Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Happy birthday, your son is dead. . . .

     Those with sensitive ears may well be offended, so I caution you to cover them now.  I did, of course, warn Jeen that I might use some earthy language today and that I was worried about the response of family and friends.  Jeen, of course, reminded me that she had raised five boys.  They played sports and hung out in locker rooms; some of them participated in jam sessions; they fought like cats and dogs—there was not a word I could use that has not come out of their mouths multiple times or that would offend her ears.  So here goes:
     There is a wonderful uniquely parable of which I was put in mind this week.  That parable is a movie called Christmas Vacation starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid and a bunch of others.  As with all the National Lampoon works, there was an edge to the comedy, a bit of truth and a bit of satire.  In case you have not seen the movie or in case you have forgotten, this is the movie that gave rise to the idea of a Griswold Christmas.  Chevy Chase plays Clark Griswold, a man trying to host the perfect Christmas for his family.  Along the way during the holidays, he encounters any number of obstacles that threaten to ruin Christmas.  In particular, though, I was reminded of Randy Quaid’s character.  In the movie, Randy shows up for the holidays as an unwanted guest in his RV.  There’s a classic scene in the movie where Eddie is emptying the RV waste straight into the storm sewers on the street.  One of the neighbors is, understandably, grossed out.  Eddie simply smiles and waves and by way of explanation says “Merry Christmas, the shitter’s full.”
     Now, before you get too offended, here me out.  I used to have a boss in the brokerage business that repeated that statement in the pit whenever he was unable to enjoy his morning constitutional.  Nothing ruined his morning or day like grabbing a paper, heading to the restroom after a coffee or three, only to find the stalls all full.  He would storm back into the office, slamming doors with his face in a rage, repeating Eddie’s greeting at the top of his lungs.
     In truth, it’s how I felt when Joyce called to tell us at church that Adam had dropped dead.  To take you all back in time a bit, Sunday was a great day for worship around here.  Adventers had shown up.  The weather was almost fallish.  As Jeen was headed out the door, I hugged her and told her to have a great celebration.  Jeen was so excited she told me it was her 80th birthday this week.  I don’t know if you have ever hung around southern women, but one NEVER asks their age.  Ever.  I don’t know if any of you have ever met Jeen, but she was born and raised in the South.  Yet here she was, excited for the week, the celebration, the cakes, the dinners, the pomp that comes with a milestone birthday, proudly boasting this was going to be a great 80th birthday.  There was a spring in her step and a sense of expectation in her voice.  In truth, it was contagious.  Everyone around her was smiling and congratulating her, telling her to have a good time. 
     Like it was for nearly every other Adventer, Sunday was unremarkable.  The Titans played.  The weather stayed nice.  We went to bed and awoke to that horrible news in Las Vegas that a gunman had ambushed a concert and killed or wounded well over 500 people.  As we were processing that, Joyce’s call came.  I could well-imagine Jeen’s emotional state at that moment.  Happy birthday, your son is dead.
     For the next couple days, as you might imagine, I was the recipient of several phone calls.  It makes sense.  I’m the ordained guy.  I am supposed to be the one who reminds us that God has a plan or that God wanted these things to occur.  Some that called were struggling with predictable questions.  If God is good, why did he allow someone to murder so many innocent people?  Do you think God is too busy worrying about Las Vegas that he’ll forget Jeen?  What will Jeen do now?  Other questions were more difficult, reflecting personal or denominational bias rather than real care or concern for any of those suffering at the hands of evil, so I will not repeat them.  Monday, I began to be introduced to that diaspora community known as St. Matthias.  I have heard lots about that now, but I also learned that the community of St. Matthias really stays in touch and really cares for one another.  Many of you showed up to mourn with and love on Jeen in the family.  Thank you for your care and concern.  A few people called with their favorite story about Adam.  Originally, I had a hard time reconciling some of the stories I was hearing.  Jeen, of course, summed that all up rather neatly.  Adam had been diagnosed as bi-polar.  As such, he had lived through incredible peaks and valleys in his interactions with people.  I learned that Adam had never really found a new church community after the closing of St. Matthias.  In that, I learned, he was by no means alone or unique.  I learned from those in his building that Adam was well-liked and was going to be missed.
     I also learned that the Prosise family was no stranger to sudden and unexpected tragedies or near tragedies.  Jeen’s husband died suddenly at age 56.  Another son nearly died at 41 and found himself on the receiving end of a quintuple by-pass!  I learned that Adam’s last days were probably perfect for him.  He and a brother had jammed on their guitar and drums at their studio, really a storage unit, that last weekend.  They had had such a great time that Adam had picked up the lunch tab for his brother and sister-in-law.
     I also learned that Jeen and the family were fiercely jealous of Adam.  They loved him dearly.  One of the overriding concerns was that Adam was misunderstood at times, that he sometimes had difficulty fitting in.  They wanted to make sure that we remembered Adam as they remembered Adam.  They will miss him terribly in the coming days and months and years.  It might be a holiday meal or favorite restaurant, it might be a favorite song on the radio, it might be a sporting event or a conversation.  There will be triggers that cause them to remember their loss and mourn yet again his passing.
     There will also be a great deal of anger.  Some of us gathered here will say the wrong thing, ask the wrong question, speak when we should simply sit in silence and let them cry on our shoulders.  They may sense our timidity in speaking about our memories of him.  We will want so hard to explain why we think God allowed or caused this to happen, especially at a joyous time like an 80th birthday, when they know our Lord mourns with them this day even as He mourned at the death of His friend Lazarus and that we have no real answers for the questions that plague them.  We will want desperately to make them feel better.  They will, in time.  The hole will always be there though, at least until the Lord calls them home and they rejoin Adam in the new creation.  I understand we want to understand God and His plan.  I understand we want to love on the family.  It is for that reason that I want to focus a bit on our reading from the Revelation according to John.  I want to give you insight as to what is happening now and in the future, to prepare each of you to care for those mourning in our midst, and most importantly, to remind you of our hope and the reason that we can gather today and sing alleluia at Adam’s grave.  I want to remind the family and you that we are trusting in a God who told a young mother two thousand years ago that He would use her to fulfill His redemptive plan if she would allow Him, a mother who experienced the same pain that Jeen feels now as her Son suffered on the Cross and died an unjust death, a mother who experienced the joy and unfathomable power of God's healing at her Son's Resurrection.  I want us all who claim Christ as Lord to be prepared better to answer those questions about tragedies in the world around us, for us to really be able to wrestle with the ‘Happy birthday, your son is dead” experiences that seem to bombard us in this world!
     If you have only paid attention to FB memes and articles and Tim LeHay’s creation, you might be a bit surprised by our reading from John’s Revelation today.  Literally, the word is apocalypse—an unveiling!  Think of the temple curtain around the Holy of Holies being torn from the top down.  Just as Christ’s death for our sins made it possible for us to see God face to face as a friend, John was given a vision by God to peek into the new creation.  The curtain that separates us from seeing heaven has literally been torn aside for the Apostle John!  What does he see?  People snatched up?  Planes falling out of the sky?  The saints flying on wings or playing harps in the clouds?
     He sees a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and first earth had passed away.  If you have thought of Christ’s return along the lines of the rapture and getting your wings, you may well be surprised by what God showed John.  But, upon reflecting on the vision, should we?  Should we be surprised that matter will still be around, that we will not be just spiritual beings, that we won’t turn into angels, or that we won’t spend all our time in church?  After all, if you have read the beginning of this love story, you will know that God walked with us, conversed with us, entrusted us with the care of that Garden in which He placed us to dwell.  We were created to see Him and to talk with Him; it was our sin that separated from Him and caused His voice to terrify us and made us unable to see His face.  In many ways, the rest of the Bible is teaching us how we cannot get ourselves back into that intimate relationship with God, but that He still desires that kind of relationship with each one of us!  He wants to be our God and dwell with us, just as John describes in the passage today!
     Now, admittedly, if you are a lover of nature and your heart is rejoicing at the possibility that nature will still be around in the age to come, you might be a bit worried.  After all, there is no sea.  Who does not like the soothing roar of the waves?  Who does not love the smell of the air near the sea?  Some of us may even like surfing or fishing or just feeling the sand and water between our toes.  Does this no sea reference mean we lose that experience?  Not necessarily.  The sea was the abode of the god or goddess of chaos in many of the Ancient Near East cultures.  Chaos was a deity that threatened to undo the perceived order of the world.  We like to think we are so sophisticated, but we sometimes wonder whether God really has power to reign in chaos, do we not?  Who here did not wonder why God did not jam the shooter’s gun in Las Vegas or allow so many to die?  Who here has not wondered the last few weeks whether nature is out of control?  Seriously, we have satellites and hurricane hunters, but look at the chaos those storms have sown!  What of the earthquakes?  The fires out west?  And, oh, yeah, by the way, we are here remembering the life of a young man, by modern standards, who died almost on a milestone birthday of his mom.  Tell me again how things are so orderly, so predictable, so good in this world.
     John’s writing, I think, is far more about the ultimate subduing of chaos in the world.  For now, God allows the consequences of sin to gain some traction.  For now, God is willing to give us the freedom to accept His offer of love or to reject it.  Bad things happen to good people; good things happen to bad people.  The rain falls on the just and the unjust.  There is a time coming, though, when He will return and recreate all things.  Then, and only then, will chaos finally be subdued.  Then and only then will all things be subdued.  Until then, we can only trust in His redemptive power.  And notice it is redemptive.  All of us gathered her can speak to tragedies in this world.  I daresay all of us have known the death of a loved one; many of us have experienced privation; some of us have been betrayed or stabbed in the back.  Our lists could go on and on.  Few of us have faced the difficult task of burying our dead children; fewer still have had to do so at the time of a celebratory time in our life.  Jeen, boys, the rest of the family, God will redeem Adam’s death.  That is His promise.  Adam’s death may not be fully redeemed until you see Him in that new heaven and a new earth, in that new Jerusalem, with that body that God intended for Him since the beginning of creation, but there will be redemptive moments along the way.  My prayer for you all is that you will see His redemptive work in your midst, that you will hear His redemptive voice in the cacophony of noise around you, so that your faith in the promises described by John this day will seem even more certain in your own faith walk with God.
     But keep in mind that ache, that emptiness, will be in your hearts until this scene described by John comes to pass.  Some may tell you that real Christians should not cry, that real Christians should not be angry, that real Christians should accept everything as part of God’s plan.  Jeen knows better because she has to listen to me, but the rest of you need to hear this, too.  This, what you and I call life, this, this gathering at the death of a loved one, this is not what God intended.  Just as He wept at the death of Lazarus his friend, so our Lord weeps with you all this day.  He knows your hurt; He knows your pain; He knows your sense of loss.  He even knows how others will use those pains and sufferings to lead you from Him.  He will not condemn you for crying; He will not condemn you for hurting; He won’t even condemn you for doubting.  Our translation today uses victorious, but it is a word that recognizes we are in a struggle.  The sense of the word in Greek is that we have overcome the things of this life, the pain, the suffering, the temptations, and in the end, trusted in His promises.  So long as you always turn to Him and return to Him when you stray, He will provide you with comfort and hope.  He will see you to that new earth, that heavenly city.  You will be His child, and He will be your God! 
     Just as importantly, I think, He will one day provide you with more than you can possibly ask or imagine.  In that great American parable I mentioned at the beginning, we see the frustrations of Clark as he works and works to provide the best possible Christmas for his family.  Clark wants the best tree; the best meal; the best lights; the best pool; the best gathering; the best everything for his family.  Who does not want what’s best for their family?  If you all could “redo” your brother, you would no doubt give him what you think he needed.  Maybe instead of drums you’d make him be a pianist; maybe instead of him having a hard time making friends you’d make him the life of the party.  No doubt you would fix all those things that bothered you and you think hurt him.  You’d surely fix whatever caused this early death.  In truth, though, by all accounts, Adam was comfortable in his skin.  He knew who he was and how to live in the world as himself. 
     Much of the movie hijinks are about Clark’s hilarious efforts to make all those things come true for his family.  One of my favorite scenes in that movie is the Christmas lights scene.  Clark and his son spend hours and hours stapling thousands and thousands of lights to the house.  They have diagrams and who knows what else to set up the most incredible light display ever.  When the moment for the big reveal comes, darkness reigns.  The in-laws mock his failure.  His parents “see it in their mind’s eyes.”  His wife is sorry they did not light up.  Clark’s  son frantically works to get out of looking for a dead bulb.  It’s only when his wife, played by Beverly D’Angelo, flips a switch to the basement that the lights come on.  The nuclear generator sounds the alarm for more power.  The neighbors are blinded, hysterically so, by the lit up sky.  The scene is so iconic that Americans often refer to the house on their street with the most lights as the “Griswold house” in their neighborhood.
     As an older man, now, I have a heart for Clark’s response.  He cries tears of joy because its’s better than he ever imagined.  It’s brighter and more beautiful than he had hoped.  No matter what each of you hopes for when you are finally reunited with Adam, no matter what each of us hopes for when we are united with all our loved ones who died in Christ, I am certain we will all be like Clark.  We, too, will be overjoyed and overawed.  We, too, will be amazed.  What you and I can imagine always pales next to what God desires for us, to what He plans for each of us.  Adam’s new body will be more glorious than you or I could ever consider because it will be the Lord who created him who has refashioned him perfectly.  But unlike Clark, whose struggles were by no means over, you and I will enter into that Sabbath rest and marriage feast and that communion with all the saints who have gone before us . . . for eternity.  We will have no need to worry about tears and death.  We will have no need to fear awkward moments like “Happy birthday, your son is dead.”  We will be celebrated simply for overcoming, for not giving in to the chaos and to those who would lead us astray.  We will never again experience chaos or have a need to overcome.  That is His uncompromising promise for all His children!  That is how we are able to stand at the grave of Adam this day and sing our alleluias, certain that Adam, who died in our Lord, is now alive in our Lord.  One day, all this will pass; and on that Day, we will all see the brightness and glory of God!  And, unlike those movie characters who must shield their eyes from the brightness of those lights, we shall see Him truly as our God and our friend!

In Christ’s Peace,

Brian†

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Sour grapes and the choices we make . . .

     I am cognizant that there is a lot going on today.  We have the Healing service, Vicki’s stewardship talk, the potluck, an Outreach Committee meeting, and all the normal Sunday morning events.  I acknowledge this by way of saying that I will be intentionally brief this morning, allowing more time for healing prayers and Vicki; I will, however, try to be a little more intentional writing out a better sermon than what I say today.  Put differently, you may way to wrestle a bit more with me by grabbing a copy later this week or reading it online, assuming I get to that part of my work in a timely fashion.
     Our reading from Ezekiel begins with a note that the word of the Lord came to the prophet.  In one sense the writing is formulaic; in another, of course, the writing reminds us that the words that the prophet is about to share comes directly from God.  This is not Ezekiel’s thoughts and ruminations on the condition of Israel, but rather God’s thoughts about Israel.  As such, we should take notice, as we are the new Israel, part of the Church.
     God begins His instruction by noting a famous proverb, or a proverb that is repeated often in the life of Israel.  “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”  If we think about it, it makes sense why this was a proverb.  Karen and I learned the lesson of this proverb with Sarah.  As you all know, I am not much for using my family as sermon illustrations, but this one is just too easy to ignore.  Karen was meticulous with how she ate and drank when pregnant with Sarah.  As with many first time parents, we wanted to make sure we did everything just right.  As part of her incubating routine, Karen gave up caffeine.  I see the nods and elbows.  Many moms-to-be give up caffeine and alcohol while the babies are developing within.  Anyway, for our first night out after Sarah’s birth, we went to a restaurant called Bennigan’s with our best couple friends, Sean and Shannon.
     It is at this point that I should mention that Karen was nursing Sarah.  We were only three or four weeks out from Sarah’s birth.  The doctor had said it was ok for us to take Sarah into the public, but we waited for a week or two before “risking” the great wide world.  Without thinking, Karen ordered a diet coke to go with her meal.  I see the nodding laughter of those who nursed their own babies, or watched their wives nurse their own babies.  I sure did not think anything of it.  Sean and Shannon, newly married at that time, sure did not think anything of it.  If our waitress did, she sure did not say anything.  It wasn’t until Karen was on her second diet coke of the meal that the thought crossed her mind.  It was then, of course, that it crossed mine, as well as Sean’s and Shannon’s minds, too!
     Karen can speak better to the consequences.  This was a Friday or Saturday night, I think, and Sarah did not sleep until Wednesday or Thursday of the next week!  Since Karen had scrupulously avoided caffeine during her pregnancy, you all know how Sarah likely responded.  I think it really was a full day before Sarah went to sleep.  She was not upset or whiny, quite the contrary!  She was like a little energizer bunny that just kept going and going and going and going.  To modernize the proverb, Karen had consumed caffeine and the child needed no sleep.
     We have since learned, of course, that caffeine is not the only food that affects a nursing child’s behavior.  You may recall that we have seven children.  That means Karen has nursed a lot of babies, relative to many women here.  You know how individualistic my children are, so it may not surprise you to learn that their behavior was affected by momma’s diet.  Some liked mother’s milk with a hint of Mexican food; others got a bit fussy or colicky from it.  Some loved mother’s milk with pizza flavor; others could not stand it.  Part of Karen’s challenge, of course, was trying to figure out which foods she could eat with which child.  Thankfully, none reacted badly to chocolate!
     Now, you all have been laughing and elbowing and sharing your similar stories in whispers even as I describe this in a bit more detail.  You know the truth of what I am saying.  Heck, even if you did not live it yourselves, we have Rosemary to remind us of its truth!  That means you understand the proverb that Israel is reciting.  The children’s teeth can certainly be set on edge by what the parent is eating.  Of course, the proverb is not about nursing mothers and their children.  In this case, the proverb refers more to the fact that the parents’ actions and inactions have an impact on the child.  What gets passed along is not limited to food passed in milk.
     Again, this should come as no surprise.  We are all raised in family systems.  Heck, most of us here have created our own family systems.  We may like to think we avoid the same mistakes as our parents, but it’s a safe bet we make our own mistakes with the next generation.  If you do not believe me, ask the next generation that you raised.  If they tell you that you did everything perfectly, they are lying.  We are human beings; we make mistakes.  There are few places other than in families where we are able to fail more.
     Why does God, then, hate this proverb?  Why does He ban its use among His people?  That, too, is easily understood.  Don’t raise your hands; just give it some thought.  How many of us are disappointed or worried about our country?  I see lots of nodding.  Good.  I am not alone.  Sometimes I wrestle with whether I am getting old.  As a youth, I would have never imagined another Civil War.  Nowadays?  I’m not so sure.  How many of us are disappointed or worried about our church?  I see the nodding.  I know some of the fears associated with that as a number of you have spoken about it with me this year.  How many of us are disappointed or worried about our families?  See?  Aren’t you glad now I did not ask you to raise your hands?  The truth is that most of us are worried about big things and little things and things in between.  We look at the country and feel a bit impotent, like we can’t really do anything to help correct things.  The President and members of Congress are not our Facebook friends; we don’t have their numbers in our phones.  The church seems a bit closer to home, but the work is incredibly hard.  We look around and see there are too few of us in the early family stage of life and middle age.  There’s a big gap.  Each of us probably feels we can do something about that—invite younger people, support programs that attract younger people, and things like that—in reality, though, the work is hard and seems a bit tough for many of us.  Families, of course, hit closest to home—pun intended.  We like to think we can impact our families.  The truth is, though, they are made up of other free-willed individuals.  We can law down the law or make a change, but there is never any guarantee others will listen to us.
     I’ve used only three examples.  No doubt you have thought of others at work or social or athletic clubs.  Perhaps, with the upcoming Primates Meeting, you are even worried about the wider church.  Aside from the desire to do something about those systems about which we care deeply, we share another characteristic with those of Israel on the receiving end of Ezekiel’s prophesy: we don’t like the blame.  Whose fault is it that country is not working the way we think it should?  Our leaders’.  But who elects our leaders?  You and me and those around us.  The same is true in the church.  Who do we blame for that donut of 20-50yo’s in our midst?  Some like to blame the clergy.  Others like to blame the Vestry.  Some like to blame those in that age group for not being committed.  The truth, of course, is that we all have a hand in their absence.  Churches are formed by relationships.  When the younger set has appeared amongst us, how many of us have done the hard work of forging relationships with them, of getting to know them, of putting down our guard and letting them get to know us?  And families are too obvious, right?  If we are the mothers or fathers, we have designed and shaped the system that is in place at home.  But we blame our upbringing or the willful kids or the unsupportive spouse.  And while those can influence a system, they do not explain everything.
     In His prophesy today, Ezekiel is calling out a generation for absolving itself of blame.  To root you in the history of this reading, the Northern Kingdom has been defeated and is in the process of being carried off into Exile.  Their cities have been destroyed.  Their armies have been crushed.  Their Promised Land, that outward sign of the fact that they were God’s chosen people, has been taken from them.  They are being marched hundreds of miles across the empire to be settled in isolated communities that cannot pose a future threat to Babylon.  Those on the trail blame the parents and ancestors for their misfortune.  It’s their fault we are disgorged from the Land.  Hand our ancestors been faithful to Yahweh, we would not be defeated and humiliated.  The parents have eaten the sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are on edge, indeed!  Like humans of every generation, no one likes to accept blame for mistakes.  We think we are so smart when we stand before judges and claim we are not guilty because our parents abused us or did not love us in the right way or that we had to steal because we were raised in a poor family or that we killed because we were once scared by someone in another encounter.  The truth is, we have been making those arguments since the time of the Garden!  Does Adam accept his guilt when first confronted by God?  No!  He tells God, “That woman that YOU gave me, she gave me the apple and I ate.”  Adam blames both Eve and God in that argument, and we think we are so advanced.
     The other side of that argument, though, is equally invalid.  Sometimes, rather than simply cast blame at others, we seek to limit ourselves, we adopt an attitude of fatalism.  Sometimes, we like to assert that we are the victims of our circumstances and that nothing can change that.  We can’t love properly because we have not been loved properly; we cannot learn correctly because learning was not valued at home or supported in our schools; we cannot eat right because people where we come from don’t eat right—you have heard many more of these excuses, I am sure.  And, reading or listening to Ezekiel’s words today, we might be tempted to become fatalistic.  What can we do about our situation?  Our parents and ancestors have disappointed God, so we will, too, might seem a natural response, but it is a lie whispered by the Enemy and repeated amongst ourselves.
     We skip a number of verses today, as you can all see.  Often, the skipped verses are important.  Ezekiel shares the story of a righteous father, an unrighteous son, and a righteous grandson.  Long verses and story short: Is the unrighteous son guaranteed God’s blessing because of the righteousness of the father?  No!  Is the righteous grandson punished for the unrighteousness of the father?  No!  Each generation is responsible for his or her relationship to God.  God will not accept the proverb any more because Israel is refusing to own its share of the sour grapes, its share of the broken relationship with God.
     As we read and study this passage, we learn a lot about God.  We learn that God’s patience has a limit, that God keeps His word, that His punishments are painful, that He will use our enemies to chastise us, that God’s justice is often different from our own, that we are responsible for our relationship with Him, that we cannot force someone else into right relationship with Him, and there are probably other lessons we can learn.  But the good news of this passage is the heart of God that is revealed.  Knowing that we are responsible for our relationship with Him, and knowing that He has made that right relationship possible through the work and person of His Son our Lord Christ, why would we ever choose to claim this proverb for ourselves?  Why would we ever lay claim to fatalism?  Why would we not claim His Son our Lord and live?
     Modern scholars and infrequent attending Christians like to claim that God changes between the Old and New Testament.  Something happens to Him where He ceases to be a tribal volcano god of wrath in the Old Testament and becomes a loving, gentle God in the New Testament.  The problem, of course, is that we do not pay close attention to stories and prophecies like this.  Yes, God has had a strong word to say to Israel.  He has shown them what psychologists and others call tough love.  You will not use that proverb to explain your circumstances?  Israel is free to complain and gripe about their circumstances, but they are going to have to be honest that they had a share in the creation of those circumstances.  Still, though, He is a God who seeks no one’s death.  He far prefers for us mortals to turn and live.
     Our collect today reminds us that God chiefly shows His almighty power by what?  Nuking the nations?  Hurling lightning bolts at sinners?  No!  In showing mercy and pity!  He is a God who shows His power through forgiveness and mercy, both in the Old Testament and the New.  And make no mistake, He is the perfect parent.  Sometimes, we best learn the lessons we need to know by learning from our mistakes.  He promises only to redeem all our sins and circumstances.  There is no promise that we get to avoid them, except in the fact that Jesus took our sins upon Himself and died so that we would not have to die ourselves.  More amazingly, He was raised from the dead so that we might live, very much in the way that God speaks to Israel through the words of Ezekiel at the beginning of the Exile some twenty-five centuries ago.
     There are three lessons I would wish that we would all hear this day.  First, we are responsible for our relationship to God this day.  No one else can bring us into right relationship with Him.  We must choose to turn to Him, through Christ.  Corollary to that, though, is the understanding that we cannot force anyone into right relationship with Him.  We can be as loving and winsome and joyful as possible, but the burden of decision falls on the other person.  Pray for them, serve them, teach them, love them, ask their forgiveness when we screw up; but remember they must make that decision for themselves, whether to turn to God through Christ or to continue on their own way.  Lastly, we serve a God who takes no pleasure in death and destruction.  We dishonor our Lord and we grossly misrepresent Him when we claim that “they got what they deserved” for rejecting Him.   Be they our friends or our enemies, they and we are all His children.  Should He not have pity on ISIS or North Korea or those in our lives who have rejected Him, to remind you of His words in Jonah last week?  And just as His heart breaks at the death of one of His children, so does it leap when we choose Him!  And you and I are called to be heralds of the almighty God who declares His power chiefly in showing mercy and pity!  Rather than accepting that people have received their just desserts in earthquakes or fires or hurricanes or other natural disasters, we should be reminding everyone that He wants us only to turn to Him so that we might live forever!  In the end, if we are about His business of loving and serving those around us, there are no sour grapes.  Better still, there is no reason for anyone’s teeth to be on edge!

In Christ’s Peace,

Brian†