Read on for a Lenten sermon from our local prophet Dr Suzanne Boorer!
Homily for Hall April 5 2017: Ezekiel 37:1-14
READINGS: Ezekiel 37:1-14
In preparation for holy week, all our readings for today speak of resurrection. In moving through death and resurrection in holy week I suspect that, although Christ’s death and resurrection has universal implications, some of us may have a tendency to think of resurrection in terms of individual resurrection, in relation to our own specific lives or particular others. And our readings from the NT today might nudge us in that direction. However, the reading from Ezekiel does not focus on the resurrection of individuals but of the resurrection of a whole society, the whole community that has died: the valley is full of dry bones, and as v. 8 says, “I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.”
This passage from Ezekiel is placed at a turning point within the book. The first 24 chapters consist overwhelmingly of judgment on the Israelites for their corruption, iniquity and wickedness. Then after the judgment oracles against other nations, in Chapter 36 the tide turns and the book begins to speak of hope for decimated Israel, where God for the sake of his holy name will renew Israel, returning them from exile into their own land, replacing their hearts of stone with a heart of flesh, a new heart and a new spirit that will enable them to follow God’s statutes and ordinances. God does this for the sake of God’s holy name and the people thus restored will experience dismay and shame for how they have behaved in the past. The vision of the dry bones following hot on the heals of this, then, makes crystal clear that this whole dynamic is one of the death of the nation, a complete end, and only then a resurrection of this nation purely by God’s act that brings them to life. And so, taking our lead from Ezekiel, as we approach our journey through holy week we might do well to think about corrupt societies and institutions and where hope may lie in relation to them. The historical events behind Ezekiel’s reference to the death of the nation were the deaths of many with the destruction of Jerusalem, the exile of the educated upper classes to Babylon, and the implications of this in terms of the threatened collapse of their identity and theological frameworks of meaning. The corruption that according to Ezekiel led to this death of the nation is unfolded in Ezekiel not just in general terms of iniquity and wickedness but of:
Violence and bloodshed
Social injustice, oppressing and extorting the weakest in society, the poor, the orphan and widow
In short, rejecting God’s commands and ordinances, indeed forsaking and forgetting God
The leaders in particular are singled out for their corrupt behavior –
The officials shed blood and destroy lives to get dishonest gain
Priests have done violence to God’s teaching and profaned holy things
Prophets, pretending to speak in the name of God, preach lies
Indeed the leaders are false shepherds who feed themselves instead of feeding the sheep. They have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bound up the injured, brought back the strayed, sought the lost, but with force and harshness ruled them (Ezek 36:4). And some at least of these traits can be seen as rife in some present day societies and institutions where corruption is an inherent force. My first experience of insidious corruption within an institution was when I was a student at a respected Theological Seminary in the States in the early 80s. It was the first time I had experienced what I would call a web of corruption that seemed to have a life of its own beyond the individuals caught up in it. At the heart of its culture, it seemed to me, was the abuse of power, generated by the leaders from the top down. As Ezekiel might have said, with harshness and bullying tactics they ruled such that at each level of the hierarchy there was a tendency to step on those below them, with the students ultimately disadvantaged. People at every level were caught up in this corrupt web of power, leading to infighting and struggle for dominance over against others, and thereby the forming of factions where students were labeled as in the camp of one lecturer over against others, suspicion and fear amongst the faculty, the loss of integrity with lies told or truth being twisted by those down the hierarchy such as junior faculty so they could keep their jobs often at the cost of those lower down the hierarchy. (Aside: Fortunately I was able to escape and study at a different and far more healthy institution, rescued by people outside the system who recognized the corruption of the organization and therefore supported the lowly student that I was to move on to greener pastures.) I’m sure you can think of your own examples from your own experiences. And one only needs to open the newspaper to see that corruption in leadership at all levels of various societies and institutions seems to be rife, especially in terms of lack of integrity, falsehoods and the bending of the truth (now famously labeled “alternative facts”).
So in relation to organizational or institutional corruption where does hope lie? Where does hope lie for those most affected by such corruption – symbolically portrayed in Ezekiel as the sheep – the poor, the orphan and the widow, indeed those with the least power within the society or institution? According to the book of Ezekiel, hope is found: Initially in the proclamation of the prophetic word, that seeks to name the corruption, to bring it to light so that there is a chance of repentance. However, according to the book of Ezekiel, his audience refuses to listen, being labeled a rebellious house. And so at a more profound level, in the book of Ezekiel, hope lies in the death of the corrupt society, institution or group because only then can there be hope of a new life, a healthy society or institution free from such corruption, a life-giving system brought about by God. The hope is in the dying, the consequences of the corruption running its course to the bitter end, and then a resurrection that can only be brought about by God. This is the message of the vision of the dry bones and the resurrection of the community brought about by God who causes breath to enliven the dead corpses and puts within them his spirit so they become God’s new community. And at the heart of Christ’s death and resurrection that we will enter into liturgically next week there is corporate corruption. It is the religious leaders of the time along with the collusion of their people that reject the son of God, leading to his death. But the consequences of corruption, the corruption of communities or individuals, including that of our own, that results in death imaged in the crucified Christ is not the last word – the last word, God’s last word and our only hope, is the crucified and risen Christ.
PTH handbook 2017 pdf Visit this link to the Handbook to see what life for a candidate in ministry involves…
Perth Theological Hall continues to offer some of its ministerial formational content in Intensives that are open for all to attend.
This year there are 3 Intensives:
Building a Missional Church 22 – 23 March
This two day intensive will focus on giving ministers the skills to assist congregations to move towards becoming more missional, engaging with their local communities and pioneering new forms of church. Rev Dr John Squires will take a lead role in developing this program in collaboration with Rev David Kriel and Rev Greg Ross, drawing on Mission Shaped Ministry training. It will be held at Maylands Mt Lawley Uniting Church, 165 Railway Parade. Cost is $75. For more information or to register, please email email@example.com or phone Kerry on 08 9260 9813 or follow this link: Building a Missional Church flyer
School of Ministry: The Minister as Educator 17 – 20 July
Models of ministry are changing rapidly. Instead of ministers exercising their ministry within a single congregation, in the future more ministers will be resourcing groups of lay led congregations and faith communities. This will require ministers to have advanced skills in adult education and resource ministry. This year, the School of Ministry will focus on helping ministers to develope skills as educators to resource the church of the future. More details to follow.
Formation of Disciples 27 – 28 September
Simply helping people come to faith is not enough. We also need to form them to live as disciples of Christ. This 2 day intensive will help us develop skills in faith sharing and evangelism, how to help disciples grow in Christian faith and life and how to use baptism and confirmation as means of formation of disciples. More details to follow.
People are also welcome to attend the weekly Wednesday Eucharist service at the Murdoch University Worship Centre
1 Mar – 31 May [excluding 8 March (Code of Ethics workshop), 22 March and 19 April (non-teaching breaks) ]
Murdoch Worship Centre 9.30 – 10.15am
followed by morning tea.
For more info email Kerry: firstname.lastname@example.org -or- email@example.com
or call 08 9360 6880 [Wed] or 08 9260 9813 [Monday, Tuesday, Thursday]
The Perth Theological Hall Commencement Service and Induction of the new UCA Director of Education and Formation in WA Rev Dr John Squires
was held on Friday 24 February 7.00pm Wesley Church, cnr Hay and William Sts, Perth. Pictures to follow!
Ann Mills has won one of the two Brickhill Essay prizes awarded by Perth Theological Hall this year. She has kindly allowed her essay to be posted here in the hope that others may find some comfort and help in their own suffering.
The Essay Prizes are given in memory of John Eric Brickhill who hoped that the essays would help the communication of theological insights to the average layperson, that (s)he may more readily serve the Lord. Ann’s essay was part of the assessment for Murdoch University unit THE505 Thinking Theology and is an inspirational theological reflection on finding meaning in human suffering through an active engagement with faith over time.