April 2, 2017

5 Lent

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

The Rev. James M.L. Grace

            Last Sunday I was not here, because I took the Sunday off, and I think as Carissa explained to you all I took last Sunday as a “continuing education” Sunday, of which I am given two each year.  So for continuing education last Sunday, I took my three kids to church and sat in a pew with them for a service, and boy did I learn a lot!  Sitting in a pew with your kids is work!  It’s much easier to be up here doing all this than sitting in a pew.

            I also observed how hard it is to listen to a sermon – when you have kids sitting next to you asking questions “when is the service over?”  “when do we get to up to the altar and have snack time?”   I realized not very many people are actually listening to the sermon – I saw a guy looking at his phone, people having side conversations, and I too confess, I found myself looking at my watch thinking “when will the sermon be over?”  It is not lost on me that much of this might sound familiar to you.  So, just to see if anyone is really listening, I want to say “Happy Easter!”          

            I realize it’s not Easter, but today, I offer my Easter sermon, two weeks early because It’s difficult, if not nearly impossible to not talk about Easter when we have a reading from John’s Gospel that talks about the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  But we also have an Easter message in the reading we hear today from Ezekiel, which talks about a valley of dry bones.  I don’t know what I will preach on Easter – maybe this sermon again!  In any case, indulge me if you will for a few minutes for us to explore the world of Ezekiel.  In a vision, God takes Ezekiel to a valley filled with dry bones, and asks Ezekiel a provocative question: “Can these bones live?  Ezekiel says “I have no idea,” and God says prophesy to them, or in other words, speak truth to them.   For a prophet like Ezekiel, speaking often painful truth is what he does best, and this comes a s no challenge to him.  When Ezekiel does this, the bones listen!  They begin to move, and they join together; bone to bone, ligament and tendon to bone, muscles and cartilage weave themselves around the bones, and flesh covers these newly assembled bodies and they breath in God’s spirit, God’s breath, and they come alive. 

            What was once discarded, what was once dead, is now brought together – bones connecting to each other, forming a new person to receive God’s spirit, because they hear God’s truth spoken by Ezekiel.

            During our weekly Lenten series on Wednesday evenings, we have heard our speaker, Brooke Summers-Perry speak share with us a very personal story of her undoing.  She calls it her breakdown – and she says what got her to that dark place was a combination of perfectionism and workaholism.  Brooke shared that she was not at a place where she could just “be” and receive God’s love and know that it was enough.  Rather, like so many of us, Brooke describes her own sense of distraction in over working driven by her own perfectionism to meet every one’s needs so that she could receive the praise of others.  The insatiable appetite she described for the approval and applause of everyone but God, led her to a valley of bones where she could not hear God’s truth spoken to her.

            Personally, I am more familiar with life in the valley of bones that I wish I were.  I wish I were not as familiar with the arid vacancy of those bones, but it is a place I know like the back of my hand.  Thank God the story does not end there.

            The word “religion” comes from the Latin phrase “re-ligare” which means literally “to bind together.”  “Ligare” is the root of the word “ligament” which binds muscle to bone.  As a ligament connects muscle to bone, such is the purpose of religion: to connect a person to God.  If we are honest with ourselves, we might feel that our lives represent a pile of dry bones.  Maybe the dry bones in your life are a failed marriage, a personal failure, a feeling of inadequacy, a lack of purpose.  Whatever happened, you may have found yourself in a similar position as I, where you became dead inside because the word fell silent to your ears. 

            Whatever those bones are for you, know this – they are not the end – they are an opportunity for God to bring them together.  The old dusty bones in your valley are brought together by God because always God speaks to them, and breathes life into them, giving you a second chance.  And if it doesn’t work that time, God will do it all over again, giving you a third chance, a fourth chance.  There is no limit to God’s capacity to bring life out of dead things, because that is what God does!

            I hope you know that God loves you enough to reach into your life and speak truth to the dead and dilapidated bones to create something new and better for you.  In God, there is no death.  For God, all death is, is another opportunity for resurrection.   I believe that same spirit that spoke to the bones in Ezekiel’s vision is present at St. Andrew’s today, and similar to Ezekiel, that spirit is speaking to us.  What is it saying?

            I would never presume to speak on God’s behalf, but I believe the spirit is calling us to look outside our church to our neighborhood community to reach out in collaborative efforts that improve the well being of the poor and the needy.  Perhaps it was God’s spirit that spoke to us and invited us to collaborate with Meals on Wheels to feed the hungry in our community, which we begin tomorrow.  Perhaps it is God’s spirit that spoke to us, confronting us with the need to reach out and support financially the life giving work of the Heights Interfaith Food Pantry.  There is no limit to what God is doing and what God can do, for God is alive and God’s spirit speaks to us at St. Andrew’s.

            And we have an opportunity, and I consider it an obligation, to add our voice to the work God is doing here.  If you have not yet taken the parish survey, please do.  Let your voice be heard.  I conclude with one final thought, which for the people checking their watches must be music to their ears.  My final thought is this: three years ago today I stood in this pulpit for the very first time.  The three years I have been with you have been a privilege.  It is humbling for me to see the steps we have taken together, and it is nothing short of inspiring to bear witness to God speaking to us.  It is said that God’s Spirit blows where it chooses, and if that is true, I thank God that today it appears to be blowing so clearly here.  AMEN.