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Seeing Round the Corner

Sermon - 8/05/07
Dick Busic
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Ecclesiastes. 1:9; 
Ezekiel 37:1-3, 11-14
Luke 5:36-39

 

Proposition:  God’s Spirit within gives sight (a peek) around the corner.

Introduction:

 “There is nothing new under the sun. . .”  (Ecclesiastes 1:9), says the “teacher” in the book of Ecclesiastes.

This teacher (“teacher” is the root meaning of Hebrew word, Ecclesiastes) this teacher of a congregation/assembly is looking back over his long life, a striving after pleasure, riches, and even wisdom.  He comes to the conclusion that all is vanity.

He asks serious questions out of age old human perplexities that still challenge us today – a realist some might call him. 

He believes in God and sees life as a gift of God. 

This teacher’s words have spoken to us at times in our lives:

Chapter 3

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to mourn and a time to dance, etc.

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning. . .

The patient in spirit are better than the proud in spirit. . .

Do not be quick to anger, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools.

Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?” for it is not from wisdom that you ask this. 

But this teacher speaks from a disillusioned view of life:  better is the day of death than the day of birth. . . . (chap. 7)

He would likely confess that he not always trusted in God nor obeyed God’s voice.  Perhaps out of his own regret, the teacher pleads especially with youth: (Chap. 12 – Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.”

Vanity of Vanities, says the teacher, all is vanity. 

While the teacher’s questions still beg for answers, he ends his journey with the sad song of humanity.

Now consider words from a Hebrew who in the midst of exile in Babylonia (away from the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Temple – now destroyed).  At Israel’s darkest hour, he receives a divine call to be a prophet.

Ezekiel was among the over 3000 Jews exiled to Babylonia by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C.  At Israel’s lowest point in history, Ezekiel writes of a Sovereign who acts in such ways that all people will come to know this God – over 65 times in Ezekiel these words are written:  “Then they will know that I am the Lord.”

(Holy City or no Holy City, Temple or no Temple).

This God can come to Israel anywhere and under any circumstance.

Whereas The Teacher in Ecclesiastes just sees the wind just going round and round, Ezekiel sees in the wind a chariot – living creatures – fire and lightening – and wheels within wheels moving in any of four directions – and then a vision – not letting any nation, including Israel off the hook for disobeying God in transgressions against their brothers and sisters – God says to Ezekiel in this vision:

   “(11:19ff – I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them.  Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.)

 

36;11b - . . . .and I will do more good to you than ever before.

Then you shall know that I am the Lord.

Through the prophet Ezekiel, God speaks:  (37: - valley of the dry bones)

They say, “our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost: we are cut off completely.”  But God says, “I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves. . . . I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live. . .

Our middle son likes his meat cooked so rare that “a good vet could get it up and running again.”  Think of the miracle!

Think of the miracle from the Hebrew children’s perspective – in the valley of dry bones – their life in exile in Babylonia, to a people blessed by God again – at home in the land and worshiping freely and living out the word of the Lord.

Differences between the Teacher and the Prophet:

“Vanity, all is vanity”, says the teacher.

But through the prophet, the voice of God says – “I will put my spirit within you and you shall live.”

 

I  THE TEACHER OR THE PROPHET?

We agree with the teacher – that life without trust and obedience to God is pointless.

And we determine with the prophet to listen to God’s spirit within us and to live (wherever we are; no matter what the circumstance we face).

In my first church after seminary training, I was full of enthusiasm, with lots of ideas.  The church had much patience with me, letting me try new ways of doing things.  I would go to seminars and return with the perfect church program for our congregation.

There was a retired pastor in the congregation in whom I confided often.  His name was Emil Helseth (Grandfather of our regional moderator, Carol Cure).  He would listen to my description of this great new plan and, then, I would hear him say, “that sounds like something we did back in 1947.  Let’s give it a try.”

It’s a valid emotion.  “Here we go again.”  We have been through this process before!  We have used up reams of paper to write out our plans and ideas in the past.  What are we going to come up with but what we have experienced before – again and again.

But the thing about Emil was, he was ready to give it another go.  Emil Helseth was an encouragement to me.

And Dick Hamm is an encouragement to me as well.  He has challenged us to be listening and praying for God’s leading – eager for God’s call – to be and to do – with God, where God is at work.

We will come up with fresh church program, and Dick will guide us – be our coach – as we work at implementing that program.

But this isn’t about just coming up with a new church program.   Rather it is about discovering where God is already at work and listening for God’s call to join in that ministry.

Too often we have thought up a good program and hoped God would approve and bless it.  Rather than to see and hear and sense through the Spirit, the calling we have from God.  To see, through the Spirit of God, around the corner. . . .

Loren Mead of the Alban Institute reminds us in his book:  The Five Challenges of the Once and Future Church, :

“the only mission that counts is God’s mission.  That assumption makes us look at the world and mission in a new light.  We no longer look at the world for the gaps, so that we, in mission, can take God to where God is not now.  Instead, we look at the world as the arena in which God’s care and love are already, everywhere, at work.  We do not take mission out; we go out to meet the mission already there.  We look for the places to which we are called to take our place in that larger, ongoing mission.” (p. 73f)

“This mission comes to life only as the spread-out people of God reach out to touch whatever is around them—in their jobs, communities, organizations-in their worldly commitments.  The mission becomes visible in their actions as servants.  Their task:  to see that no pain is unshared, no hurt unnoticed, no hunger untouched, no loss grieved alone, no death unknown, and no joy uncelebrated.” (p. 78)

An editorial in the 8/4/07 Register Guard had the caption:  “A Day for Ordinary Heroes,” (Bridge Collapse brings out the best in Twin Cities)  It praised the “first responders” of Minneapolis/St. Paul- Law enforcement, emergency medical teams and fire department- all better trained since 9/11 and with better equipment.  It praised hospitals and blood banks.  But it praised, most of all, ordinary citizens for their selflessness and courage to rush in to help victims.  Some of them just after swimming out of the water themselves, turned right around to help others near by.  There was some scare that this bridge collapse was the result of terrorists.  Yet, instead of running for their lives, people like you and me stayed on site to rescue and comfort.  The airwaves were filled with images of commuters pulling their fellow travelers out of crushed cars or up onto the riverbank and then racing back toward the danger to help others.

The bridge collapse was a wake-up call for maintaining vital infrastructure, but also a call for all of us to be ordinary heroes in our own neighborhoods, communities, and world:

“to see that no pain is unshared, no hurt unnoticed, no hunger untouched, no loss grieved alone, no death unknown, and no joy uncelebrated.”

How do we perceive what God wants for us and for the world?. .Where God wants us to be and wants us to do?  How do we distinguish between what we want and what God wants?

How do we discern the will of God for us:  “How do we see round the corner?

In the current phase of our Visioning Process, there are 29 Prayer Triads committed to listening to God’s spirit within them.  They are sharing with each other, reading scripture, and praying together out loud.

We are receiving reports coming from these Prayer Triads,

An aside:  A visitor this week told Ginny and me that Eugene First Christian Church is known in the community as a “praying church.”  Interesting to hear how outsiders perceive us.

  • 87 people who have been listening for God’s Call in this time and place

  • Reflecting on scripture and shared information about Eugene FCC

  • Putting into words the insights and observations that come from the group

As members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) we have said:

                        We interpret the Word of the Lord together
“Within the universal church we receive the gift of ministry
And the light of scripture.” (Preamble to our organizing principles)

  • Listening prayer

  • Putting into words our response to the Spirit’s leading

  • Testing that with the whole church

  • Congregation

  • Regional Leadership

  • Dr. Richard Hamm and company

 

In the alcove, thanks to Nancy Comer and Patty Weller, you see today some phrases and themes and insights and observations.  They are coming from the prayer triads – some of whom are just beginning and others that are more than half finished with their ten sessions.  The triads use some materials prepared by Dick Hamm that invite reflection, scripture, discussion, and prayer.  The triads are introduced to materials gathered by the visioning committee that profile our congregation of Christ’s Church.  As they listen for God’s call, they share their insights and observations in reports sent to the Visioning Committee. 

A general summation of those reports is presented on these posters in the alcove, with the invitation to each of you to look at them, and to write your responses and your own insights and observations on the paper provided at the table(s). [Note:  the text of these posters is included at the very end of this sermon]

Early on, these triads are challenged to think “big picture” – vision and mission.  From the big picture will then come ideas for ministry and witness.

We will be forming stories out of the learning from the prayer triads – stories that will continue to shape us.  Huston Smith, a premier teacher of world religions, in his book, The Soul of Christianity, quotes an anonymous writing (p. 37) “People tell themselves stories and then pour themselves into the stories they tell.”

Through your prayers and your insights, you are helping us form these stories that will give our life together meaning and vitality.

II THE OLD OR THE NEW?

Some things showing up in the reports include both:

            Old & New

 

Rev. 21:5- “Behold, I make all things new.”  Even what we think of as old, perhaps – but with God’s spirit and direction – new again.

Isaiah 43:19 – “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

The NT text from Luke reminds us of the parable Jesus told when the religious leaders pointed to his disciples and asked:  Why do they not behave like we do?  We fast and pray; they just seem to eat and drink?

Jesus was asking them, as Isaiah did, to look for the new thing that God is doing in your midst – do you not perceive it?

Do you use new material to patch an old quilt?  Doesn’t the new material shrink with the wash and tear at the fabric of the old quilt?  Actually this is more Mark's version of the illustration, and our traditional telling of it.  Luke has Jesus saying, (paraphrase) "Why would you tear a piece off of a new garment to patch an old one?  You would just ruin the new and the patch wouldn't match the old."  It is tough to get new and old to work together.

Or/  Do you put new wine in old wine skins?  Doesn’t the fermentation of the new wine burst the old wine skins? 

There is a place for the new – God is at work in the new – it is just round the corner.

On the other hand, we don’t throw out the old quilt nor the old wine – we just make way for the new – something we religious people have a hard time doing.

I am in the silent generation, talked about by Dick Hamm when he was with us.  I want the church as an institution to survive – it is connected in my mind to my own survival – my fear is:  if the institution dies, so will I.  My challenge is to look for the new thing God is doing in our midst – and make room for the new.

I also hope that I won’t be thrown out, just because I am growing older. 

In our household, Ginny (my wife) is the tosser; I am the saver.  Ginny will look at something and admit it is wearing out.  Makes me nervous!  I want to repair it.  What happens as I continue to wear out?  Will Ginny want to toss me out?  I have to admit that without Ginny, our household would be very cluttered and would not have some of the new touch Ginny brings to our home.

Old is good in terms of wine – and we who are older have flavors to share that the young have not yet tasted.

But we can hold on and not make room for the new thing God is doing in our midst.

The bride carries with her – something old and something new.

As we seek to be the bride of Christ (Symbol for the Church in the book of Revelation), we will carry with us something old and something new.

Round the corner for our congregation will be something old and something new.

An example of seeing round the corner – and finding something old and something new:

Drew University, one of my alma maters, in Madison, New Jersey, - a good Methodist College and Seminary – has been revisioning – looking for some pep in its step – a charge of adrenaline.  They have launched a new religious center on social and religious conflict and difference.   This center envisions converting difference from a basis for hatred to a goad for understanding, not hoping to end conflict but to raise it from the squalor of warfare to the humanity of dialogue.

They have long valued and respected inclusiveness, but are asking – feeling called -beyond being merely inclusive but richly interactive.

This is the work of the Lord!

God is at work among us!

Bringing about a new thing. . . – more than inclusive but richly interactive.

You have likely had this experience on a committee (you know that bumbling group that created the Giraffe – yet without which we cannot work together):

If we work as a team – everyone bringing ideas to the table – some die on the table while others live long enough to merge into a new idea no one of us would have ever conceived alone.  God does work among us, even in committee.

If we are able to set our egos aside. . .

If we are able to listen/look (“open my eyes glimpses of truth thou hast for me – open my ears that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear – open my mouth and let me bear gladly the warm truth everywhere “– camp chorus of my day)

What are we hearing from the prayer triads?

I invite you to listen as I share these draft statements coming from the triads.  Listen prayerfully and listen to the spirit of God within you.  Then, take time to come to the alcove and write in your own words and from your own heart what you sense to be God’s call to us as a congregation of Christ’s church in this time and place.

Listen for the new (without fear of throwing out the old)

Resist the word of the teacher – nothing new under the sun – all is vanity

Hear the word of the prophet – there is even hope for these dry bones – sinew (miracle)

And the greatest miracle- God’s spirit put within our hearts and minds – so that we will know the Lord.

Take a peek around the corner:


Tastes from Prayer Triad Reports – compiled by Donna Reitz, Alan Brandenfels, and Dick Busic – 7/28/07

 

VISION

  • A welcoming home for people

  • Community above organization

  • Progressive with hope and optimism

  • A place for dialogue on difficult issues

  • Willingness to confront conflict

  • Validating differences

  • Richly interactive

  • Two full-time ministers

  • Global mission

  • Interfaith Relationships

  • Spiritually nurturing

  • Offering mercy humbly

  • Seeking justice courageously

 

WHERE WE ARE:

  • A doing church

  • Excellent preaching

  • Effective education for children

  • Beyond fear-based religion

  • Involved in ministry – giving

  • A practical spirituality through service

 

FEELING CALLED TOWARD:

  • Involving younger generations

  • Genuinely welcoming newcomers

  • Naming and using our God-given gifts

  • Small groups

  • Fun times together

  • Programs that nurture and free us for greater service

  • Whole church worship

  • Mystery and presence of God in our lives

  • Deepened spiritual strength

  • Responding from our vision in mission

  • “Good News” sharing as a congregation

 


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