“You want the impossible.” Even if you’ve never seen the Star Wars films, you probably know at least some of the characters. Han Solo, C3-PO, Yoda and Luke Skywalker whose words they are.
He says them when he’s learning to be a Jedi Knight and faced with one particular task, a task he cannot imagine being able to complete, he says to his teacher “You want the impossible.”
Perhaps these were words muttered amongst the two tribes that we heard of in our reading from Ezekiel. Two tribes, each with their own identity likely forged to some extent by their differences, them and us.
We know something of this ‘them and us’ too. Think Lancashire and Yorkshire, Leeds and Bradford, Newcastle and Sunderland, Arsenal and Tottenham and so on. There’s a bit of us that likes belonging to a tribe and it was just the same in Ezekiel’s time.
God’s people had ended up in two tribes and yet these two tribes or two sticks as Ezekiel memorably describes it are, impossible as it may seem, to become one ‘in order that they become one in my hand.’
And it was impossible too that a man who for some, a person to be hated would became an apostle and evangelist for Christ.
In the reading Paul tells his story and is unflinching in his truth telling. He says that he tried to ‘force’ the followers of Jesus ‘to blaspheme.’ Yet this same man speaks words of grace and truth that are still being heard today.
Paul’s confession has stayed with me this week. I’ve wondered what forcing the followers of Jesus ‘to blaspheme’ looked like in those days. I cannot imagine it to be anything nice, but instead dwell on torture and cruelty.
I’ve made connections with our own time and the cruelty that Christians in other parts of the world have had to endure for the name of Christ.
I’ve asked myself how would I feel about if a known persecutor started to suddenly speak for rather than against Christ?
Those same feelings must have been around then yet here Paul stands joining a long line of unlikely people whom God uses calling his listeners to repentance. Impossible.
Fast forward to today and the problems of the world sometimes seem impossible. Trying to solve them could rather like ‘too much learning’ in that second reading drive us ‘insane.’
We can be so overwhelmed by them that we sometimes adopt the “bury our hands in the sand” position or chant “la la la I’m not listening” when we hear things we don’t want to.
Yet these readings invite us on this Harvest Thanksgiving Sunday to think differently. To remember that with God the impossible might just be possible.
In the coming years humanity faces challenges we’ve not had to face before. The climate is changing, water levels are rising, and harvests are failing with greater severity and frequency than before.
And though you might say well it’s always been like that, the evidence tells us otherwise. The overall pattern has been and will be of greater extremes of temperature and weather.
We have and will continue to see mass migration that can and does lead to disease and starvation.
There will be more places where there’s not enough food, not enough water.
How do we as people of faith respond when it feels all too much? Inevitably our faith shapes how we see and think about things, by encouraging and challenging us at the same time.
Encourages because we believe in a God who so often makes appears impossible possible.
Challenges us because we have a part to play.
Today we have celebrated the abundance of creation, of all that we have. We’re right to be thankful. And that spirit of thanksgiving overflows to others, so it’s right and goof that our Harvest Celebration looks outward to support Water Aid and here in Leeds St George’s Crypt.
And though it seems as though what we can do is so small when faced with the needs of the world, each act of kindness and generosity is in a way an act of defiance that encourages us to hope that what seems impossible;
a world where all are fed,
where all have clean water,
where all have a place wherever they are born,
where all have hope might just be possible.
Faced with the challenges we are, it seems to me that we’re called in part at least, to keep alive this narrative of hope. One that always seeks to draw the tribes of this world together, to recognise all that we share rather than all that divides, of what might be possible rather than join the chorus of impossibility.
In the verses prior to the ones we heard this evening from Ezekiel, we hear that famous passage from the Valley of the Dry Bones when Ezekiel is asked a question ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’
That same question is asked of us.
I for one believe in the God who always seeks to raise up the fallen, the dry bones of our time but to do it God needs us to play our part. To not bury our heads in the sand but look up and see where we might make what seems impossible possible, for as Jesus said ‘with God all things are possible .’
So let me end this Harvest Thanksgiving with some words no doubt familiar and quoted before but let us write them on our hearts as we seek to live our faith,
Christ has no body now on earth but yours;
no hands but yours; no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world.
Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.
May God give us faith
that when things seem impossible
we may know that by grace all things are possible.