On a visit to the US a couple of years ago, I was struck by how automated a lot of things there are. For example, at the airport in Houston, Texas, they have these little trains which take you all over the airport. I used one of them to get to another terminal, but when I went on board, a voice came through the speakers saying where the train was going and telling me to sit down. I looked for the driver, but the only other people on board were some fellow travellers, and this slightly mysterious voice that did not have a body attached to it. And as it turned out, the trains were all self-driving robots.
The petrol stations are also the same. You basically drive up and pay the petrol pump for the fuel and help yourself. No one comes out to help you – you basically have to do it yourself. And even in some of the stores, you have self-checkout tills where you can just load up your groceries in your trolley, check them out and pay for them all by yourself – no human beings necessary, the machines are taking over.
On one hand, it’s fascinating – it’s efficient, saves money and time, and it works, at least most of the time. But it does away with that vital element to everyday life – the human being. There is no one to say hello, and ask you how your day was, no one to pack your groceries and wish you a good afternoon. There is no one to check your water, and oil and battery, and clean your windscreen for you. There are times when a smile from a petrol attendant has been all I needed to make my day a little brighter. And even when you come across the not-so-friendly people, it still gives you a chance to exercise good Christian grace and character.
But that won’t happen when you have machines. Yes they are faster, and sometimes easier to deal with, but they can’t replace the human being.
This morning, as we look at Nehemiah 7, you will have certainly noticed that it is a passage made up almost entirely of names. And you have to wonder why? I most certainly did – when John told me I would be the one preaching on this passage, I wondered if I had done something to offend him and this was his way of getting back at me.
But as I studied it a bit more, I realized that it is so full of names because it is a passage about people who were used by God to serve him. And these people mattered to God. And that is the heart of God’s word to you this morning – He is building his kingdom through you because you matter to God. Therefore, your service to God is precious, which is our first point this morning.