The Rev. Ian Emile Dunn
Growing Towards Eternity
A Homily for Easter 5 – Rogation Sunday
May 26, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Ezekiel 34:25-31
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Today is the last Sunday in Easter, commonly called Rogation Sunday – a day that was traditionally set aside to pray for the coming crops and thanks God for His faithful provision and generosity towards us as His people throughout the year. It is easy to become either focused on the eternal and forget that every good gift on earth comes from God, though if this were our problem it would be a good problem to have, or to buy into the modern rationalistic mindset and forget that it is God’s providence that sustains us.
The traditional use of Rogation Sunday within our church was to remind us of that fact – that from God comes all good gifts. Yes, we may toil but it is God who provides. We may work the land, but by God’s grace He grows the plants. We may have the art of farming down to a science, but if it were not for God’s kindness, the plants would never bear fruit. So, in our time of convenience, it is of importance to have a day like to day to jog us from our comfort and remind us of this fact. To remind us, of the generosity of God, and to pray that the coming year – would be a year of goodness and bounty.
Our Old Testament lesson reminds us of this provision but also takes a much longer view. It reminds us of God’s faithful provision throughout all of life – and especially into eternity. It reminds us of what Christ’s death and resurrection are bringing us to. So, while we want to be acutely aware of God’s goodness in the provision for today – we want to be all the more focused on this eternal goal. We want to live lives that glorify God – that point others upwards – that remind ourselves, our loved ones, and those whom we interact with – that there is something greater than ourselves – that there is a creator God – and not only a creator God but a God who walks with us through the darkest of days and the brightest most joyful of seasons and we want to point others to cling to Him as we are called to cling.
For – an eternal vision gives meaning to suffering, brings meaning to sorrow, and heart ache. It is in having this eternal vision that we remember that we have a God who can take the evil of the world and sanctify, who can use the trials and suffering that we pass through as fertilizer through which we are given growth. It is in striving to glorify God in the long run that we are given the growth to finally bloom in this vision that Ezekiel shows us.
Now, we must remember as we approach this text that every book is written in a specific time and place, with a specific task in mind, but we also know as the church – that as this is a part of Holy Scripture – this is also written to us, as we seek to know who God is, and how He is working.
In the case of Ezekiel – he is writing to a recalcitrant Israel – He is writing to God’s chosen people who have refused to repent, who, although called again, and again, and again refuse to turn away from their sins and now they are being told – the glory of God will be removed from you – and you will go into exile, but even in that God will be faithful. Even in that – God will bring you back and in the end you will have peace.
But there is a greater exile that is being spoken to as well, for all of humanity is in exile, but our exile is not quite over. We must first remember back to creation. We remember that creation was called very good and indeed it is still very good. We remember the description of the garden – that from it flows four rivers – and we realize – here on this mountain top garden – where mankind was born – we were able to walk with God. We see a paradise – lost to the sin of the first father. And then we remember the curse.
We remember that because of sin there is dissonance between nature and the offspring of Adam and Eve – that is all of humanity. We remember that there is pain in child birth, and strife within marriage, we remember that work, which was meant to be a joy is now difficult, and we remember all too well that there is now death. This is the greater exile – the exile that all of humanity experiences. For humanity was designed to dwell in the mountain garden – the temple garden with God all the days of their life. But sin led to our exile from there – and now we experience these things. No longer do we walk perfectly with God, no longer are we able to gaze upon his face, no longer do we have access to God day and night.
But this is what Christ has undone. It is in Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension that we find a perfect sacrifice for our sins and not only that but He is the great high-priest that takes our prayers – day and night and lays them before God. Now, in Christ we can see God again – we can walk with him again – and not only in the cool of the day – but when the tasks before us seem too hard, too painful, or in the dark night of our souls, in the joys of new life, new love, new hope. Now, in Christ we can walk with God day and night, in love and pain and what a goodness that is!
So, on Rogation Sunday we are reminded of our hope fulfilled. We are reminded of that beautiful tension of already – but not yet. We are reminded that in a very real sense the exile is over – for we already dwell with God, in the practice of prayer, of reading His word, in the practice of breaking bread at His table, and in holy fellowship. But we know too well that we still wait, still cry out – how long O Lord will you tarry? For we know that there is a tension – already we are redeemed – already we walk – but the kingdom has not yet come – all has not yet been made right.
So, Ezekiel writes not only about the end of the Israelites coming exile – but the end of the greater exile – and what that will look like.
Remember now the beginning of the curse given at the fall? It was given not to the man, not to the woman – but to the serpent. First we need to remember that the serpent is understood to be satan. Whether it is simply be that the serpent was used for imagery here, or that it seems that there is a kind of angel that appears periodically throughout the Old Testament who is snake like – and that the devil, being a fallen angel, literally looks like a snake, or because snakes are kind of creepy and so this is what came to mind when Moses wrote of the fall – we do not know but – none the less we understand that the snake in the garden is the devil who acts to accuse and tempt God’s people.
We also know that the prophecy that the snake’s head would be crushed by the heal of an offspring of Eve is fulfilled in Christ. We can glean something else from this curse, for when we read scripture – we do not read it as a single flat story but recognize that there can be multiple levels of meaning. When we read that there would be enmity between Eve’s offspring and the serpent we recognize that this is not only between man and the devil – but that there would be enmity between Eve’s offspring and nature. We see this again with Adam’s curse as well. But, we know too well that nature can be powerful and scary. It is worthy of our respect. We would not flippantly go camping in the desert for days on end without making suitable preparation, nor would we venture to climb Mount Everest without first spending years preparing. Nor would we set sail across the ocean without sufficient food, and a worthy vessel. Nature – confronted without wisdom is mighty – and powerful, and even deadly – because of the curse, because of the exile from the perfect garden.
And this is first promise Ezekiel gives us – that God will make a covenant of peace – he will banish the wild beasts from the land, that humanity may dwell in the wilderness, that they may rest. No more will there be enmity between the sons of Adam, the daughters of Eve, and all of the wilderness. Rather – peace will be restored, and we will see all of creation as being very good yet again.
It is here that God promises us security as well – for the world often feels insecure and we cling to whatever hope we may find. Yet – it is God that brings us the security that we long for. We know that we can rest in Him for although the garden has yet to be restored – we know that He will eventually restore it. God, and God alone can provide for us the temporal and eternal security that we so desperately long for.
Now – in verse 26 – we learn of God making all the places around His hill a blessing. In the Ancient Near East culture we often see temples being built on hills and mountains. We lose the sight of this a little in modern day Jerusalem for it is a city surrounded by mountains – but once the temple mount was the highest point in the city – and so even Israel’s temple was the highest point in the city. We see this with other cultures as well, as their cultic temples were given the place of prominence. Even in old European cities – the church may not have been build on the highest point – but the cross on the steeple of medieval cathedrals would have been the highest point in the city.
For humanity – height has always mattered – what we raise to the highest point – holds the most significance, this is why the arrogance of Babble was such a scandal – for the tried to raise themselves to God – not to raise their eyes to God and trust in Him.
But if we go back even father – we notice something interesting in the garden narrative. We notice – not one, nor two, but four rivers start in Eden. I do not know of very many rivers that start on plains or in valleys – it is for this reason that many believe that Eden was some sort of garden temple where heaven and earth had perfect communion sitting on a hill.
It is no surprise then that we see the hill here that is a blessing to all – for hills often represent this point of meeting between the divine and mankind – between heaven and earth. Likewise, the church is told to be a city on a hill – that reminds people of God’s grace. For the church is called to be a foretaste of this coming blessing. We know that darkness often befalls the world around us – but we have a hope and a light that lasts that brings the hope to those who dwell in darkness. The church is called to be a little place on earth where heaven meets us that we would walk with God and bring hope to all nations – that the blessings we are showered with would become a blessing to the communities that we are planted in.
As we read on we learn of two more promise – the trees shall bear fruit and the yoke shall be broken. Like – the curse to the serpent – the dissonance between man and creation will be put away. No more will work be painful – no more will work feel like drudgery.
Friends – please don’t make the mistake of thinking work is a result of the fall. In reading Genesis 1-3 we learn that work was a part of creation – than humanity was created to tend to and care for the garden. We were designed to cultivate and be good stewards of it. It is in the fall that work becomes painful, tiresome, trial filled.
Likewise – in the new creation, in the eternal kingdom – there will be work but it will be good again. We will labor – but it will not be painful – tiresome – or trial filled. It will be joyful. I suspect everyone here can remember times where they worked hard and reaching the end of the day – they felt joy over the days labor, perhaps their muscles were sore, or their brain was tired – yet we fell asleep with a smile on our face. Every day’s labor in eternity will be a joy – no more will there be thorns in the field, no more will the labor be painful – but there will be joy.
I think this is a part of why – what we do here matters – for we are preparing for eternity and the tasks we are called to here will be glorified tasks in that last day.
No more will it feel as though we are yoked to bad situations – but our labor will be free – and it will all be done to the glory of God as we are called to do in the here and now.
And now – Ezekiel turns his attention to the dissension between the nations and His people. Here, I think we see the strife between Eve and her husband undone. On one level – we know that there is strife between spouses, and in a very real way – that this is not how it was meant to be.
For a while, I had a running theory that the devil liked to stoke up this enmity on Sunday mornings, so our minds would be distracted when we come to worship. Parishioner’s and friends have confessed thinking thoughts like – “I can’t believe he would say that to me! And on Sunday morning of all times!” or “Why does she always take so long to get ready for church! We always arrive late!” I have seen this with numerous couples that get along great every other day – but some how on Sunday morning – there comes the most absurd bickering.
This enmity, all enmity, will be put to rest on the last day – no more will spouses fight. But there’s another level to all this – no more will we find enmity between nations. For marriage provides us with a microcosm of the greater reality. Nothing shows us our own sinfulness – and struggles to depend upon God like a life shared with another sinner. But we can take a step back and see sin effect the way in which we relate with our neighbors, with those in our community, and even the way that nations interact.
The fall has cased nations to rage against each other – causes nations to oppress each other – and causes nations to start and rage wars one to another. This was not how things were meant to be. This is particularly poignant as we come to Memorial Day and remember all those who lost their lives in service of our country. While we are grateful for the sacrifices these men and women made for our freedom, peace, and security, all the more, we rightfully mourn with those who have lost loved ones this weekend. Christians should mourn deeply – for we know too well that this is not how it was meant to be. So we mourn, so we pray for those whom lost loved ones, and stand beside them, grateful for the sacrifices of their loved ones and hope. Sacrifices meant to restore peace, and bring safety for those whom they loved. So we pray, remember, and mourn with all who mourn the loss of loved ones.
War and strife – between nations is a heartbreaking reality of living in a fallen world. Likewise – we know that the church will face persecution. Some who advocate for churches in persecuted regions claim that the church has never faced as severe a persecution as she does in this time and era. It is hard to know exactly what the reality of this is – but we know that almost every day there are Christians around the world who are called to lay down their lives for the sake of Christ.
So too with our brothers and sisters in Christ – we call out to God “how long O Lord will you tarry? How long until this age ends and peace will be brought?” We pray and hope for the day when war will be put to rest – we long for the day of peace, when the Church is finally made the Holy City – the bride of Christ and we can rest in His mercy and love.
But it is in this crying out of how long – that we also hold to the hope that Ezekiel gives us this morning – that the day of peace will come – that justice will be finally served – that we will see what creation was truly meant to be like. We hope and we rest and we rejoice. We can rejoice today – for we know that the strife of today is for but a moment – but the joy of eternity will last forever, that our hearts will rest forever in that eternal promise.
I would love to see a day when slavery is no more, or when no child is starving or no woman is forced into selling her body. Yet – these evils have been with us since the fall of man. We see them pop up time and again both in sacred and secular history. It would be easy to ask – why bother?
We are called not to usher in a better time – God will do this when the time is full – but we are called to be Christ’s witness in this day and age. We are called to fight for justice for the meekest among us, we are called to be peacemakers, we are called to do good in a dark world – to be lights of this eternal kingdom where hatred, wickedness, evil, selfishness, and all sins are finally and fully put away. We are called to do this tirelessly, even if failure comes.
We may fail to bring justice to those who hurt the most – but it is better to bring hope to one soul – than to not try at all, so we strive to make the world more just – to make the world a better place, knowing that persecution will continue to come. Knowing that the end of darkness is coming – not because of our labor but because God has promised it. So, we do good to the glory of God and pray – “come Lord Jesus, come.”
Now – we reach the end – and we come back to that promise that has followed us through Eastertide – “They shall know that I am the Lord their God who is with them, they are my people, you are my sheep, and I am your God.”
This is the final promise – Christ was also called Immanuel is God is with us. We are reminded time and again – that God is with us. It is no mistake that this theme recurs throughout – for if we toil for God – if we strive for His glory in a dark world, we will grow weary. We will grow discouraged – but scripture time, and again reminds us God is with us. God will comfort his weary sheep, will tend for them, we heal them, and will tenderly bring them back to His flock.
We are called to not grow weary – we are called to persevere to the end.
The Christian is called to be a farmer – not in earthly fields, but called to tend to the world – to till the ground of souls, to scatter the seed of the gospel, to nurture the seedlings of young disciples – until the plants grow and blossom and seeds burst forth 100 fold. So it is good that on Rogation Sunday we are reminded of this coming eternity. That we toil in exile, tending to the tasks set before us – giving glory to God. That those around us might see the work we do – that they might praise the Father in Heaven that in the last day – they too might know Him and praise Him.
So we take heart – for we know how the story started – we know why we cry at night, but we know that the Lord God is our God – that He sent his Son to die for us – that His son Jesus Christ, our Lord, is the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and the perfect high priest that brings us, our hopes and needs to God, that no matter how dark the day may get He is Immanuel – God is with us and just as we know the start of the story – we know the end – that the garden will be restored – not only a garden – but the city of joy where God will dwell with His people. So we take heart, we rejoice, we persevere, we toil with joy in our hearts, tending to all that is before us – hoping for that great final day when we will final rest and rejoice and perfectly serve the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord the good shepherd of our Soul.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.