This is actually two sermons, each given on the lectionaries – the recommended Bible passages – for the day.  The sermon based on the Old Testament reading of Ezekial is more academic while the New Testament reading is, I hope, more inspriational.  I’m not quite certain why I thought the two of them would go together, but it must have seemed like a good idea at the time! I hope my interpretatins are worthy and the message is of value to you. Given July 5, 2009 at Parkside Community Church, Sacramento CA

I am reading from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, which was written around 600 BC.  Although chosen by God to be a prophet, Ezekiel probably never formally ministered as a priest.

When Ezekiel said, “I saw visions of God,” it meant that God still had a message for the Jews who were far from home – a message which gave them hope. But I want to take just a moment to talk about how Ezekiel said, “I saw visions of God.”

When I first read our lectionary for today, I confess it left me confused, so I read the part before that and then the part before that.  But first, the reading for today — Ezekiel 2:1-5: He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you.

And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me.
 He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day.   The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord God.” Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.

 With only this reading, I can assume that God is talking to Ezekiel.  But I wanted to be better prepared in sharing this with you, so I read the first chapter of Ezekiel.  Listen to this:

(Ezekiel writes) I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man, but each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had the hands of a man. All four of them had faces and wings, and their wings touched one another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.
Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out upward; each had two wings, one touching the wing of another creature on either side, and two wings covering its body. Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.
As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like chrysolite, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not turn about as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around.
When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.  When the creatures moved, they also moved; when the creatures stood still, they also stood still; and when the creatures rose from the ground, the wheels rose along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.

Parkside is blessed with a wide range of members and visitors.  Some know the Bible inside and out while others are still seeking their spiritual message.  You may claim college degrees or struggle with even the simplest of readings.  Regardless of where you are biblically, spiritually or academically, I believe that nearly every one of you, when reading or hearing the passage above, will ask the same question I asked:

“What the hell is he talking about?”

I also believe this is a very fair question, because it is passages like this that, when left unexamined, may cause us to put down our Ezekiel and pick up our Daniel – Danielle Steel that is.  But one of the beauties of the Bible is when we take the time to study it more closely. And it is important to understand the Old Testament – which isn’t easy – because it is the foundation upon which our Testament – the Testament of Jesus Christ – is built.

So, very quickly, what is Ezekiel talking about?  In the opening verses, he writes that he saw “a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud surrounded by brilliant light.”  The Old Testament often tells us that humans would not survive seeing the full glory of God.  To prevent that, God’s image was regularly described as a cloud associated with fire.

 Verse six tells us that out of this firestorm came a figure with four faces – those of a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle.  This vision, with its four faces, represents all of God’s living creations, for man, lion, ox and eagle represent all living creatures – humans, wild beasts, domestic animals, and birds.

In this vision, God comes as Lord of creation.

And what about how this vision moves?  With four wheels, but never turning, always going where it needs to go?

“And they went every one straight forward. Where the Spirit was to go they went. They did not turn when they went.   Wherever the Spirit was to go, they went.”

Wherever the spirit was to go, they went.  Total obedience to God’s will.

I have greatly simplified this explanation, but even in this context, it makes sense.  And frankly, once we understand what Ezekiel is saying, his message is much more powerful than, “I had a vision of God and here is what God said to me.”

And with that understanding and your patience, I will read the lectionary once more:

(Ezekiel writes)
He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you.

And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me.

He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day.   The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord God.” Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.

Second Scripture Reading:
Mark 6:1-13   
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.   On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!  Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”   And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching.
He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.
He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”
So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Have you ever been afraid to try?  How many of you have thought of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane – but haven’t?  Or wanted to submit an entry for the county fair, chickened out?  I imagine every boy believes he could have played Major League Baseball and every girl believes she could have been a ballerina. And we grow up and become nurses and engineers and stay-at-home caregivers and sales reps and teachers instead – all very important jobs.  But what happened to our dream?  Did we not pursue it because someone said “You aren’t good enough?”

There is a woman in England who none of us would have heard about – if she had kept her mouth closed.  Forgive me for saying so, but she was nothing special to look at.  She was 47 years old and stayed home to care of her parents – one of the most important things a person could do – and lived in nearly absolute obscurity.  Until she dared to open her mouth.  And anyone who has access to the Internet knows that from the moment Susan Boyle sang, “I dreamed a dream…” she had instantly inspired millions of people and millions more as they learned about her.

I cannot speak for you, but I say, “Shame on me.  Shame on me for dismissing this person because the package wasn’t pretty enough or didn’t fit my contrived notion of acceptable.”

If you haven’t seen this performance on YouTube, please get someone to show it to you.  And if you have seen it, go see it again.  It is truly a wake-up call.

But as I say, “Shame on me,” I also say, “Shame on Susan Boyle.”  Miss Boyle had this precious gift inside and she waited years to share it.  She probably had no idea how her gift would affect others.  You watch the video and watch her – she is delightfully surprised at the positive reaction the judges give her – as if she never expected it.

What talents do you have that would surprise others?  This church is literally and figuratively built on the talents of people.  We have a music ministry that moves and inspires.  Look at our sanctuary – this doesn’t just happen, the flowers, the bulletin, the wall hangings.  These are gifts people shared – gifts they didn’t know they had until they tried.

The gift of evangelism could be just such a gift.  Maybe we love our church and we love Christ but we are more apt to talk about “Jon and Kate plus Eight” than the book of John, Chapter 8.  Why is that?  Are we afraid?  Embarrassed?  Are we worried that we don’t know how?

When Jesus returned to Galilee to speak to the home crowd, he was rebuked by them.  Jesus!  Who had performed miraculous healings, driven out evil spirits, had gone head-to-toe with the Pharisees – the leaders of the faith – who had calmed the storm and had crowds following him everywhere by this time and had even raised a dead girl to living, all before coming to speak before his fellow townspeople.  This is the Jesus who would speak before an audience of thousands and whose words still live twenty centuries later.  It’s safe to say that this guy knew his stuff.  But how did the hometown crowd respond?  With insults!

“Isn’t this the carpenter?”  they asked, implying that he is just someone who works with his hands, no better than the rest of them.

“Isn’t this the son of Mary?”  A question today we may take for granted, but back in the first century, a person was identified by his Father, not his Mother.  This question, put as it was, claims that Mary was not married to Jesus’ Father.  Even today, that’s an unpleasant word I shan’t repeat.

The people of Nazareth felt trapped, first appreciating what was being said, but then being caught up in who said it.  They were incapable of appreciating who Jesus was because they identified him with themselves so closely.  How many of us find ourselves in a similar situation, when we want to speak of love and patience and mercy – the virtues of a Christian life – to those who have seen us drunk or stoned or angry or in some other unflattering light.

You don’t need to be someone extraordinary to share the Good News.  Look at what happened to the most extraordinary person in the history of humanity!

If you need examples of people to emulate, look at the history of the Bible.  If I asked you to name three people for the Old Testament, I guarantee one of those names would be Moses.  Moses – the great leader of Israel, who took his people out of bondage and led them to the Promised Land.  Moses – who when God said “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt, said, in essence, “Who, me?”  When God told Moses to speak to the Elders of God’s plan, Moses said “What if they don’t believe me?”  And maybe you believe, as Moses did, that you are “slow of speech and tongue.  But God gave Moses the power to present God’s message.

Then there is David, who no more than a shepherd.  Sure, he was smart and good-looking – you know, like all of you – but he was just someone who followed God’s words – most of the time.

Queen Esther could have lived a life of ease in the royal court, but chose instead to risk it all and speak up for her people.

Ezekiel was not a rabbi or an ordained Jewish preacher.  Yet God spoke to him and gave him the authority to be God’s Prophet to the Jews.

Jesus picked fishermen to share his word.  Not scholars, not converted Pharisees or any of the Romans who were in power at the time.  Fishermen.  Just regular guys who “dropped their nets and followed him.”

They lived with Jesus and listened to him and worked with him and continued to follow him even after his death, resurrection and ascension. It was this team whom Jesus – the son of God, the Messiah God – authorized as his delegates.  He sent them out with not much more than each other.  He knew that God would provide for them and instructed them to follow his ministry – to preach, to heal and to drive out demons.  He also told them to not waste time with unreceptive audiences.  To “shake off the dust that is on your feet” – which is a wonderful imagery – is a Jewish custom of removing the taint of nonbelievers from their person.

What it means to me is that if someone is not interested in your message, move on.  Maybe that person is more likely to be won over with “Deeds, not Words” or is so entrenched in their current belief – or non-belief – that preaching to them only sets them more firmly.

But do move on.  Don’t stop sharing your faith, if not with that person, than the next.   If you feel the love of Christ inside you, there is no greater blessing and you are obligated to share that blessing.  Jesus gave his great commission to his followers telling them “to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

That commission has been handed down throughout the centuries and if this is the first time you are hearing it, I give it to you as it was given to me.  Go and make disciples of all nations.  Do not be afraid, for God is calling you to do Christ’s work.

What are you afraid of?  With God on your side, you don’t have to be someone special.  Just open your mouth and you won’t need to “Dream the dream.”  You can fulfill the dream.