Another Sunday and another three lessons, two lessons which at first glance could seemingly be very focused on the imagery of death. The Valley of Dry
Bones...hard to imagine, but a valley filled up with dry bones in our reading from Ezekiel. And then the death of Lazarus, a faithful friend of Jesus. Two very sobering things
that we can associate with in our lives.
And how is it that we can associate to the hopelessness of our bones being dry? The remnant of Israel, Judah, in their captivity in Babylon, exiled from
their homeland, had given up hope. They were a people just going through the daily motions without much hope and without much faith. And if I were to try to transfer that into
modern days to talk about how my bones are dry instead of the nation of Israel, I look at our nation, the weariness we have from an extended war, the sadness we face, the fear of
a failing economy, people around us losing their homes and their livelihood, a season when sickness seems to be spreading pervasively around us, even unexpected deaths have come,
the news of violence on the news, young, bright college students being murdered. It seems that we are surrounded by these things that dry up our bones. There are probably many
things in your lives too that may seemingly make your bones feel dry. It makes us weary. It can make us like the remnant of Israel who felt like they were being dragged from one
place to another without any sense of control, and we lose hope. So in those ways I feel that my bones are dry, perhaps you also may be able to identify with what dry bones might
be for you.
Then we move forward to the death of Lazarus, the death of a faithful friend whom Jesus obviously loved because even Jesus wept at the sight of the people
weeping and at the loss of Lazarus. We also know what it is to lose someone we love. We know how painful it is. We know what it is to be much aggrieved. And here Jesus
demonstrates for us the very human nature of himself, aside from his divine nature, and we see a human Jesus who weeps for his friend, Lazarus. So we might identify very easily
with what was happening in that scene in the death of Lazarus before his resurrection.
But in reading that story more carefully, I think Jesus was weeping over the hopelessness of the sisters of Lazarus who said to Jesus, "If you had been
here, this wouldn't have happened," and for the Jewish leadership and folks who were there consoling Mary and Martha and who did not really believe in what the power of God might
do and who Jesus was. Jesus, who has been in his ministry now for some time and yet surrounded by people, even Mary and Martha who know who Jesus is...they also don't have that
hope, except the hope that Lazarus might be raised on the last day. So Jesus weeps at the death of a friend, but perhaps also for the lack of understanding of those who were
closest to him and those who would choose to later reject him.
These stories are not really about death at all. They're really about hope, and they're really about life, new life. And we go back into Ezekiel's vision
of the Valley of Dry Bones. Ezekiel, who is asked to prophesy to these bones...and you might imagine how crazy this might have seemed to him in his head. But Ezekiel, trusting in
God's words and doing what God asks, sees the power and the glory of God putting sinews back onto bones and seeing flesh appear on the bones. And after prophesying for the Spirit
and the four winds to come in with breath into these bodies, breath comes into the bodies and they stand up to praise the Lord. Now, if that's not a vision of hope and new life
and a demonstration of the power of the glory of God, I don't know what is. And it's Ezekiel's message to the people in telling them of this vision or this experience that he had
with God that gave them new hope that one day they will be out of exile and that they are still God's chosen people, and that they will in the end be okay. So Ezekiel's message
to the people brings hope.
The message that we read in the Gospel about Jesus giving new life to Lazarus, calling him out of the tomb after being dead for four days, with the stench
of death in the air, Jesus prays, openly so that the people can hear. He calls Lazarus to stand and to come out of the tomb, and Lazarus comes out. What great hope that must have
inspired in the people when they saw this. Also, what a proclamation when one of the sisters says, "I believe you are the Messiah come from God," and also to recognize the
promise of being raised on the last day...these two professions of faith which are prophesied before Lazarus is raised then seem to come full force when the people see and then
they believe. Even those who were there...and in John's Gospel, John portrays the whole Jewish population, the whole Jewish church as a challenge to Jesus. The other Gospels
don't necessarily do that, so this is part of John's bias. But even these folks who were the Jewish group that are there consoling Martha and Mary, they leave believing. They
leave believing what the sisters have prophesied. They leave believing in the other things that people have told them about, like the blind man receiving his sight. New people
are brought to faith. New people, even God's chosen people who would later reject Jesus, some of them that day no longer reject him, but say, "Yes, I believe." And they left with
hope. They left with an understanding that God wants new life for them and for everyone, that we should not give up.
So that particular line that Jesus says, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"...that question becomes a telling
question presented to us. Did he not say to us that if we believed we would see the glory of God? and I say to you today, we shall. Jesus, who proclaims to us himself that he is
the resurrection and the life, he has made a claim upon us. Jesus has done what needs to be done so that you and I, and everyone, and all creation can have new life, and that
gives us hope. And even though we may experience death, as death is a part of human life, Jesus promises that, believing in him, having faith and having hope, means that we shall
never truly die, that we go on.
As our choir's song so eloquently stated, God will raise us up. And if God can raise up a valley filled with dry bones, how is it that God would not raise
us up, those of us who are in Christ, in Christ's covenant? And that is something that Paul tries to remind the people, that they need to set their mind on the Spirit because to
set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. And later in his letter he says, 'If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit of life because of
righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit
that dwells in you.' The Spirit dwelling in you! There is our source of new life. There is our source for hope. There is our source to restore the sinews and the flesh and the
breath back into us in the times when we feel we are withered and dry, just as a bag of bones. And in the end, our faith and our belief will be what will give us hope that we
also may see the glory of God and be raised up.
So if you're feeling dry or tired, like you have no control, that maybe life in the flesh has gotten a greater hold of you than maybe you wish to
experience, seek out and search out life in the Spirit. Believe with faith that there is life in Christ, and that new life is ours for the taking.
Let us pray.
Holy and amazing God, your words this day do provide hope for us, though often in our lives, living in the flesh, we may focus only on the negative that
surrounds us. God, we know that through our faith and through the spirit of life that is within us, you can restore us with a new vision. Your Spirit restores us, giving us new
life today, and new life tomorrow. Help us to be a people of the proclaiming faith as we heard from one of the sisters who proclaimed, "You are the Messiah, the one come from
God." Let us have that type of faith and conviction, O God, that in the work that you have done in Christ Jesus your wish for us is to have new life today, fullness of life, and
life everlasting. Help us to believe that with our whole hearts, and help us to let that be our guiding in this life in the Spirit.
Read other Sermons by Pastor Steve