Lessons: Ezekiel 2:1-7; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; St. Mark 6:1-6
In a recent and wonderful blog post Fr. Chris wrote,
The days of convenient Christianity are waning. All of us have grown up in a predominantly Christian culture and a culture where the Government and society in general were favorable toward Christianity. That is ending.
Now. We. Shine.
We have to understand that the church of the 21st century has more in common with the 1st century than the 20th century. We are quickly becoming an unfavored minority. So what? Seriously. So what? When have the people of God ever not faced struggle and difficulty? Christians around the world have faced this for years –and faced much worse than we are facing. And yet they grow. They shine.
Now. We. Shine.
It’s time for us to be the Church. The time of lukewarm discipleship is over. The time of mediocre obedience is gone. You’ve heard the phrase “gird up your loins” in the Psalms? Wrap ’em up, tie em down, and get ready!
You can read the full post at chrisfindley.com and I would encourage you to do so. I agree with him. We are entering a period in this nation when, while we would like it to be more like the 1950’s, the reality is that it is more like 1st century Rome. Isaiah the prophets described our day when he said, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil; that put darkness for light and light for darkness.” So we need to be prepared. Fr. Chris’ advice at the end of his teaching suggests that we, as the Psalmist says, “gird up our loins.”
I suggest to you that one way that we can gird up our loins is to look at all three men in today’s lessons and use them as icons of what the Church is called to do as the days grow evil.
First we see the prophet Ezekiel. He is an unheeded prophet. God says to him, “Mortal I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels that have rebelled against me….the descendant are impudent and stubborn.” And Ezekiel said to God, “Don’t you have a nicer parish that you could send me to?”
The first rule of teaching is that you have to know your audience. If you are trying to teach calculus to 2nd graders you should not be shocked that they don’t get it. And when you preach holiness to a nation that is rebellious, impudent and stubborn toward God, as this nation has become, then we should not be shocked that they don’t get it. So what do we do?
Do we give up and quit preaching? No. The Lord said to Ezekiel, “Whether they hear or refuse to hear, they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.” God will have a voice in this land and it is the voice of the Church. St. Paul asks in Romans, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”
God speaks to a people through His prophets to call them back to Himself. But He also speaks to them so that His judgments will be proven just on the great and terrible day. America will not be able to say “We didn’t know that it was a sin” on Judgment Day. The prophetic voice of the Church was clear and loud. America chose to ignore it.
So we keep preaching whether they hear us or not. God goes on to instruct Ezekiel “do not be afraid of them and do not be afraid of their words….” If the Church is afraid of being called judgmental or hypocritical or homophobic or a hater, then we will end up disobeying the Lord and not speaking. We must be infinitely more concerned with what the Lord thinks of us than what our fellow man thinks of us. People who live in darkness are blind to the truth. Their values are seriously skewed so why should we care what they think of us anyway?
I don’t know why but the creators of the lectionary left a very interesting part out of this interaction between Ezekiel and the Lord. The Lord goes on to tell Ezekiel that he is to take up the scroll of the Law and eat it. Yes, eat it! Ezekiel literally put God’s Word inside him so that he would know what to speak.
And so the Church is called to read, learn, mark and inwardly digest God’s Word. We are not to preach to the world our opinions or our politics rather we are to preach to the world the Word of God. If you are not regularly reading and studying God’s Word then you will not be able to fulfill this part of your calling. “Mortal, I am sending you to…a nation of rebels.” So gird up your loins.
Next we come to St. Paul. He is a wounded healer. St. Paul had been exalted. He went up to the third heaven and saw things of which he could not speak. I was asked recently about the third heaven and I had to admit that I didn’t know much about it and so I have done extensive research. Here is what I have found. The third heaven is just above the second heaven and right below the fourth heaven. Hope that helps.
After having this exalted experience God in His mercy keeps St. Paul from being destroyed by pride by allowing a messenger of Satan to give him a thorn in the flesh. We are not certain what that thorn in the flesh was. Some think it was a physical illness, some suggest an emotional illness, others believe it was a mother-in-law (but not mine of course). We don’t really know but the result was that it kept St. Paul humble and reliant upon the Lord.
While no one WANTS a thorn in the flesh, I know that many of you have probably been through things that you would not wish on your worst enemy but have found that it is not all bad. In fact God takes such things and works them for our good and for His glory.
I shudder when I think back to some of the stuff that I taught and believed when I was in my 20’s. It’s a wonder that I didn’t destroy the Church. I was a living example of the guy who said, “I used to have 7 theories and no kids and now I have 7 kids and no theories.”
The Lord allowed some very painful thorns to enter my life but they changed me and opened the door to do better ministry. St. Paul praised God for what he went through saying “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Cor 1
Thus a second way that we can gird up our loins is to realize that we are called to be wounded healers. We can ask the Lord to comfort us and give us the ability to comfort others with that same comfort.
And let me tell you, they are going to need us. As this generation strays further and further from God in their rebellion and impudence, they will discover that life is not working out too well for them. They think that they are walking into a party but they are walking into a world of pain and brokenness and the Church needs to be at the back door to catch them when they come out. The Church is to be a hospital full of wounded healers prepared to care for the sick. We need to gird up our loins and get ready.
Lastly we come to Jesus, a dishonored Savior. He was dishonored having done nothing dishonorable. This is an astonishing story. They admit to hearing His words of wisdom and seeing His deeds of power but the text says, “they took offense at Him.” Jesus came to heal them and to lead them into the truth but they were offended. They were not thankful for Him, they were not humbled by His presence, they were offended. And so Jesus was dishonored in His own hometown.
You would have thought that the Gospel was describing our generation. I don’t know when we became so thin skinned but everything offends people these days. Jerry Seinfeld recently announced that he was no longer going to do comedy shows at colleges because these acolytes of political correctness get offended at everything.
We need to gird ourselves with the knowledge that if they took offense at Jesus the we can be sure that they will take offense at us. When we proclaim the truth like Ezekiel or even when we offer ourselves as wounded healers like St. Paul, their first response it not going to be “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” More probably they will cry out “Crucify him.”
If you think that I am exaggerating then I challenge you to make a truth claim on Facebook. It is like hitting a hornet’s nest with a stick and the level of animosity and biblical ignorance that come flying out is astonishing.
“Well Jesus never said that was a sin.” Yes and He never said not to push your grandmother down an elevator shaft but I’m pretty sure I can piece together enough of His teachings to draw that conclusion.”
“Well who are you to judge?” Do you think murder is wrong? You do? Well then who are you to judge?
“Yeah and the Bible says not to eat shrimp but I don’t hear anyone preaching against shrimp.” I’m sorry what did you say? I wasn’t paying attention because I was busy peeling my shrimp! Actually when they display this level of biblical ignorance it is pointless to respond; it a pearls before swine kind of thing.
But again, that does not mean that we stop making truth claims. And when we do, as with Jesus, we can expect for them to take offense. But let me be quick to add that does not give us license to be offensive. There is a difference between making a truth claim and bashing someone with your Bible. The Scripture says that we are to speak the truth in love. St. Peter said in his Epistle “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
I have to admit that is not always easy to do, especially when some whippersnapper takes a verse out of context and quotes it to me like I have never heard of it before. It is then that I try to remember what Josh Chestnut told me. He said that no one every came to Christ by losing an argument. So we put the truth out there, and when they get offended, we let it be.
Fr. Chris is right. We need to gird up our loins. As I said in my 4th of July sermon, I acknowledge that God can do a miracle for this country and bring us back as He did in the First and Second Great Awakenings. But my gut tells me that we are headed for some challenging times. It was less than a week after the Supreme Court ruling when an editorial in a leading newspaper called for the removal of tax exempt status from churches that do not accept this redefinition of marriage. I wonder how long it will take them to go from taking down flags that offend to taking down crosses that offend. I read recently of a Marine who was court-martialed and given a dishonorable discharge for refusing to remove a Bible verse from her computer. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are under assault. We need to gird up and be ready. We also need to be very wise and pick our battles. Above all we must fix our eyes on Jesus who is the author and perfecter of our faith. We can take comfort in the fact that if things do grow more dark it will only make our light more bright. So as Father Chris said, “Now we shine.” Amen.