Thursday, March 30, 2017

Reviving Our Hope - Ezekiel 37:1-14

Ezekiel 37:1-14

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[a] 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[b] 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:[c] Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath,[d] and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

11 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.’ 12 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. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 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.”

        Several years ago, my son was playing on a baseball game, and like my high school football team, they simply couldn't find a way to win.  They'd lost every game that year.  Finally it was the day of their last game.  The dug out was like a funeral home.  Not a single kid was cheering the other kids as they went to bat.  They were just waiting for the game to be over so they could go home.

        I stuck my head in the dug out and told these 7 year olds, "Hey guys, you can win this game.  After all, you're only 25 runs behind."

        One of the kids heard me and said, "Hey, that's right.  We are only 25 runs behind.  We've never been this close to winning before."

        It was as if there was an electric jolt that went through the dug out.  When the next kid at bat hit the ball right so that it rolled through the legs of the first baseman, the entire dug out was celebrating and high fiving each other.   The excitement and confidence of our team must have totally confused the other team. 

        In the bottom of the last inning, one of our players scored the winning run. 

        I remember thinking that if I had known all they needed was hope, I would have visited the dug out long before that last game.

        We need hope in our lives. 

        But we all know what it is like to feel that all hope is gone.

        In our Scripture lesson for this morning we encounter the experience of a loss of hope.

        Ezekiel stands before a great battlefield. He sees before him a valley of dry bones.  The battle is long over with.  The vultures have been there and gone and all the flesh has disappeared.  Even the armor has been stolen by the grave robbers.  All that is left is a valley of dry bones.

        God asks Ezekiel, "Can these dry bones live?"

        And with despair in his voice, Ezekiel admits, "God only knows."

        The loss of hope is a terrible experience.

        A woman walks out of a doctor's office after hearing that she has cancer.  What hope is there?

        A father hangs up the telephone after receiving a telephone call from the police and learning that his rebellious son has been arrested.  What hope is there?

        A husband or wife can't speak to each other because of the depth of their anger toward one another.  What hope is there?

        Where does one go when there is no hope?

        To the grave.  Or as someone once said, “Get busy living, or get busy dieing.”

        When there is no hope, all is finished.

        People need hope for the future.  That woman walking out of that doctor's office after hearing her diagnosis needs hope for the facing of her cancer.

        The father receiving that phone call from the police needs hope for his son's future.

        We need hope.

        The movie SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is a great movie about hope, and it starts in total hopelessness.

        Andy is sentenced to prison, even though he is innocent of his wife’s murder.  He is sentenced to life, and he spends 19 years in the Shawshank Prison until he finally escapes.  At one point, Andy is talking with his best friend in prison about hope, but his friend, Red says, “Hope is a dangerous thing, it makes a man go insane.”

        Red says that because he has lost all hope.

        How do we find hope, when our hope has died – or maybe our hope isn’t dead, but it’s – well, shall we say – hibernating?

        First, we need to know that God is present in our lives. 

        In the Old Testament, Ezekiel looks over the battle field. He feels the hopelessness of a battle that has been lost, and a war that has failed.  But God is with him.  In Ezekiel we read, (Ezek 37:1-2), "The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.  He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry."

        Without God in our lives, we do not have a complete and sturdy hope for the facing of our lives.

        Think about why many of us have lost hope – it is because we feel that God has left us.  That God has deserted us. 

        But God is still present. 

        In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, we read, “Be strong and courageous… God will never leave you nor forsake you ." Deut 31:6

        The second thing we need is to know that we can experience the presence of God, through the Word of God. 

        In the Old Testament, Ezekiel looks out at the hopeless valley of dry bones.  Can they live again?  Of course not.  But God commands Ezekiel to preach to the dead – to speak to them the Word of God.  So Ezekiel does, and in this story, the dry bones come to life as the Word of God is spoken.

        Without the Word of God being spoken to the dry bones, the dry bones would have remained lifeless.

        The Psalmist wrote, (Ps 130:5), "I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope."

        You want hope to come alive in you again – let the Word of God dwell in you.  Listen to the Word of God.  Read the Word of God.

        Thirdly, we need to trust in God above all else.

        Hope as the world knows it is in thinking, "Give me what I want, give me what I want, give me what I want."

        Hope as the Christian knows it is in praying, "Not my will, but your will be done."

        In Ezekiel, the prophet is asked by God, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know." And there is a trust in God.  Not a bitterness, but a leaning onto the Lord and trusting in God.

        Real hope is found in God.

        Lasting hope is found in trusting Him.

        Thinking back to the film, the Shawshank Redemption,  Andy never quite loses hope.  He holds onto it.  Even though he is an innocent man who spends 19 years in prison, he hangs onto hope.  And at one point he tells his prison buddy, Red, “Hope is a good thing.  Maybe the best of all things.  And no good thing ever dies.”
        Or put it another way, as St. Paul did in the New Testament book of Romans, “hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2017. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Broken Cisterns - Jeremiah 2;1-13

Jeremiah 2:1-13

2:1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 "Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem:
"'I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown. 3 Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of his harvest; all who devoured her were held guilty, and disaster overtook them,'" declares the LORD.
4 Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, all you clans of the house of Israel.
5 This is what the LORD says:
"What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me?They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves. 6 They did not ask, 'Where is the LORD, who brought us up out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and rifts, a land of drought and darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives?' 7 I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce.But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable. 8 The priests did not ask,'Where is the LORD?'Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me.The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.
9 "Therefore I bring charges against you again," declares the LORD."And I will bring charges against your children's children. 10 Cross over to the coasts of Kittim and look, send to Kedar and observe closely; see if there has ever been anything like this: 11 Has a nation ever changed its gods?(Yet they are not gods at all.)But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols. 12 Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great horror," declares the LORD. 13 "My people have committed two sins:  They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

John 4:7-15

7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?"  8(His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

9 The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water ." 

11 "Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water ? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?"

13 Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."  

Broken Cisterns                 Maynard Pittendreigh

Years ago I was in a church that was considering purchasing a new organ.  It wasn’t like Grace Covenant, which is blessed with this wonderful organ.  This church had an electric organ and it was on its last legs.  At times, it didn’t work at all, but thankfully we had the piano and so we always had music. 

After lots of fundraising activities and after looking at several different organs, we were just about to vote on which one to buy.  One of the committee members spoke up and said, “I don’t know about this.  This new organ is so expensive!  Do we really need a new one?  After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

We sat there, stunned.  Finally one of the members of the committee spoke up and said, “the organ doesn’t make a sound – not a note.  What’s your definition of ‘ain’t broke?”

We really do become comfortable with things that are broken.

I think my son is mystified by me, because the automatic locks on my car don’t work.  I have to actually insert the key into the car door to unlock it – I can no longer push a button on the key ring and have the car doors unlock. 

I have to admit, it is nice to have the ability to unlock or lock a car door from several feet away, and on hot days I do miss pushing a button on my key chain to start the car before I get in – you know, get that air conditioning circulating before I sit in the car.

But it’s broke.  I don’t have the time to have it fixed, and I don’t want to let go of the money to get it fixed, so I live with it.

Are you like that sometimes?

Something is broke, and you just live with it.

The kitchen cabinet door is loose.  You live with it.

The light bulb in the garage is burned out.  You live with it.

Now – important things get fixed.

The television.  That has to be working.

The airconditioning?  Absolutely. 

Broken tooth?  Call the dentist right now.

In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, the people are drinking from a broken cistern.

Some of you may not know what a cistern is.  A cistern is important in many parts of the world, but not so much here in Orlando.

A cistern is a place you dig out of the ground, or out of rock, to collect water.  Some of us use things like cisterns today to collect rain water from the roof and gutters so we can water our flowers later in the week. But in many cultures, and certainly in the culture of the Old Testament, a cistern was a way of gathering water for drinking.

And in Jeremiah, the people are drinking from a broken cistern.  Water is leaking out, dirt is leaking in.  And the people get used to it and just live with it.

But in our Old Testament lesson, water is more than just liquid to drink – it is a symbol of spiritual life.  

We see this especially clearly in our New Testament lesson.  Jesus is talking to the woman at the well.  They are talking about water, but as is often the case in the Gospel of John, Jesus is on one level, and the people are on a different wavelength all together.  The woman is talking about the liquid water, but Jesus is talking about spiritual life – “I am the living water,” he tells her.

In Jeremiah, God is talking about how the people are drinking from broken cisterns – but it is more than that – the broken cisterns are symbolic of the broken spiritual lives of the people.  They have lost their passion for God.  Something in their spiritual life has broken and they are just accepting that and not doing anything to renew and revive their spiritual relationship with God.

God is offering living water.
And the people are drinking from broken cisterns.

God is offering us abundant life.
And people accept a broken life of scarcity.

God offers us peace of mind.
And many are driven back to a broken life of drama and anxiety.

How many of you are drinking from broken cisterns?

How many of you are accepting LESS from God than what God is trying to provide?

God is calling us to a life of meaning, and purpose, and value, and peace of mind, and love.

But most of us settle for less. 

God calls us to pray daily, but we pray whenever things are going badly.  We don’t pray for others.  We don't offer prayers of thanksgiving when things are going well.  Our prayer life is lacking, because we are drinking from a broken cistern and we are not praying daily and continually.

God calls us to worship weekly.  But Sunday morning comes and the bed feels so good.  And Disney and Universal are open.  And it is sunny at the beach.  And we are dinking from a broken cistern.  God offers us so much, and we accept far less.

On Thursday night your elders met and one of the elders offered a devotional.  It was a story about a member of a church who had been attending worship weekly, but more recently had neglected attending church.  The pastor decided to visit him.  It was a chilly evening and the pastor found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire - obviously not someone who lived here in Orlando, Florida!

Guessing the reason for his pastor's visit, the man welcomed him in, led him to a big chair near the fireplace and waited.  The pastor made himself comfortable, but said nothing.  He simply took the fire tongs and carefully picked one of the brightly burning embers and placed it to the side of the hearth, all alone.  Then he sat back in his chair, still silent.  The one lone ember's flame diminished.  It was soon dead as a doornail.  

Then, still without speaking, the pastor took the cold ember and pushed it closer to the fire.  It began to glow red once again. 

As the pastor got up to leave, the church member said, "Thank you so much for your visit and for your fiery sermon.  I will be back in church this Sunday."

When we no longer commit ourselves to frequent and regular worship of God our spiritual relationship with God becomes broken.  Our passion for God is threatened.  We find ourselves drinking from broken cisterns.  

It is the same with the study of Scriptures.  God calls us to read and study the Scriptures.  And we might read a verse posted on Facebook or on the church sign, but we are not allowing the Word of God to permeate our lives.  We drink from broken cisterns.

When we don't practice our spiritual disciplines, we find ourselves living in a broken relationship with God.  Our passion for God diminishes and we no longer live an abundant life, but a life of scarcity.

We don’t share the good news of Christ with others.  We don’t practice generosity.  We don’t serve our neighbors or reach out to strangers.

We have become accustomed to the broken spiritual life, and we don’t look for something richer and deeper.

It is like the cabinet door in the kitchen that is loose.  We’ll fix it eventually, but for now we just live with it.

Drinking from broken cisterns.  We settle for less than what God desires of us, and when that happens, we find ourselves being led away from God.

 Instead of finding our security in God, we try to find it in money.  But the money disappears.

Instead of finding our identity in God, we try to find it in our profession.  And we begin to feel empty inside.

Instead of finding comfort in God, we try to find it in pleasure, but that is so temporary.

But God does not want us to settle for less than what he offers us.

He does not call us to live life with scarcity, or with adequacy, but with abundance.

He calls us to drink deeply from the living water, not from broken cisterns.

Years ago I was visiting a church in Atlanta, Georgia, and right across the street was a Mom and Pop restaurant.  It was probably well known in the neighborhood.  They had a big sign that read, “serving food that tastes good for 50 years.” 

The church across the street had a big banner also.  It said, “serving food that satisfies… for 2,000 years.”

When it comes to your relationship with Christ, don’t just take a sip now and then.  Don’t give Christ half your life.  Give Christ your full life.  Give him everything.  Worship weekly, not occasionally.  Pray without ceasing, not just now and then.  Immerse yourself in the Word all the time. 

Don’t settle for less than God is offering.  Give God your whole life and drink in the fullness of Christ.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.

Copyright 2017. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.