Video version: https://youtu.be/tWZ98OVsAyY
Over 200 years ago, residents of this land stood up for something they believed in, that they wanted to live freely. We celebrate that defiance, the courage and strength that they demonstrated, and the many lives that were lost in that conflict until our country was truly free. Because of what they stood for we have enjoyed the freedom to believe, to discuss, to worship, the freedom to learn and to grow as people and as a society, and we are grateful.
Today, however, we are still involved in conflict, as our country continues the conversation about what it means to be free. People from all walks of life, from all viewpoints, from many political and religious perspectives are voicing their views and lobbying for their particular viewpoints.
We’ve all heard the saying, and perhaps you live by it: Don’t talk about politics or religion. While that may seem to be a great way to keep peace in the family or the community, doing so ultimately limits our influence in the community and society at large. For the reward of peace, we pay the costs of diminishing freedom and liberty, as our rights become gobbled up by those who are willing to speak out, who are willing to put their beliefs on the line to win the day.
However you feel about current events, legislation, and court rulings, one has to admit that societal change is happening on an exponential scale, for good or for bad. This is not the world we were born into, or even the world our kids were born into. Now before you turn off, know that this sermon isn’t about political advocacy or political change. It isn’t about lobbying for or against an issue.
It isn’t about Supreme Court decisions, and It isn’t about becoming a radical protestor or defender of one viewpoint or another. Today’s message is about taking a stand, about daring to stand for one thing—The message of the gospel, whatever the result.
First of all, God calls us to stand
Just what does it mean to take a stand? To stand for something? In each of today’s passages, they were confronted with God and asked to participate, to be involved, to serve.
“He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” Ezekiel 2:1
“Calling the twelve to him . . . “ Mark 6:7
If I were a seriously long-winded preacher, I could take quite a while quoting Scripture verses that show our God is a calling God. From Adam and Eve, when God called to them in the garden, throughout the Old Testament and through the New, God is continually calling His creation to faith and to discipleship and witness. In each of these situations, God called individuals to not only believe, but to show their belief by their actions, to place themselves on the line for the message that God had entrusted to them.
We are living in a post-Christian society. What does that mean, you might ask? One writer explains it this way. A time when “the church no longer occupies this central place of social and cultural hegemony (or leadership) and Western civilization no longer considers itself to be formally or officially Christian.”
Whatever our early leaders wanted this country to be, the very freedom they fought for has brought us to being “post-Christian.” This very freedom for each person to have the ability to choose how he or she would or would not believe, how they would live, or love, has effectively unseated the church and the Bible from its formerly focal point in our society. I believe this happened because we as the church were quietly resting in our freedom, not standing for it. But one thing has not changed. God is still calling, in spite of our society, and maybe because of it.
Ezekiel was born into a priestly family in Jerusalem . No doubt he was in line to serve in the Temple. He was also born in a time of religious revival and reform under King Josiah, but that didn’t last. Ezekiel was called to speak for God at a time of unrest and oppression by Egypt and then by Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon.
Into this situation, a time of rebellion, of serving other gods, a time when God allowed the people to bear the consequences of their rebellion and disobedience, God calls Ezekiel to bear His message to the people.
The twelve, among many others, had been following Jesus. He had called them to follow him and to learn from Him, and in Mark 6 Jesus calls them to a specific task, to go and preach repentance and God’s deliverance to the villages.
In each case, the time had come to no longer be just a follower, but to be a DO-er, to be a disciple, to take action. God is still calling today. God is calling you, not just to faith, but to action, to stand, to make a difference. Just as Ezekiel and the Twelve received the call, just as our founding fathers and mothers laid their lives on the line for what they believed, we are called to stand up and take our place for the gospel.
Second, God Gives the Strength to Stand
It would be unfair for me to stop there. You see, nowhere does God call us to do something without providing the ability or the strength to do it. God called Ezekiel and then,
2 As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.
And when Jesus called the Twelve to go out, ”he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.”
Today’s lectionary passages remind us, again, that the task is not about us. It is not about our strength, our knowledge, our innate abilities, but about God’s strength, God’s power, and God’s equipping for the task God calls us to accomplish. In fact, listen to Jesus’ instructions:
“Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.
Talk about being homeless! We would call them vagrants! But Jesus was teaching them to rely on the Holy Spirit, to not depend on themselves, their fortunes or abilities, but on what God would do through them.
Now I’m not suggesting that each of you go out on the streets without money or clothing or food in order to reach those who might be out there. I would relish the idea of our joining together to go out there to reach them, but that isn’t he point here. I am saying that the calling God has on your life is so much greater than anything you might imagine or believe you can accomplish, but it cannot come to fruition if you are standing on your own two feet without the strength of God to bolster you.
Paul tells us in Galatians 5: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. In our own natures and strength we try to love, and accept, to forbear, to show kindness, to be faithful and have self-control, but our baser nature leads us to judgmentalism, to lack of faith, to defeatism, and even to hatred. But when we are casting our eyes on the Lord, when we are open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, it is then that we find the strength to love, to accept, etc. We find the strength to do all that is set before us because of the power of God living and working in us.
God gives the calling, and God gives the strength, but then we must
Third, We choose to stand.
You can fill a lawn mower with gasoline, or plug it into the outlet, but until you start it and push it, it will do you no good. You can eat all of the best foods, take vitamins, etc., but until you get up and start moving, they will do you little good. You see, as believers in Christ, we each have received a measure of the Holy Spirit, redeeming us and filling us. But like the lawn mower, we often just sit, letting the gasoline evaporate, letting the world go by, forgetting that God is with us and strengthening us, or maybe even not caring.
In each case, it was obvious from the beginning that the task would be a hard one.
6 And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or be terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people. 7 You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious.
And Jesus told the Twelve: 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
Just because God was with them didn’t mean it would be all roses and ticker-tape. The power of God didn’t mean that a great revival would just spring up whenever they spoke. Ministry is hard. And I don’t just mean standing up here. I am referring to your ministry, to what God has called you to do and to say. It isn’t easy to stand, to make a difference, but it is possible, with God’s help.
God stood Ezekiel up, but Ezekiel had to take the message to his people, knowing that he would not be received. But he was called, and he chose to not only stand but to go forward in the strength of God, to preach God’s message.
Likewise, the Twelve, in Mark, went out as Jesus commanded them. They went out in the power of God, with faith that the Spirit would lead them and help them.
The gospel reading tells us that 12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
Ezekiel didn’t have it as easy, but he remained faithful in the deportation to Babylon, in the destruction of Jerusalem. He continued to preach and to declare God’s messages to the people.
Some people would call us dinosaurs because we still believe in a God who calls us to live in a way that glorifies Him. Some of you might call me a dinosaur because of what I believe about living a holy life and how our lives reflect on our God. It doesn’t matter. Ezekiel had the same experience. He was called to share the message of God’s judgment and redemption, always both—accountability and grace, even in the harshest of environments. The disciples went from place to place, trusting God for provision and for the power to do the work to which they had been called.
Our post-Christian society, and even many of our Christian brothers and sisters, are telling us that the message is love, the entire message is love. A few years ago people were tweeting “#lovewins, as if a worldly view of love is the only thing. In the 60s we sang, What the world needs now is love, sweet love. And the world does need love, but love without guidance, without responsibility, without discipleship is only an emotion that rises and falls on the whims of the human spirit. We, in this place, have made a decision, declaring that we will follow Jesus Christ, that we will reject the sin of the world and serve God with our hearts and minds and souls and strength. And what is the message that we stand for? That message is love, but not the namby-pamby, colored daisies, everything is okay kind of love, but the kind of love that lays down its life for the good of the beloved. The kind of love that gives hope and peace. The kind of love that doesn’t fail or turn aside. The kind of love that is tough when we have disobeyed. The love of God.
We are called to not only do good things, but to live lives of love that will speak when we don’t have the words, and to stand strong when we are challenged, to speak when error or sinfulness seeks to win the day. We are called to stand strong in God’s strength, listening to God’s voice, so that we can go out into the world with the message of Jesus Christ, not to judge those we find, but to share God’s message of love and redemption with them.
Earlier in the message I quoted the old adage: Don’t talk about politics or religion. But today I want to give you a new adage to guide your life and conversations: Talk about politics. Talk about religion. But whatever you talk about, do so with wisdom from the Holy Spirit, as you spend time learning from him. Do so from the foundation of God’s word and with God’s love for everyone to whom or about whom you talk. And do so in the power of God whose will it is to lead you, to guide you, and to give you power to stand.