Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sermon, Lent 5A, Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:1-45

Today is the fifth Sunday in Lent. Next week is Palm Sunday and Holy Week. Next week we move through the Passion, not just as distant observers, but as full-fledged participants.

It is we who cry out, "Hosanna," and wave our palm branches. It is we who shout, "Crucify him!" It is we who desert Jesus. It is we who mourn his death. It is we who proclaim his resurrection over the grave. it is we who are called and brought forth from death to life.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, before we get sidetracked in looking forward to Holy Week and all that entails, on this fifth Sunday in Lent we are given a taste of what's to come. This Sunday anticipates that move from death to life. Next week, when we are caught up in the mob mentality, or when we follow the way of the cross, or when we turn our backs on Jesus, or when we are stunned at his death, when any of that happens next week we can look back to this day and remember that God made dry bones live and raised Lazarus from the dead.

Almost all of us in this building have experienced the death of someone close to us. Just like we look back on events in that life and comfort ourselves and others, today we hear stories that we can look back on and in the depths of Holy Week remind ourselves that God wins. Life wins.

For all of that, though, God (and Jesus for that matter) is not acting in this alone. Jesus doesn't simply walk into the grave and raise Lazarus by touching him. God doesn't simply breathe on the bones to make them come alive. Instead of acting outside of us and beyond the realm of humanity, God is acting with us and within the world we know.

In the Gospel, Jesus arrives well after the death of Lazarus. He has, in fact, been dead long enough that Martha points out that there is a stench coming from the grave. But Jesus goes to the grave anyway and, after having the stone rolled away, calls for Lazarus to come out. And what happens? Lazarus comes out. Lazarus responds to the call of Jesus. In the same way, Jesus is calling out to us, calling us out from death into life. And like Lazarus, it is our job to respond. And it is in that response that Jessu participates with us and we participate with Jesus.

The lesson from Ezekiel gives us another image of God participating with us. God tells Ezekiel, "Prophesy to the bones and tell them to hear the word of the Lord." God spoke through the prophet, the bones listened, and they came alive. They responded to the prophecy that their dry bones would live again. Even though these were the bones of Israel who said, "Our bones are dried up and our hope is lost," even though they had no hope, God sent a prophet to them to speak the word of life. God worked through a prophet to a people who were willing to listen and act.

These stories are about God interacting with his people in times of deep despair, a time of death and a time of homelessness. In these stories, God says, "I am with you." In these stories, God says, "You will not die. All is not lost. There is hope. You will live. But it is up to you to hear the word and responded to the call."

These are not just stories about Jesus bringing a good friend back to life or a crazy prophet imagining a valley of dry bones. These are stories about us, right here, right now.

Do you feel like you have no life? Do you feel like you've been laid to rest inthat grave next to Lazarus? Do you feel like your bone have dried up, there is no hope and there's simply no life in them anymore?

Put another way, do you feel like this place has dried up, there's no life and it should be laid to the grave?

Just over a month ago I sent a letter to the members of this parish about the future of Christ Church. In that letter I talked about where we were financially and laid out a plan towards self-sufficiency. That plan came from hopefulness about the future here. It came from believing that increased giving, increased attendance and increased activities are, in fact, right around the corner. It was also a difficult letter to write.

It was difficult to write because I had to think about what would happen if the congregation didn't believe what I believe. I believe this place can do great things. I believe this church family can grow. I believe we have the potential to be a place where people want to come, and I believe that we can step out from the stigma of thinking we need "diocesan support" to continue to function. I believe those things with every fiber of my being.

That being said, however, here's what I see. I see a lack of interest in most extra-curricular activities. I ran an annual meeting with something like 11 people in attendance. We have two people on the vestry. We have no convention delegates. Two people showed up for my most recent attempt at a study program. And I have yet to receive a single response about that letter.

I think we have come to a crossroads. We can't expect to keep receiving funds from the diocese to support this parish; because, as I've said before, we are the diocese. This congregation needs to decide if we are going to go forward or if we are going to stop. Are we Lazarus laid in the tomb, dead and buried and making a stench? Or are we Lazarus who responds to the call of Jesus and lives. Are we a valley of dry bones without hope? Or are we willing to hear the word of God and allow ourselves to be brought to life again?

I cannot make those decisions for you. I believe we have a future here. I believe we have a life here. I believe we can become a vital, active and living part of this Valley. And I believe that we are not ready to give up yet.

The question is: What do you believe?


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