Sermon- Heart of Stone, Heart of Flesh (Ezekiel 36)

Sermon Series Parables 1110 x 624 (1)

Sermon Series: Parables
Message 3 of 4: Heart of Stone, Heart of Flesh
Scripture: Ezekiel 36:22-27
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 8/11/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

Reading Ezekiel 36:22-27

Story of My Uncle David Playing This Game:
Person One hides a small object in the palm of their head. They hold their fist over the head of another person and say, “Heavy, heavy hangs over thy head. Animal, vegetable, or mineral?”

The 2nd person makes a guess, one of the three. If they guess right they then try to guess what’s in the person’s hand. If they guess right, they win what’s in the person’s hand.

Stones are:

  • Cold
  • Heavy
  • Old
  • Hard, impermeable, solid
  • Inanimate, sense-less, dead

Stones can be useful. They are useful for building things- a house, a fortress, a wall.

One of the things stones are not useful for is a home for God, a place for the Spirit of God to dwell.

Acts 17:24
The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands.

Sometimes people think God lives in buildings. The ancient Israelites thought God lived in the Temple in Jerusalem. In Ezekiel’s time, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, so where’s the presence of God now?

God reminds the people through Ezekiel that God doesn’t live in stone or things made of stone. God lives in flesh.

Think of Jesus. The Word of God was made flesh, not stone.

Ezekiel 36:26-27
26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you, and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.

What Hardens our Heart? So many things can harden our hearts. One thing can make is soft again. The Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit is available to every single one of us. Every person you will ever meet, ever see.

The Spirit is available to turn a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. So we can be like Ebeneezer Scrooge. We can be like the Grinch. And it doesn’t just happen at Christmas.

Our heart is the center of our being, the birthplace of our motivation. Whatever we place our primary trust in, that is sitting on the throne of our heart. If it isn’t God, its an idol.

What hardens our heart?

  • Revenge, Resentment, Rebellion
  • Control, Perfectionism, Selfishness (Consider Pharaoh in Exodus)
  • Guilt, Shame
  • Loneliness, Betrayal, Disappointment
  • Evil, Trauma

Sometimes we make choices which harden our heart. Sometimes we are not healed of the wounds inflicted upon us and our hearts harden. Sometimes our hearts are hardened by the brokenness of our world.

“Lord have mercy if I hear of another hate crime. I’m not going to stay awake, alive, and open to it. I’m going to hunker down, protect myself, harden my heart to protect myself from all that’s going on. It’s too painful and too much.”

The hardening of our heart due to the hamster wheel of trauma in our world is what most concerns me. Anxiety is rising and people are acting out.

How can we remain soft-hearted in the midst of all of this? It’s about the Holy Spirit of God. We can’t do it in our own strength.

Prayer
Soften our hearts when evil abounds
They run to lonesome places, screaming an alarm
Soften our hearts so we can find you above the fear

Soften our hearts when evil abounds
They race to revenge, pounding with anger
Soften our hearts so we can hear you above the hammering

Soften our hearts when evil abounds
They rush to human strength, grasping for control
Soften our hearts so we can hold to your way, your truth, and your life

Soften our hearts so they may beat in unison with yours
So healing may flow into all brokenness
So hope may fill all devastation
So compassion and peace and unity may rise up among all people
We entrust our hearts to you

heart stone flesh full of eyes

By Chris Powers, fullofeyes.com 

Ezekiel 36:25
I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.

  • God offers us cleansing and forgiveness for the sin which hardens our hearts- Revenge, Resentment, Rebellion, Control, Perfectionism, Selfishness, Guilt, Shame
  • How was the Grand Canyon built? By water. The washing is stronger than stone.

Ezekiel 36:24
I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land.

  • God offers us a home and gathers us into a trustworthy people to be our family so our hearts are not hardened by Loneliness, Betrayal, Disappointment

For Evil and Trauma, God takes the heart of stone that we want to fight back with and gives us a heart of flesh. We bring healing to the world the way God brings healing to the world, not by throwing stones.

Ezekiel 36:23
… through you, I display my holiness before their eyes

A heart of stone is cold, but flesh is warm
A heart of stone is heavy, but flesh is light
A heart of stone is hard, but flesh is tender
A heart of stone is impermeable, but flesh is vulnerable
A heart of stone is sense-less, but flesh is sensitive
A heart of stone is dead, but flesh is alive

This is about coming alive and staying alive in the power of the Holy Spirit. So we can share the holiness, goodness, and grace of God with the world.

What is trying to harden your heart? Confess it to God.
God, I trust you to give me a heart of flesh.
Fill me with your Spirit. Give me a heart of flesh.

Prayer: Psalm 51:10-12
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

*****************
Heart of Stone, Heart of Flesh © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Sermon- The Plumb Line (Amos 7.8)

Sermon Series Parables 1110 x 624 (1)

Sermon Series: Parables
Message 1 of 4: The Plumb Line
Scripture: Amos 7:8
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 7/28/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

Rev. Jose Nieves

  • Pastor First UMC, Kissimmee
    • Leads school/church partnerships with several local schools
    • A faithful man of God, a powerful man of prayer
  • Two weeks ago, preacher for the High School students, while I was the preacher for the middle school students at camp
    • One morning at camp, I see him, he looks awful. I thought he was sick.
    • He was brokenhearted- Up late following the developments in Puerto Rico
    • He was born there and much of his family still lives there

I suspect you’re brokenhearted over Puerto Rico as well

  • The recent confirmation of extensive corruption among the ruling elite
    • Extortion, Fraud, Favoritism, Mishandling public funds
  • The injustice, abuse, and neglect are hard to take. It rends your heart. But at the root of what makes this possible, is how the ruling elite viewed those they were elected to serve.
    • The revelation of deep-seated disrespect, mocking, contempt of the people, people still trying to recover from hurricanes

People rose up, they joined together and used their voice to speak out against the evil, the injustice, the oppression, and the devaluing of human beings. The people rose up and became prophets. They spoke. truth to power and called for change.

A prophet is empowered by God and called by God to speak truth to power. This is hard, uncomfortable work. It takes tremendous faith and courage and discipline to speak what people don’t want to hear, but need to hear.

How many of us like to read the Old Testament prophets? Not many. It’s hard to read them, the level of truth-telling and pain.

We’ll be spending time with the Old Testament prophets for the next few weeks. The prophets feel very fresh in our day and time. We need to read the prophets regularly.

  1. I need their example of truth-telling and courage. I need the reminder as a child of the One, True, Living God, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I too have a calling to be prophetic. To use my resources, and my influence, and my resources, and my voice to speak out against evil, injustice, and oppression. It’s a part of our calling as the people of God.
  2. I need to hear their message. This is what happens to the people of God when things get twisted and crooked and we lose our way. I need the reminder so I don’t do it. And so that I don’t condone it by my silence and my apathy.

Some of you are asking, but I thought we were going to be studying parables? We are: Old Testament Parables

  • Parables are stories and metaphors with deep spiritual meaning
  • Parables are used by prophets to help people listen; to call people to justice, righteousness, and action.
  • Where do you think Jesus got the idea to use parables? From the prophets!

Amos helps us to have a heart after God’s heart, not a crooked twisted heart. 

  • Amos was a very ordinary person. A shepherd and sycamore-fig farmer.
  • Called by God to be a prophet (not his family business, not a professional corrupted prophet)
  • Lived in the southern kingdom of Judah, traveled to Bethel in the northern Kingdom of Israel to speak truth to power

That power was King Jeroboam II

  • Powerful King of the Northern Kingdom of Israel
  • Successful military leader
    • won battles
    • enlarged their territory
    • generated great wealth for some, a ruling elite
  • Misused his power as king of God’s people
    • Promoted the worship of false gods. As the worship became false, twisted and corrupted, so did their hearts.
    • Promoted corrupt, predatory business practices, an injustice especially harmful to the poor

Amos 8:4-6, The Voice. Like a bowl of ripe fruit, the time was ripe. God would overlook their injustice no longer

Listen to this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor to ruin, Who asks, “When will the new moon festival be done so we can sell our grain? And when will the Sabbath end so we can sell our wheat? Then we can tamper with our scales and make the bushel measure smaller and the counterweight heavier to cheat our customers. We can buy the needy for silver and the poor and their property for the price of a pair of sandals. We can even sell the chaff we sweep up as grain.”

  • False weights and measures, selling food that was inedible, human trafficking, taking over people’s property and lives

People with voice and influence were either and active part of the corruption or fat, happy and apathetic to it. 

I read that and ask, “Lord is that me?”     

Amos begins speaking out against the injustice. Speaks truth to power so things can change.

  • How could this injustice come from people who were once denied justice and enslaved in Egypt?
  • How could this be if you are children of Abraham, chosen and privileged and covenanted to be a blessing to the nations, to care for the stranger and the poor, to proclaim the salvation of God in word and deed?
  • How could you do this to fellow human beings beloved of God, made in the very image of God?
  • How could this happen if you still worship the One True Living God who rescued you from oppression and established you in the Promised Land?

That was the problem- Their worship was full of hypocrisy, all show. We show something but it’s not the truth of our hearts and souls. It was crooked and their hearts grew crooked  

  • People faithfully attended worship- making offerings and ritual sacrifices
    • Yet became apathetic to injustice or downright embraced injustice
    • Their worship did not change their actions, affect their choices, give them eyes to see every single person as a beloved child of God worthy respect, dignity, and access to resources we all need.
    • Their worship was disconnected from how they treated people
    • Lord is that me?

Amos 5:21-24, NRSV
21 I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Righteousness = right relationship. Equal, compassionate treatment no matter the social differences

Justice = concrete actions to create righteousness. Right relationship in action. Love in action. God’s beauty, power, and grace in action flowing through us.

Our of our worship flows right relationship with others, ourselves, and the earth.

When we see something that isn’t right we act, we speak, we do something to make it right. The flow of worship in right relationship and justice.

Isaiah 28:17, NIV.
I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line.

plumb line

This is probably the most famous image from the prophet Amos. Someone reminded me you could use a plumb bob as a weapon. It’s heavy and pointed.

Its proper use for thousands of years is to make sure what’s being built stays true. If the ground is uneven, what you’re building can stay true if you use a plumb line. If we just eyeball it, it will be crooked.

No matter how you twist or swing a plumb line it will quickly return to true.

Amos 7:8, The Voice.
Eternal One: What do you see, Amos?
Amos: A plumb line.
Eternal One: Watch what I’m about to do! I am going to put a plumb line up against My people Israel to see what is straight and true, And I will not look the other way any longer.

What would it be like for God to hold a plumb line up next to our lives, up next to our hearts? Would they be shown to be true? Would they be shown living and flowing with grace, hope, justice, and mercy out of the very worship of God?

Or would they be shown to be twisted and crooked?

We do not have to shy away from allowing God to hold up a plumb line to us. With God, there is always the chance for change, for mercy, redemption, forgiveness. The chance to repent and turn. The chance for the healing of our hearts.

May we accept our calling to live true. To be a prophet of God. To walk alongside another. To give voice to one who has no voice.

What keeps you up at night saying, “God something should be done about this?” God is calling you to action.

Lord, help us to hear the call. To lead a life worthy of the call and the grace and hope we’ve found in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The closing prayer is based on this devotion by Steve Garnaas Holmes.
A plumb line held straight
by the gravity of love,
without curve or spin of human twist,
plumb line of blessing
unbowed by curse,
unbent by fear or greed,
plumb line seeking, unerring, the center,
all creatures’ belovedness and belonging,
the wellbeing of all Creation.

Measure your acts, O human,
judge your policies, O Nation,
by this and no other.
Does it bless without cursing?
Does it serve without stealing?
Does it join and not divide?

God’s plumb line
will not slide sideways
to favor some over others,
but loves all dearly;
it will not sway to sacrifice one’s thriving
for another’s desires.

The ground is uneven but the line is set.
The corrupt tilt their heads;
the wise discern
and build accordingly.

*****************
The Plumb Line © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Independence Day Prayer for Unity (Psalm 133)

Psalm 133 Ben Shahn

Psalm 133 by Ben Shahn

Psalm 133
How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
life forevermore.

On this Independence Day, I long for our neighborhoods and nation to experience the freedom of this psalm- the freedom of true unity. I long for the dividing walls to come crashing down. I long for an end to destructive division.

In this Psalm, the goodness of God-breathed unity is compared to the anointing of Aaron as high priest and dew on the mountains of Hermon and Zion in Israel.

True unity is precious, like sacred, costly oil or a trusted source of water in the wilderness.

True unity brings abundant blessing to an entire community. It is generous and lavish. There is so much oil it runs down Aaron’s beard and on to his robe. There is so much dew it can sustain plants, animals, and people on a mountainside.

True unity means goodness for all. It is pervasive, crossing unjust boundaries. The anointing oil is mixed with spices so the aroma pervades the gathering. The dew makes way for fragrant flowers, fruits, and crops which are enjoyed by the whole community.

True unity is holy and unique. The oil is set apart for the ritual anointing of a priest or king. It is used for no other purpose. Mount Hermon is set apart for its height and snow, the highest point in the region at over 9,000 feet. Mount Zion near Jerusalem is set apart for the worship of God. True unity sets a group of people apart, a rare and beautiful light in our world.

Holy God
One yet Three
Reach into the abundance of your companionship
Bring forth unity and healing in our land
Pour out peace on violent homes and hearts
Shower compassion on selfish and short-sighted motives
Rain down generosity and understanding
so all are covered in blessing and harmony and life
Forevermore
Forevermore
Amen

****************
Independence Day Prayer for Unity © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

A Prayer for Those Who Govern, incorporating verses of America the Beautiful

mlk prayer pilgrimage

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the 1957 ‘Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom’.

A Prayer for Those Who Govern
ALL SINGING: America the Beautiful
United Methodist Hymnal #969, first verse

O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!

ONE:
Lord of All,
As we draw near another Independence Day,
we confess our dependence on you.
Thank you for extending abundance, mercy, and protection
to our nation through the years.
Every resource, freedom, and opportunity we have is a good gift from you.
Without you, we are lost.

ALL:
In humility, we seek your face.
In repentance, we turn from our ungrateful, destructive and selfish ways.
In faith, we call on your power to forgive our sin and heal our land.

ALL SINGING: America the Beautiful
United Methodist Hymnal #969, second verse

O beautiful for heroes prov’d in liberating strife,
Who more than self their country lov’d, and mercy more than life.
America! America! May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness and ev’ry gain divine.

ONE:
Pour out your Holy Spirit on those who govern our land,
Leaders of our nation, our state, and our community
and all who are running for office.

Grant them a love of justice.
Open their minds with wisdom and compassion,
so all people may be treated fairly and with dignity.

Open their ears to the cries of the desperate and powerless
so cycles of poverty, disease, and abuse may be broken.

Open their eyes to see how best to respond
and open their hearts with courage to do the right thing,
even when pressured to do otherwise.

Dawn a new day of integrity and servant leadership upon our land.
Shower down your Spirit of collaboration for the common good
that there may be lasting peace and plenty for all.

The congregation is invited to lift up their own prayers for our nation

ONE:
We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Leader and Savior forever, Amen.

Option: We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Leader and Savior forever, who taught us to pray, Our Father, who art in heaven….

ALL SINGING: America the Beautiful
United Methodist Hymnal #969, fourth verse

O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.

***************
For other prayers suitable for Independence Day try A Prayer for our Country or Independence Day Prayer or A prayer of examen for our national holiday, all by Steve Garnaas-Holmes.

America the Beautiful by Katherine Lee Bates and Samuel A. Ward.
Public Domain.

A Prayer for Those Who Govern © 2012 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Leave a comment for posting and publication considerations.

Live in Light (Ephesians 5)

woman sunlight windowEphesians 5:8-11
For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord, you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

Shine on Jesus
Shine on me and in me and through me
Make me a Child of Light
To be light
To live in light
To bear the fruit of light

Shine on me and in me and through me
exposing the works of my darkness to the light
Your Light

Shine on me and in me and through me
Exposing the works of darkness around me
The oppression, corruption, destruction
Exposing them to the light
Your light
Your truth, your justice
Your mercy, your healing, your love
Your ways
Your Light

Shine on Jesus
Lord of Light
Light of the World
Shine on me and in me and through me
Shine on

*****************
This prayer was inspired by the Ephesians Reading Challenge. Click Here for more information on the challenge to read and reflect on the entire book of Ephesians 3 times in 3 weeks. 

The Ephesians Reading Challenge accompanied a sermon series entitled Sit Walk Stand which was inspired by Watchman Nee‘s book Sit Walk Stand, a study of Ephesians. You will find recordings and notes from this series on the blog as well.

Live in Light © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.