Waiting for hope…in the fire

Ezekiel has had a vision – a vision where the very Holy Spirit of God takes him by the hand and leads him into the midst of a gruesome scene.  Leave it to the Holy Spirit to do something like that. drybonesIt’s described as a valley, which for me, brings to mind lush green grass and trees, a flowing stream.  But this isn’t a valley like that. This is a valley of dry bones.  And not just bones put there for effect. Not bones of animals. Bones that were people who died there.  This is no lush, protected valley beside still waters. This is a battle field.  And we lost. Ezekiel’s people lost. They’re dead.  Even the birds are done picking at them – they’ve been picked clean and now lay silent, dead, bleaching in the sun.

Ezekiel’s people lost. Babylon has destroyed Jerusalem.  The temple is gone. Their way of life gone. Ezekiel, a prophet, was one of the elite taken away by King Nebekudnezzar into forced labor back in Babylon.  So he’s writing from Babylon to the people of Jerusalem whose hope is lying dead and dormant in a valley of dry, dead bones.

But even God doesn’t give up on dead, dry bones. God does not let death have the final word.

Because the Holy Spirit is too wiley for something so cut and dry. So status quo.

No, the Holy Spirit has big plans. The Holy Spirit tells Ezekiel what to say and goes into great detail- did you notice?  I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.

This is no Walking Dead preview, for all of you caught up in the tv show of the same name.  This isn’t God assuming zombie-like control of human beings. This is a whole new deal – whole new people, a whole new reality. This is life out of death. This is not working with the old but creating new.

Ellie, that’s what’s going to happen to you today.  Now, I hate to break it to you Erin and Josh, but you won’t be taking your same daughter home with you today. You won’t get her back.  That’s just how powerful the Holy Spirit is and what God does in baptism.  The power of God’s word in this ordinary water – well, it kills the bad and recreates a new spirit in her!  She goes out of here a whole new person – the old has passed away, behold the new has come!

That’s the deal with each of us.  It’s very Lutheran and yet I don’t say that to exclude anyone who isn’t Lutheran or who isn’t any kind of church denomination or who isn’t baptized.  Yet I must tell you that Lutherans believe that, in the waters of baptism, God’s Holy Spirit uses plain old ordinary water to change our lives – plain old ordinary you and me.  God promises that our old ways, our old selves are put to death – are killed – even in someone as cute and innocent as Ellie.  It’d all be over if God was just in the killing business.  But God doesn’t stop there.  Because of God’s word, symbolized in the water, we are made new. Forever.  And every day.  You can remember it in the shower, when you get a drink of water or brush your teeth. Pouring water into your coffee maker. You can remember it when the snow is coming down, you can remember it in the heat of the summer as you plunge into a lake. Being a child of God involves dying and raising to new life.  Daily resurrection.  Because there can’t be new life until something dies.

And God doesn’t leave it up to us to imagine how it will look and sound.  No, we get a vivid picture painted in today’s scripture.  …and suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there was sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them…

And then, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Now, you know, this is Ezekiel telling a nation they are not finished. This is Ezekiel’s pep talk, saying God is not done with them. It is easy to connect a man like Nelson Mandela to this passage of scripture today.  He told a nation they were not done. He breathed hope and promise and future into oppressed bones. He spend almost 30 years in exile for his actions to reconcile a nation, a people.  Something terrible and ugly died and a new thing was born. Just as the Holy Spirit takes the very scene of death – a battle field – and undoes it.  He inverts it.  He reverses it.  The dead, dried up bones come together in a rattling.  Skin covers the now lively bones and then they breathe.

This is a picture of ridiculous hope.  Hope with sinews. Hope that breathes. Hope with skin on.

Just like it looks on you and me. Hope with skin on.  Like we get to celebrate with Ellie today.  Like we celebrate and remember each and every day as we die and are raised to new life.

 

Today’s sermon was abbreviated because the scripture reading was interactive for the entire congregation.  Posted below is the script for the scripture along with the sermon that then kicked into the prayer time.  

We participate in our story and God’s story from Daniel 3:1-30.

I, King Nebuchadnezzar, will tell you the most remarkable story today.  I can hardly believe it myself and will understand if you don’t believe me either.  I was there and I can hardly believe it.

Ahem.

It was time to get people worshiping the right thing, so I built a gold statue, ninety feet high and nine feet thick. Well, actually, I had my slaves build it for me.  But it has a nicer ring if I say I built it, don’t you think?  I set it up on the Dura plain in the province of Babylon and ordered all the important leaders in the province, everybody who was anybody, to the dedication ceremony of the statue. They all came for the dedication, all the important people, and took their places in the shadow of the statue that I built.

There were speeches and music.  One of my minions announced: “Attention, everyone! Every race, color, and creed, listen! When you hear the band strike up—all the trumpets and trombones, the tubas and baritones, the drums and cymbals—fall to your knees and worship the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Anyone who does not kneel and worship shall be thrown immediately into a roaring furnace.”

The band started to play, a huge band equipped with all the musical instruments of Babylon, and everyone—every race, color, and creed—fell to their knees and worshiped the gold statue that I built.

Just then, some Babylonian fortunetellers stepped up and tattled on the Jews. They said to me, “Long live the king! (which I appreciated) You gave strict orders, O king, that when the big band started playing, everyone had to fall to their knees and worship the gold statue, and whoever did not go to their knees and worship it had to be pitched into a roaring furnace.  Well, there are some Jews here—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—whom you have placed in high positions in the province of Babylon. These men are ignoring you, O king. They don’t respect your gods and they won’t worship the gold statue you built.”

Well, as you can imagine, I was furious!  So I said, “Bring me Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!” And then, I said to them: “Is it true, could it be true, that you don’t respect my gods and refuse to worship the gold statue that I have set up? Tell you what, I’m gonna give you a second chance—but from now on, when the big band strikes up you must go to your knees and worship the statue I have made. If you don’t worship it, you will be pitched into that roaring furnace, no questions asked. And anyway, just who is the god who can rescue you from my power?”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had the nerve to say this to me – and I must admit, they made themselves very clear. They said: “Your threat means nothing to us. If you throw us in the fire, the God we serve can rescue us from your roaring furnace and anything else you might cook up, O king. But even if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference, O king. We still wouldn’t serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”

I do like that they kept addressing me “O King”  – has a nice ring to it.  But it hardly made up for their disrespect.  I got. so. angry.  Now it was time to show them I am a king true to my word.  So, I had them fire up the furnace, not 1, not 2 but 7 times hotter than usual. I ordered that their hands and feet were tied up and then had some strong people from my kingdom pitch them in the fire.  In they went!

And – get this – the fire was so hot that it killed the strong people who threw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the fire.  Ooops.

Soooo… they threw 3 guys into the fire, right?  And their hands and feet were tied up, right?  Well, you won’t believe this but I could plainly see 4 men walking around – walking around – in the fire! The same fire that killed the other people.  And the 4th one – well he didn’t look like any ordinary man.  He looked like a son of the gods!

So I did what any king would have done.  I went to the door of the furnace and told them to come out of the furnace.  I called into the roaring flames “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the High God, come out here!” And, just like that, they walked out of the fire.

All of my important guests – the government leaders and my counselors gathered around the 3 men. And they can tell you – they are my witnesses: not a single hair was singed or scorched on their clothes.  They didn’t even smell like a campfire, let alone like they’d been in a fiery furnace stoked 7x hotter than normal!

So it was then I realized how powerful their God is and said: “Blessed be your God, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel and rescued you, his servants who trusted in him! You ignored your king’s orders – you ignored me – and laid your bodies on the line rather than serve or worship any god but your own.”

I mean, it changed me. This whole thing changed me.  It changed me so thoroughly that I issued a decree right then and there – to all the important people and to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  I said this: Anyone anywhere, of any race, color, or creed, who says anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will be ripped to pieces, limb from limb, and their houses torn down. There has never been a god who can pull off a rescue like this.”  That’s my decree.

It’s a little violent, I know, but it’s the Bible after all.  But, you should know, I promoted these 3 men to important governing roles in Babylon.

Our story and God’s story — to be continued.  Thank you, God!

 

to do listToday’s story seems comical, almost cute.

Until you really look at the details of this story.  Until you step back and take a moment and really consider this story.  It leaps from comical to frightening and astounding. It’s an amazing story.

I am astounded at the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

They very plainly told the king about the power God had in their lives.  Burned up or not, they stood up to King Nebuchadnezzar with their lives on the line.

I am astounded at how God acted in this story.

God changed everything in this story.

God changed a king’s heart and mind.  It even impacted who the king made policy makers.

God saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from fire and death.

God changed their every day lives through changing a leader’s heart and mind.

It is unexpected.

It is unanticipated.

 

Don’t you long for God to do something unexpected in your life?

 

It’s Advent. Yet, all around us, it’s Christmas.  It has been for a while.  The to do lists are out of control, your calendars are packed.  We expect this.  The expectations of us can be overwhelming.

What do you want God to do during this season that has the power to burn you up?

What do you want God to do to your reality?

Because God is powerful enough.

Because God is strong enough.

Because God is creative enough to change you and your life.

That is a promise.

Our prayer time today will be around “To Do” lists.  And instead of freaking out about all there is to do, spend time with what you want God to do in your life, knowing God will work it out.  We don’t always understand the timing or God’s action or that God is even acting. But we trust that God is at work in our lives.

There are sheets around the room for you to write on as well as in your bulletin.  We’ll sing continuously the prayer-song Wait for the Lord.

 

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