Worship services are live on Facebook every Sunday at 10 AM PDT.
Music used for this service:
“Laudate Omnes Gentes”
Words and music: Taizé Community.
Voices United 328 “Jesu, Joy of Our Desiring”
Words: Martin Janus, translated by Robert Seymour Bridges.
Music: Johann Schop, arranged by Johann Sebastian Bach. Public domain.
Voices United 457 “As We Gather at Your Table”
Words: Carl P. Daw, Jr. 1989 © 1989 Hope Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Music: Attributed to Benjamin Franklin White. Arrangement: © 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship, by permission of Augsburg Fortress.
Voices United 960 “The Lord’s Prayer”
Adapted from a chant by R. Langdon. Public domain.
Voices United 684 “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace”
Words: Attributed to St. Francis.
Music, Arrangement: © 1968 Franciscan Communications Centre, 1229 S. Santee St., Los Angeles, CA 90015, USA.
“Go Now in Peace, Never Be Afraid”
Words: Don Besig and Nancy Price, 1988. Music: Don Besig 1988. Words and Music – ©1988 Shawnee Press.
Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE, License # A-734863. All rights reserved.
Holy Father and Mother of us All,
we give you thanks for your compassion, your tender care and comfort,
and you call us to cry out in the wilderness to prepare the path of peace and mercy.
Christ our Brother,
we see your face in everyone in need,
in all those marginalized and outcast, oppressed and victimized.
May we walk with you in humility, seeking love for the loveless
and proclaiming forgiveness for everything.
Spirit of Truth and Hope,
you inspire our hearts, lighting a flame of justice and love.
Spur us to stand up, to be brave in your call to fullness,
that we may find reconciliation with God by reconciliation with our neighbour.
In all our prayers, hear us, O God,
that we may be true to your Word made flesh in our Lord, Christ Jesus,
who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.
We’re continuing a sermon series that I wanted to do, going off the lectionary, where we address the idea that the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, only shows a God of wrath and violence, while the New Testament only shows a God of love and forgiveness. I think the idea does serious damage to our understanding of God: it ignores a God who passionately calls for justice through the prophets, who expresses deep care for Her people; it also lifts up a whitewashed image of Jesus who does not challenge us, who encourages our complacency, where God loves us “just as we are,” which is true, but leaves out the part where He calls us to repent through Jesus.
In maybe no other book of the Bible is a God of judgement more on display than in the book of the prophet Ezekiel. Throughout the first half of the book are these prophecies, called oracles, wherein God casts judgement upon the nations. And the end with the constant refrain, “You shall know that I am the LORD.” By the works of vengeance God does upon faithless nations, they will know God.
In the movie Pulp Fiction, the mobster Jules Winnifield quotes a made up verse from the book of Ezekiel, which ends “And you will know I am the LORD when I lay my vengeance upon you,” right before he murders a person. It’s not a real verse that he quotes, but the sentiment is definitely present. “I defiles them through their very gifts, in their offering up all their firstborn, so that they might know that I am the LORD.” “I will scatter you among the nations and I will purge your filthiness out of you, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” “You shall bear the penalty for your sinful idolatry, and you shall know that I am the LORD GOD.”
That certainly sounds like the “Old Testament” God we’re familiar with. But then we get to this , passage, the valley of dry bones. God takes Ezekiel to the middle of a valley full of skeletons. And He tells Ezekiel to call the breath of God—to Christians, the Holy Spirit—and fills the bones with new life. “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live . . . then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken.”
How do we know God? How do we know what kind of God we believe in? How do we know what She wants for us? How do we know that God loves us? How do we know that God is the LORD? In theology, this is called the question of revelation, how God reveals His nature to us. The traditional Protestant answer is 100% the Bible. Sola Scriptura, “by scripture alone,” was one of the slogans of the Protestant reformation. The traditional Catholic answer is to listen to the teachings of the church, that certain church fathers and mothers like Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Catherine of Sienna, Saint Theresa of Avila, and, of course, the official doctrine (“teachings”) of the Catholic Church teach us about the nature of God.
Being Protestant, I’m obviously biased. The Bible shows us a vast array of different experiences of God, and by reading them we can deeper understand our own experience of the Holy. However, what we find in this passage from Ezekiel is that knowledge of God is not through words, whether printed in a Bible or written by doctors of the church, but rather by the new life given to the dry bones. We find God not in pages or words, but in the experience of renewal.
Modern theologians add a third category of revelation: experience. No amount of theological writings can account for your personal experience of God. I can’t tell you who God is to you, because you are different from me. The Bible can’t tell you who God is to you, because you are different from Ezekiel or Moses or John or Paul.
All we know is our experience, and we all have the experience of being dry bones. Individually, we know what it’s like to be in the valley, the valley of the shadow of death. We ask if we will ever live again, and God only knows. God knows us in our pain, and we know Him in our healing.
And many peoples know what it is to say, “Our bones have dried up, and our hope is lost.” Indigenous peoples struggle to renew their culture and history after cultural genocide. American and Canadian people of colour are stripped of their very flesh under police violence. LGBT+ people struggle to find a safe place to truly be themselves, to be fully embodied in their sexuality or their gender. Women are subjugated under patriarchal regimes, their bodies covered up so that they don’t “tempt” men who can’t control themselves. “We are cut off completely,” say the people of Israel, conquered and exiled by an imperial Babylon, another victim of our desire to exert power over each other. “Our bones are dried up.”
Thus says the LORD GOD, “I am going to open your graves.” It is a message of hope and comfort. “I will put my spirit within you.” I am never going to leave you, I am your God. This is how you will know me. Not by violence, not by judgement, but by love.
We know God by Her love for us. By her care for us. Only in Love is God’s nature truly revealed. Not in harsh judgement, although definitely in a call to justice and reconciliation if we are being unjust, but even that is truly in love, in a desire for us to be reconciled with Him and with each other.
And if we are Christians, Jesus says to us, “They will know you are my disciples by your love.” We must embody the love of God to each other and to all our family in humanity and in creation. Only in this, only in our love and not in our preaching or our flashy church services or our hymns, but only in our love will they know that God is the LORD. Amen.