Sometimes I think the only person who benefits from the sermon is the preacher. The speaker has read and examined the Scripture lessons for at least a week (for me it’s been three days!). But regardless how long, the speaker has been fortunate enough to read the texts, study a bit about, where they came from – who wrote them – why they were written, meditate, pray and even dream sometimes how these ancient words relate to present day and then in twenty minutes or less share his or her findings.
The person in the pew, unless they take the bulletin insert home or use the Church’s weekly devotional, often doesn’t even hear any part of the texts or think about them until they listen to them read for the first time just before the sermon.
So this morning most of you heard a strange story about the prophet Ezekiel having an interesting conversation with the Lord. The Lord has told him many things which aren’t written in this particular passage to relate to the Israelites. He gives him a scroll – a rolled up parchment to eat. The only words which can be read are “lamentations, wailings, moanings.” We are told when he eats it, it tastes sweet.
Next Ezekiel is told by God to go to these stubborn Israelites and remind them just who their God is and what The Lord has spoken. I found this section which is the longest rather amusing. Here the Lord informs Ezekiel these are not foreign people he is sending him to – they speak his language; however they are stubborn and obstinate and don’t want to hear the message Ezekiel must bring. So, the Lord encourages Ezekiel not to be afraid because his resolution will be as strong as a diamond and he will not be overawed by these rebels.
As I read these words I didn’t envision one man trying to dissuade a set of rebels to return to the fold; rather my image was one of God – the supreme parent giving stalwart strength and encouragement to earthly parents confronted with raising children and coping with adolescence.
Do we not swallow the lamentations, moaning and wailings of our children as they attempt to discover who they are in the midst of this ever changing world?
Ezekiel claims the scroll is sweet – bittersweet would be more to my taste. Watching two babies grow into their own adulthood – testing thoughts, dreams, desires, questioning who they are in relation to the family, friends, school and yes, even God, is rather like living with the stubborn and obstinate who some parents swear do speak a foreign language. Some parents are like Ezekiel and don’t have any desire to go and speak the truth to them.
Then I read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians which gave me a new perspective on just who the Israelites, our children and even myself might be.
This particular passage has been historically important to Lutherans. Martin Luther quoted Paul in an attempt to show the Pope how grace supersedes works. Yet, for the first time it wasn’t the great message “through grace you have been saved” which gave me pause, but rather from verse ten these words, “We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it.”
We are God’s work of art. I had never considered being a work of art. We use those three words usually in a derogatory sense … “he’s a real work of art”, rather than an affirmation at our uniqueness and special relationship with the artist or creator of ourselves.
When these words leapt out at me, I saw a game my children and I play called, Masterpiece. I usually get to be the banker, who auctions off paintings from the old masters Monet, Rembrandt as well as some newer artists – Americans like Mary Cassatt and Edward Hopper. It’s been a great way to expose my kids to the art world without dragging them to a museum.
Yet I marvel at their choice when it comes their turn to bid or even take a painting from someone else. Granted the value of the painting is unknown – that’s the whole purpose of the game – but they choose the painting because they like that particular work of art and truly bemoan when the only choice isn’t to their taste.
I’m guilty as well. When Kayln and I spent an entire Thursday at the Louvre in Paris last June I wanted to spend more time admiring da Vinci’s notebooks while she was more interested in the Italian renaissance and paintings of angels.
I love spending time looking at the faces of the aged men and women caught doing natural acts on canvas – milking a cow, eating dinner, playing with their children. I wanted her to see the classic and infamous lines of sculptures like Venus de Milo or Michelangelo’s David. She enjoyed the exhibits of jewelry and clothing. I marveled at the art and intricacies depicted in an Egyptian sarcophagus.
Is it any wonder if we are compared to a work of art that some people will like us, others adore us, and still others ignore us?
That is the way of the world. We each have personal preferences. We are all so different in our personal tastes when it comes to art, food, where we live, how we live, our hobbies, our dreams, or even our personal physical characteristics. We are all so different and yet the same.
In God’s world as artist and creator we are works of art - special, unique, beautiful, perfect and priceless.
For me that’s the message for the day regardless which passage we look at, read or mull over. Ezekiel was sent to a people who really didn’t want to hear what he had to say, but sent nevertheless because the Lord God loved them.
St. Matthew, whom we honor today, is a work of art ignored and despised by his countrymen. Even he was and is still worthy to sit at the table and share the good fortune of others and still later be numbered among the apostles, because God loved him.
In Paul’s letter we are reminded that regardless of who we are, what we have done God has loved us and shown us through the person of Jesus Christ.
So here we are on a Sunday morning reading passages of Scripture – some for the first time - trying to relate what these words might mean for us.
Basically God loves us and it is a message we need to share like Ezekiel with our family, friends and co-workers and even adolescents who may not want to hear.
Secondly, even though we may think some of God’s creations are works in process we are called to honor one another, love one another and share the grace that God has freely given to each of us with one another, just like Matthew.
Lastly, In God’s world as artist and creator we are works of art - special, unique, beautiful, perfect and priceless – saved by grace not by works.
Isn’t that the message which underlies all the texts we hear on a Sunday morning whether heard for the first time or studied for a week?
God loves you. You are a work of art.