The Therapy of Memory – Sermon – Alex Moir – 31 January 2021

WELCOME

Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)

Call to Worship

“Worship, in both its personal and corporate sense, is not meant to be judged as the sum of a “good” sermon, significant ideas, effective music, punctual daily prayer, persistent peity, or recognizable religiosity.  It is first and foremost an encounter with God’s presence.” 

— G. Keown/G. Stassen

Prayer

And indeed, our gracious Father, we yearn for Your presence that is as vital to our lives as the air that we breathe.  Our thoughts, words and actions of this past week indicate that we are unworthy … but through Jesus’ willing sacrifice we are encouraged that You do welcome us.  We affirm that wonderful truth … and, as a result, come to this place willingly.  In the strong name of Jesus, we pray … amen.

Song

Today's Message: The Therapy of Memory

Scripture Reading: Ezekiel 6:1-10

1 The word of the Lord  came to me:  “Son of man, set your face  against the mountains  of Israel; prophesy against them  and say: ‘You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Sovereign  Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord  says to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys:  I am about to bring a sword against you, and I will destroy your high places.  Your altars will be demolished and your incense altars  will be smashed; and I will slay your people in front of your idols.  I will lay the dead bodies of the Israelites in front of their idols, and I will scatter your bones  around your altars.  Wherever you live,  the towns will be laid waste and the high places  demolished, so that your altars will be laid waste and devastated, your idols  smashed and ruined, your incense altars  broken down, and what you have made wiped out.  Your people will fall slain  among you, and you will know that I am the  Lord.

“‘But I will spare some, for some of you will escape  the sword when you are scattered among the lands and nations.  Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember  me—how I have been grieved  by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols.  They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices.  10  And they will know that I am the  Lord;  I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them.

In this week’s installment of the story of Ezekiel the Hebrew prophet, we find him smack dab in the middle of his dreaded assignment.  After preparing his servant for this difficult task, Yahweh informs him of the message Ezekiel must bring.  The sovereign Lord tells the story of invading armies, ruined property, lost lives and exile in a foreign land for those left living.  As if this is not enough this young prophet is to have a very specific answer when the Hebrew people ask the inevitable question, “Why us?”  Ezekiel must swallow hard and make the indissoluble link between the trouble they are facing and their own God. 

“I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them (v. 10).”

For some of us reading this message or this scripture it is a hard pill to swallow.  It just doesn’t square with our idea of a loving God.  Another exilic prophet, Jeremiah, is quoting Yahweh with these words:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord,
“Plans for welfare and not for evil,
to give you a future and a hope.”

— Jeremiah 29:11-13

Even Jesus, reflecting on the care of the Father in the sermon on the mount, affirms the benevolence of a loving God.  The words in Ezekiel sound harsh to us and are hard to reconcile with what we believe.

And yet God’s part in all of this is not the only factor in the situation Ezekiel sees unfolding within his beloved Hebrew nation.  Reference is made in the passage before us about the atrophy of spirit that had plagued God’s chosen nation.  Mention is made in the passage to “the evil they had done”, as well as to “all their detestable practices (v. 9).”  Much has been made about the decline in justice and fairness within the Hebrew nation, especially in the treatment of the needy.  The problem was so pronounced that the prophet Micah addressed it directly:

“He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.”

— Micah 6:8

The term “detestable practices” may be in reference to the sorry state of worship with God’s people.  Our passage references incense altars and idols that never would have been part of the landscape during the reign of the shepherd king David.  Perhaps Paul’s summary in Romans chapter one of the effects of human sin may be helpful as we try to understand what was happening in Ezekiel’s time …

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts ..(Romans 1:24). 

Could it be that after the repeated rebellion of humankind that God lets us have what we want?  This is not a pleasant thing to ponder … but scripture seems to suggest the possibility.

But there is good news in this passage … to which you might be saying, “Finally!”  In the middle of all the “woe” which this passage describes, a little bit of hope … and it comes in a rather offhanded way!  Right in the middle of the worst possible outcome … the exile of thousands of Hebrew citizens in refugee camps in a strange country … something unexpected happens. 

“Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember me”, Yahweh predicts to Ezekiel (v. 9a). 

Just when all seems lost, hundreds of miles from their homes, recovery will begin … and from an unexpected source.

The human gift of memory will begin to herald the healing of the Hebrew nation from their self-inflicted wounds.  Of course, memory is one of the blessings which we all enjoy … going through the tubs of our kids’ clothes, listening to an old piece of music, attending a reunion of one form or another.  Yet in this case the memory will be prompted by an emotion we wish we could avoid … regret:

“They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices.” (v. 9b).

As uncomfortable as it may be for us to admit, regret can play a very instructive role in life.  The Canadian author W.P. Kinsella catches the essence of this a bit in his book “Shoeless Shoe”, as the young farmer hero of the story is trying to justify turning good farmland into a baseball field.  A friend reflects on the impact of the field to those who may want to visit … “Of course, we don’t mind if you look around,” you’ll say.  “It’s only twenty dollars per person.” And they’ll pass over the money without even looking at it – for it is money they have, and peace they lack.  It’s regret, alright … mostly regret for letting the cares and false values in life influence us to such an extent that we neglect the meaningful relationships in life.  These are bonds with our families, friends … but mostly our relationship with “The One”.  The prophet Isaiah perhaps said it best:

“Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy?”

— Isaiah 55:2a

This feeling of regret, I think, is one of the basic experiences in life … and we must know how to deal with it when it happens.  One of the great church movements of the recent past, the “seeker” movement has capitalized on this.  Wildly successful churches like Willow Creek in Chicago and Saddleback Community in California made the assumption that, at some point in life, every person has what we may call in modern parlance a “woke” moment where they feel profound regret over the way they have lived.  Usually, such individuals want to find a remedy, which might lead them to consider connecting with a worshipping congregation.  The leaders of these churches planned their services accordingly, by making their worship accessible to the “seeker”.  When these folks showed up at their doorsteps, they were ready …

And we must be ready as well, first by affirming that this feeling of self-loathing is a natural development of living.  As the scripture teaches, we are finite beings, making mistakes that have an impact on the Father’s creation and His will for others.  This is what the Bible describes as sin.  To learn of our limitations is not a pleasant experience … but there is one blessing that comes from this exercise.  After Yahweh outlines to His prophet the brutal truth of the exile experience, He reminds Ezekiel that through all this one positive remains … and they will know that I am the Lord (v. 10).”  And such is the presence of the Lord in their lives and ours … the Lord who, through the understanding of the word Yahweh, has always been and who always will be.  Because of their link to Him, and because of his link to the future as well as the past, they can have hope.  Their past track record of failed alliances, inept statehood and careless worship does not need to dictate their future … and so it is with us as well.  Lay your regret at the feet of our Lord … and your new life story will begin!

Prayer

Redemptive God and seeker of the wanderers, we have listened to Your word this day and have been reminded that, although Your people sometimes forget that You follow them, even to their places of exile.  Indeed, we discover anew … great is Thy faithfulness!

We confess this day that we live in a “feel good” culture which makes little room for genuine feelings of regret.  Through Your word this day we find an ancient people with much to feel sorry about … yet You did not cast them out but continued to make provision for their reconciliation.  How we praise You for this … for it has meant the difference in our lives.

As we turn our minds toward those with special needs, we find ourselves gripped by the current crisis that has shaped life during the past few months.  Through the blessing of medical science, we look forward to the vaccines that have been discovered … but note the challenge of distribution to a diverse and scattered world.  We pray a generous measure of wisdom for the ones charged with this responsibility, that these supplies may be shared in an equitable and affordable manner.  We pray in the name of the One who so often responded with compassion when He walked this life … amen.

Song

Benediction

“O God, here I am, your servant, your faithful servant; set me free for your service!”

— Psalm 116:16