Worship at 9 am
10:15 am Sunday School
Pastor Glenn Zimbelman
|Evangelical Lutheran Church in America|
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As we live into our second week of Advent, our prophet this week is Ezekiel. Ezekiel is a Jewish refugee living in Babylon when the book was written. Much of the book is a judgement against Judah for their sins. It is because of their sins against God, that the Jewish nation ends up in Babylon. This of course is a theme that all the prophets address. As the end of the book, we have this vision about dry bones. So to get into the mood for the day I thought we could all sing along with the lyrics.
Dry Bones Song
One of the main themes of Advent is Hope. We have this need, this desire, in that as much of the world is a mess, we have Hope that God can make a difference. Now it is one thing to have a simple need. That need might be a job, a relationship, even something as simple as a meal for an hungry stomach. What happens if that need, is much deeper. As I said to the kids, it is not a matter of the glass being half empty or half full! What happens if the glass is entirely empty? The Judah nation is now in exile. They look at their nation and all they see is dry bones. It is one thing to give water to a thirsty nation, but how do you do that if the nation is dead. Simply put, they feel that they are way past the tipping point. They are beyond fixing. They are beyond hope. And behind that feeling is a question, why would God want anything to do with us?
Picture of Abandoned Church
In my first mission church in Ohio, we were scrambling to make things work. Another church had blessed us with warehouse space. So we had a building to use, but nothing else. Some of you no doubt remember what it is like to begin with nothing. You have no altar, no candles, not even a hymnbook. So I get a call from the synod office that said, an ELCA church is closing. They people have folded up, left the building to the synod and they were going to put it up for sale. Would our church like to go down there and see what we could use? We were delighted. So we went there to scrounge. We were allowed to take anything we thought we would need.
But I was very conflicted. I sat in the empty sanctuary which was still in pretty good shape. I thought to myself, there was a time when this church was booming place. It was built because the people wanted a place to worship their Lord. I don’t know why they folded. My guess is that they were a neighborhood church where everyone knew each other. People moved away, the neighborhood changed, and for whatever reason the church died. So I say in the sanctuary while my crew rummaged in the basement. I felt a moment of sadness for this place. The church had a history, they had a place of doing ministry, and now it was all done and gone. They became dry bones.
We filled up a moving van and several pickups of stuff. The chairs they provided were priceless. We even picked up a very nice fridge and essentially a full kitchen. It was quite a haul. We unloaded all of this stuff and began to figure out how we were going to use it. Suddenly what came over me was a moment of sheer thankfulness. For while God wasn’t able to bring life to that church, God brought life to ours. So I gave thanks to God for out of dry bones, God brought life.
Now in the Ezekiel text there are a set of 3 visions. In the first vision is of the dry bones themselves. In the second vision, the dry bones are animated, but without life. We then read the following about vison number 3 in Ezekiel 37:11.
“Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely”
Unfortunately all of us will have to deal with a crisis from time to time. We may have a loved one die, a broken relationship or a health issue looms. We wonder, is all hope lost. Is our glass empty? And yet Ezekiel offers us words of Hope for a nation of dried bones. We read in Exekiel 37:14
“I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live. And I will place you on your own soil, then you shall know that I the Lord have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”
Throughout the three visions is this phrase,
“And You shall know that I am the Lord”
As a pastor, to be a mission developer takes a unique skill set. I love to build things and are energized at seeing what God can do! I marvel and give thanks each day when I think how far God has taken us. I don’t know what or when we will be blessed with a building to do ministry. Yet I am confident that God will provide. There is another skill set for pastors called Redevelopment. This is where you take a church that still has a little bit of life left, and get them to reimagine new mission and new ministry opportunities. Redevelopment work is very hard. Those dry bones are dry for certain reasons. So I was discussing the differences between a mission start and a redevelopment. A pastor friend of mine said to me, I would rather be in your shoes. And said why is that? “ He said, it is easier to give birth than to resurrect the dead”
But whether we are a mission church or a church in redevelopment, can we open our eyes, our souls, and know that God is active and well. Can we know that God is God? Can we see God at work in the world? Can we have hope in the face of despair?
Remember Abraham and Sarah. Scripture says that they were old and Sarah had ceased to be in the manner of women. This means she was dry bones. Yet as she doubts, the angel reminds her of the power of God. Recall the words in Genesis 18:14
“Is anything too difficult for the Lord?”
Recall the words of exclamation when Thomas still so unsure that Jesus has risen, feels the wounds of Jesus and declares, My Lord and My God”
Somewhere I read of this encounter where someone was pointing out the problems of this world. We had too many hungry people. The world was filled with too much hate and too much war. All the person was clearly a glasses half empty type. And they the wise sage said, yes, it is bad, but imagine how much worse it could be if God wasn’t involved. Jan and I are reading a devotion for Advent. We live in a world where too often we point to ourselves as the reason for our success. We like to think that we make all of our life happens. So I would like to close with reading part of this devotion. For it is at the Rock Bottom, when the dry bones are indeed dry, that is where we often find God.
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