Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent
April 6, 2014
I know that you have your own opinions about the city of Los Angeles and its people. Whatever your feelings may be, the city of Los Angeles holds a dear place in my heart. As many of you know, my family is from southern California. When my family moved to Dallas from L.A. in 1993, we were surprised by many things. Some good, some bad. Barbecue – very, very good. The Texas Rangers, not so much, we had always been fans of the Dodgers. The University of Texas at Austin, very good, despite what you may think. And the bad of Texas, well, the worst of all, was the weather. As Californians who had lived in the paradise climate of L.A., Dallas was a shock. Brutal heat in the summer, tornadoes in the fall, ice in the winter, tornadoes again in the spring, and about two weeks in March and October that were pleasant. Not at all like L.A.
I remember those perfect southern California days when my sister and I would lie down in our big backyard. And we would look up at those big puffy clouds in a marvelously blue sky. Like many of us did as children, we would imagine what those clouds looked like. A dog. A car. A spaceship. And I can envision my sister and I laying there on a perfect southern California day, and she would say, “Oh look. That cloud looks like a Barbie.” And I would say, “no it doesn’t. That looks like G.I. Joe.” Clearly it’s a matter of preference. It’s a matter of perception.
It’s a matter of perception. What does Ezekiel see in that wonderfully gruesome and cryptic story? He sees a valley of bones. They are dead. They are dry. They are without hope. They are cut off from the living. Ezekiel sees impossibility.
But that’s not what God sees, because it’s all about perception. What God sees is potential. The Lord God does not see bones that are dead and dry and hopeless. God sees a great host of his people, living and breathing with flesh and hope and love. The Lord God sees a people coming out of their graves, coming back to the land from which they had been exiled. The Lord God sees potential. Because it’s all about perception.
Now, remember, Ezekiel is not technically wrong. He really does see a valley of dry bones. Ezekiel is just telling it like it is. The Lord God, on the other hand, sees something that has not yet come to pass.
We, as the people of Holy Comforter, as we stand here in the midst of 2014, what do we perceive? Do we see impossibility? Or do we see potential? Will we live with the stark, fact-telling of Ezekiel? Or is the Lord God pulling forward into something grander?
Because I think I know what Ezekiel sees at Holy Comforter. Ezekiel sees a church that has always lived with aspirations. Ezekiel sees how the church next door blossomed and moved away, and then how the next church came in and went belly-up. From that example alone I believe we are both ashamed and frightened. Ezekiel sees other things, other realities. We have an aging church building that is in need of massive renovations. The best estimate is that it would cost our church upwards of five hundred thousand dollars, just to update our lighting, our bathrooms, and our fire exits. And that’s not even touching the kitchen, the offices, the parking lot, or the Education Building. Ezekiel would say that we only have nine kids going on our youth mission trip, and that we don’t have that many more for Sunday School. He would remark that with each passing month we have more parishioners bound to their homes, and not enough people to see them. Ezekiel would be right in everything he said. But it’s all a matter of perception.
I do not believe that what Ezekiel sees is what God sees for our church. Where Ezekiel sees a valley of dry bones, the Lord sees the living people of God. Where Ezekiel sees the reality of the present, God sees the potential of the future. I sense that God sees Holy Comforter as a thriving church with a bustling campus where kids are learning in a safe and welcoming environment; where the poor are being served day in and day out; where the elderly can get connected with one another and with the services they need. God sees a prime chunk of land, six and half acres in one of the dynamic areas of Houston. God would say, “what’s wrong with nine kids? Jesus only started with twelve.” God would see beautiful, sustainable church buildings that are here not for ourselves, but for the service of our community.
I do not think this is my vision alone. I believe that this what I hear from you every day over coffee, at lunch, and in casual conversation. And as I have said over and over, in the coming months each of you will have the opportunity to share your vision, your dreams, and what you see for our parish. There will be questionnaires, and surveys, and forums. This is not my work alone, or the work of our Building Committee, this is work for all of us. And I firmly believe that what the spirit of the living God has given us, is nothing less than a vision of the Kingdom of Christ here on earth.
Now, notice. In the valley of the dry bones, it’s not like God makes a few small adjustments, and voila! New people of God. No. The bones are totally remade and given flesh and sinews and tendons and ligaments and breath and life. I believe the same is true for us, for Holy Comforter. I believe that what God is accomplishing in us is nothing other than a radical rebuilding of everything we have and everything we are. I believe we will reconstruct not only our physical spaces, but also our ministries, our outreach, our service to the community. This process, our vision, is not about making a few minor adjustments here and there. Our goal is to ensure that Holy Comforter is a place for all of God’s children for years and generations to come. That is the vision glorious, and I firmly believe that is what the Lord God is calling us to become.
What will this require of us? The Lord God will require commitment of us. We will have to commit ourselves anew, not just to Holy Comforter, but to the Kingdom of God and its glory. God will require us to give, more than we think we should. To worship, more than we don’t. And to pray, always.
Because it is the Spirit of the Living God that makes those bones come together. It is the Spirit of the Living God that remade the people of Israel out of that desolate valley. And it is the Spirit of the Living God that will open our hearts to give more than we should. To worship more than we don’t. And to keep praying, always.
And believe me, it will be worth it. In the end, when we look back upon our labors, it it will all be worth it. I guarantee you, that if you give more than you think you should, if you worship more than you don’t, and if you pray always during this process of vision for Holy Comforter, you will walk away as a stronger Christian. That’s my guarantee. This is not about how we can build a couple of buildings. This is about how we can grow closer to the Lord Jesus.
That’s the whole point: growing closer to Jesus. And again, it’s all about perception. When you look at yourself, you can look through Ezekiel’s eyes. You can see the pain, the anguish, the sorrow of your life. You can see impossibility and dry bones and darkness. But that will get you no closer to Jesus. When you consider yourself, look through God’s eyes. Look at yourself through the eyes of love and grace and possibility. Consider yourself, not as a hopeless wreck, but as somebody brimming with potential for God’s Kingdom. Look with God’s eyes at everything about you. Look at your world with kindness and compassion. Look at your church with hope, as bones that will be brought to life.
I don’t usually do this, but I want to end with a prayer. The prayer that I have asked all of you to say daily during 2014, our Year of Vision. So I ask you to pray with me:
“Disturb us, Lord, when we are too pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little, when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore. Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim. Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wilder seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push back the future in strength, courage, hope, and love. This we ask in the name of our Captain, who is Jesus Christ. Amen.”