Sunday, December 8, 2013

Wild and Holy is Our God (Sermon)

Advent 2

Ezekiel 37:1-14

            God is wild and holy, untamed by our efforts to tame, contain, or fully understand. The book of Ezekiel reveals some of the nature of a wild and holy God. The prophet Ezekiel speaks to the people of Israel as they are in exile in Babylon. He is among the first deportation from Israel and is still there as two generations of children have been born on Babylonian soil.

            Ezekiel rails against Israel’s idolatry (worshipping of other gods) and failure to trust in the covenant God has made with them. He receives and presents visions of God’s holiness that pursues Israel in a chariot, seeking to overtake them, even as God’s people flee to other paths.

            Ezekiel notes the unfaithfulness of the people again and again. In almost the same breath, he pours forth promises from the Lord that the covenant will still be upheld from the Lord’s end. That God will not fail to keep God’s word is the refrain of the fiercesome song that is the book of this prophet.

            In chapter 33, Ezekiel gets word from a refugee from Jerusalem. The temple has fallen. The place where God was believed to reside was now a pile of rubble. What does that mean for where God is now? How can God act without a base of operations? What will become of those who called themselves people of God?

            Now you will see, Ezekiel says. Now you will understand God’s faithfulness, God’s holiness, God’s way of being in the world and beyond. And so we come to the vision described in chapter 37. Up to this point, Ezekiel has been describing the destruction and pain of the Israelites in Babylon and scattered throughout Egypt and along the trade routes of Northern Africa and toward India.

            The scene we see at the beginning of 37 is a battlefield. In ancient (and not so ancient) tradition, the victors did not bury the bodies of the defeated. Those who lost in battle and who lost their lives were left where they fell. Presumably the victors carried any living off into slavery or also slew them on the spot. The dead lay out, under the hot sun, as carrion for all predators, including the birds of prey. The bones would have been picked clean and then sun-bleached. The battlefield, with its dry, gruesome memorial, would have been a testament to the strength of the victors.

            So we are talking about a scene of death. Nothing living. Nothing even rotting. Just death. Yet nothing is too dead for God. Nothing is beyond God’s ability to restore life and bring wholeness. Nothing is past where God can heal and bring peace.

            This is the vision and message that God brings to Ezekiel to tell the people who are prepared to abandon all hope. God doesn’t need a base camp. God is wild and free and able to bring life out of death.

            For we who are Easter people, that God brings life out of death is a refrain we are almost too used to hearing. Yet, that was not the case in this time period. The people of Israel, at this time, did not have a fully developed embrace of resurrection. It was not part of their religious faith or understanding. Thus, this vision was ASTOUNDING. God would bring dead things back to life… God would restore life to Israel… a life of promise and possibility… enfleshed, muscled, and filled with breath, with the Spirit.

            Why does God do this? We would be quick to say because of grace. Others would say it is for the sake of God’s reputation. I don’t think it is grace or because God is worried about what people think.  Instead, this vision is a revelation, like so many from Scripture, about the fundamental nature of God. God is a God of revelation, resurrection, and reformation. Not just in Babylon, not just in 15th century Germany, not just in the person of Jesus (though especially in the person of Jesus), but in all times and all places.

            God brings life out of death… creation out of a void… light out of darkness in all times and all places. This is who and what God is about. That is the essence of the wild and holy nature of God. What we might declare dry, life pours out of – by the hand of God. What we would declare dead lives- by the hand of God. What we would declare unchangeable is recreated- by the hand of God.

            There is nothing that is too dead for the God who has called us, named us, and claimed us. Not society, not creation, not the church, not anything in our lives. Thus, we are called to look- look for real signs of life, look for the shoots of promise growing, look for springs of hope pouring forth. We too, like the Israelites, must avoid the idolatry of resignation, of impatience, of lack of eager anticipation. What in your life, in your neighborhood, in the world needs resurrection? What is the vision God is giving you of flesh on that skeleton, of breath in that body, of movement in what was previously still?

            Many centuries ago, Advent lasted until Epiphany. It was much more clearly a season marked by prayer and anticipation of God’s promises in Christ. Slowly, as Christmas became a bigger celebration, Advent became smaller. It was still a marker to think about Christ coming again, but as that became intertwined with anticipating the celebration of Jesus’ birth… Advent became somewhat secondary.

            However, Advent is the season to speak to dry bones. Advent is the season that speaks to God’s wild holiness. Advent is the season that says we are engaged in a mystery- a mystery which we cannot fully understand or resolve, but in which we are called to full participation.

            If you are here, if you can hear my voice, if you are reading this… you, like Ezekiel, are called to speak to dry bones- whatever they might be in your life. Declare that the very nature of God is to restore life to what seems dead. Speak firmly that nothing, nothing is too dead for God. The very hope we have in the Christ we await is the clearest revelation of that truth: nothing is too dead for resurrection. God is wild and holy, untamed by our efforts to tame, contain, or fully understand.

Thanks be to God.


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