Aug 23 “Rebuilding Again” Exodus 1:8–2:10; Psalm 124; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20
For those of us following the Year Through the Bible readings, we have been reading the book of Ezekiel this week, one of the weirdest and most disturbing books of the Bible. In addition to many scenes that just don’t make sense, the book tells of the final days of Jerusalem before the Babylonian Exile. There is chaos in the city, people are starving and dying, and the well-to-do are all taken captive and forced to move. The Temple is desecrated, and God’s presence departs. And yet, there is hope. God promises to rebuild Jerusalem and bring His people back. He lays out the roadmap for how this new city will be. His glory will return and make Jerusalem the Shining City on the Hill yet again. As Jeremiah declared:
I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. 7 I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. 8 I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me. 9 Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.’ Jeremiah 33:6-9
Perhaps with all that is going on in world, we might feel like we are in a dark time waiting for renewal, with the pandemic raging and anarchists taking over protests and causing chaos and destruction. Covid-19 has taken so many lives and turned our world upside down: our world has changed in many ways and most likely will never go back to how things were. As the convention season starts and the November election looms, we know that there will be heightened tensions and rancorous proclamations, but still we find hope as we allow the process to unfold in this dark time. The difference of course between our time and that of Ezekiel is that God has not left us, even though we may think that our culture is just as ungodly now as it was then. Many people have lost their jobs and will lose their homes if our leaders cannot come up with a relief plan, but most of us here are relatively secure. We can be thankful that our country still exists, divided as it might be. And we can enter into God’s presence this morning, coming together again to worship and glorify Him, perhaps in a different manner, but He is still with us, guiding our steps and giving us comfort and hope.
The solution that Ezekiel gives us, as do most other Biblical writers and Jesus Himself, is to repent of our evil ways and recommit ourselves to following the commands of God. In doing so, we join in the efforts of all God’s people to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is amongst us and open to all who proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. As Paul wrote in Romans 12:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
We live in a hyper-individualistic society where people tend to only think of themselves, so when we hear this passage, we naturally think of how “I” might be more disciplined and faithful. These are good goals, but it doesn’t stop there. We do want to make ourselves better, but Paul reminds us that we don’t just do it for ourselves. We want to remain humble, have sober judgement, and act wisely, but it is not just for our own benefit, but to benefit the Body of Christ, our church here and the global church, as well as our community, country and world. Each of us uses the gifts given to us by the Spirit to advance the Kingdom of God. It’s interesting that in this list of gifts, Paul encourages leaders to be diligent. What does “having diligence” mean to you? According to Webster’s, it means: “steady, earnest, and energetic effort: persevering application.” We remember that faith is not a “one and done” affair but takes a long-term commitment. We know that there will be ups and downs, conflict and disappointment, but new joys and opportunities for fulfillment. We will make mistakes and confront obstacles, but we keep seeking to move forward and do what is best for the people of God. Sometimes we take steps backwards, sometimes forwards, sometimes we start over. But we seek to remain steady and moving forward. We build, and later rebuild. Again and again, ever moving forward.
What do you think Paul means when we he says: “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship? What is “spiritual worship”? Is this similar to a sacrament, a physical act that has a spiritual meaning? Today is a new day for us, as we meet again as God’s people to worship and glorify Him. What does this time of worship mean to you this morning, after a long break from gathering together as God’s people? May this be a day that we recommit ourselves to serving God and our neighbors as each of us recommits to following God’s ways.
In the early days of the Methodist movement, John Wesley placed his people into small groups called bands that together formed the United Societies of the early Methodist community. The main purposes of the bands were to study the Scriptures, pray, and keep each other accountable. Wesley taught that since God has offered us His grace in Christ, we are to have as our foundation as a people a continual response to the salvation offered to us. And so Wesley wrote in his General Rules of the United Societies:
here is one condition previously required in those who desire admission into these societies, ‘a desire to flee from the wrath to come, to be saved from their sins’…it is therefore expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation, First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind… Secondly: By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all (people)…Thirdly: By attending upon all the ordinances of God.
These three simply rules have been the guiding principles of the People called Methodist ever since: may they continue to guide us into the future. We have been called to be a holy people. Do good, do no harm, follow God’s commands. This walk of faith we take together with Jesus is not just about belief, but about putting our faith into action. If we have confessed that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, then we read the Bible and follow God’s commands. We let the Spirit transform our hearts and minds. And we look outward, doing good deeds that will show the love we have found in Christ to those who need physical, emotional, and spiritual comfort and help. We start with changing our hearts, and then seek to touch the hearts of others. It is not a short or easy process. When we have finished one task, we look for a new one, but this is our life’s purpose. No matter how mature we may be, we continue to grow in the knowledge of God and the wisdom given by the Spirit until the day it is time for us to enter into God’s rest in Heaven. We show diligence and patience.
We celebrated this week the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, giving the right to vote to women. It took decades of protests and grassroots organization to get to that point, and the work towards full equality continues to this day. No matter who wins the election in November, our country still has a long road ahead, as we seek to overcome and recover from the pandemic and seek resolution and healing for so many different sources of conflict. Our country will need rebuilding in so many ways. We as a church also seek to heal from our time of suspension of services due to Covid and the internal conflict we have had to endure. But as difficult as these various paths have been, together we work towards a new day of peace and health, when we again can be reborn as Ezekiel promises that Jerusalem would be rebuilt. We rebuild and move forward.