This is the final sermon after 10 years in the pulpit. Sunday, June 24, will also be the last sermon that I have threaded together the images of the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window (Leawood, KS). This has been such an interesting six months as I have studied the window and considered its creation as a visual sermon. There is so much to share concerning God and his story that the ideas never seem to run out. Ending 10 years does not mean an ending to ministry, just an ending to this pulpit at this time. I will do my best to rest for a bit, but my mind continues to spin out ideas. Thank you for reading and following these sermons. I do not plan to end blogging, just the postings may be different. Only God knows what will appear on this site at this time. Please be patient and continue to follow.
Sitting at the desk with the funeral of the two KCK police officers in the background, I struggle to pick up the task of writing this final sermon. I am reminded that evil lurks in every community and that as Christians we are to be God’s eyes, hands, and feet.
Looking at the COS window, there is one more image that cannot be overlooked:
#31 THE LION, WOLF AND THE LAMB—In the Restored Paradise, all of God’s creatures live together in peace and harmony. The healing salve of God’s kingdom extends beyond humanity to include all of creation, raised to its highest pitch of existence. (Read Isaiah 65:25)
I was familiar with the image of the lion and the lamb and was surprised to see the wolf included still the scripture does include all three animals. Understanding the significance of all three broadens the message even though most religious art includes just the lion and the lamb.
The window’s image is based on the ultimate goal God has where evil is overcome by good; where all live in harmony. God’s ultimate goal needs to be the same for each of us. The concern is how do we reach that goal, even if just in our own church, our own community.
Reading the lectionary provides a structure for all Christians regardless of denomination, nationality, age, gender, or any other identifying label. Even though I have used the images in the window to prepare sermons since Christmas, the lectionary provides a foundational connection to all Christians and often fits right in with the images in the window.
Reading the lectionary included Ezekiel 37 a few weeks ago, and that scripture provided me the foundation for today’s reflection. It does not connect directly to the image of the lion, wolf and lamb, but it does speak to this church family facing the next transition in leadership.
Let me share Ezekiel’s story. The Israelites were captives of Babylonia, and Ezekiel was a trained, young priest and a contemporary of Jeremiah. Jeremiah ministered to the Israelites in Judah, but Ezekiel prophesied to those exiled in Babylonia.
Consider the exiles. They were forced out of their homes and living in a culture that was foreign to them. They must have felt hopeless. They must have felt abandoned. And Ezekiel was a “street preacher,” as study notes labeled him. He was a prophet who had to feed hope to the Israelites. He had to guide them through prophecies and scripture to remain faithful to God.
Ezekiel’s words recorded in the Old Testament were written about 571 B.C., yet the words are timeless and his message is as important today as it was 2,500 years ago. Hear his vision of “A Valley of Dry Bones”:
The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones. 2 He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. 3 Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”
“O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”
4 Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! 6 I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
7 So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. 8 Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”
10 So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.
11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone.Our nation is finished.’12 Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the Lord. 14 I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live againand return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’”
Continuing the reflection:
Certainly we do not live in exile as the ancient Israelites did when Ezekiel was prophesying, but the truth is that we are living in a valley of dry bones. We live in exile because evil continues to thrive. We cannot ignore how close evil is, especially this week as we have lost two more police officers to evil and as we watched children ripped from their parents in the name of federal law enforcement.
Evil places you in exile in your own community. And you become tired. You become the dry bones Ezekiel saw in that valley. You lose hope. Yet, you return to worship each week because as Christians that is part of your lifestyle. But, even sitting right here in your very own sanctuary, in your own spot on the pew, you are at risk of being the dry bones Ezekiel saw in that valley.
God asked Ezekiel if the dry bones could be brought back to life. Ezekiel, the priest, answered, “O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.” He placed full faith in God. Do you?
Today, even I feel like dry bones. I stepped into the pulpit ten years ago with a vision. The community is not a valley of dry bones, but it is a valley of lives who desperately need to know God. God can breathe new life into the dry bones, but it takes a community of faithful who can see the community through God’s eyes and rely on God to breathe life back into dry bones.
Ezekiel’s vision of a valley filled with dry bones did not end his story. He was encouraged by God’s demonstration of bringing the dry bones back to life. Can you say that God’s Holy Spirit is keeping your bones alive? Or do you feel that you are nothing more than dry bones?
As you make the change from one pastor to another, remember that God can bring a valley of dry bones to life to continue the work he assigned to the faithful.
God told us to be good stewards of this earth. God told us to love one another as we want to be loved. These are not commands that can be ignored. These are the simple instructions God has to keep evil away, to keep peace, to keep the lion, the wolf, and the lamb lying peacefully together.
As this month closes out, July brings a new beginning for this community of faithful. God lives within each and every one of you, but you must do your part to keep it alive. To avoid becoming a valley of dry bones, you must follow the discipline of the faithful.
- You must read scripture.
- You must pray.
- You must participate in a community of faith.
- You must remember your baptism.
- You must serve one another in love.
- You must see the world through God’s eyes—all the world, not just your own household.
- You must listen to the Holy Spirit as he guides you to serve as God’s arms and feet in this community, part of God’s entire world.
If you do not, evil will win and the valley will be filled with nothing more than dry bones.
Concluding the reflection:
In the book of Ezekiel, God assures Ezekiel that he is able to revive the dry bones:
11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone.Our nation is finished.’12 Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the Lord. 14 I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again. . .
Today I tell you, God does reside within you as the Holy Spirit. You do not have to be dry bones. You must follow the discipline of the faithful and God will keep you alive.
The Church continues its work. It depends on the entire network of congregations to serve as God’s agents defending against evil, seeing to the needs of all God’s children, and finding ways to keep dry bones alive. In our denomination, the United Methodist Church, we have so much to do, so many tools to use, such a faith community to serve in so many ways.
Today we follow the Methodist tradition of serving in ministry, too. We change roles as we are called to do. We stand together to serve as we are called to serve. We know that there are lions, wolves, and lambs surrounding us, but if we do our job the best that we can, they, too will be able to lie down together in peace.
In Isaiah 65:25, we hear these words:
The wolf and the lamb will feed together.
The lion will eat hay like a cow.
But the snakes will eat dust.
In those days no one will be hurt or destroyed on my holy mountain.
Each community that fails to love one another as they want to be loved needs God. My prayer for the community, here and globally, is that with the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s work can lead to all working side by side to minister to others in need.
Sharing of the Missouri Methodist’s 2018-2019 mission goals:
During annual conference, three mission goals were identified through special offerings. I have asked Sharon, Vada and Tamera share them with you at this time. When the local church is tired and at risk of becoming a valley of dry bones, connecting with others in mission is one more way to be alive:
- Mozambique Sustainability Reboot (Sharon)
This offering will relaunch the Mozambique Initiative’s efforts to create opportunities for church-going entrepreneurs through sustainability projects. In 2012, the Mozambique Initiative added sustainability as a key component to our partnership. After reviewing projects completed during the 2012-2017 program, we believe the best way to reboot is by focusing on smaller projects ($400 or less) for individual entrepreneurs. Our goal for this offering is to provide microloans for at least 25 entrepreneurs in Mozambique.
- Pathway Out of Poverty (Vada)
Gifts shared in this offering will be distributed for the work of administering our Pathway out of Poverty initiative focused on literacy. Your gift to this initiative will help us equip local churches to connect with schools in their communities and provide them with relationship-building resources. Research shows that children who struggle to read in first grade are 88 percent more likely to struggle in grade four. And those who struggle in fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of school. Give generously today as we seek to break cycles of poverty by connecting with our schools.
- Puerto Rico Disaster Response (Tamera)
The Methodist Church of Puerto Rico continues to rebuild following the devastation of Hurricane Maria in the fall of 2017. Thirty-eight churches were damaged with 10 nearly destroyed. Yet, the people of Puerto Rico have remained strong. Your gift will help rebuild a Methodist health clinic on the island of Vieques. This clinic will be the primary point of care for the island’s population of 12,000 people – care that is desperately needed as residents wait a projected two years for electricity to be fully restored. Join us in standing with the people of Vieques; your donation will make a difference today!
The United Methodist Church is not a valley of dry bones. The church is an army of Christians who are equipped to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.
You are part of God’s army here in this community, but you are part of a global community, too. Let the Holy Spirit loose to serve here, but also to join with others in any way that you can so the lion, the wolf and the lamb can live peacefully together.
Dear God Almighty,
You created a world filled with good,
And evil found its way in.
You commanded each of us
To take care of this world and each other
Yet evil continues to exist around us.
Breathe into these dry bones
New life, new energy to do your work.
May the Holy Spirit fill up your children.
May your children see dry bones come alive.
In the name of you the Father,
the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.