Saturday, April 9, 2011

And You Shall Live (April 10 2011 Lent 5)

Homily:  Yr A Lent 5, April 10 2011, Huntley
Readings:  Ezek 37.1-14; Ps 130; Rom 8:6-11; John 11.1-45

“The hand of the Lord came upon me, and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones, and they were very dry.”

When I read these words this week, for some reason my thoughts immediately went to the scenes of devastation that I had witnessed via television in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  Homes, buildings, entire communities destroyed.  Dead bodies washing up on shore.  An interview with a 70 year old man whose home and business had been destroyed, who laments that it’s too late for him to rebuild.  People whose life had been sucked out of them, whose despair and sorrow had reduced them to bones, very dry bones.

Of course, you don’t have to go to Japan to find dry bones.  All around us are people whose lives have run dry.  So many things in this world can suck the life out of us.  Mental illness.  Grinding poverty.  Broken relationships.  Loss of jobs, loss of loved ones.  Disease, and disasters.  Loneliness.  Despair.

I’ve seen it.  You’ve seen it.  Most of us have experienced it, in our own lives or in the lives of those we love, or both.  Dry bones.

Ezekiel, the prophet who gave us our first reading today, he knew exactly what he was looking at in that valley of dry bones.  Ezekiel had been forcibly removed from his home and taken into exile.  He had lost his prominent position as a priest of the Temple in Jerusalem.  His wife had died.  He and his people had endured siege warfare in Jerusalem as the Babylonians sealed off and bombarded the city, cut off supplies of food and medicines and made them suffer through two years of famine and disease.  Then, they breached the city walls, destroyed the Temple, massacred thousands and razed the city to the ground.  The surviving remnant was marched off through the desert into exile in a foreign land, Ezekiel among them.  They were a traumatized, despairing people.

And so when God gives Ezekiel the vision of the valley of dry bones, Ezekiel knows exactly what he’s looking at.  He’s looking at himself, and his fellow prisoners in exile.  And so when God asks him if these bones can live, Ezekiel’s answer is one of resignation and despair:  “O Lord God, only you know.”

And God says to Ezekiel, “I have a message, a prophecy that I want you to give to these dry bones.  Tell these bones, tell the exiled people of Israel, tell those who have suffered devastation in Japan, tell the depressed and the lonely and the broken and the suffering, tell those who are without hope and all those who have had the life sucked out of them, tell them this:

“O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.  Thus says the Lord God to these bones:  I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.”

This is the core of our faith.  This is the heart of the gospel.  We proclaim a God who enters into our lives and transforms sorrow into joy, despair into hope, fear into faith, hatred into love, conflict into peace and yes even death into life.  This is the glory of God that Jesus makes known into today’s gospel.

Do you believe this?

I believe it.  I believe it because I’ve seen it.  I believe it because I’ve experienced it, in my life, in the life of this parish.  There are people sitting here right now who have experienced the transforming, life-giving power of God in their lives.  People who cried out as the exiled people of Israel did “our bones are dried up and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely”, to whom God answered in reply “I will put my spirit in you and you shall live” and it happened. 

God inspires new life in the darkest of valleys.  We don’t always see it.  Often the suffering of others is invisible to us.  Sometimes when we experience the power of God in our lives it is such an incredible experience that we don’t talk about it.  One of the privileges of my work in ministry is that sometimes people invite me into those difficult moments in their lives, and I get to see the transforming power of God at work, in their lives, in your lives.  Sometimes I even get to play a role in it, much in the way that Jesus asks those who witness the raising of Lazarus to unbind him and set him free.  It is an awesome, humbling experience.

We are called to participate in God’s transformative, life-giving work.  In the vision of the dry bones, Ezekiel is called to speak, to pronounce God’s message to the bones.  In the raising of Lazarus, Jesus does the heavy-lifting, but he calls on others to unbind Lazarus and set him free.  We are God’s voice, God’s hands and God’s feet in this world.  We are called to participate in bringing dry bones to life.

But that doesn’t mean we’re in control.  That doesn’t mean we’ll always understand.  That doesn’t mean that we’re immune to suffering.  The timing is not always what we’d want it to be.  In our gospel, Jesus delays two days before going to see Lazarus.  Mary and Martha are acutely aware of the delay, and their first words to Jesus are a lament:  “Couldn’t you have been here sooner?  If you had been here, my brother would not have died?”  Mary and Martha are right to lament.  Sometimes we experience God as absent, and we don’t know why, and it hurts, and it is right to lament and express our pain and sorrow.

But Jesus does come to Bethany.  He comes into their presence, hears their lament, understands and shares their sorrow.  Jesus experiences the deepest sort of human emotion.  He gets it.  He is deeply moved.  He weeps.  We have a God who knows what it’s like for us, who shares our sorrow and grief.

We have a God who weeps with us and yet gives hope.  Who gives life.

Sometimes we make the same mistake as Martha does initially, thinking that what Jesus is talking about is a hope that resides only in the future.  Jesus says to her “your brother will rise again”.  Martha thinks that he’s talking about the future, about some sort of after-life.  “I know that he will rise again on the last day,” she replies.

But Jesus is not talking about a future hope.  He is talking about now, a hope that is both present and eternal.  And his reply to Martha is squarely in the present tense.  “I am the resurrection and the life.”  The dynamic, transformative, life-giving presence of God is here right now, ready to give you life right now, ready to cause breathe to enter you so that you shall live, ready to give you life in all its abundance, a life so full of power and energy and meaning and purpose that nothing, not even death can destroy it.

And to show the crowd that he does indeed have this life-giving power so that they too might believe, Jesus turns to the grave and calls out in a loud voice, “Lazarus come out”.  And the dead man comes out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth.  And Jesus turns to the crowd and tells them “Unbind him and set him free.”

And so this morning I say to you who are hurting, who despair, who feel that the life has been sucked out of you, to you who are dry bones, I say,

“O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.  Thus says the Lord God to these bones:  I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.”

And to those whose bones are full of life this morning, I say to you, 

You have been called to participate in God’s redemptive and life-giving work.  Go to those whose bones are dry, proclaim to them God’s message of hope, be God’s voice and hands and feet in the world.  Unbind them and set them free.


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