Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sermon for Year A Lent 5

O Lord God, you know

The prophet Ezekiel stands in the middle of a valley,
a valley filled with dry bones. 

I never hear this passage 
without thinking of a friend of mine,
Susan Copley,
who is an Episcopal priest now,
but at the time she was a medical missionary, 
serving in Liberia
right after their civil war in 1990.
That war was one of Africa’s bloodiest, 
killing over 200,000 people.
One in every 17 people in Liberia died. 

One of the medical team’s first tasks 
was to gather the bones,
the dry bones which covered the landscape
as the result of war.

One of their first tasks
was to bury those bones.

Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost.

God asks Ezekiel the question,
Can these bones live?
Ezekiel doesn’t know what to say
so he answers, quite cleverly,
O Lord God, you know.

And God’s answer is YES.
Yes, these bones can live.
God breathes on the dry bones
and those who were slain have life once more.

The scripture says these bones came together 
and stood on their feet
a vast multitude.

You can almost hear that multitude joyfully singing,
Them bones,
them bones, them dry bones...

I don't mean to be irreverent,
but there really is that kind of joy--
because God gives life 
and hope to the people once more.

Dry bones coming to life.
God breathes and we have life again.
God’s message: do not give up hope.

Our gospel story has Jesus
arriving too late. 
Mary and Martha sent Jesus messages,
begging him to come.
Their brother Lazarus,
Jesus’ friend,
was deathly ill.

But Jesus didn’t come right away.
He waited.
By the time he arrives,
Lazarus has died 
and has already been in the tomb four days.

After Jesus speaks with Martha,
he then sees Mary and she is weeping. 
Jesus weeps, too.
Jesus is not a divine, holy robot--
Jesus is flesh and blood human.
He hurts.
He cries.

No doubt he weeps because his friend has died,
but I imagine he also weeps 
because his heart goes out to Mary and to Martha.
He knows their heartbreak.
They have lost their brother.

And he most likely knows that Mary and Martha
are also wondering, 
Why didn’t you come, Jesus, when we called you?
You could have saved him.

We often wonder that ourselves.
Where are you, God?
Why do you not show up 
when you know how desperately I need your help?

Jesus tells them to roll the stone away from the tomb.
And Martha bluntly says,
Lord, I don’t think that’s a good idea. 
There’s already a stench. 
Lazarus has been dead for 4 days.

The King James translation of this scripture
 is pretty marvelous--
it says that Martha says,
He stinketh.

But Jesus insists 
and out comes Lazarus.
Unbind him and let him go.

How do our dry bones live? 
How are we brought out of the tomb and unbound? 
What do we do 
when it is we who “stinketh”?

Both these stories--
Ezekiel and the dry bones,
Lazarus’ death and entombment--
both these stories are initially about lament,
sorrow, disappointment,
loss of hope.

But ultimately
both these stories are resurrection stories.
The dry bones are given new life.
Lazarus comes out of the tomb and is unbound.

These stories are purposefully placed 
here on the fifth Sunday of Lent
because they serve as markers,
telling us that we are getting very near
to Holy Week lament 
and to Easter resurrection.

But these stories tell us so much more.
These stories tell us to not give up hope.
No matter how terrible, horrible, very bad
and no good things may be,
do not give up hope.

Sometimes we choose to live in a tomb
and sometimes the world does its best 
to keep us bound up.
These things may not be our fault,
just as it was not Lazarus’ fault that he died.

Are we tied down by loss, hatred,
unemployment, jealousy, illness, revenge,
deep sorrow?
What binds us?
What is sucking the life right out of our bones?

Jesus calls us to “come out.”
Jesus tells us to roll away the stone from our tombs.

This unbinding sometimes feels impossible,

We are not on this journey alone
God is with us.
God may not show up and do what we ask
when we ask and just how we ask.
As Henry Emerson Fosdick wrote,
God is not a cosmic bell boy
for whom we can press a button
to get things.
But God is with us.

God always calls us to leave our tombs
and come out.
God breathes on our dry bones
to give us new life.

Dry bones live because of love.
We are able to escape our tombs
because of love.

God loves us.
God loves us overwhelmingly.
No exceptions.
We need to believe this.

God calls us to love one another.
No exceptions.
We need to do this.

can these bones live?
O Lord GOD, you know.

You know.

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