Ezekiel 37:1-3, 11-14
God’s Spirit within gives sight (a peek) around the corner.
is nothing new under the sun. . .”
(Ecclesiastes 1:9), says the “teacher” in the book of
(“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.
words have spoken to us at times in our lives:
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
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
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
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 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.”
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
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
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
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, :
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)
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.
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,
87 people who
have been listening for God’s Call in this time and place
scripture and shared information about Eugene FCC
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
“Within the universal church we receive the gift of ministry
And the light of scripture.” (Preamble to our organizing principles)
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
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
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
Some things showing
up in the reports include both:
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
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
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.
Do you put new wine in old wine skins?
Doesn’t the fermentation of the new wine burst the old wine
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
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
God is at work among
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.
a peek around the corner:
from Prayer Triad Reports – compiled by Donna Reitz, Alan Brandenfels,
and Dick Busic – 7/28/07
welcoming home for people
with hope and optimism
place for dialogue on difficult issues
to confront conflict
WHERE WE ARE:
A doing church
education for children
ministry – giving
spirituality through service
Naming and using
our God-given gifts
nurture and free us for greater service
presence of God in our lives
our vision in mission
sharing as a congregation