Sermon
July 15, 2001
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Ezekiel 37: 1-14

The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.

He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.

He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know."

Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.

Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: 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."

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.

I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live."

I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

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.'

Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.

And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people.

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.

 Amos 7:7-17

This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand.

And the LORD said to me, "Amos, what do you see?" And I said, "A plumb line." Then the Lord said, "See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by;

the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword."

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, "Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words.

For thus Amos has said, 'Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.' "

And Amaziah said to Amos, "O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there;

but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom."

Then Amos answered Amaziah, "I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees,

and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'

"Now therefore hear the word of the LORD. You say, 'Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.'

Therefore thus says the LORD: 'Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.' "

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 Sermon - Hear the Word of the Lord

 Ezekiel was a prophet to Israel in a time of terrible scarcity and want – a time of dry bones.  He brought them the word of the Lord, a word of hope and refreshment.

 

Amos was a prophet to Israel in a time of wonderful prosperity – a time of summerhouses and pleasant vineyards and precious oils.  Amos, too, brought the people the word of the Lord, only it was a word of wrath and indignation, of trouble and warning.

 

How could the one God speak two such different words?  And why were these prophets privileged to hear the word of God when most of us must sustain faith with a God who remains curiously silent?

 

Maybe privilege is the wrong word here.  I think one of the characteristics that separates the prophets of old from the televangelist profit-seekers of today, who seem to speak with God on a regular basis, is that the prophets of old were terrified by the word of the Lord.  They didn’t consider their task a blessing, but a burden.

 

One prophet, when God spoke to him, got on a boat and tried to escape in the opposite direction.  He got famous when the crew threw him overboard and God sent a mighty fish to swallow him up and spit him out on land so that God could speak to him again and send him off in the right direction.  That was Jonah, as you probably remember, and he might be the extreme case, but none of these prophets went looking for God – God came looking for them.

 

It may be that one of the scary parts of hearing the word of the Lord was the brutal truth of it – there’s no room for politics or politeness when the word of the Lord is to be spoken.  The prophet does not suggest achievable incremental stages of change – no, the prophet lays out the big picture, the need not for adjustment, but for conversion, for complete change, for turning around and taking a totally different road.

 

Even the last of the prophets, John the Baptist, was a man with an uncompromising message of moral passion.  Imagine if you came to him in the Jordan river for baptism and got treated like the scribes and the Pharisees:

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.  The people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?   Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.   Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

 

Can you imagine what those religious authorities must have thought of John the Baptist?  Actually, we don’t have to imagine much, we know that in the end he was thrown in prison and murdered at the whim of the Herod’s niece who was also Herod’s step-daughter.  It was the fact that John was impolite and spoke the word of the Lord against that strange family affair that was the immediate cause of his execution.

 

It would be wrong to think of the word of the Lord as simply moral instruction – like the old story about the Vermont farmer who went to church alone one Sunday because his wife was sick in bed.  When he got home his wife asked him what the sermon was about.

 

“‘Bout sin,” said the farmer.

 

Wanting a little more detail his wife prodded him on: “Well, what did he say about sin?”

 

“He was a’gin it.” was the farmers reply.

 

The word of God is not just a set of predictable moral clichés, but it is an unpredictable, creative energy that brings worlds into being and guides the destinies of nations.

 

In the beginning, God said, let there be light – and there was light.

 

God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness;

So God created humankind in his image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

 

By his word, God created the heavens and the earth, and brought forth upon the earth every living thing, including you and me and all of humankind.  By that same word, God shapes the course of history and the human community so that it grows and develops according to his will and purpose.

 

This word is not foreign to us, but is written in our hearts.  It gives us a moral compass, which can guide us in times of trouble and temptation.

 

This summer for vacation reading I picked up Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  In the opening chapters of this book Tom Joad is coming home from prison and along the way he meets up with Reverend Jim Casy, who used to be a preacher but ain’t a preacher no more.  Together they walk to Tom’s family home, only to find it abandoned.  It’s getting late in the day and they have nothing to eat when a former neighbor, Muley Graves, walks by.  Muley explains how all the tenant farmers have been driven off the land.  Tom’s folks are living with their uncle, but that’s too far to travel now that it’s getting dark.

 

Tom is getting hungry, but he and the preacher have nothing to eat.  Muley picks up his sack and dumps out some rabbits he’s trapped.  The preacher picks one up and says: You sharin’ with us, Muley Graves?”

 

Muley fidgeted in embarrassment.   “I ain’t go no choice in the matter.”  He stopped on the ungracious sound of his words.  “That ain’t like I mean it.”  “What I mean, if a fell’s got somepin to eat an’ another fella’s hungry – why the first fella ain’t got on choice.  I mean, s’pose I pick up my rabbits an’ go off somewheres an’ eat ‘em.   See?

 

“I see,” said Reverend Casy.  “I can see that.  Muley see somepin there, Tom.  Muley’s got a-holt of somepin, an’ it’s too big for him, an’ it’s too big for me.”

 

Young Tom rubbed his hands together.  “Who’s got a knife?”

 

Young Tom was too hungry to be in the mood for theological reflection, but the preacher saw Muley’s direct and heartfelt connection with the word of the Lord that had been written in his heart.   If one fella was hungry, another fella had to share.

 

I asked at the beginning why the prophets had the privilege of hearing the word of God while we must sustain faith with a God who is curiously silent?  Perhaps privilege was the wrong word, and perhaps silence is the wrong word as well.  If there is a unity between the word of God that created the heavens and the earth and the word of God that guides our lives, then we live in a world that continually speaks to us of God’s will and purpose.  We, like Jonah, cannot escape the Word of the Lord.

 

The babies brought before us this morning, their little miracles of bone, sinew, shape, form, and breath,  - the love and hopes of their parents, the willingness of the community to offer prayers and support – all these things speak to us a word of God.  And the baptism ceremony itself, bringing to mind the stories of God’s grace in Jesus Christ – this certainly conveys a word that can shape and form our lives in ways that are pleasing to the Lord of life.

 

God’s word, God’s creative word, God’s word of justice, of correction and chastisement, God’s word of forgiveness, of hope and mercy, this very word of God became flesh, became visible in the life of Jesus Christ.  And through Christ, we pray, the word will continue to live and be visible in the life of the church – the church being you and me and now little Tyler and Daniel and all who promise to love and care for them.

 

So the word of God is here today, alive and active in our midst.  Let us receive it and hear it and cherish it as the very word of life.  Let us take hold of somepin’ bigger than us, to form us into the body of Christ, and to allow its silence to be our peace.  Amen.