Turn, turn, turn

During the past few weeks, I kept thinking about my sermon for today. The lyrics of Pete Segar's song. “Turn, Turn, Turn” kept running through my mind. What was it about the words he sang that seemed so fitting for today's lessons? It was written in the late 1950's, and released in the 1960's. It became part of American folk music culture and became a plea for peace during the Vietnam war, in which this country was in so much discord over. Back then many of us were in our teens and twenties.  The words came directly from the third chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes, the only addition Pete Segar made was to add the refrain, turn, turn, turn after each verse.

To everything - turn, turn, turn

There is a season - turn, turn, turn

And a time to every purpose under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die

A time to plant, a time to reap

A time to kill, a time to heal

A time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything - turn, turn, turn

There is a season - turn, turn, turn

And a time to every purpose under heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down

A time to dance, a time to mourn   

A time to cast away stones

A time to gather stones together

To everything - turn, turn, turn

There is a season - turn, turn, turn

And a time to every purpose under heaven

A time of love, a time of hate

A time of war, a time of peace

A time you may embrace

A time to refrain from embracing

To everything - turn, turn, turn

There is a season - turn, turn, turn

And a time to every purpose under heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose

A time to rend, a time to sew

A time for love, a time for hate

A time for peace, I swear it's not too late!

Takes us back in time, doesn’t it! Our memories are important because it helps us to see life as it was and what it can be. We all go through seasons in our lives, it’s how we choose to live out these seasons that can lead us away from God or closer to God.

Unlike Pete Segar who was a spokesman for his day, Ezekiel was once again charged to deliver a message to God's people, the Israelites. The message Ezekiel was to deliver now was just the opposite of his messages of death and judgment because of the Israelites refusal to be faithful to God. Even though, God's warnings were still in effect he was giving his people a chance to turn from their rebellion against him to restoration and hope for the future and not judgment. God wanted the Israelites to remember that he will bless those who are faithful to him and to find hope and encouragement for their future.

Like many of us, we become discouraged by our past sins and find it difficult to face up to what we have done. So too, the Israelites had refused to face up to their own disobedience of rebelling against God for their sins past and present.

God wanted his people to turn, not just to change, but to turn from their rebellion against him and the sins they committed. God was giving them an option to turn back to him and be forgiven if they repented. So too, God wants us to see ourselves where we are now, and what we are becoming, not what we have been, not a change but an actual turning our lives around.

After reading this passage the first time I thought where is the good news in this passage?  Unfortunately, I focused on the down side of the passage and not the uplifting side.  Sometimes the first cursory reading is just that, only seeing what jumps out at us. It wasn't until I re-read the passage again and saw the good news that God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked, nor of good works if they continue to sin.

God wants us to make a physical turn from sin, not a mental change, but one that changes our direction turns us away physically from any sin that can come out of our mouths, thoughts, anger, emotions, conscience, and prejudices. It is an act of turning from facing backward to facing forward.

I like the refrain printed on the Scripture bulletin for today. However, I would change it to “Direct me in the path of your commandments, for that is my desire”.

As the Psalmist reminds us “teach me in the way of your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end”. A good reminder for us to remember so we don’t end up like the Israelites, their sin was turning into wickedness, yet some chose not to turn from disobeying God. “Give me understanding, the Psalmist writes, and I shall keep it with all my heart.” We cannot observe God’s commandments unless we want too. Keeping God’s commandments should be our deepest heart's desire.

True happiness is found when we follow God’s decrees and are eager to serve him. The desires of the world separate us from God, so it is always good to keep our eyes on him. The Psalmist concludes by encouraging us to obey all the laws and commandments God has given us, so we don’t fall under God’s judgment.

No longer do we have to look outwardly towards the law, now the law is written in our hearts. Paul is calling on us to love others for that is the fulfilling of the Law. I am reminded of a passage from the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus responds to a scribe who asked him; ‘What commandment is the first of all’ and Jesus responds that we should love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength; and then Jesus follows up by saying with that we are to love one’s neighbor as oneself.’ Then the scribe responds by saying that this is more important than all the sacrifices we can make through the Old Testament law of sacrifices, and even today I would add. We are called upon to live like Christ in the world, to clothe ourselves in Christ so others can see and do the same. Not only is it important as Christians to have a personal relationship with Christ, we must let his presence radiate from every part of our being.

Fr. Tom does this just by his being, people can sense his love and care for them just by walking into a room and speaking with them. He is clothed in Christ’s love and this permeates throughout who he is. It is this awareness of who he is in Christ that people respond, and clothe themselves in Christ as he does. I believe this says a lot about us. We are together with Christ, we are one in Christ because Christ lives in us. Because we are clothed in Christ, we wear the clothing of being pardoned, forgiven, loved, by experiencing his grace and mercy we are able to show the world our lives, ups and downs, and the areas in our lives we would much rather forget.

The question is how do we reconcile God’s love, grace, and mercy with this section on church discipline? Jesus is the one who judges and he would much rather see true repentance of life, turning from what we are doing, and turning back to him. Ezekiel reminded us in our reading for today to turn from our sinful actions. Don’t let sin determine how you live here on earth. It’s why Jesus died on the Cross for our sins, not wanting us to die, but to live our lives for him; and for those who do not know him, that they may come to know him, through him flows love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

Much of what we do in life is the physical act of turning whether standing up or lying down. We all walk forward for that is how God created us. But we can also walk backward being careful where we step, and we can also step aside getting out of someone’s way or in someone’s way. However, it is the physical act of turning that says so much about us.

As we walk up to the Altar rail today to receive Jesus’ Body and Blood, we come face to face with him in the Sacrament. It is at that moment we are in union with God, face to face with who we are, and whose we are becoming. We have turned to him for comfort, solace, strength, guidance, and those quiet insights we hear through his still small voice. It is here in worship that we get a glimpse of heaven, a peace which passes all understanding through Word and Sacrament. It is a physical and mental time of turning towards God knowing through this act of intimacy we come face to face with our own inadequacies, it is God who understands us better than we do ourselves. May we always turn towards him in all that we do and are. Amen