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3/26/23 Sermon

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Ezekiel 37:1-14

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

37 The hand of the Lord came upon me, and God brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 God led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 God said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then God he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you and will cause flesh to come upon you and cover you with skin and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded, and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them, but there was no breath in them. 9 Then God said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10 I prophesied as God commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

11 Then God said to me, “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.’ 12 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. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 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.”

John 11:1-45

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

11 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather, it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble because the light is not in them.” 11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,

26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house consoling her saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45 Many of the Jews, therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did believed in him.

Our church calendar is moving in concert with our creation calendar. We are moving from death to life, from Winter to Spring. This week, these Holy Scriptures remind us that our life is intricately woven with the past, the present, and the future. Our chosen verses from the Books of Ezekiel and John are bringing to light the mysterious and awesome ways that God’s glory is manifest among us.

Ezekiel prophesies to the dry bones and they are re-animated. They take shape, they receive the breath of life. Those dead to the world are reborn. And again, in the Gospel of John, Lazarus steps forth from his tomb at Jesus’ command. What was once dead comes inexplicably to life.

Do we see ourselves in the scripture? This is us, the collective us. We are the dry bones. Dried up from lack of creativity, lack of engagement with beloved community, lack of contact with Spirit and her forces. We are the bound hands, feet, and face of Lazarus, walled up in tombs of our own making, dead to the world around us.

We need to hear the Spirit’s voice within and around us. We need to let the Spirit’s breath release us, revive us, bring us from death to life. We need to hear Jesus’ command to Lazarus, “Come out!” as if he is talking to each one of us.

Come out of the fear that paralyzes us and keeps us from offering our gifts to the world. Yes, you make a difference. Your contributions are important and necessary, no matter how small they seem to you.

Come out from behind our cell phones, tablets, and computers. Quit hiding from the world. Make eye contact with the people in your house, the people at your school, the people where you work, the people where you worship. Speak to others rather than text them. People are hungry for connections. You may be the only voice someone hears that day.

Come out of our self-centered ways and begin serving the needs of others. We don’t have to look far. We can restore our life by means of securing food, shelter, and clothing for those in need, here in this community and farther afield.

Who else do we relate to in these scriptures? Perhaps the accusations of Martha and Mary resonate intimately with you. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” This is us. Time and again our grieving echoes their pain and sorrow. Lord, if you had been here my loved one would not have died. We echo Martha and Mary each time a beloved dies and our hearts set to grieving. We wonder, where is Jesus now? Where is God in our time of need?

I believe that Jesus’ Spirit is here with us as he was there with Martha and Mary. I believe that as he wept for his friend Lazarus, he weeps with us for our loved ones.

Something I have heard my spouse, Pat say repeatedly over the years is that our loved one’s death is not the worst thing, not the hardest thing that can happen to us. What is unbearable is that they stay dead. We are confronted by our grief for the rest of our lives. And we confront God with the same question, the same accusation, again and again: why?

Even though we know that our lives are finite, even though we know that death is as natural as birth, an integral part of the life cycle, we can’t help but to ask: why? Even though we know that it is not lack of faith, lack of belief, lack of caring on our part, there is a measure of doubt mixed with guilt, mixed with hope when someone we love dies way too soon. If only we had believed as Martha and Mary believed…

Belief, hope, prayer all have their important places in our faith. But please, when bad things happen to good people, when our loved ones die, it is not our fault. I know some of us have heard this John scripture interpreted that way, but it is never our fault.

This John passage is so very painful for so very many people. Past interpretations have done incredible harm, but not irreparable harm. We can reframe the words that Jesus speaks to a distraught Martha. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

That is our promise. That in this life we will see, and we will experience the glory of God as made known by Jesus. And that when we die, we will be in glory with God.

I read these scriptures with an eye toward the present and future along with the past. The question is not will we rise up, but how and when will we rise up?

We need to become unbound from what constrains us and keeps us from being in harmony with God. Let our pilgrimage through the Lenten season be the blessing that we all need to let God’s glory manifest in us and through us.

May our dry, dead bones dance to the tune of the Spirit’s breath. May we all be released from what is binding us and may we step out into the light.


Rev. TJ Mack – March 26, 2023

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