Given: Sunday, 29. March 2020 – The Fifth Sunday in Lent
- Ezekiel 37:1-14
- Psalm 130
- Romans 6:15-23
- John (11:1-17); 11:18-44
Our lessons today could not be more appropriate for the crisis we are in now. The story in Ezekiel and the gospel of John speak of death and resurrection – this is just a foretaste of the celebration of Easter coming in two weeks.
We stand on the cusp of assured disaster due to the coronavirus. Many people will get sick, others will die. Our economy will suffer, our government will never be the same.
In our lessons, disaster has already struck – Israel is exiled as witnessed by Ezekiel; Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus is dead. Our crisis is only the beginning.
As of yesterday at 8 am:
- 614,404 cases sick people worldwide with 104,256 in the USA alone
- 28,242 deaths
- 137,329 people have recovered
The Corona Virus creeping around us. Every day there are new cases to add to the total.
In Michigan, 3657 cases have been reported, with 92 confirmed deaths.
People are dying every hour around the globe.
Some experts estimate 40% of the people will be infected – other experts say 80%
Hospitals are already sounding the alarm over shortages in medical equipment, gowns, gloves, masks, and drugs. The federal government is calling upon automakers to make ventilators, a device crucial to the treatment of the virus.
Medical personnel is already stressed and working overtime, risking their lives to ensure the rest of the community is healthy.
A large portion of society is in lockdown
People losing their jobs, parents unable to find daycare, the economy falling rapidly.
Some experts are estimates being a 25% drop in our economy, the stock market has crashed, execs are calling for bailouts, people are calling on the government to send out money to help out with housing and food.
We’ve Corrupt government officials profiting off the virus, corporations who were bailed out in 2008 are now calling for bailouts yet again.
The government has passed a 2 trillion stimulus package to bail out “essential” corporations and give every American a relief check.
Moreover, all around the world other out of the ordinary events are happening – earthquakes in various places, plagues of locus, typhoons, wars, and rumors of wars – it all seems so apocalyptic – like the end of the world.
But this is just the beginning of the crisis that is before us. What will our world look like after this crisis passes? We can imagine, months from now, our world will look very bleak. It will look immensely different – dry, dead, hopeless – We will be like Ezekiel looking at our world like it is a valley of dry bones.
Ezekiel is standing in a valley full of dry bones. The Lord tells Ezekiel, “These bones are the whole house of Israel, God’s people. Their bones are dry, their hope is gone, they are lost.”
Fast forward from Ezekiel, over 600 years later: Israel is still in exile waiting for the promise, waiting for resurrection and new life. We come to a scene in the gospel of John – Jesus’ friend Lazarus becomes sick and his sisters, Martha and Mary, begged Jesus to come to heal him. But Jesus delayed. It wasn’t until after Lazarus died Jesus finally began his four-day journey to Bethany.
When he was on his way, as he approached the village, Martha came out to him and fell at his feet. She said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Then Martha went and got Mary. She too came to where Jesus was just outside the village. Falling to her knees before Jesus she too said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
If we are not careful, we will fall into the same despair.
Lord, if you had been here, I would not have been sick.
Lord, if you had cared I would not have lost my friends, my loved one, my co-worker.
Lord, if you had been here, I would not have lost my job.
Lord, if you were good, I wouldn’t have lost my home and ended up homeless.
Our friends and family will be asking these same questions, and if we were to fall into the same despair, the same hopelessness, how can we be the light this world so desperately needs right now?
We have the hope the world needs, in our hearts, and in our churches.
The psalm today said,
O Israel [people of God], hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel the people of God.
God will redeem us; he will bring us new life.
He promised Ezekiel, “I will raise you up! I will heal your land! I will put my Spirit in you, and you shall live!”
Church, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word, I hope.” We have a promise that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose. We know in the end, and even in death, we have the victory – for our God will raise us up from the ashes into an abundant life that is promised in Jesus Christ.
Do you believe in this hope? Do you believe in his promises?
So, what do you say to those who ask, “Where is God in all of this?”
Look at our gospel story today, where is Jesus?
Jesus loved Lazarus, and his sisters Martha and Mary. There were others there he loved whose names are not written in our gospel. He was there amongst the grief, the mourners, those who were hurting and lost, he was among those enslaved to death.
The shortest verse in the Bible has the power to change your whole perspective on God, has a power that no other verse in the Bible carries, 2 words in our English Bible: Jesus wept.
The gospel says Jesus was “moved in his spirit and was greatly troubled” when he saw the people around him grieving. The English here is full of niceties that misses the strength of the Greek – in the Greek the feeling is intense, gut-wrenching, anguish, that no doubt contorted his face and demeanor, enough for the gospel writer to see and to know his anguish.
At this moment, at his time and place, we see the creator of the universe, the king of the world, grieving with his people. Know this…
He sees you when you are sick
He sees when you grieve the loss of a loved one.
He sees you when you are unemployed.
He sees you when you are hungry
He sees you when you are homeless
He sees you when you hopelessly cry out for help
Not only does he see but he grieves alongside of you. He suffers with you. He feels the pain with you. His heart breaks too!
So where is God in this crisis? He is here with us, guiding us, grieving with us, suffering with us, as we fight back against the darkness.
Israel was in exile, separated from their land, separated from their fellow neighbors, and separated from their God. The Lord asks Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
We will look out over the loss of life and limb, we will see the newly homeless, those who have no jobs, those who are hungry, we will look out at our empty churches, and our stalled lives – dead, dry bones.
Church, can these bones live?
God tells Ezekiel, “Prophecy, prophesy over these bones…”
What do we prophesy, what do we say?
To the one who lost a loved one what do we say?
To the homeless what do we say?
To the unemployed what do we prophesy?
To our friends, our family, our co-workers what do we say?
In grief and despair, Mary and Martha fell at Jesus’ feet, looking for comfort, looking for answers. The world will be in the same condition, looking for comfort, looking for answers. Jesus tells Martha and Mary the same thing we are to prophesy over our churches and the world.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
This is the prophecy, this is the message we have for ourselves, and for the world.
Jesus is I AM, he is resurrection, he is life!
Jesus is I AM – the one who is revealed as creator, the one revealed to Moses as Law-Giver, and the one who is to be king over the world. The message we have for the world is Jesus is Lord! He is Lord over this crisis, Lord over this virus, Lord over death and the grave, Lord over life. So, no matter what happens we know we are in his hands, and that he fights for us in this battle against the darkness.
Jesus is the resurrection – meaning bringing to life again that which was once dead. We will see ourselves uprooted, our economy destroyed, our livelihoods dead. But what was once dead can be made alive again in Jesus Christ! Perhaps our economy will be destroyed, only to be resurrected again anew – so that no one is poor among us, that there will no longer be any need, and that we all will have all things in common. Perhaps the loss of one job gives you the opportunity to find a better job, a more fulfilling job. Perhaps the loss of a home gives you the flexibility to do more ministry and do good in the world.
Jesus also will resurrection the dead to new life. The loved ones in Christ who have gone before will be raised to new life. Those who die in this life, who die in Christ, will be raised again and live.
Jesus is life – Jesus had said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The life Jesus gives is not one of material riches, or power or prestige. It is a fulfilled life of love and hope. The life Jesus offers is one of meaning and richness that can only come from the creator himself. It looks nothing like the life the world has to offer.
The kingdoms of this world see the abundant life as power and control over people and things in order to serve self. Whereas the kingdom of God sees the abundant life as power and control over one’s self in order to serve other people.
The life the world offers is one of health, wealth, and power. This crisis highlights how fleeting this life really is. People are getting sick, people are dying, people are losing wealth and power.
Jesus shows us a new way, a better way, one that is rooted in the love of God and love of humanity. We can show the world what love is all about – by loving each other and loving our communities. The Church has an excellent opportunity to show the world the life, the love that we have in Jesus.
So how are we to respond? What shall we tell the world what we should do? Jesus says, “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
We are to believe in Jesus. We are to live in Jesus.
We are to believe in Jesus – There is much debate about exactly what this word “believe” means in the theological academic world, particularly the Greek word pistis. And much debate is about word definitions and usage. How we use the word believe today is “to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that one is right in doing so”. In other words, it is a mental exercise. It is acknowledging truth statements, giving the right answers to a set of questions.
There is a growing scholarship we may have a misunderstanding what Jesus means when he uses this word. Our words, belief, and faith perhaps should be rendered “faithfulness”. It is more akin to loyalty or allegiance than it is a piece of knowledge committed to the mind.
What it means is we have confidence in, existence in, and reliability in Jesus to such extent that we align our lives around this truth. We are to act as if Jesus is indeed Lord of all and pledge our loyalty and allegiance to him – forsaking all others.
This is what we the Church need to do. And this is what we are to proclaim to the world – Jesus is Lord, turn to him and pledge your allegiance to him.
We are to live in Jesus. – That allegiance leads to faithfulness – in other words, we need to act on the faith that we have. James famously said, “Faith without works is dead.” And perhaps this is the Church today. Perhaps we are dead, dry bones due to inaction, due to our unfaithfulness in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Living in Christ involves aligning our lives, our worship, our work, our school, our homes, around the Lordship of Jesus Christ – living out the life that he has called us to live – living that life of Love – to God, our neighbors, and even our enemies.
So, I ask you St. Matthew’s, I ask you Church – can these bones live?
Let us prophesy to the world Jesus is Lord, he will take us through this crisis, bring us up out of the ashes, and give us new life, an abundant life, in the end – if we go his way of love.
When we do this we will hear a rattling, we will see people healed, we will see the hungry fed, we will see people sheltered and in homes, we will see our economy flourish, we will see society come back together – in the spirit of Jesus’s love.