Sunday, April 6, 2014

Jesus calls forth life out of death

Ezekiel was one of the Israelites taken captive at the fall of Jerusalem and moved from his home in Jerusalem to Babylon. Basically his world has been destroyed - his home ransacked - his career as a priest crumbled when the temple was demolished and he was taken off along with thousands of others.   

So instead of being a priest leading the people in temple worship, he becomes a prophet - seeing visions from the Lord and hearing the words of the Lord.  In this visitation of the Lord, Ezekiel is transported to a valley and the valley is filled with bones - dry bones - that seem to have been there for centuries.  And the Lord asks him, "Can these bones live?"  Well, what would you say?  Ezekiel, says, "You know" - implied in that is "how should I know?  You're Lord, you tell me."  And God tells him to prophesy - prophesy to the bones. 
Ezekiel looks out over that valley of dry bones - hopeless, unredeemable.  They represent all that is lost in Israel - the destroyed temple, the lost homes, the broken and bleeding people, the lost jobs, all the hopeless and helpless situations that can go along with the aftermath of a conquered, defeated people. 
(What are the hopeless situations - the dry bones in our lives?  So many possible out there - a lost job, a bankrupt business, a failed marriage, a broken relationship, unfulfilled dreams, lost loved ones, illnesses and death, a house in rubble following a hurricane or tornado...)
Ezekiel faces all that and more when he looks at this immense graveyard - total desolation - but he follows what the Lord tells him to do and he begins to prophesy - and as he does, an amazing thing happens, what he prophesies begins to come true.  The bones begin to rustle - they come together and sinew and muscle appear and flesh covers it all.  But there is no breath and so God has him prophesy to the breath - the winds - the spirit - and that breath (or spirit) comes and enters the body and they live and stand and they are more Ezekiel can count.
And God says, "this is the whole house of Israel and they say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is lost'."  But God has an answer - "I am the Lord and I will open your graves and raise you up.  I will put my spirit within you and you shall live."  God brings hope and life out of the hopeless and helpless in our lives.
This is the hope of Israel - the resurrection that the Pharisees claim - here is that starting point for the kind of faith that God is calling for.  This is the hope of the nation - the whole house of Israel. This is a communal hope - not an individual hope. 
America has seen that kind of hope more than once.  Pearl Harbor and 9/11 both were a defeat – death and destruction that could have crumbled our nation – but it didn’t.  Out of that death and destruction were sown the seeds of resurrection – the determination to rise out of the rubble – a unifying hope.  What Ezekiel reported seeing gave hope to a defeated nation - the hope that they would indeed live again.  God does not leave us in those barren, dry, parched places - crying over those dry bones.
Our world cries out for that kind of hope - the kind of hope that brings life and resurrection.  Two of a number of movies that use the image of death and resurrection are Harry Potter and Flight of the Phoenix.  In Harry Potter - Professor Dumbledore has a very unique bird - a phoenix - Harry sees it wilt away, burst into flames and becomes a pile of ashes.  When the professor comes in, Harry, devastated at having witnessed this scene is assured by the professor that this was a part of life and that the bird will indeed rise again out of the ashes.
The second movie is the Flight of the Phoenix – a story about a plane that goes down in the desert - a hopeless situation with seeming insurmountable odds - and yet hope arises from unexpected places.  It is a story of faith - faith which almost crumbles when they find out the person designing the escape craft isn't exactly what they think and only has experience designing model airplanes.  But out of hope and necessity, they pull together and overcome the odds to live again. .
These stories demonstrate the need for the story of resurrection out of death - the need of the people for the kind of hope that is presented in these stories.  The understanding that we can live again.  We need to understand that when things seem the darkest, we can have still have hope and that the Lord is there with us.
We find the same kind of situation in our gospel lesson when Jesus brings that kind of hope to the individual level.  Here is not a valley of dry bones - here is a single person, in the grave four days.  The 'four days' seems strange to us - especially since we find Jesus raised in three days.  But the four days is significant - the Israelites believed that the soul or spirit of a person stayed in the vicinity for three days before rising up to heaven.  So the four days means the soul has departed - making the miracle even more unlikely.
Jesus was late - and what do we do when God doesn't come through when or like we think he should?  Mary and Martha berated Jesus - "Lord if you had only been here..."  God doesn't always act in the way we expect - and how do we handle that.  But you see, Jesus had come  -  Jesus calls forth life out of the conditions of death. 
Just as people looking out over that valley of dry bones would call it hopeless - so the family of Lazarus called the loss of their brother hopeless.  And Jesus comes - not when they wanted him to, but he does come - and he comforts them, his presence is tangible - he weeps with them at their loss.  Although Martha tells Jesus that she believes that God will give him whatever he asks for, she doesn't believe that this is possible - the spirit has already left that place.
"Lord, if you had only been here - our brother would not have died..."  In our darkest hour, Jesus comes.  Jesus calls us forth from the tomb of broken hearts and disappointments, from the tombs of rejection and loneliness, from the tomb of self-loathing and meaninglessness.
As humans, we fix our eyes on a goal, quite often to the exclusion of other possibilities.  As humans in this world, we too often want what we want, the way we want it, because we've been convinced by the world around us that we are in control.  But the truth is that we are not in control and sometimes our hopes and dreams must die before we become capable of accepting a new idea, a new dream.  Sometimes we don't see or even look for the window of opportunity that is open for us until the door we are focused on is slammed shut.
Jesus comes to open new doors, to cry with us when we are devastated and then to help us to new understanding and new life.  He comes to restore the spirit that has left our bodies.  Out of the conditions of death and devastation can arise new life.  Jesus calls forth life even amid the conditions of death.  Can you hear his call?
I'm a recovering smoker.  I smoked for 30 years.  After my first year in seminary, Jesus called me out of the tomb of destruction - I was having to use my inhaler two or three times a day - pre-cursors of the conditions of death - and yet I kept smoking.  God finally told me that if I was going to live to proclaim his good news - I was going to have to come out of that tomb of death and destruction and walk in life.  I quit smoking.  Recovering alcoholics and recovering drug addicts can tell you the same story, Jesus calls forth life even amid the conditions of death. 
Please pray with me.  Lord, open our hearts and minds to hear you when you call, to follow you where you lead and to trust you to restore our spirit and to bring new life and hope in all the situations and circumstances of our life.  Amen.