Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
This summer, we are seeking to be inspired by counter-cultural prophets, who have sailed against the prevailing winds and charted a new course for the communities in which they serve.
This week we are in a unique situation. We don’t know yet which prophets will be brought to our attention. Paul and I (Courtney) will be bringing a prophet that has spoken to us in some way. I am excited to share someone that I see as a prophet and I am excited to hear what Paul brings as well. (Insider knowledge: I hear one has to do with food and the other with music)
In the meantime, we have two prominent prophets in our scripture lessons today; Ezekiel and Jesus. Both of these prophets take on the first impulses of fear to see what God is doing awesomely.
The first scripture is one of my all time favorite bible stories. God whisks Ezekiel away to the valley of dry bones and ask them, “Will
these bones live?” Sometimes we tend to preach this lesson in isolation. We make the mistake of thinking this is a beautiful and quaint story but we forget that the background is so powerful. Ezekiel is living in the midst of exile. At a very young age, Ezekiel witnesses his people thrown into exile by the Babylonian army around 575 BCE. This exile was not only a loss of identity and tribes; it was a crisis of faith. The community was devastated with deportations and death. Ezekiel answers God in this scripture passage out of a loss of hope and faith and full of fear. Are you really the God of our ancestors? I don’t know if they can live through this!
Out of this deep devastation, God leads Ezekiel by the hand and breathes into the dry bones new life. The word for this is ruach and means so much more than just breath. This harkens back to the beginning of creation when God breathes into Adam to give the creature life. When God adds to the prophesying of a prophet at his wits end, new spirit is brought on and the world is transformed. By taking on a bit of our fear, we get to see where God might be calling us next. This is not easy at all!
If you weren’t convinced that breathing new life into something dead is hard, let’s look at how hard it would be to walk on water! Jesus appears in the midst of a grand storm in our Matthew passage to invite Peter to walk out on the water. Fear has taken hold but Peter in his faith steps out. Now he doesn’t stay there and Jesus comments on his little faith. But at least he had that much faith to try. In the next chapters, the mustard seed is all that is needed to move mountains. Peter has little faith and maybe that’s all we need. Jesus challenges all sides of fear to speak truth and love and to hold us up when our fears take hold.
Our prophets these days are the ones who step out into the desert or out of the boat to challenge the fear that resides in the pit of our stomachs. Our prophets challenge the status quo in the midst of uncertain times, take on the fear, and step out with little faith in order to transform the world. This week we may not agree with everything our preachers bring but we can appreciate the conversations that come out of it all.
Quotes for the Week
“Sacred spaces can be created in any environment.” – Christy Turlington
“Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you; they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” –Bernice Johnson Reagon
“Without community, there is no liberation.” — Audre Lorde
“This is part of human nature, the desire to change consciousness.” — Michael Pollan
Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NRSV)
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: 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.I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people.I 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,” says the Lord.
Matthew 14:22-33 (NRSV)
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Questions for the Week
Who would you consider a prophet to bring to the conversation?
When have you challenged the fear deep inside to step out?
Do you feel supported by the hand of God to confront these sights?