Monday, March 10, 2008

Sermon: March 9

Whenever I read or hear the first reading from Ezekiel, my mind always thinks of…

Ezekiel connected dem dry bones
Ezekiel connected dem dry bones
Ezekiel connected dem dry bones
I hear the word of the Lord.

Today, we are getting a sneak peak at Easter. With God putting the Spirit, the breath back into lifeless bones in a valley and Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, we are reminded that Resurrection happens! New life begins even when it seems impossible.

I remember a story...

In her 70th winter, her health deteriorated rapidly. Finally, she had to be hospitalized. The doctor confided to her son that she had only a matter of weeks to live. The son agonized for days on whether he should tell her. Was there any hope he could give her? He decided not to tell her for the time being. Instead, he concentrated on her birthday. He thought he would give her the most expensive and beautiful matching nightgown and robe he could find. At the very least she would feel stylish and dignified in her final days.

After unwrapping his gift, his mother said nothing. Finally, she said, “It’s beautiful, dear, but would you mind returning it to the store? I don’t really need it.” She then picked up a newspaper and pointed to an ad for a beautiful leather purse designed for late spring and summer. “This is what I really want.”

Her son was flabbergasted. Why would his ever-frugal mother want something so extravagant — a purse she could not use for months? Then it dawned on him: His mother was asking how long she had to live. If he thought she’d be around long enough to use the purse, then she really would. When he brought the purse to her in her hospital bed, she held it tightly against her, a big smile on her face.

A half a dozen purses later, the son bought his mother a new purse — for her 83rd birthday.
[Adapted from a sermon by Don Shelby.]

Resurrection happens!

New life is born out of trouble, out of suffering. Ezekiel must have thought that God was nuts in his vision, can these bones live? Prophesy to these dry bones in the valley? Only you know Lord. Ezekiel did trust God and did prophesy and the bone shook, things happened and God said prophesy again. And he did and they were alive. This metaphorical vision was for the exiled Israelites to understand.

For the Lord said, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, `Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.' Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act," says the Lord.”

And of course, God did act, and the Israelites returned to their homeland from the exile, and things were made new again. Resurrection happens in the lives of whole communities. But it doesn’t just happen in big, huge situations, resurrection can happen with popcorn and tears.

“A young man volunteered at a hospital a few hours a week as a clown. Wearing a big rubber nose, a garish yellow, red and green suit, and wingtips almost three feet long, he would bring a little laughter and fun into the long, painful days of seriously ill children. Sometimes the clown-minister meets a child whose pain and fear are too much for the youngster to bear. That’s why he always makes his rounds with popcorn.

When he meets a child who is crying, the clown dabs the child’s eyes with the popcorn — and then pops the kernels into his mouth or into the child’s. Then the two new friends sit together and eat the tears.”
[From How Can I Help? Stories and Reflections on Service by Ram Daas and Paul Gorman.]

All of us have been called in our baptism to take up Jesus’ work, like he did in Bethany: to help others out from their tombs. To sit with others in their tears. He came too late. Martha believed in him. But there was Jesus and his disciples four days after Lazarus had died. And just like we heard with the Samaritan woman at the well, and last week with the man born blind, Jesus asks do you believe? I am resurrection and I am life? Martha gives the strongest statement yet, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."

And what occurs is the greatest of the signs we read about in the Gospel of John. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, calling him out of the tomb. And Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." Resurrection happens, a new life begins for Lazarus. Jesus teaches and the crowd believes in him after the miracle, the sign occurs.

As one author put it. “Perhaps the most powerful wake-up call in this passage is the realization that not even Jesus’ closest friends really anticipate anything at the tomb. Many of us do not expect God to act in our lives. We generally expect God to act only in the realm of our spirit, which translates into an expectation that God will be active in the afterlife, but not with us in the flesh. Jesus stuns this crowd with the news that the life he offers is not just for the future; it begins now. Jesus has come to make this life abundant and to give us eternal life. Resurrection life begins here in this life before it continues into the life to come.” (Anne Robertson)

Resurrection happens.

As God asked Ezekiel to prophesy and to give God’s word to the people so they could have that new life, we are also called to speak about Christ who was crucified and risen who also offers us resurrection in our lives right now. New lives are born all the time, and we too are called to live into this resurrection life, to help restore hope to those who are in despair, to heal those wounded, to reconcile the alienated to God and the human family. For it is God’s spirit that guides us to practice and live into the resurrection in our lives.

For “He who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also give new life to our mortal bodies through his indwelling Spirit.” Amen.

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