Sermon for March 29 2020
Texts: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; John 11:20-44
Sermon: "You Are Not Alone"
I was a small child when it happened, but the memory has never gone away. I was lost. I was frightened. I remember quite distinctly the feeling that I could not breathe -- often our reaction when we are afraid. We lose our breath. I thought I had lost my father in a crowd.
Of course, the moment was resolved quickly.
My father was not really very far away.
In so many ways it is like what we are feeling now, sometimes alone and frightened; what will we do if a loved one or we become ill? We become anxious; our breath becomes shallow; and fear increases even more. We wonder where God our heavenly Father has gone because he surely couldn't be right here right now because things are too scary and we are feeling much too alone and abandoned.
No. You are not alone. As I walked alone along the beautiful walkway overlooking the river this week, I met a dear friend I had not seen in a long time. We greeted one another and decided to walk along at the required distance between us but still keeping up the conversation. It was wonderful seeing her. She is so special to me. As we said goodbye, I said, I'd love to give you a hug. And she said, I'd love to have a hug. And both of us fought back tears.
How much longer can we rein in our emotions and our natural inclinations to touch and to hug and hold one another tight? How much longer can we carry on an intimate conversation with six feet separating us? People are fearing the very breath that comes from the other.
Well, this morning breath is what God promises -- the very breath of his Holy Spirit, to enter us and give us the power to live and the will -- not to live just for ourselves but for one another.
I like to think that my friend and I were able to refrain from embracing because we do love each other that much. That is love that demands sacrifice, suffering, and pain. That is where we are now, and all the world with us. We are looking for the Spirit we read about in Ezekiel this morning, the Spirit that lifts us from darkness to light, from emptiness to fulfillment, from a life of desolation to a life of joy.
Do you read these words with wonder and with hope? Do these words bring tears to your eyes this morning, as you consider the promise? Can these dry bones live, Ezekiel? God puts that question to his prophet. Tell me, can these dry bones live again?
Can Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead? This is the story we long to hear as life puts us squarely in that season we know as Lent, a season when it is appropriate to consider the broken world and our broken lives.
Looking back to the stories given us for each Sunday during this Lenten season, I marvel at how they have been exactly what we have needed to hear to make our way through this time when we are feeling alone or restless or afraid or persecuted by the events all around us. Especially as we have followed Jesus through the Gospel of John, we have come step by step through stories assuring us of the identity of Jesus and the call of Jesus and the claim of Jesus on our own lives.
Come and see how in the Spirit you can be born again, Jesus tells the doubtful Nicodemus.
You must come to me, the Living Water, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well. You will never be thirsty again if you come to me.
Come and see, Jesus says to the man whose eyes he healed. Come and see what it means to be able to see and believe in me.
In story after story, Jesus promises healed and whole life. I am, he says again and again. I am the one who will give you life -- now and into eternity. And, he says, you will take that life and give it to others. Take my light and let it reflect upon the world around you. Take my living water and let others drink of it. Lead others out of the darkness of their tombs into the light of faith.
"I am the resurrection and the life," Jesus says. "Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and, everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." This is the promise.
Yes, it is a miracle. From darkness to light the lifeless take on life. The dry bones become healthy and whole once again. We look into the face of God as given us in the person of Jesus and we search there for the hope that has been lost.
Oh, the deep needs that are all around us -- the needs are great. There are so many who know nothing about death to life, nothing about how darkness can be changed to light, sinfulness to forgiveness, evil to good.
It is so easy in these times of separation to fall into day-to-day complacency and inertia. Do not let that happen. Keep your eye on the prize, as Paul urged his church at Phi lip'pi with these words so appropriate to our experiences right now:
"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3:10-14)
Resurrection is central to what we believe as Christians. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, we believe that we also will experience death and resurrection like his. But the world cries out for resurrected life now; for dry bones that can be made alive again.
And God has made a promise: anyone, everyone can seek and find the gifts of life that are given in the Gospel, in the cross of Christ -- "I am the resurrection and the life," Jesus said.
It is the promise of life-giving Spirit that will blow through our lives to give us new possibilities for living the resurrected life NOW -- to live a life that will show others the way.
The bones of the crucified Jesus lived again. So, too, will our bones. Even though they can seem very dry, aching in the joints, not moving the way we'd like for them to move -- these bones live through the life of the One who has lived and died and risen for us.
Do you believe? Ezekiel's wondrous vision of an entire community of dry bones coming alive again gives hope to a world where good news is sorely needed.
We gather today in this new way, not physically present with one another but surely present in love and spirit, and, it is hoped, in one mind. We gather to give thanks to God, to worship and praise him for the promise of breath, light, and new life.
Listen: The Lord said to Ezekiel: "Mortal, can these bones live?" God promises that the answer is yes. That's the promise at the heart of our faith. Do you believe?
Here is where we are today, not yet rejoicing in the Easter morning we are longing to celebrate. No, not yet. There is suffering yet to come. And, in truth, life consists of much suffering.
But even in the darkest night of our soul,
light -- if only a glimmer of it -- is coming.
It is coming into the broken world, an Easter promise that never abandons us.
We will believe it as God's church reaching out to touch that suffering and brokenness. We will believe it as we support one another, holding each other up when one of us stumbles and falls. Light, not darkness, will prevail. The gloom will be covered by light in God's time.
Meanwhile, consider this:
We will have time to consider what matters the most in our lives.
God's creation will have a respite and time to heal from the smog of factories and the fumes from cars and airplanes. We will be forced to ask hard questions and to look deeply into our own souls for answers.
You are not alone.
Your heavenly Father is not very far away.
In this time of unknowns still to come, my prayer is that love of God and the peace he offers, the peace that passes all understanding, will transform your life and mine and all the world.
Yes, there will be death for some; there will be awful sickness for others; there will be disruptions in life at home, at school, and at work.
But we will come out of this time as people who have suffered and survived; a better people perhaps, moved by God to be people who more closely resemble what God intends for us and for the world.
Separation may then bring us together as never before thought possible. I pray it will be so.
With heart, mind, and voice, let us give all praise, honor and glory forever to our Lord God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.