31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
August 16, 2020
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
“You’ll get through this. It won’t be painless. It won’t be quick, but God will use this mess for good. In the meantime, don’t be foolish or naïve, but don’t despair either. With God’s help, you will get through this.” (Max Lucado, God Will Use This for Good: Surviving the Mess of Life, chapter 1 An Audacious Promise)
These words from Max Lucado’s God Will Use This for Good: Surviving the Mess of Life, were words of hope I really needed to hear.
Last week, I had the honor of talking with Rev. Irene Singleton, the pastor of Tower of Hope, and she reminded me – God has a plan. God is up to something good.
Rev. Singleton’s words were words of hope I really needed to hear.
Throughout this pandemic, fellow church members have shared with me scripture passages that comfort them, inspirational quotes, and words of hope I really needed to hear.
How about you? Are you in need of a word of hope?
The Bible has a lot to say about hope. The word “hope” shows up in scripture over 130 times, most notably in Job (whose story is not usually synonymous with hope) and in the letters to the new Christian communities, such as in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, where he writes, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 5:3-5)
In the letter to the Hebrews, written to an unknown community of Christians, the author writes, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Our passage from Ezekial this morning also shares words of hope. Words of hope to a people who were feeling dried up, cut off, hopeless.
Six hundred years before the Common Era, the Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem and deported the Judean king and many of the Judean leaders. Ten years later, the city of Jerusalem rebelled against the rule of Babylon and this time, Babylon demolished the city including the Temple, built under King Solomon.
To be taken from your home, to be separated from loved ones was devastating enough. And then to have the place where you praised and worshipped God taken from you, too. Is it any wonder the people were feeling cut off and hopeless?
In Hebrew, cut off and hopeless actually mean the same thing. The Hebrew word, tiqvah (tik-vaw) has a figurative definition of expectation and longing, and it also has a literal definition. It means a cord, an attachment. Hope is a cord, an attachment, a connection.
So when the people of God say that their bones are dried up, their hope is lost, they are completely cut off (Ezekial 37:11), they are expressing their sorrow at being disconnected from friends, family, and home. We understand that feeling. We know that physical separation is not the same as social separation. We know that we can still call one another, video conference, chat with one another online. But it’s not the same. Let’s just call a spade a spade. We want to see one another’s faces – in real life. We want to smile and hug and not be separated by 6 feet or a video screen.
In this time of pandemic, we have been disconnected from one another and that can leave us feeling hopeless.
The people were also feeling disconnected from God. At the time, it was their belief that the Temple was the only place where they could be with God. So without the Temple, there was no way to connect with God. Without the Temple, they were disconnected from God, and their souls became like dry bones. They were cut off and hopeless.
Now, we, in the Congregational tradition, do not believe that this Sanctuary is the only place where we can connect with God. Next week, our message will be about God’s creation and the week after about community, and we know that through both we connect with God.
Still…… Still…… this Sanctuary, this set aside worship space, does help us connect with God in a way other places just do not. I have heard from a few of you about how difficult it is to worship at home. Looking into a small screen just is not the same. Perhaps where you have your computer does not feel particularly worshipful or maybe you are worshipping on a phone or tablet and so you are free to go anywhere – like to unload the dishwasher, dust the house, or fold the laundry, which could all be very prayerful and sacred activities. Still, they certainly are not activities we would be participating in if we were gathered altogether in this Sanctuary.
Despite our best intentions, this time of not being able to gather our whole community safely in the Sanctuary is hard. It leaves us feeling disconnected and maybe a little hopeless.
And into our situation, into the Babylonian exiles’ situation, God speaks words of hope.
Sometimes, when someone is feeling hopeless, when they are grieving and in pain, we use cheery words like “This too shall pass.” Or “The sun will come out tomorrow.” Often, we are uncomfortable with the person’s emotions so we try to talk them out of how they are feeling or move them- quickly– to a happy place.
God begins though by acknowledging how the people are feeling. God starts with where they are. God starts with where we are. God knows that hope, connection, begins in the valley of dry bones. And so through the prophet Ezekial, God says, “ ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.’” (Ezekial 37:4)
I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.
In her commentary on this passage, Margaret Odell, Professor of Religion at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, writes:
In just fourteen verses, the word ruach occurs nine times, and while it is variously translated as “breath” (verses 5, 6, 8, 10), “wind” (verse 9) and God’s own spirit (14), ……it is all the same life giving force. And it is all from God….And it is in this sense that breathing becomes a metaphor for divine presence. Despite the exiles’ fear of being cut off from God, God is as near to them as their own breath. (Margaret Odell, workingpreacher.org, April 6, 2014).
Despite the exiles’ fear of being cut off from God, despite their real feelings that without the Temple, they cannot connect with God, God is as near to them as their own breath. God is as near to us as our own breath.
I know I say it all the time. Every week, I encourage you to take three deep breaths as we center ourselves for worship. It’s not some great idea I had. It’s God’s idea.
God tells us that when we are feeling disconnected, when we are feeling hopeless, when we are feeling like dry, dry bones, we need to take a deep breath.
Take a deep breath and let God’s love be poured into our hearts. Take a deep breath and connect with God. Take a deep breath, have hope and live knowing that God is always with us.
And because God is always with us, we can stand ready for the future, always looking forward with hope. (paraphrased, Margaret Odell, workingpreacher.org, April 6, 2014).