Sunday, April 06, 2014

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

In last week's sermon I told a brief story about my COM asking me where I experience God.  My answer, if you recall, was in the communal worship of Morning Prayer and Holy Eucharist.  There is something important about worshiping in community.  I find it both comforting and challenging at the same time.  For me, this is the best place to worship God, and it is the place from where I most often draw spiritual strength and renewal.  And it may be how I have avoided the problem some priests have of not being able to worship when they are “on the clock.”

Another story I want to share with you is about the time Mrs. Ref and I were visiting the campus of SWTS trying to decide if that was where we should spend the next three years of our life.  I remember visiting a few classes, taking a tour of the grounds, touring student housing, meeting with professors, having an “honesty session” where we heard what seminary was really like, and attending worship.  And I remember sitting in the chapel alone and praying.  It was while I was sitting there alone in that holy place where thousands had been before that I was overcome with a strong sense that this was, indeed, where I needed to be.  God was calling me out of where I was into a new place and into a new way of being.  It was a call I heard in my bones and within the core of my very being.

Here's a question for you: Where do you hear God speaking to you?  When you pray, or when you spend time discerning a particular path, where or how do you hear God speak?  Where and how we hear God is important.  It's important because God often challenges us to move beyond what we “know” is right to a place where we feel something is right deep within us.  God will challenge conventional wisdom or teachings we have heard all our lives and steadily move us, sometimes kicking and screaming, to a place where God can work best through us to proclaim the Good News.

This is that still small voice that isn't heard as much as it is felt.  Or maybe it's the feeling of being thunderstruck.  Or maybe it's being smacked with the holy 2x4 like Saul.  God didn't speak to Saul with a well-reasoned argument – God affected his entire being to the point where he knew in his bones that his persecution of those who were different went against God's will.  And that encounter with God changed Saul's very being.

When God speaks to us, he speaks to our very being.  When God speaks to us in a way that touches our very core, we will be changed.  Oh, we may fight and argue and kick and scream; but deep down, we know in our bones that we are answering God's call.  We are changed.  We will be changed.  We will move into a new way of being.  We experience a resurrection of sorts to a new life.

Today's first lesson is one of the most famous passages in all of Scripture.  It tells of Ezekiel's vision of a valley of dry bones.  The gist of this passage is that it is a prophecy of release from Babylonian captivity and a return to the Jewish homeland.  It's a resurrection prophecy directed to those captured and exported to Babylon.

In today's gospel, we heard another famous resurrection story, the story of Lazarus.  There is a lot going on here, and a lot to question.  Did Jesus let Lazarus die simply to make a point?  Was Lazarus truly resurrected, or was he merely resuscitated?  What is resurrection?

Both of these stories have enough depth to them that they could keep the adult ed group busy for a long time.  But for today, there's only one thing I want to focus on.

In both stories, the valley of dry bones and the raising of Lazarus, the people who were raised are definitively, and without a doubt, dead.  It's possible that the valley was an actual battle site between Israel and Babylon where thousands of soldiers lost their lives.  But whether an actual battlefield or just part of Ezekiel's imagery, the bones described were dry; and dry bones are long dead bones.

Lazarus also was definitively dead.  He had been dead four days.  In something I recently read, it was stated that in Jewish thought three days was required to certify a body dead, and it took four days for the person's soul to officially cross over to the realm of the dead – or something along those lines.  The point that John is making here is that after four days, unlike Westly, Lazarus was not mostly dead but all dead.

Say to these bones: Hear the word of the LORD.
He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

How does a valley of dry bones and a four-day old dead man hear anyone speaking to them?  The same way we hear God speaking to us: in our bones.  We hear God speaking to the very core of our being.  It is a voice that isn't heard so much as it is felt.  It is a voice that has the power to change us.  It is a voice that challenges us into a new way of being.  It is a voice that will compel us to move from death to life.

As we approach the last days of Lent and begin to look forward to Easter, how and where do we hear God speaking to us?  As we pray, are we listening with our ears or in our bones?

Because it just may be that God's call to new life, to a new way of being, to resurrection, can't be heard with our ears but is instead felt deep in our bones.



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