Advent E Devotion II – Stubborn

Ezekiel 2
4He said to me: Mortal, go to the house of Israel and speak my very words to them. 5For you are not sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language, but to the house of Israel— 6not to many peoples of obscure speech and difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to them, they would listen to you. 7But the house of Israel will not listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me; because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. 8See, I have made your face hard against their faces, and your forehead hard against their foreheads. 9Like the hardest stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not fear them or be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 10He said to me: Mortal, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart and hear with your ears; 11then go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them. Say to them, “Thus says the Lord God”; whether they hear or refuse to hear.

I wouldn’t have thought that stubbornness would be a spiritual attitude. As Christmas approaches we all can probably picture a child in some store stomping his or her feet, pitching a fit, and throwing a tantrum. Face it we’ve either suffered through this as a parent or grandparent or witnessed another adult deal with a stubborn child. Being stubborn just seems so contrary to what we think of as “Christian nice”. However, in some instances being stubborn is evidently a spiritual strength. And that is because unlike a child (or even an occasional adult) God isn’t whining about some toy, desert, or petty preference.

God has an important and life changing word for us. And that’s the problem. Often we don’t want to hear that word. We don’t want to be told to stop; we don’t want to be told to change. We think the way we are doing and being is good enough. The problem is good enough isn’t Godly enough. Our divisions do not please God. It does not make God smile to see so many hungry children and families, to hear the sound of weapons of war, to have her creation used and abused. I could go on and on, because that’s what God chooses to do. Since before the prophet Ezekiel, till now, and till whenever, God is going to go on and on. And when we stop and think and pray about it we can give thanks for Godly stubbornness. We give thanks that God is in this match of wills with us because God:
WILL NOT back down
WILL NOT give in
WILL NOT abandon
WILL NOT leave
WILL NOT forsake
WILL NOT give up on us!

Faith action: During these days of list making, sit down and make a “God List”. What is important to God? How does it compare with what our world says is important? Carry that list with you as you shop, as you go to work, as you go about your days.

Prayer – God of Holy stubbornness, help us to discern what is worthy of such a strong stance. Help us to pray, speak, and work for your peace and justice in this world. Help us to welcome your stubborn expectations, your stubborn forgiveness, and your stubborn love for all. Amen.

Hope in the Storms, Isaiah 9, Narrative Lectionary sermon for Nov. 17, 2013

During the preaching of this sermon, the tornado sirens were activated and we moved into the basement.  Some slight adjustments were made adding wind and a bit more storm references.

Pulling a calendar out

I’m confused. It’s so damp, muggy, warm and stormy out there? 

I am confused!  What’s the date today?  (November 17th).  A week or so before thanksgiving.  Ok, so it’s wet and warmish.  I’m still confused, because well to tell you the truth, I thought it was Christmas.  What would make me so confused to think it’s Christmas already?

  Music, stores, decorations


And to top off that, today we heard these words from the prophet Isaiah.  You may or may not know this but these have been part of the scriptures assigned for Christmas, for at least 500 years or so.  In preparing for today’s sermon, I read a sermon written on this scripture passage, the sermon was written for Christmas Day, 1531, and preached by Martin Luther.


For hundreds and hundreds of years, hearing the promise of a son born for us, we’ve put the baby Jesus in the cradle of the prophet Isaiah’s promise.


Of course, the prophet Isaiah and the people who heard his words the first time were not looking to wait some 700 years for that baby.  They were looking for God to come, God to act, for them right then.  They heard the words “us”, “for us”, and they believed, just as Luther preached, and just as we want to hear that these words are for us right now.


Because,  I need this word and I’m pretty sure you need it to.  We need these words of hope and promise, because it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see that the way the world is, the way our lives are, can’t be the way it’s supposed to be.  The prophet Isaiah uses the language of darkness and light. Hope in the saving power of God is like a light shining in the darkness.  And well those words were fine for him,and I get the imagery, but I’m not sure if you’ve noticed this yet, but I don’t like to use that language–that of darkness and light.


In our day, equating trouble, evil, and suffering with darkness reinforces in our culture the stereotypes that black is bad and white is good.  It gives racism a vocabulary. Of course we know that evil comes in all colors.  We know that terror happens in bright sunlight and doesn’t need to lurk in the shadows.  Evil is an equal opportunity exploiter.


So how do we talk about the oppressive feeling of being overwhelmed with sorrow, struggle, and bad news?   Because that is really real.  It was real for the people of Jerusalem who heard Isaiah, as they looked around, they saw the injustice all around them, but not only the saw the much stronger/bigger nations were standing at their doorstop with their wave after wave of armies.


Maybe that’s it.  Waves, storms, overwhelm– drowning. Regrettably those words are both descriptive of how we can feel and terribly timely.  Although it’s on the other side of the world, we are learning again and again the pervasive devastation power hurricanes and typhoons (as the are called in the Pacific).


The thing is, we don’t  even need literal floods and waves of water to feel like we are drowning, submerged, pulled down.   The unrelenting power of the violence we hear and see around the world and at home, the bad news of disgraced leaders, of ineffective government, of soulless business practices, of mean spirited and cut throat politics, of disease and death.  No wonder we can feel like we are drowning in pain, fear, and confusion.


There is no shame in wanting the hope, the joy, that Christmas promises.


So, these  words of Isaiah fit at Christmas time, but they fit for us anytime as well.  Thy are like a life boat, a life preserver keeping us afloat, giving us hope and a vision–a way to pull our head above the waves despair that threaten to drown us.


What we need,and what Isaiah gave believers in his day, down through the ages to us today is a sign. That it really does get better, that God wants, that all this struggle we are immersed in day in and day out, that God rally really does desire something better for us.


These words are a sign that says we are,  that we can have hope and a vision of safety in our hospitals, in our homes, in our hearts. Safety because peace will arise all around us, because as we heard last week, justice will flow.


This vision clears away confusion.  No more being tossed about, the love of God is the way of life. Isaiah claims that all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood. shall be burned as fuel for the fire. These are words of peace.  Of weapons of destruction themselves destroyed and repurposed as tools for life. 


The one we look for is the one who created and tamed the waters, who made a way through the water for escaping slaves, the one who provided water to the thirsty in the desert, the one who when tossed to and fro stilled the storms, who walked on top of, above the waters, and who turned water into wine.  Who makes a way in the water to wash away the power, the claim of sin and death?   is the hope that gives our life meaning, that keeps us afloat, our heads above water. That is the life we are promised, that we practice, the signs we want to follow because That is the God we believe in, the God we worship, the God we put all our trust, faith and hope in. This promise is for us to grab onto, hold tight to, keep us afloat, and pull us through from thousand of years ago to today, to tomorrow, and each day, no matter what storms may come.  Amen.