meaningful present and there can be no meaningful future.

The novel recounts Melanie’s journey to recovering her memories, the pain of her loss and the regaining of her sense of self. One of the things the story reminds us about is that we are made up of our stories. Our sense of self, of who we are, of why where here, of where we fit and where we’re headed are the map by which we make sense of life.

When you reflect on this you discover that it’s true at both the individual level and the cultural level. As well as our individual stories we are shaped by our cultural stories, stories which tell us who we are, what life’s about, what we should and shouldn’t value. For Christians, the Christian faith provides us with an alternate story to that of our culture, and calls us to its sense of place, of value, of direction and meaning.

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III. The Gift of Knowing Where You Are and What Is Your Mission (Neh. 8:9-10)

Mission Mode vs. Maintenance Mode and the ‘Titanic’

Did you know there were two boats that responded to the Titanic when it was sinking? One boat, the Californian, was about 20 miles away. They turned off their radio about ten minutes before the Titanic hit the iceberg. They saw rockets and flares shoot off in the distance. They couldn’t figure out why another boat was shooting rockets and flares, but they didn’t turn on their radio, and they didn’t investigate. They saw the boat’s light turn off, but thought it was just turning its light off for the night. The crew of the Californian were so in maintenance-mode with what they were already doing, they couldn’t imagine the Titanic sinking. For the rest of their lives the crew members of the Californian had to wrestle with why they didn’t go.

But there was another ship, the Carpathia. It was 58 miles away. But its radio was on, and when it got the call that the Titanic was sinking it powered up all its engines and headed straight for the Titanic, navigating around icebergs in the night. It ran full-power ahead for 3.5 hours. When the crew showed up at the scene of the disaster, many had already perished, but they saved 705 lives from the life boats.

Source: Adapted from William Hull, Strategic Preaching: The Role of the Pulpit in Pastoral Leadership (Chalice Press, 2006), pp 209-213; “RMS Carpathia,” Wikipedia (Accessed 9/14/21); “Stanley Lord,” Wikipedia (Accessed 9/14/21) — accessed at

Harvard and Yale Drifted from Original Mission

Consider this mission statement of a well-known university: “To be plainly instructed and consider well that the main end of your life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ.” Founded in 1636, this university employed exclusively Christian professors, emphasized character formation in its students above all else, and placed a strong emphasis on equipping ministers to share the good news. Every diploma read, Christo et Ecclesiae around Veritas, meaning “Truth for Christ and the Church.” You’ve probably heard of this school. It’s called Harvard University.

Only 80 years after its founding, a group of New England pastors sensed Harvard had drifted too far for their liking. Concerned by the secularization at Harvard, they approached a wealthy philanthropist who shared their concerns. This man, Elihu Yale, financed their efforts in 1718, and they called the college Yale University. Yale’s motto was not just Veritas (truth) like Harvard, but Lux et Veritas (light and truth).

Source: Adapted from Peter Greer and Chris Horst, Mission Drift (Bethany House, 2014), pp. 16-18 —accessed at


Modern-Day Missionary at McDonald’s

Global missions expert Paul Borthwick shared the following story to remind us how God’s mission can be from anyone anywhere at any time:

A young man named Peter reminded me of a modern-day Philip. I stopped in to a McDonald’s in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I noticed Peter working the counter. I recognized him from our young adult ministry at church, and I knew he had just graduated from Harvard University with a master’s degree. I greeted him and managed to get him to break free for coffee together.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, knowing that Harvard master’s degree students don’t usually aspire to work the counter at McDonald’s. “Well,” he explained, “I graduated in May but I went four months without finding a job, so I said to myself, ‘I need some income to pay bills.’ So this is where I’ve ended up—at least for now.”

“Sorry to hear that. It must be hard,” I replied, but Peter cut me off.

“No. Don’t be sorry. God has me here. This place is giving me awesome opportunities to share my faith. I’m on a shift that includes a Buddhist guy from Sri Lanka, a Muslim fellow from Lebanon, a Hindu lady from India, and a fellow Christian from El Salvador. It’s awesome. I get to be a global missionary to my coworkers while asking ‘would you like fries with that?'”

He laughed and so did I. Like Philip, Peter found himself in a setting he never would have chosen as part of his long-term plan, but his mindset of living as a sent person shaped the way he looked at his circumstances and at the people around him.

Source: Paul Borthwick, Great Commission, Great Compassion (IVP Books, 2015), page 46 —accessed at


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