What follows is a manuscript of the sermon I preached this Sunday at Messiah Lutheran Church in Schenectady, NY as part of our congregation's annual Rally Sunday. I focused mostly on the first appointed lesson for the day, Ezekiel 33:7-11. Thanks so much for reading, and I'd love to hear what you think!
So we’re here on a beautiful early fall morning, worshiping outside, rallying at the start of a new year of Sunday School, choir and bunch of other exciting things at Messiah, probably hoping I’ll finish up my sermon early so we can get to the barbecue and that sort of thing, and we’re confronted by a bunch of real choice texts for what’s supposed to be a happy, joyful Sunday… I mean, when I read the texts earlier this week from what’s called the Revised Common Lectionary, this standardized list of Bible texts used each Sunday by most churches in a number of different denominations, I literally had like face in my palm, rolled my eyes… all the folks who came up with the list of texts really dealt us an interesting hand today for our Rally Sunday… In our Hebrew Bible reading Ezekiel is calling out the wickedness of his fellow folks from Judah, talking about how God has appointed him as a sentinel… in our reading from the Epistles, Paul’s writing to the Romans about how there’s no debauchery and reveling allowed… and in the Gospel of Matthew even Jesus gets in on happy fest… talking all about how if people in your faith community sin against you, there’s this long process you have to go through to either reconcile with them, or maybe kick them out… wowzers. Now, it’s not that there’s not wisdom in these texts, I don’t want to make light of them at all in that sort of way, but, to be fair, for a Sunday that’s supposed to be so fun and happy and about all the joys of Christian community, our texts today upon first read seem to be well, a bit of a bummer.
There’s no denying these aren’t the most joyful of texts, but that’s mostly because the speakers in all three texts are taking their prophetic role quite seriously, guarding against the specific sins of their time and local community. In all of three of today’s texts though, it’s not just all fire and brimstone sort of stuff by any means, because every passage proclaims hope in some way as well. Ezekiel explicitly states it this way, but both Paul and Jesus reflect the same message… when the community asks “how then can we live?” Ezekiel quite simply proclaims out, “God lives, so how could you die? God lives, so how could you possible have anything to worry about? God lives!” And to boil it down, that’s pretty much what prophets do right? They analyze the human situation specific to their time and place, figure out what folks are generally worrying about and then proclaim to folks how God is constantly breaking into their lives to show how those worries are complete hogwash. Whether its a people saying no, we can’t live under exile in a foreign land, as the people of Judah were in Ezekiel’s time, or a small, emerging faith community in Paul and Jesus’s time saying no, we can’t get along with one another, no we can’t figure out how to be a church, in both these and I believe in all human situations, there’s always some sort of “no” folks are coming up with. And often in quite simple ways, prophets pretty just proclaim how God is the eternal “yes” to all those “no’s” us human beings keep coming up with, whatever they are.
Just to reiterate, because I’m a bit more discombobulated than usual, I’ve made two points so far… 1) its easy to see that the prophets in our texts today took their jobs quite seriously, and 2) we can pretty much boil down the job of a prophet to show how God is the eternal “yes” to whatever specific “no’s” folks are coming up with in their specific time and place. So, here’s a third point for you to consider my sisters and brother… we’re all called to be prophets. Think about it… remember Jesus’ whole “great commission” thing? “Go and make disciples of all nations?” As Christians, we’re all called to be prophets. We’re all called to be prophets… to look at our specific time and place, figure out what “no’s” people are coming up with, and then show how God is the eternal “yes” to all those no’s and doubts… Just Ezekiel, and Paul and Jesus, we’re called to discern how folks are asking “How then can we live?” and then be able to proclaim, “Hey, like chill out, God lives!! God lives, so how could you possibly die?” We’re called to be prophets, to proclaim the good news of God’s liberating love in Christ to a world absolutely overflowing with all sorts of human hogwash… all sorts of “no’s.”
So what “no’s” then are folks coming up with today in our time and place, in postmodern twenty-first century Schenectady? What “no’s” are we called to answer with the good news of the eternal “yes” of God? There’s certainly a bunch of possibilities, a bunch of “no’s” floating around out there in the societal ether, but after thinking about it a great deal over the past week and having conversations with many of you, I believe two of the most popular “no’s” in our time and place are as follows: “No, I don’t think my life has a whole lot of meaning” and “No, I don’t really feel part of a community.” Think about it… things are changing more rapidly than ever. From government to religion to the market there no longer seems like any institutions we can trust. And there’s so many things to fear… terrorism, disease, loneliness and financial uncertainty are just a few of those things. And there’s just so much to do… most of us, and perhaps especially our kids, are way too over-programed… mounds of homework, twenty different sports teams… it’s an odd sort of paradox, actually. Despite being busier than ever, many of us feel more lonely than ever. And amidst the daily grind of all that busyness and fear and change, wow, we can’t help but often feel like there isn’t much of a point to the whole thing.
How then can we live like this? How then can we live without a life of meaning? How then can we live without a deep, fulfilling connection with community? How then can we live? We’re asking these questions… our neighbors are asking these questions… in our human imperfection, we’re all asking these questions, the specific “no’s” of our postmodern age. And my sisters and brothers, after hanging out here at Messiah for over a month now, after having conversations with most of you over meals or in committee meetings or while feeding hungry kids lunch, I feel more confident than ever that you’re just the prophetic sort of folks God’s calling to proclaim the eternal “yes” amidst so many human “no’s.” You’re just the prophetic sort of folks to answer those human questions “how then can we live?” with the only answer that’s ever really mattered, “God lives.” I mean look around at each other… seriously, nearly everyone here is deeply involved in the life of this congregation in one way or another. In most congregations you get maybe twenty, thirty percent of folks who do more than just come to church on a Sunday morning. Here at Messiah though, on an average week I’d say I see or speak with at least three quarters of you outside of Sunday morning. It’s absolutely amazing! It’s easy to see that in a society starved for meaning, in a society starved for community, you all can’t help but find meaning, you can’t help but find community here in Christ.
There’s a lot to rally about this Sunday, on this beautiful early fall morning, on Rally Sunday… you might not believe it, but just in the way you live out your life in Christ together, its plainly apparent to me how prophetic you’re all called to be. In a world desperately crying out “how then can we live without meaning?” and “how then can we live without community?” you’re just the sort of prophetic folks called to answer those specific questions with the eternal yes of God by being exactly who you are, by doing the simple things… by living out a life of meaning in Christian community and going out to welcome others in to gather with us around bread and wine, to sing together, pray together, share meals together and play together and raise our children together. God lives. God lives. God lives. And in such a time as this, that eternal yes, that good news that God lives is more important than ever. So, on this Rally Sunday, let’s indeed rally. Let’s sing and play and joyfully proclaim it at the top of our lungs my sisters and brothers, God lives!!!
Dustin serves as pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church, a vibrant congregation ministering with the local community in Rotterdam, New York. An evangelist, urban gardener, mountain climber, community organizer, saint and sinner, Dustin spends most of his profession time wrestling with God and proclaiming liberation in Christ. Otherwise, Dustin likes hiking, playing frisbee, hanging out with an amazing woman named Jessie and pretending to know how to sing.