TPC- Last Sunday Service

Posted: May 26, 2012 in Uncategorized
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The Patchwork Quilt/ Walking Through the Graveyard

As we sit in worship today it the the day of Pentecost. This is a bit of a two part sermon. As it is also my finale Sunday with you. We’ve journeyed together for this last year.  I will never forget my time here with the Tabusintac Pastoral charge and I am forever changed, this time has become part of my journey on the road of life. The Hebrew Bible lesson and Gospel readings reflect the journey we make as Christian people.     Ezekiel has been an important text for many in the world, from the North American slaves, to refugees from war. In our own community, the words of lament can echo forth.

In the 21st century, we are not so removed from exile. There are millions in the world in exile because of war, life, as they had known it has changed. Millions who are exiled from food, clothing shelter. In our own community, we have people amongst us who are spiritually exiled, no longer able to connect to God. We still have others estranged from family, divorced from social groups. Our bones are dry, thirsting for the living water, panting for breath. There are many crying out for help. In Ezekiel, it says: “And you shall know that I am the Lord when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves . . . I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil. . . .” Can we return from spiritual exile and live again? Can we know that even at times when we may feel dead that God sees life?

In the acts of the apostles we are given the story of Pentecost. Pentecost is when the Holy Spirit desended onto the Disciples, filling them with the Holy Spirit. Allowing them to experience the world in a new way, including talking in tongues and other acts of the spirit.  From that moment onward the disciples were forever changed, they had an experience with the Holy. There are many times in our scripture when we see what can happen after an experience with the Holy. Lives are changed, and in some cases people are given new life, such is the case of Lazarus when Jesus called out to Lazarus at the tomb, telling him to come out. Lazarus came back from the dead.

Commercials often play off the theme of coming back to life. There is a commercial on TV I have seen over the last week for an energy drink. The opening scene shows a guy with no energy, who worked hard, tired to the bone, but once someone hands him a can of red bull, he jumps back to life, recharged, the end of the commercial says “Feel Alive”. The advertisers lead us to believe that just one can of energy soda can bring us back to living a fulfilling physical life. The marketing scheme appeals to some to buy the soda. Is it too hard for us to believe the words of Ezekiel? That God will breathe spirit into the spiritually dead. That we will come back alive.

Jack was in his late thirties when he first heard the dreaded word “cancer” in reference to his health problem. He was doing well in his job, head of his department at work. He was married with three children, the oldest twelve and the youngest seven. He had worked hard all his life, to be successful; he had been involved with the church, leading the board of stewards, fundraising to help with renovations. He had been a faithful Christian, a loving father and husband, a hard worker. His voice called out to God, “why did you do this to me?”

Months after the initial diagnoses, things did not look well for Jack, the oncologist estimated Jack had at the most a few years before he would die. Anger bubbled up inside, and Jack became one of the living dead. He left the church, and stated he did not want anything to do with a God who would allow this to happen to him. His body was failing him and he believed God had left him for dead.

Jack was living in the valley of dry bones that Ezekiel describes. His cancer treatments were aggressive, his cancer never gone into remission. Although family surrounded him, he felt alone, lifeless.

It is a little ironic that at the time we need God most it is when we cannot reach out, instead we find it hard to be in worship. We find it hard to be in community. It is hard to give praise when we are feeling despair.

Ezekiel was a prophet living among the exiles in Babylon. There had been much fighting between the religious factions with in the middle east world, which eventually led to the Judean people being exiled from their homeland, exiled from Jerusalem They had lost their heritage and after a century and a half, had lost many of their people, as the Judean tribes began to dissolve. Their key symbols of the Judean religion had been lost, their temple destroyed, many of their people dead and the Holy Land of Jerusalem was lost.

In many ways, their spirit was destroyed and they were in a crisis of faith. The Judean people were beginning to doubt God, as to why God would allow such a thing to happen to them. We hear the lament and pain in the words of the people in verse 11 “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely”. They are an empty people, who thought of themselves like a living dead. They could see no end to their situation and God was non-existent to them.

Everything that had made them a unique people was slowly becoming nonexistent. Their temple had been destroyed, their old way of life with it. There was no end in sight and no hope. When God asks Ezekiel “Mortal can these bones live?”, he can barely answer yes. God orders Ezekiel to view the situation in a new light, and to have hoped that situation would change. Ezekiel was given a hard task: to get the people to listen to him, and to once again have hope and to follow God. This was an impossible task.

No group of people could be expected to survive the exile without losing some of their roots. God did resurrect this people, bring them back into their land, and bring them back to live. God did it through nothing but a vision. God spoke “13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act”

Things were still not easy once the exiles were back in Jerusalem. Ezekiel’s task was not finished, with many of the Judeans born while in exile. They needed to start fresh and learning from those who had known the old Judean ways. Many of the Judeans had never seen the Holy Land or known the temple.

With the initial push from God, positive things began to happen. Discussion was occurring and debate between the people and Ezekiel. So involved was everyone in their new life that they failed to notice the critical thing: they had all accepted that things were going to happen. Vision had become expectation. Hope had become anticipation. The unimaginable had been imagined the people were once again able to live; they were no longer piles of dry bones. They were able to take action and work towards their future as a faithful people.

Through the Judean people, we are shown how history is made how people can once again begin to life. By having hope, their despair was overcome and replaced by a new vision. The Judeans went home to Jerusalem, the temple was rebuilt. The empire of Babylon eventually fell and the people were once again fully alive. It took time but eventually God’s promise of filling the bones with spirit happened. Once again, God was doing the impossible. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was power and promise for their journey into the unknown.

You may want to know about Jack, it has been closer to 16 years since his initial diagnoses. He has never been given a clean bill of health, some days are better than others are. He has outlived his initial timeline. A few years ago when he was in the worst of his illness and feeling that he no longer had the power to fight, he received a little angel in the mail. There was no note, no return address, and he never found out who sent. It was just a knitted angel with the words that someone was thinking of him and God was there. He said at the point he received that gift, was the lowest point in his life. From then on marked a change in Jack. Although he has never received a cure, he still has the will to continue on fighting his bones are strong. He can realize the support that exists around him. He is alive and his bones no longer dry.

God is at work in our lives today. There are still people within and around us that experience unprecedented levels of spiritual hunger and restlessness. It is the job of Christians to act like Ezekiel in supporting others, and to act like Lazarus’ community work as a church in uplifting each other. So that we no longer dry bones, but spiritually fed individuals. Like Lazarus and the community we are instructed to “Unbind and let go”. We need to be able to let go of the past in order to live a new life.

I have seen God at work in this community, through how each Church community can come together when need be and great things can happen. Here in Tabusintac, after the death of a wonderful lady, men and women came together worked for many hours to make sure the bathrooms were working and the hall was ready to honour her life the next day. I’ve learned a lot during my time here. Out of death, defeat and despair God gives us new life. Through the resurrection, we are given new hope, and new life. We need to strive to hold onto this throughout the year. So that we do not become merely dry bones. I don’t think there are dry bones here. I leave here to go on another part in my life, but I leave knowing I experienced God here. I’ve gotten to take part in the quilting group in Tabusintac. The ladies meet twice a month, and they had taken me into their group and showed  me how to quilt and offered me friendship. In a quiet way they offer support to those in the community undergoing cancer treatments as they put many hours into putting together quilts for those people.

But can these bones live? It is not an easy task to leave a church, or in this case three churches. I’m not a fan of saying good-bye, although I’ve had to say it many times in my life and I expect having many more Good-bye’s in my future. It’s not an easy task. I expect some of our paths may cross again, but some of you I may never see again. We never know on what paths our lives may take us.

As I’ve been reflecting both on the readings for this week, and my time here with the Tabusintac Pastoral charge, I’ve realized that I have been changed by my time here. You’ve taken in a new graduate with slightly dry bones from the years of schooling you’ve offered to me the living water through Christian caring.

As I have learned to quilt I realize that life is like a patchwork quilt. Throughout our lives we pick up little pieces of fabric and our lives are like that of a patchwork quilt. Everything in our lives, all the seasons, all the experiences, all the people, are different patches in our quilt. It’s a lifetime process the making of this quilt, and each experience we have helps us piece together another small piece of the quilt. It takes a lot of time and care to put together our quilt, and sometimes we have to rip out stitches, but when we come to the end of our days we are left with our patchwork quilt  of life. I’ve thought about the many experiences that I’ve had here, and I’ve come to realize that you’ve given me a lot of patches to put on my quilt, and when the different patch work of my life comes together, it actually makes a beautiful quilt of many colors and many textures. There is still a lot of work to be done, and I’m not sure what the finished pattern will look like, but know that you have added to my patchwork quilt of life. There have been tears, frustrations, but also times of friendship of learning, of experiencing the spirit of God. Thoughout my life I will think back on what it took to make each patch, the strength, the talent, the tears and the love. A beautiful quilt does not just happen. It takes planning and purpose. Time and love. It is my hope that during my time here, I’ve also helped you to put together some of the patchwork quilt of your life. As an unknown author once said: “ Our lives are like quilts – bits and pieces, joy and sorrow, stitched with love”

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