Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
March 29, 2019 –Fifth Sunday in Lent
The readings read us, again this morning. We are in the third week of not gathering for worship in our sanctuary…and at midnight yesterday morning our Governor issued a directive telling us to shelter in place…to stay home except for essential reasons.
Driving to the post office late Friday evening to post a few cards to friends of mine and yours, there was not a soul to be seen walking or driving anywhere.
The bustling activity is gone. Jobs are on hold. We are in a place that I am not sure any generation in the history of the world has seen. There have been pandemics before, but they were long before we could hop on a jet plane and be 2,000 miles away by dinner time…before we came from the four corners of the globe to come to Mardi Gras… and return home…bringing so much more than we had hoped with us.
You have heard me rail, more than once against the way the internet has drawn us apart. People are not going to parks and ball games and shopping centers for the social experience of it.
In a way we had already isolated ourselves long before public health authorities began to urge us to shelter in place. Now the internet and all the ways we can keep in touch are doing more to keep us together than we thought possible.
We are like Ezekiel in the valley of the dry bones. The Lord has placed a hand on us. Everywhere we looked we see only empty streets… dry bones.
I missed being together that first Sunday we were apart, but our live-streaming system was almost operational, and maybe it was the voice of the Lord we heard then, asking us, “Can these dry bones come back to life?”
Funny that we should have been about to arrive at the point we needed to be…before we needed to be there, too. As one of you have shared with me, quoting from the Book of Esther, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
But I digress. “Can these dry bones live again?” the Lord asks Ezekiel this morning.
Yes. They can, I say. And here we are, together via the magic of live-streaming on YouTube. But Ezekiel replied, “You know that, Lord!”
He was answering a question with a question, something that assures us that he was truly Jewish. He saw no life in the bones until the Lord put breath in them and gave us work to do through the words he wrote so long ago.
We read the words and we keep in touch, and we do what we can to help each other. That is how we put flesh on these dry bones…that is how we bring the meaning of the Exile into our common experience today of sheltering in place.
No matter what we say…No matter what we do…No matter what happens…The truth is still…and always…the Truth.
Today the distractions of the world are silenced, and the too-busy nature of society takes a break and we take deep breath and ask ourselves to look and see…what is important. We are blessed in this time in this way.
Once again, the worse things get, the better people get. When the world would push us apart, there is something in our spirit that draws us together…in the sure and certain knowledge that we need each other …that everyone is precious to us… has contributed to our well-being… that life itself is too wonderful a gift for mortals to take in.
This day and every day is a gift from God, no matter how many yesterdays we have already come to know. Even in the midst of our troubles…even as we experience anxiety in the face of the unknown …there is some excitement…maybe even a touch of joy...we feel as we face something that has not confronted any other generation on earth.
We are learning new things about old things and we are seeing old things anew. There is some happiness in this.
William Butler Yeats put it this way: “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”
This quest to know more…to understand more…to become more …is what launches all the great heroes of history on their way. Odysseus sails the sea. Lindbergh lifts off in the Spirit of St. Louis. Abraham leaves the home he knew to go to a place that God would show him.
Lewis and Clark led a great expedition of discovery into the vast unknown of the American West. Moses led Israel from bondage, through the Wilderness, back to the land God had promised Abraham.
Happiness…true happiness…is growth.
[Read Romans 8:6-11]
Paul writes to us today that ‘if our minds are ruled by the flesh alone, we will die. But if our minds are ruled by the Spirit, we will have life and peace.’
We think we want things to be easy, but we find life to be empty and without meaning on Easy Street. There is a discontent in our spirits, waiting for that breath of God to animate us…to call us to a destiny greater than any anyone had imagined before.
Franklin Roosevelt drew huge cheers the day he said his generation was a generation of Americans who had a rendezvous with destiny. Lincoln stirred every heart at Gettysburg when he said “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Kennedy drew cheers when he said “we go to the moon, and more, not because it is easy, but because it is hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”
We have something today that no one has known before and that is our medical and scientific community. Maybe we could have done this or that before this moment, but we are now engaged in a new odyssey, a new expedition… now we have been called to become a new people…to go to the moon again.
[Summarize the plight of Lazarus]
Mary chides Jesus when he arrives at the tomb of Lazarus. “If only you had been here, by brother would not have died.” John then tells us what happens with the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.”
But even as he felt their pain, Jesus also asked for a statement of the faith of the people who had been waiting for them. “Everyone who has faith in me will live, even if they die. And everyone who lives because of faith in me will never really die. Do you believe this?”
Yes, they believe him…but now Lazarus is dead. Jesus knows that their faith is too small…too temporal…too outcome oriented. So he stands in front of the tomb and says, “Lazarus, come out!”
The living cannot hear the truth he is speaking to them, but Lazarus, wrapped in burial cloths, hears him and comes out…to a new life…a new day…a new destiny.
Imagine a plague in Bible times, with Jesus telling everyone to just stay in their homes for two weeks to slow the spread of an invisible contagion. What do you think would happen?
We live in an age that is blessed by so much more learning than anyone could imagine in Bible times. We live in an age with more faith…in many ways…than you could have found anywhere in Jesus’ day.
It sounds like things are so dire if you watch TV news these days. One of the recommendations I have heard many places in these past days is to watch less TV…and I have even heard it from people who are talking to me on my TV.
The news has to scare us or anger us to keep us watching these days… or we will change the channel…and we are getting just what we have been asking for…lots of anger and lots of anxiety…lots of polarization pushing us apart.
So check in on the news a couple of times a day to be sure you haven’t missed anything important…follow the advice health officials are giving us…be kind to your neighbor and to yourself…eat right…get your sleep…wash your hands…and pray to your creator and redeemer.
Take a little comfort in what is going on. We understand what is important and what is not. We appreciate what we have. We can learn more from our shortcomings because we are not distracted and just taking sides. We are trying to do better and be better…and that is an effort well worth our while…as children of God and as a faith community.
One more thing: The land…the earth…all the living things…are getting a breather…a time to heal…a reboot. It is costly in economic terms, but it is also a moment of surpassing grace for this rock hurtling through space that we all call Earth…that we all call Home. Welcome home to a church that loves you.
And the good news is that we all have important work to do…even if it is only in keeping in touch with your family and your friends…and your Lord and savior. Everyone is counting on you now…God is counting on you now…as much as you are counting on yourself.
Love God, with all your heart, mind, soul and strength…and love your neighbor as yourself…in these precious days that are revealing so much to us…that are so filled with the love of God for all humankind.
Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us…through me…this day? Amen.