Archive for June 1st, 2009

Reflections on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2009

“Faith has to do with marrying Invisible and Visible. When we engage in an act of faith we give up control, we give up sensory (sight, hearing, etc.) confirmation of reality; we give up insisting on head knowledge as our primary means of orientation in life. The positive way to say this is that when we engage in an act of faith we choose to deal with a living God whom we trust to know what he is doing, we choose a way of life in which bodily senses and physical matter are understood as inseparable and organic to vast interiorities (soul) and immense beyonds (heaven), and we choose to no longer operate strictly on the basis of hard-earned knowledge, glorious as it is, but over a lifetime to embrace the mystery that ‘must dazzle gradually/Or every man go blind.’ (Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way, 44; the quote at the end is from Emily Dickenson, The Complete Poems.)

I preached from Ezekiel 37 this morning but only the first 14 verses. The Lord takes Ezekiel for a walk through a valley, a plain—maybe the plain of Meggido—and shows him the remains of what had probably been a battle. The dead, likely of the losing army, had been left on the battle field. Their bodies over time had decayed and been picked clean by the animals and birds. All that was left was bones. A valley of dry, very dry bones. And as Ezekiel retells the events of that day, he recalled that the Lord had showed him all around the valley that day after setting him down in the very middle of that pile of bones. Listen to Ezekiel recall the day’s events.

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”

Ezekiel was shown a valley of desolation, a plain of hopelessness, the valley of the shadow of death. There was nothing there but death, dead, dry bones and that is all that Ezekiel saw. Ezekiel was far too literal; he hadn’t yet developed the eyes of faith, eyes that see what eyes cannot see. The Lord showed Ezekiel everything there was to see: A vast, endless, sea of dead, dry, very dry bones. From a purely human point of view, the question the Lord asked Ezekiel was unfair and I believe that Ezekiel’s answer betrays that: “Lord, you alone know.”

This was, I believe, Ezekiel’s way of giving a perfectly orthodox theological answer without being committed to faith: “You alone know Lord.” Yes. The Lord knows. I think it was Ezekiel’s way of saying something like, “Lord, you can do anything, but I seriously doubt that this valley of dry, very dry bones can or will live. You alone know, Lord; yes, I agree. But this is a valley of dry bones. That’s all I see. There’s no hope for this valley of dry bones. And yet, Lord, I will obey; I will speak.”

The thing is, that’s not what the Lord saw. Later we learn what the Lord saw. Listen to what the Lord told the prophet.

Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, `Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off. Therefore prophesy and say to them: `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ “

That’s the difference between God’s view of things and our view of things. God sees the things that we do not, or cannot. God sees life where there is death; hope where there is hopelessness; the House of Israel where there is only a valley of dry bones. God sees things that we cannot. You might say that God has a sort of faith that we do not. I might say I want that sort of faith.

Maybe Ezekiel wasn’t quite ready to give up control; maybe I’m not. He knew what he saw: A valley of dry, very dry bones. Maybe he wasn’t ready to give up sensory control or his insistence upon a purely intellectual, visual, orientation to life. It’s not easy to live in that sort of, from a human point of view, randomness. We like control. We like knowing, seeing, hearing. We do not like things being out of the ordinary; we like routine. Faith is a way of living that says, if I may, ‘to hell with routine; to hell with what I know, see, hear; to hell with control.’ I know that sounds almost like anarchy, but I assure you it is actually the sort of life (the only sort of life) that can say, “Yes Lord I will take my son, my only son, whom I love, and sacrifice him on a distant mountain even though I don’t see the sense of it;” or “Yes Lord I will prophesy to a valley of dead, dry bones even though I don’t think anything will happen when I do;” or “Yes, Lord, continue believing in you even though there are people who want to kill me for doing so;” or, “Yes, Lord, I will dance and become even more undignified even though people will mock me, people from within my own family; or, “Yes, Lord, I will go to the world with your hope even though they will reject me and crucify me.”

That kind of faith is the kind of faith that defines the people of Christ. And it is also the kind of faith that we are asked to exercise in every situation. The hardest times to exercise such faith are the times when we happen to think that such faith isn’t actually necessary. “Oh, it’s a small decision. I can make it on my own. God doesn’t care what sort of toaster I buy. All I need here is common sense and Sunday’s ads.” But that is not faith. Faith is that extraordinary trust, small and often indiscernible, even when things seem simple and uncomplicated. It might be easy to display a herculean sort of faith during times of great stress and pressure and attack, but I think it is most important to practice such faith when things are at their easiest and least complicated. It shows that we don’t trust ourselves at all; that we need guidance in all ways.

If we don’t practice such faith then, do you think we will practice such faith when life is up in arms and the enemy is crowding us, desiring more space in our lives, when things are really, really hard? If I won’t have the faith required to preach faithfully to a captive audience (let’s face it, a valley of dry bones is a rather captive audience; they’re not going anywhere; they can’t do anything but ‘listen’), then how will I faithfully preach to a living body of Christ? (Maybe it says something about Ezekiel that the Lord entrusted him to preach to a valley of dry bones first before he asked him to preach to the ‘whole house of Israel’.) It’s a small thing to preach to dry bones; it’s quite another thing to preach to the Living Body of Christ. I notice Ezekiel did preach to the bones; we are not told that he preached this particular message to the ‘whole house of Israel’ (See vss 7, 10, 12-14.)

I know I am mixing up all these words: Faith, faithfulness, God’s ‘faith’, my faith. What I’m getting at though is that perhaps faith is the letting go of what we know and see and hear and the living of life that comes from knowing, seeing and hearing and instead living a life that is oriented around what God sees, hears, and knows. I mean think about it, what’s better? Preaching to what we see, that is, a valley of dry bones or preaching to what God sees, the whole house of Israel? But until we have the sort of eyes that see what God sees, the whole house of Israel, our efforts, our preaching, our faith—indeed, our very lives–will be full of frustration and futility.

We live by faith, not sight. But it’s that kind of faith; God’s kind of faith. So Ezekiel prophesied.

And there was a noise, a rattling sound.

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podcastWelcome to the Life Under the Blue Sky Skycast (podcast). In this episode, you will hear a sermon from Ezekiel 37:1-4. I preached this sermon to my congregation on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2009. Be blessed.

Access the sermon manuscript from box.net: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Waking the Dead

Prophesy to the Bones. And the Lord put words in his mouth: Say to them, ‘I will make breath enter you, and you will come to live. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’

And what does the Bible say? “I prophesied as I was commanded.” I think this means that he did as he was told, and he told as he was told. Then he says, “While I was prophesying, there was a rattling…” You see, here a beautiful thing: Nothing happened until Ezekiel started preaching. Nothing happens apart from the proclamation of the Word of God. If Ezekiel had just stood there, silent, disobedient, nothing would have happened. The bones would not have rattled. The tendons would not have appeared. Flesh would not have appeared. Skin would not have covered the flesh.

Nothing would have happened if the prophet hadn’t spoke. But see the Word of God creating worlds out of nothing. See the Word of God calling Lazarus forth. See the Word of God do it’s work. And why? “Then you will know that I am the Lord.” This is the revealing God—He speaks and dead, dry, very dry bones are recreated.

Still Ezekiel saw there was a problem: “There was no breath in them.” I think we want something to happen. We want some sort of hope. We want sort of revival. We say, “Our coffers are dried up. We are pews are empty. We have not a lot of youth.”

And God doesn’t send us anything but his Word. And what is His Word to us: I will make these dry bones live. Preach, son of man. “So I prophesied as I was commanded. That’s all. He just spoke aloud with ordinary words. No magic. No secret incantations. No conjuring tricks with bones. Just the living power of the word of the living God invading the valley of the shadow of death.” (Wright, 306)

You can access the audio here: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Waking the Dead

Or use the convenient inline player below.

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Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

This is a sermon I preached from John 17:6-19 on May 24, 2009. My congregation has been going through some tough times lately and this sermon was a great way to put those issues in perspective. The battle we wage is not against the flesh; Jesus prayed for and prepared us for the battle that is being waged against us.

You can access the sermon manuscript from box.net in MS Word format. Below is an excerpt.

John 17:6-19: Jesus, the World, and Us

An important evening was about to conclude. The disciples had been introduced to the real Jesus. This was Jesus in the raw…the hardcore Jesus who takes off his clothes and washes feet. This was uncontrollable Jesus who quietly announces that his betrayer is among his throng. This is Jesus who says that his people will be defined by nothing less than their love for one another. This is Jesus who sat and listened and patiently, confidently answered all the questions the disciples put forth that evening.

This was the Jesus who decided that the conversation was over because the ‘hour had come’ and that it was time to close the evening’s conversation. So how else would Jesus conclude a conversation, but in prayer. So Eugene Peterson writes:

“The disciples are in the room, but they are no longer asking questions and making comments. They are listening to Jesus speaking with the Father. As Jesus’ followers, we are most definitely included as listening participants.” (Tell it Slant, 217)

Remember, this prayer became Scripture for us. We are not just reading a prayer or even listening to a prayer, but we are listening to the Very Word of God, prayed on and remembered from the night of his betrayal, the eve of his crucifixion. The very night before his death Jesus prayed. It is necessary, then, for us to hear and listen to this prayer—this prayer turned Scripture.

When we take the time to listen to the words of Jesus then we start to hear the voice of Jesus—praying for us, praying with us, praying to the Father. The book of Hebrews says he always lives to make intercession for us. We hear the voice of Jesus in the upper room, on the night he was betrayed, some two-thousand years ago praying a mighty prayer for his people. I want you to hear that prayer this morning.

Be blessed in the Lord.

podcastWelcome to the Life Under the Blue Sky Skycast (Podcast). In this installment, I will explore Psalm 22. You can access the sermon manuscript and lectionary notes here. Here’s an excerpt from the sermon:

The Psalm doesn’t end with all the wavering and tossing to and fro. It doesn’t end with the ups and downs. It ends with worship! It ends in Praise! It ends in the assembly declaring the greatness of God. Why? Well, I think the reason it ends the way it does is because David was vindicated. David survived God’s silence.

Abraham survived God’s silence. Job survived God’s silence. Elijah survived God’s silence. Joseph survived God’s silence.

Jesus survived God’s silence. Resurrection was the vindication. Resurrection is the vindication.

God is being silent for some of you, but your psalm does not end the way it begins. Mourning lasts for an evening, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

Jesus’ vindication, his victory, is the promise of your vindication and your victory. God is probably very silent for some of you right now. But he has promised never to leave you or forsake you. He has promised to raise you up. Be encouraged today in the hope that you have been given in Christ.

You can access the audio here: Psalm 22, On the Journey With and Without God

Or use the convenient inline player below.

[Audio http://ia341212.us.archive.org/0/items/OnTheJourneyWithAndWithoutGodPsalm22/OnTheJourneyWithAndWithoutGodPsalm22May102009.mp3%5D

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Soli Deo Gloria!