Easter sermon: How Do We Go?

Easter 2017

Texts used – Jeremiah 31:1-6 and Matthew 28:1-10

  • “Get ready! We’re going up to Zion to the LORD our God!” … “Don’t be afraid!” … “With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb.” Hallelujah! Today we celebrate Easter! After 40 days in the wilderness of Lent – 40 days of self-examination and repentance, 40 days of serious soul-searching and working on our relationships with each other and with God, 40 days of drawing nearer and nearer to the cross and the crucifixion – we have come to find the tomb empty, the graveclothes cast aside, and the angel proclaiming the good news: “He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. … He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.”[1] Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
    • Like Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary,” like the disciples, like Christian throughout the centuries, we are called to carry this good news in our hearts and on our lips as we leave this place today – as we head out into the world. But how are we supposed to do that? How are we supposed to share the good news with a world that feels increasingly secular, increasingly over-scheduled, and increasingly disinterested? How are we to share the good news of Christ’s resurrection and what that means with a world that feels increasingly intimidating when it comes to sharing something as personal, something as potentially-polarizing, something as touchy as our faith?
      • Come up with all sorts of reasons we can’t/don’t
        • It’s not popular to talk about faith.
        • It’s not comfortable to talk about faith.
        • If somebody asks me questions, I don’t feel like I know enough or am prepared enough to answer them.
        • I don’t want to be ridiculed for my faith.
        • I don’t want to offend someone else with my faith.
        • My faith is too personal to talk about.
        • Faith is just too hard to talk about.
  • But what did our Scripture readings say this morning? “Get ready! Don’t be afraid! With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb!” Friends, these are words of action. These are words of encouragement. These are words meant to light a fire – a Holy Spirit, Divine Disturber, God-at-work-in-the-world sort of fire – beneath us and get us out into the world. It’s not about changing the story itself – making the story of God easier or less radical. It’s a radical story of radical love – love so strong, so sure, so unconditional that it suffered on the cross, was crucified, died, was buried, and then rose again from the grave! The story we tell is the whole point. It’s about changing our role in that story – from passive observer to active participant. It’s about changing how we go.
      • No more timidity
      • No more fear
      • No more discomfort
      • Go ready
      • Go confident
      • Go with eager and excited
  • Now, I know not all of you are probably up on the PBS Kids’ shows scene these days. Lucky for you, thanks to two little boys, I am.
    • PBS has always had great and enriching kids’ programming[2]
      • Classics: Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood
      • 90’s staples: Ghostwriter and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?
      • Current hits: Wild Kratts (learning about animals), Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (animated Mr. Roger’s spin-off), and, one of the boys’ current favorites, Super Why!
    • Let me tell you a little bit about Super Why. It’s an animated show featuring 4 main characters who solve their day-to-day problems by reading classic stories and applying the morals from those stories to their lives.
      • E.g. – story of Goldilocks and the three bears teaches them to clean up the messes they leave behind
      • Focus of the show: teaching kids about reading → reaches all stages of learning to read
        • Alphabet
        • Spelling/letter sounds
        • Rhyming words
        • Reading
      • Toward the end of every episode, the Super Readers hit a snag in the story – something negative that they need to change in order to solve the problem, something that’s part of the original story but, with one simple word change, can unlock the whole solution.
        • E.g. – Goldilocks → change “Goldilocks sleeps in the three bears’ house” to “Goldilocks jumps in the three bears’ house” so they can wake Goldilocks up and talk to her about cleaning up the mess she’s made
        • Friends, that is what we need to do – zap the lethargy, the reticence, the fear, the insecurity, whatever’s holding us back from declaring this incredible news of Christ’s resurrection out of our portion of the story – to allow ourselves to be changed. Today, as we join the women and the dumbfounded centurion guards and the heralding angel at the mouth of the empty tomb, we need to let that good news zap out whatever is keeping us from proclaiming our faith and replace it with boldness and confidence in the glory and grace of Christ’s resurrection. We need to figure out how to leave the tomb with our stories changed.
  • 1st SET OF CHARACTERS AT THE TOMB: Roman centurions – those left to guard to tomb, to ensure that Jesus’ followers wouldn’t steal his body and stage a resurrection
    • Men posted outside the sealed tomb at the urging of the Pharisees, ordered there by Pilate, governor of Judea
    • Little did the Pharisees know that it wasn’t staging a resurrection that they needed to worry about. They needed to be a little bit more concerned with the real thing.
    • Scripture: After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb. Look, there was a great earthquake, for an angel from the Lord came down from heaven. Coming to the stone, he rolled it away and sat on it. Now his face was like lightning and his clothes as white as snow. The guards were so terrified of him that they shook with fear and became like dead men.[3] → “The guards were so terrified of him that they shook with fear and became like dead men.” Think about it. These men – these guards – literally found themselves petrified with fear. They had been guarding the tomb for three whole days, maintaining the status quo, possibly expecting some sort of threat or challenge from outside the tomb but certainly not expecting any such thing from the dead body sealed up behind the giant stone!
      • Sometimes the stance that we take when it comes to faith
        • So set in our preconceived notions
        • So confident in the “expected/acceptable” outcome
        • So cemented in our ways
        • So sure that “the way things are” is the way they always have to be
        • So closed to the idea of anything out of the ordinary
        • We let our presuppositions guide our belief instead of letting our belief open our eyes to the potential all around us. We let our assumptions close our hearts and minds to new paths and new possibilities. We let our fear freeze us in place, incapacitating both our words and our actions and rendering us only a spectator in our own journeys of faith.
        • Forget that our God is a God who can move mountains … a God who speaks in fire and wind and silence and even a betrayer’s kiss … a God of second and third and seven-times-seventy-seventh chances … a God who, simply by existing, blows all our expectations and presuppositions out of the water … a God who, after three days, can rise from the grave to bring us the gift of grace
    • And yet, we hear the calls from our Scripture readings this morning: “Get ready! We’re going up to Zion to the LORD our God!” … “Don’t be afraid!” … “With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb.”
  • 2nd SET OF CHARACTERS AT THE TOMB: the women – “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary”
    • Unlike the rest of the disciples who had fled upon Jesus’ arrest and stayed away throughout his trial, sentencing, and crucifixion, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there with Jesus through it all. They wept at the foot of his cross. They watched his body taken down. They prepared him for burial. And they watched that stone seal his tomb – heard and felt the finality of the crash as it was rolled into place, forever separating them from their beloved teacher and friend … or so they thought.
    • Had come to the tomb that morning to mourn
    • Certainly never expected what they found
      • Startling encounter #1 angel – text: The angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him. Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ I’ve given the message to you.” With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples.[4] → “With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples.” That part is really important because it acknowledges that the women still had their fear. They were still uncertain. They were still anxious. They surely still had a million questions and yet only one answer … one that didn’t even make sense: Christ is risen! They still had their fear, but unlike the petrified Roman centurions, that wasn’t all they had. They also had excitement – they had joy and eagerness and enthusiasm. They had good news to share! And for the first time in three wretched, fear-filled, tear-soaked days, they had hope. A wild hope. A crazy hope. A completely unexplainable yet wholly essential hope: Christ is risen!
      • Startling encounter #2 – text: With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. But Jesus met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.”[5] → Suddenly, they are no longer going just on the word of some random angel sitting on a tombstone. Not only have they heard the good news that Christ is risen, but they had seen him, touched him, spoken to him, worshipped him. And so they go with confidence. They go with assurance. They go with their hearts overflowing with joy and peace. They go with their experience of the risen Lord.
        • Ways that we experience the risen Christ in our lives = just as pivotal, just as inspirational, just as encouraging in our journeys of faith → And it’s just as important that we share those encounters with others so that they can hear the good news as it continues to bring joy and unconditional love and hope to a weary and frightened and broken world.
      • Don’t feel like you have the words? Let Scripture guide you – word of God through prophet Jeremiah from this morning: I have loved you with a love that lasts forever. And so with unfailing love, I have drawn you to myself. Again, I will build you up, and you will be rebuilt. … Again, you will play your tambourines and dance with joy. … “Get ready! We’re going up to Zion to the LORD our God!”[6] → Friends, this is the good news. Throughout the centuries, it is news that has not changed. God loves you with an unfailing love – a love that could not be quashed by death or tombs or stones. And through that love that bridged even the most unknowable gap – the gap from death into life – God has drawn you to Godself, not because you deserve it. Not because you’ve earned it. Not because you’ve said the right thing or because you know the code word and the secret handshake. But simply because God loves you too much to let you go.
        • Loves you enough to build and rebuild you on the days you’re feeling broken down
        • Loves you enough to teach you to dance again in joy when you have forgotten the steps
        • Loves you enough to cover you in grace just because
        • Friends, this is the good news of the gospel yesterday, today, and every day. So how will we go out to share that good news? Hallelujah! Amen.

[1] Mt 28:6, 7.

[2] http://www.pbskids.org.

[3] Mt 28:1-4.

[4] Mt 28:5-8.

[5] Mt 28:8-10.

[6] Jer 31:3-6.

Sunday’s sermon: Celebrate and Wait

celebrate and wait

Texts used – Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 and Matthew 21:1-11

  • “Hurry up! Hurry up! Hurry up!” … Aaaaaaand … Wait. This is a phenomenon with which we are all familiar in our lives, right?
    • Sometimes feels like our days are filled with “hurry up and wait” scenarios
      • Doctor’s office → hurry up and get there, hurry up and fill out the forms, hurry up and get back to the exam room … and wait (and wait and wait) for the doctor.
      • Application of any kind (job, college, mortgage, etc.) → hurry up and fill out the form, hurry up and submit the application … and wait (and wait and wait) to hear whether you’ve been accepted or not.
      • Buying a house! → hurry up and check the market, hurry up and see the house(s), hurry up and put in an offer … and wait (and wait and wait) through the rest of the process (home inspections, appraisals, underwriting, negotiation of terms, etc.).
      • Lifecycle of a farmer
        • Hurry up and plant the crop … wait (and wait and wait) for it to grow
        • Hurry up and harvest the crop … wait (and wait and wait) throughout the winter until the ground thaws and the weather warms up enough in the spring
        • Just to do it all over again.
      • Sometime, if you haven’t heard the story already, you’ll have to ask Peter about his “hurry up and wait” deployment story. Suffice it to say it involved him and a group of other National Guard members pointlessly cooling their heels in an Army camp in Mississippi which ended up extending his deployment by a few months while the higher-ups tried to figure out exactly which unit he and the rest of these guys were supposed to be deploying with. “Hurry up and wait” at its grandest.
    • It feels like so much of our lives nowadays gets caught up in cycles of “hurry up and wait” – cycles of frantic and sometimes chaotic activity followed by a period of stillness or passivity. → somewhat similar to cycles of boot camp experiences
      • Frantic, sometimes chaotic energy of the boot camp experience itself – throw your whole self into the changes
        • New activities
        • New routines
        • New information
        • New mindset
      • And suddenly, before you know it, you find the boot camp experience over. And you’re celebrating and rejoicing because you’ve made it through this mind-bogglingly difficult thing! You’ve finished the task! You’ve conquered the seemingly-impossible! You are awesome! … Now what???
        • Instead of “hurry up and wait” → “celebrate … and wait” scenario
  • “Celebrate and wait” = pretty apt scenario for Holy Week as it lies before us
    • Whirlwind of activity and emotion all jam-packed into one week
    • Theological rollercoaster → from the highs of Jesus’ triumphal entry today to the loop that Jesus’ throws the disciples during the Last Supper (“this is my body broken for you”? “this is my blood shed for you?”) to the screaming low of the crucifixion on Good Friday, back up to the high of the resurrection on Easter morning
    • Today, with the crowds that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, we celebrate. We rejoice. We shout our “hosannas” and our “blesseds” and our “praise Gods.” And yet we know that this celebration is not the end of the story. We celebrate … and yet, we also wait in mournful anticipation of what is to come.
  • Certainly hit that “celebration” mark with OT text this morning
    • CELEBRATION!: Give thanks to the LORD because he is good, because his faithful love lasts forever. Let Israel say it: “God’s faithful love lasts forever!” … Open the gates of righteousness for me so I can come in and give thanks to the LORD![1]
    • CELEBRATION!: I thank you because you answered me, because you were my saving help. … This has happened because of the LORD; it is astounding in our sight! This is the day the LORD acted; we will rejoice and celebrate in it![2]
    • CELEBRATION!: You are my God—I will give thanks to you! You are my God—I will lift you up high! Give thanks to the LORD because he is good, because his faithful love lasts forever.[3]
    • You can hear the exuberance. You can hear the rejoicing. You can hear the adoration and worship exuding from every syllable and phrase. This is a passage of light and glory and triumph. This is a passage of celebration!
      • Feels a lot like the triumph at the end of a boot camp experience
        • BOOT CAMP: “Yes, we’ve slogged through the insanely hard stuff. Yes, we’ve fought hard to keep from giving up. Yes, we’ve been broken down. But we’ve come back better, stronger, more confident in ourselves and our abilities. We have been built back up, and we are better for it!”
        • SCRIPTURE: I thank you because you answered me, because you were my saving help. … LORD, please save us! LORD, please let us succeed! … This is the day the LORD acted; we will rejoice and celebrate in it![4] → Even in the midst of the rejoicing and the celebrating, our psalm for this morning recognizes struggle. It recognizes the hard parts of life. It recognizes that we are in no way capable of doing this “being a human” thing on our own, and it cries out to God for help. “Lord, please save us! Lord, please let us succeed!”
          • Now, I don’t know about you, but I have a little bit of trouble with the word “succeed” here. It feels uncomfortable to me. It feels exclusive to me – a little too “prosperity gospel,” a little too “Doctrine of Discovery,” a little too separationist. So I had to look that word up. → “succeed” = powerful, effective, strong
            • “Lord, please let us thrive!”
            • “Lord, please let us be effective!” → Isn’t this our prayer during and after a boot camp experience? Isn’t that why we go through it in the first place – to be our most powerful, strong, effective selves?
  • So there’s all that celebration in our psalm for this morning, but there’s also a hint that the work is far from complete – a hint at the “wait” part of the equation, too. – text: The stone rejected by the builders is now the main foundation stone.[5]
    • Implies “more to come” → something to wait for
      • Saw that stone passed over
      • Saw that stone rejected
      • Saw that stone tossed aside in haste to find the “right one”
      • BUT that stone will be set in a place of such prominence, such significance, such importance
    • Also implies staying power → The foundation stone is not a stone that gets moved … you know … ever. So the idea of being a foundation stone requires deep, dedicated, long-term commitment, not just a fleeting, half-hearted investment – some short-term, “hurry up” sort of quick fix.
      • Commitment that God made to humanity over and over again
        • Creation
        • Covenants with Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jacob
        • Birth of God’s own son, the Messiah
      • Commitment that Jesus made – commitment that we get to walk through this week as we make our way through Holy Week
        • Commitment to the celebration of today
        • Commitment to the intimacy of the Last Supper
        • Commitment to the horror of Good Friday
        • Commitment to the desolation of those three days of waiting
        • Commitment to what is to come
          • Empty tomb
          • Discarded graveclothes
          • Resurrection
  • I have to tell you all that Holy Week is my favorite time of the church calendar year exactly because of this tension that we live into all week long – exactly because of the “hurry up, celebrate, and wait” of it all. We talk about how Jesus was both God and human, and this is a week in which we get to experience both aspects of the Messiah in such close and stark contrast.
    • The week begins with the celebrate – with songs that are joyful-sounding and triumphant! It begins with the story of a parade and a jubilant crowd clamoring to get closer to their beloved Jesus.
      • Think about both sides of this celebration
        • Crowd side:
          • Excited
          • Emboldened
          • Upbeat
          • Maybe even a little star-struck
          • Hear this in text: Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked.[6] → crowd is jubilant because they expect this Jesus – this Son of David – to lead them in armed rebellion against Roman oppression
            • Expecting a physical salvation – swift, immediate, literal → expecting a “hurry up” sort of Messiah
        • Jesus’ side: full of knowledge and understanding
          • Understanding the situation
          • Understanding the human condition – our fickleness and the ease with which we are sometimes swayed to support something/someone one day and doubt it, beleaguer it, forsake it, (dare I say crucify it?) the next
          • Knowledge – knowing what is to come
    • Perfect illustration from movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar: filming the triumphal entry and the exuberance and celebration of the crowd, jarring moment of suspension
      • Screen freezes like someone’s pressed pause
      • Song continues in a suddenly ominous-sounding minor key
      • Voices of the crowdspeople singing become momentarily menacing → from “Hey JC, JC, won’t you smile at me?” to “Hey JC, JC would you die for me?”
      • It’s a moment that basically plays on a continual loop in my brain during Holy Week because it so perfectly illustrates the tension that we all hold in our minds and in our hearts during the services this week. Because we have the luxury of knowing the whole story. Like Jesus that day, we know what is coming, and it does indeed make us pause and reflect and contemplate and question.
  • But even with that knowledge, we raise our celebratory “hosannas” with the crowd this morning.
    • Celebrate what this Lenten journey has been – a journey of challenge and change, a journey of discernment and discovery, a journey of brokenness and blessing
    • Celebrate the hard work that has gone into this Lenten journey
    • Celebrate that this journey is almost complete
    • But the thing about boot camp is that, once you’ve finished celebrating that you’ve survived such an arduous experience, you need to start living changed. Falling back into old habits and patterns of behavior will lead you right back to where you were before you started boot camp, and it will all have been in vain. The hard work of not just acknowledging the changes that need to be made but implementing them lies ahead. And so we celebrate knowing that the true work – the work of redemption; the work of grace; the work of God’s Kingdom; the work of the cross; the holy and intentional work that Jesus started; that long-term, foundational, deep and dedicated, cornerstone kind of work – that work is still out there waiting to be done. So we celebrate knowing that this is not actually the end of anything … just the beginning of something wholly different. Amen.

[1] Ps 118:1-2, 19.

[2] Ps 118: 21, 23-24.

[3] Ps 118: 28-29.

[4] Ps 118:21, 25, 24.

[5] Ps 118:22.

[6] Mt 21:8-10.

Sunday’s sermon: Dead Ends and Dramatic Comebacks

dead end sign

Texts used – Ezekiel 37:1-14 (read in the context of the sermon) and Romans 8:6-11

  • Last Sunday marked the 3rd annual Philadelphia Love Run – a half marathon in the City of Brotherly Love that was started as a gathering for those who simply love Philly and those who just love running so much they can’t contain themselves.
    • Description from the race website: “It is time to ‘get your run on’ because this is going to be the most fun you’ve had running a half marathon in a long time! … From the great perks to the finish line festival … this is the race that loves you back!”[1]
    • Sounds like a good time, right?! Okay … maybe not the running 13.1 miles part, but the support and the party sound pretty good, right? But there was a really incredible moment[2] toward the end of this year’s Philadelphia Love Run.
      • Just feet from the finish – woman started to struggle → And I’m not talking about just slowing to a jog or even walking. I’m not even talking about that thing that runners do when they’re tired – you know, when they put their hands on their head so they can open up their chest cavities and get in more air. This woman was really
        • Seemed like her legs just stopped working
          • Couldn’t move forward
          • Couldn’t coordinate with each other
          • Couldn’t hold her up anymore
          • She literally could not go another step. Her body just. Wouldn’t. Do it.
    • Now, anyone who’s run a marathon or a half marathon talks about the various physical and emotional phases of such an endurance race. – include things like:
      • Anxiousness/nervousness (before starting)
      • Confidence at the starting line → “I’ve totally got this!!”
        • Partly mob mentality – “We’re all in this together.”
      • “Runner’s High” → “I feel great! I am awesome! I am rocking this race! When I get to the finish line, I’m just going to do this all over again!”
      • INEVITABLY: hit The Wall → that point when all your excitement and enthusiasm melt away and you suddenly realize that you’re just running … and running … and running … and running … and you’re out of breath and you’re sore and you could still be in bed right now!
        • More often than not it’s a mental wall
        • BUT woman at the end of the Philadelphia Love Run had hit this wall physically → her struggle was a physical manifestation of a very real and very unrelenting challenge
          • Lots of names for it: hit the wall, plateau, dead end
          • No matter what we call it, it was a road block – something in the way of her realizing her goal of finishing that half marathon.
  • Throughout Lent – talking about Lent as boot camp for the soul
    • Boot camp as a means to effect serious and drastic change
    • Boot camp as a way to step up into a new phase of our lives and ourselves
    • Necessity of hydration – of being replenished and renewed in midst of a boot camp experience
    • How boot camp experiences reveal more in us than we may have even though possible
    • That’s all pretty positive – pretty encouraging. Today, we’re going to talk about that inevitable moment in a boot camp experience when we hit the wall – when we feel so depleted, so challenged, so exhausted (physically, emotionally, spiritually) that we cannot go on. Because as much as we hate those times and what they do to our spirits, we cannot ignore the reality that they exist.
  • Actually going to start with a story that we didn’t read this morning – part of the lectionary but not one of the Scripture readings that I chose → today’s Gospel reading = story of Lazarus’ death/resurrection[3]
    • Found in John’s gospel
    • Lazarus = brother of Martha and Mary, friend of Jesus’
    • Lazarus falls ill
    • Sisters send word to their friend, Jesus: “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.” → reading between the lines: Their expectation is that Jesus, their friend, the great Teacher and healer, will fly to the side of his beloved friend and heal him posthaste.
    • BUT Jesus doesn’t immediately run to Lazarus’ aid à instead:
      • Downplays Lazarus’ illness with his disciples
      • Stays a few more days where he is
      • Drags his feet on returning
    • By the time Jesus returns to Lazarus’ home, Lazarus is dead
      • Not even recently → It’s not like Jesus just missed him by a few hours. Jesus enters the scene to find that Lazarus has already been in his tomb for 4 whole days!
    • Martha and Mary are (understandably) distraught – Martha (always the one ready to speak her mind) to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will give you.”
      • Accusation
      • Challenge
      • Raw and real plea: Bring my brother back!
    • As Jesus makes his way to Lazarus’ tomb → sees Mary’s and Martha’s distress, sees all the other mourners, sees the distress of his disciples, and was “deeply disturbed and troubled,” even to the point of Jesus himself beginning to weep
    • Scripture story includes some of the side conversations of the mourners: “He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?” → Friends, I’m bringing up this story this morning because it shows us that even Jesus had his moments of challenge, his moments of despair, his moments of feeling at a loss – like he’d hit the wall. In some of the things that Jesus says to his disciples before he even sets out for Lazarus’ house, Scripture makes it clear that Jesus wanted to use this as a “teachable moment” – as one of the signs scattered throughout the book of John that he was indeed the Messiah come to set all people free. But knowing that in his head and encountering all that “teachable” pain and grief with his own eyes and his own heart were two different things.
      • Whenever you hit that wall …
      • Whenever you feel at a loss …
      • Whenever you are struggling under the weight of all that you carry …
      • Know … believe … that Jesus has been there, too. Jesus knows how hard it is, how uncomfortable it is, how painful it is.
  • OT reading begins as another story of depletion and desolation this morning
    • READ Ezek 37:1-3
      • A valley full of bones
      • Dry, dry bones
      • He asked me, “Human one, can these bones live again?” And I said, “Lord God, only you know.”[4] → LOTS of discussion among scholars about how this could be read
        • Sense of being overwhelmed
        • Sense of frustration
        • Sense of wholehearted trust
        • No matter how we read it, we cannot deny that in this vision, Ezekiel finds himself face-to-face with a staggering scene of depletion and challenge and apparent dead ends.
  • But the good news is that that desolation – those dry bones, that feeling of being utterly overwhelmed, that plateau, that dead end – that is not the end of the story. Once upon a time it was … but then Jesus came.
    • Came to bring healing
    • Came to bring grace
    • Came to bring new life
      • End of Lazarus’ story: Jesus calls out to Lazarus in his tomb, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. And Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”[5] → New energy. Resurrection. New life. All at the call of Jesus.
      • Renewal and resurrection in the rest of Ezekiel’s story, too
        • READ Ezek 37:4-14
        • This is one of my favorite stories in the whole Bible because of the imagery in it. Imagine this scene: a valley full of dry bones – lifeless and dusty, broken and disconnected, bleached by the sun and smoothed by the desert sand. But then the Word of God comes.
          • Great noise – quaking and rumbling, rattling and clattering → bones coming together
          • Out of nowhere
            • Sinews wrapping around bones
            • Flesh covering sinew
            • Skin covering flesh
          • And finally … BREATH → And not just any breath, but the breath of God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, Alpha and Omega, I AM THAT I AM. The breath of the Most Holy One. [INHALE … EXHALE] – text: I will put my breath in you, and you will live. I will plant you on your fertile land, and you will know that I am the Lord. I’ve spoken, and I will do it. This is what the Lord says.[6]
    • Goes along with Paul’s declaration in Rom – text: If Christ is in you, the Spirit is your life because of God’s righteousness, but the body is dead because of sin. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your human bodies also, through his Spirit that lives in you.[7]
  • Sometimes we can find the strength inside ourselves to get through those plateaus … to overcome the walls that we hit … to circumvent the dead ends and find a new way. But sometimes we need help.
    • Purpose of faith → God is always there to breathe new life into us again
      • New energy
      • New hope
      • New imagination
      • New purpose
      • New faith
    • Purpose of community → Sometimes, we get to be that boost, that reminder, that re-invigoration for one another.
      • Woman running the Philadelphia Love Run half marathon à other runners around her stopped to help
        • At first, took her hands and helped her along
        • Supported her under her arms
        • Encouraged her by pointing out how close they were to the finish
        • But when she still just couldn’t do it – when her body hit that dead end that was just too much to overcome – do you know what they did? They picked her up and carried her. They kept on running, but they carried her with them – physically, to be sure, but I can guarantee you that support and that relief was more than skin deep. They carried a few more yards, put her down just before the finish line, and helped her cross it on her own. And that, my friends, is what the kin-dom of God is all about.
          • I will put my breath in you, and you will live. I will plant you on your fertile land, and you will know that I am the Lord. I’ve spoken, and I will do it. This is what the Lord says.

CHARGE & BENEDICTION: Being a child of the 90s, I was listening to music while I was working on my sermon, and this song popped up. So today’s charge and benediction are brought to you by Savage Garden: 


[1] “For Runners” section, http://www.cgiracing.com/theloverun/EVENT-INFO/FOR-RUNNERS. Accessed Apr. 1, 2017.

[2] “Watch: Exhausted half marathon runner helped to finish line” from Dallas News, http://www.dallasnews.com/news/us-news/2017/03/27/watchexhausted-half-marathon-runner-helped-finish-line. Posted Mar. 27, 2017, accessed Apr. 1, 2017.

[3] Jn 11:1-45.

[4] Ezek 37:3.

[5] Jn 11:43-44.

[6] Ezek 37:14.

[7] Rom 8:10-11.