“Hope Lost?” – 04-06-14 – Lent 5 – Cycle A

Listen to the sermon here:

Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

Have you given up on a goal you had held dear for a long time? What could be more dead than a dead goal? Picture a valley of dry bones. People had died a long time ago for the bones to become “dry.” Hope would be totally gone for these once-alive people bones in the valley.

I am Ezekiel. God said to me, “Come with me.” The Lord led me to this valley of dry bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley. The Lord said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then the Lord said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones; I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

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. 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. Then he 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.”

I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude… The Lord God told me that these living, connected bones are the whole house of Israel. He told me to say, “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.

Is this just history or could it apply to us today? Are we a bunch of dry bones? Are we alive or are we dragging through the days with our bodies not quite coordinated? How many times do we have those wonderful moments when pure joy radiates through us? Are we depressed? Are we full of guilt? God can bring us to full life. All of us? Or is this blessing just for a few? Would God save this breath of life for only the most reverent people? People who pray frequently, people who only say words that are fit for church, people who are loving in manner, are patient and kind.

Lest we think we will surely be excluded from such extravagant mercy and joyous life, remember such people as Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree, the various women of ill-repute, King David, the Apostle Paul. God is waiting to awaken all of us to the love that encircles us, awaken us to the Holy Spirit giving gentleness and kindness within us.

This is Lent once again. We think of repentance, something like examining our dry bones. We cry with the Psalmist in Psalm 130, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication. Yet with you is forgiveness, in order that you may be feared, I wait for you, O Lord, my soul waits; in your word is my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than those who keep watch for the morning, more than those who keep watch for the morning. O Israel, wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is steadfast love; with the Lord there is plenteous redemption.”

Think of the moods in your daily life. Are you usually a happy person or a sad person? If you are usually a sad person, think what specific things make you sad. Then think what things make you happy. Could you incorporate more happy-producing activities or thoughts in your daily life. One of my happy-producing solutions is food – not food in general but certain things over which my soul truly does a somersault whenever I think of it or actually indulge in it. Thankfully, food is not the only thing that produces happiness or gladness in my heart.

In Spanish, we have the words “alegre” or “contento” for glad. There it is: contento! Being content brings gladness and happiness or “feliz.” Do you have longings in your heart that cause you to feel unsettled? Do you yearn to buy certain objects? Do I? Yes, I do, regretfully. To be fair, my yearnings include objects and offerings from my positions of earning a living. But, I do have a passion for bags – you know, handbags, attache cases, cloth bags with handles, little cases for money and other tiny objects which keep the handbags uncluttered. Am I content? Not quite. I forget to think about being content.

I have my goals which I think will bring contentment. I have at least 5 piles around my desk that have long-passed deadlines. I constantly think and pray about how good I will feel when I will no longer have those piles around my desk because I will have accomplished the tasks before it is too late. There are other goals such as career. But I have long recognized that God is in charge. These are lessons in waiting and watching for directions. Shall I be called as Ezekiel was called to talk to dry bones? Perhaps I am the pile of dry bones, speaking about piles which are waiting.

You see, God does not stop with us being dry bones. It is not like God. It is not his nature to let things lie. Many pastors tell of resisting the call of God upon their lives until it could no longer be ignored. God is persistent. How many times does God bring an addictive person to resistence from temptation for a short time? Endless times, that is how much! But God does not quit. Blessedly, many addicted children of God – this includes adult children of God – finally break the cycle. But there needs to be constant vigilance, constant dependence on God. Only God can break addiction, whether God is called a “higher power” or the “universe.” God is God! God is all-powerful, all-present with us, all-knowing!

Paul says in Romans 8:6-11, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law – indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit of life, because of righteousness, comes into us. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”

Even if we think we are not addictive, check again. Do we like a meal at a certain time? What seasonings do we automatically sprinkle or pour on our food? How about that drink before bedtime? We need to be relaxed to sleep, right? What about the headache medicine? It could be a serious, medical problem or it could be tension. Can we adjust our responsibilities? Can we adjust our attitude about the things we cannot change? Can we look at our lives from a new angle? If we are natured to take things too seriously, having not many genes of happiness and jolliness, would it be worth tilting our perspective a bit?

Even though we are natured to be pragmatic, accepting things as they are even if they are oppressive, we could open our blinds a bit and let in some light. We could ask God to inject some humor into our veins. We could welcome a from-a-distance perspective. We could pretend that we are not at the bottom of the pit of time or the pit of deadlines or the pit of necessity.

You know how some people die for a short time as on the operating table and they tell us they were floating above the scene looking at his or her own body on the operating table. Well, maybe we could pretend that we are looking upon ourselves from a carefree perspective. If we think about having time to ourselves it is likely to happen. If we think about what we would do if we actually saw our way clear to plan a vacation from our daily responsibilities, it is more likely to happen than if we stay in the rut of grumbling or suffering silently, just plodding along.

There is freedom waiting for us on this side of the place of eternal life. Take a little break. Let a few dry bones come together and start to receive life. Remember Lazarus, Mary and Martha? Mary and Martha expected to see Lazarus raised in heaven whenever they joined him there. God in Jesus wanted to have Lazarus raised to life again on this side of heaven. It was part of this plan of being dead and living again just as happened a short time later in Jerusalem when Jesus, himself, died and lived again and walked the earth before ascending to his place at the right hand of God.

So let us check our own dry bones. God is calling our bones to rise and be connected for new life. If our bones are reconnected and the Spirit breathes new life into us, we serve with freedom, with abandon, with no fear for approaching our God-given tasks and we will be doing this with energy such as in the song “Dem Dry Bones” where we can picture those bones snapping together with vigor, becoming energetic persons of God.

Let us pray. Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death and from being dry bones. Breathe upon us the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ and serve you in righteousness all of our days, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen