Monday, April 11, 2011

Head and shoulders, knees and toes

To follow is the message that I shared with the students, faculty and guests at Wartburg chapel this morning - the text is Ezekiel 37:1-14 and it was read beautifully by a young drama major by the name of Maddie.  You may read it here Ezekiel 37:1-14 (The Message)  (remember I write for the ear - so punctuation may be a bit unconventional)

The first time one hears this text – it sounds kinda like a script for a scary movie…Ezekiel whisked away to a plain out in the middle of no where – and surrounded by piles of bones…dry, sun bleached bones… paints quite a picture doesn’t it?  But after I picked this scripture passage for this morning I started getting concerned– you are into your last week of classes for the semester aren’t you?  Yikes!

Are the minds of the geography students going to wander off – pondering where this valley could be located at the eastern end of the Mediterranean sea?
Are the anatomy students going to get distracted by the talk of sinews and flesh and bones coming together – and try to mentally put the bones back together into human form?
Are the Early Childhood Education students going to think of the little song that we probably all know – head and shoulders knees and toes, knees and toes…and then start thinking about final projects that are due…
We can get easily distracted can’t we?  I think its how we’re wired… perhaps its just me… but to make connections we try to find ourselves, our passions, our likes in the things we experience – the books we read…the music we listen to…the scripture lesson for the day.
Here God is trying to connect with his people who are in a spiritual dry spot – they lost their land and are now exiles living in a foreign land.  Deep down they know what God is – but they just don’t feel him any longer…They feel lost, confused and out of sorts.  They have doubts – they aren’t even sure if they believe there is a God any more…maybe they just imagined him.
Have any of you ever feel that way?
God gave Ezekiel a mission – to speak truth into dark places.  To do this, Ezekiel had to dig deep in his own heart and life experiences and rely on the spiritual gifts that came from God to even make sense of all that was happening to his people.
 In Romans chapter 12 – the Apostle Paul talks about how each of us – followers of Christ are part of the Body of Christ – and how each of us are unique and important parts of the whole…Paul then goes on to talk about these spiritual gifts –
6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Ezekiel was a prophet – that was the gift that God gave to him… if everyone here was a prophet – well, that could be interesting – drive the administration a bit crazy perhaps…but after a while, it would get rather intense, don’t you think?
Ezekiel the prophet brought hope and an assurance that the very breath of God – the Holy Spirit of God – was still at work in the lives of God’s people… breathing new life and vitality into their very existence…even if at that moment they were in a foreign land.
Does anyone here feel like college is a foreign land?  Now that the freshmen are in their 2nd semester – perhaps not so much…but you are far away from the comforts of home.  For the seniors – you are facing a foreign land – as you prepare to enter the work force…your foreign land is the unknown – what ever will happen after graduation  next month?  will you have a job?  Get married?  Have to move back home – shudder at the thought!
Regardless of where you find yourself – there is one thing for sure – God is in the midst of things.  Really – God is!  
While it may not seem to be the case as you’re wrapping up the semester and putting the finishing touches on your papers and preparing for the adventures of your May term God is in the midst of everything.
And here’s the really cool part – the very breath of God –the same Spirit that breathed new life into those dry parched bones has given you all that you need for life…for your career…for now and for the future… you have been given gifts that you are only now exploring – growing into and experiencing in fresh new ways.
And so, in the midst of your final week of classes I have one last assignment for each of you – I want you to pause from time to time and allow the Spirit of God to refresh you – I want you to pause as you walk across campus and look at the beauty that surrounds you – the flowers, the beautiful blue sky, the dazzling displays of lightening in the spring storms, the smiles on the faces of the faculty and your classmates – are all gifts from God and reflections of God’s love and beauty. 
And this is what I believe with all that I have and all that I am… It’s God’s Spirit that gives our lives meaning – encourages us to become the people we were created to be – beautiful and beloved and unique creations of God.
It is God’s Spirit that is always at work in our lives - we may not be able to put a finger on it – but its there – you know, in those moments when we have a gut feeling to call someone or pray for someone or check on a friend, to send a text to someone you know - do you think that is all our doing?  I tend to believe it’s the very Spirit of the living God!
How about when you are with friends –and you are so comfortable with one another and there is joy and happiness and a sense of contentment in that moment – when I have those moments I sometimes want to weep out of gratitude to God for the beauty the joy and the hope and love that he has provided me… it’s God’s love – the very kingdom of God - breaking in and telling us that this is what God wants for us – more than anything else… this kind of beauty, this kind of fellowship with one another – this kind of peace of mind and hope and joy…and love

Love really is where its at – Paul sums it up back in Romans chapter 12 – and one of my favorite passages of scripture:

 9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

And I would add – use your giftedness to be part of the solution – to bring God’s hope and truth and beauty and love into those dry and desolate places…

In the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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