Tag Archives: Lent

Sermon: The Fifth Sunday in Lent

Below is my sermon from the First Sunday in Lent, preached at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer.  The lessons can be found here.  The recording can be listed to below, or over on the parish website.  For this sermon, unlike most of the sermons I’ve preached lately, I went back to my practice of no manuscript and no notes.  As always, comments and feedback welcome. 

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“Father Forgive”                                                                                                                                          Photo taken on 13 March 2017

 

 

 

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Sermon: The First Sunday in Lent

Below is my sermon from the First Sunday in Lent, preached at my sponsoring parish, The Church of the Redeemer.  The lessons can be found here.  The recording can be listed to below, or over on the parish website.  The manuscript is also included below.  As always, comments and feedback welcome. 

This being the First Sunday in Lent, it seems a fitting time to make my confession to all of you. I love binge-watching TV: sitting for hours, zoning out the rest of the world, getting immersed in a show, and savoring those moments of escape from reality.

At the moment one of my favorite shows to binge-watch is the Fox comedy series Lucifer. lucifer_s2_1536x2048

In the show, Lucifer, the original fallen angel, has become dissatisfied with life in Hell so he retires to Los Angeles where he becomes a famous nightclub owner. Eventually Lucifer teams up with a female detective and becomes a consultant for the LA Police Department. Throughout the show, Lucifer has this mysterious way of finding out peoples deepest, darkest secrets.

He leans in closely.
Stares them directly in the eyes, and in his smoothest voice he asks;
“What do you desire?”

While this motif is frequently used in the show to get criminals to confess their crimes, or informants to give up information, I find it to be a deeply theological question. In fact, the question, “What do you desire?” is the primary question we wrestle with in our lessons today.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made.” This opening verse to the third chapter of Genesis introduces us to a new character – the serpent. The serpent is a wild animal, not a demon or the devil, who can speak to humans, and has understanding of divine things. The serpent bridges the boundaries between animals, humans, and God and effectively elicits the desire to break the boundary between human and God. In the exchange between the serpent and Eve we witness the unfolding of the human desire to be like God. The serpent, through this conversation, intentionally manipulates this desire and offers humanity an invitation to question the commands of God.

The serpent encourages Eve, “no you will not die if you eat this fruit, you will see.”
You will be able to stand in God’s place and determine what is good and evil.
You will be able to make decisions that, until this point, have been left for God alone to make.
You will be able to make decisions based on your desires.

When Adam and Eve give in to their desires to have their eyes opened, to gain more knowledge, to have power like that of God’s, there is a break in the relationship with God and humanity. The innate desire of humanity to desire God above all else becomes obscured by temptation. In this way, both the serpent and God are right in their declarations of consequences from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Indeed the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened, but that new vision leads to sin, their expulsion from paradise, and ultimately it leads to death. From the very beginning of creation we see the human capacity to give way to temptation and choose something other than God.

This struggle is one for all of humanity: from that moment in the garden until this very day. No one escapes the dangers of wrestling with temptation. Not even Jesus.

This morning’s Gospel passage focuses on Jesus facing the very same temptations that all of humanity struggles with. It focuses on Jesus encountering Satan in the wilderness. But who exactly is this Satan character Jesus encounters?

Commentators have noted that Satan in this passage, is the same as the Hebrew Satan found in other parts of scripture particularly in the opening chapters of Job. This is actually a very important distinction. The Satan we encounter in Job, the Satan we encounter here in Matthew, is not the same Satan that has captured our contemporary culture’s imagination. It is not the character with horns, a pointed tail, and a pitchfork. It is not the mythical beast associated with the Book of Revelation that torments and tortures sinner for all eternity.

It is Haśśatan.
The Accuser.

Haśśatan, translated the Satan, is an agent of God. In the Book of Job we learn that the job of Haśśatan is to test humanity on God’s behalf – to see who will stay faithful to God and who will fall to temptation. If the Satan that Jesus encounters in the wilderness is in fact this same Satan we encounter in Job that means Jesus is being tested to see if he will truly stay faithful to God or become trapped by the weight of temptation. This testing is an important aspect of where this story falls in Matthew’s narrative.

This morning’s passage is the final part of a section in Matthew sometimes referred to as The Commissioning of the Messiah:

First, the coming of the Messiah has ben heralded by John the Baptist.
Second, Jesus has been Baptized and proclaimed the Beloved of God.
Now, before Jesus begins his public ministry he must be tested.
Can Jesus stay faithful to his call – to his identity – as the Divine Son of God?
Can Jesus be tempted in every way as we are – sharing fully in what it means to be human – and not sin?

Prior to the completion of his commissioning, Jesus shows us exactly how we are to respond to temptation. Jesus shows us that as children of God – as beloved of God – as baptized persons it is our job to stay faithful to the call God has given each and everyone of us.

In the first temptation, after Jesus has fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, Satan tempts Jesus with food, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to becomes loaves of bread.”
Jesus refuses.
In this response Jesus faithfully remembers that he is totally dependent upon God.

In the second temptation, Jesus is transported to the top of the mountain where Satan tempts him to test God – to see if God will really protect him. Satan even quotes scripture to try to trap Jesus.
Again Jesus refuses.
Jesus’ answer points to the reality that honoring God excludes every kind of manipulation, including putting God to the test.

In the final temptation, Jesus is yet again taken to the top of a very high mountain and is offered the power to rule over the entire world in exchange for worshiping Satan.
One final time, Jesus refuses.
In this Jesus’ commissioning is complete. Jesus has proven his undivided loyalty to God.

The very same things that Jesus is tempted by tempt us as well: food, protection, power. But beyond each of these individual categories the underlying temptation is to treat God as less than God. To take on power that belongs to God alone. To make ourselves like God. To have our eyes opened that we might decide what is good and evil based on our own personal desires.

Jesus’ witness through these temptations offers us the perfect image of our humanity. Jesus shows us what is possible if we only trust in God with the fullness and entirety of our beings.

This is the struggle we are forced to wrestle with in this Lenten season. Our Lenten penitence engages the dark places in our lives – the places where we choose to see through the lens of our desires instead of choosing to see through the eyes of God – that we might come face to face with them, name them, understand them, and seek forgiveness for them. It is not about guilt. It is about freedom from the control that our fears and insecurities have over us all. Lent is the most brutally realistic liturgical season of the year – it is a time when we tell truth about ourselves, our brokenness, our mortality, and nevertheless trust in God’s redemptive love. This is exactly what Paul is trying to draw our attention to.

In this section of Romans, Paul gives a powerful reflection of the magnitude of sin and death, and on the even greater abundance of God’s grace in Christ. Paul writes, “For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” It does not matter how many times we choose to be like Adam, God’s saving grace through Jesus redeems us all. Through the saving act of love on the cross, God takes all of our sinfulness, all of our brokenness, even our morality and transforms them into righteous and everlasting life with God. Paul is reminding us that through the abundance of God’s grace we have the ability to no longer choose ourselves but to live as servants of God and inheritors of eternal life.

This is the completion of the journey that began with Adam and Eve eating a piece of fruit. From the moment of that initial division between God and humanity, God has desired for us to return to our full and right relationship with God. It is a return that is made possible in the person of Jesus, but will not be completed until the Kingdom of God has been fully realized, until we enter the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem; until we return to the garden.

As we begin our Lenten pilgrimage again, we ask God to strength us that we might not fall into sin nor be overcome by adversity. We ask God to transform our desires so that they might be God’s desires. We ask God to be with us in our prayers and in our fasts that we might experience once again the grace and joy of seeing the face of God. May our journey never end, may our hearts never be satisfied, until we are fully restored in God’s image.

Amen.

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Sermon Lent 1C: The Temptation of Jesus

The following sermon was preached on February 14, 2016 at Trinity Church, Hartford CT.  The lessons can be found here.  The text of the sermon is copied below and you can listen to a recording over on SoundCloud.  

LentHere we are once again embarking on our yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem, our yearly pilgrimage to the cross and the grave, to the upper room with the disciples and the empty tomb.

Like every other year, we gathered on Wednesday, we were marked with ashes, and invited to the observance of a holy Lent. We were invited to join in observances marked by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

This year, as is true each Lenten Season, we thoughtfully revisit the legacy of the cross and the defining miracle it brought forth for each of us as Christians – the redefining miracle it gave to the world.

But this year is not like every other year.

Each and every day the world seems to be plagued by deeper and darker violence and sin. As the calls for love and justice grow louder, they are matched, and at times outdone, by calls of bigotry and hatred. In this country we are welcoming in refugees from one of the largest refugee crises the world has seen, we are observing an intense and brutal presidential primary season, as primary election results surprise and appall all sides of the political divide, and now we are preparing for what promises to be a very interesting process to fill Justice Scalia’s Supreme Court seat.

As is true for our country and world, this is not just another Lent for Trinity. We are now a parish with a part-time rector, we are facing massive budget cuts to be in compliance with diocesan regulations, and faithfully, with new urgency, we are discerning who God is calling us to be in this time and place. So we enter this Lenten season with uncertainty and maybe a little fear of what will happen on the other side.

It seems to me, now is the time to think a bit differently about Lent, to think a bit differently about our lives and relationships with God and one another. As we embark on this Lenten journey, we cannot remain fixated on our own sin; our own shortcomings; our own mortality. We must acknowledge these things, and then turn again towards God. As we begin this journey we must seek to ready ourselves for the inbreaking of God’s radical grace, abundance, and love.

The readings we have heard this morning from scripture help us do just that.

The story of the people of Israel that we hear in today’s passage from Deuteronomy is describing a liturgical act that is simultaneously confessing their beliefs, recounting their history, and offering their praise to the glory of God. They are confessing that the faithfulness of God to the people of Israel is the basis of their own lives, and from that place they are able not only to express their gratitude to God in praise, they are also able to claim the history of their people as their own story. This is more than, a simple “hey thanks God that was great” or “hey God we couldn’t have done it without you.” What we are hearing in Deuteronomy today is the climax of the exodus story.

Imagine this: after thirty-nine years, eleven months, and one week in the wilderness, the Israelites are gathered on the plains of Moab, poised to enter the promised land. After nearly forty years of feeling lost and unsure, having had to learn a mountain of laws and rules, after being chastised for bad behavior (which frankly was, at times, deserved), and after having spent a good deal of their journey being confused, underfed, and poorly housed – wondering why in the world they left Egypt in the first place – here they sit on the highlands overlooking the Jordan River Valley. The Promised Land is in sight!

That which they gave up everything for, that for which they have endured, worked, suffered, sacrificed, and even died for is finally within their grasp. The sense of God’s grace and blessings, in return for their faithfulness, must have been overwhelming.

And so this liturgical act of thanksgiving is the retelling of this remarkable history. It is the expression of their unending and profound gratitude to God for upholding God’s promises. Through this gratitude they offer up to God the first fruits of the land that God has given them – they are giving back to God what God has given them.

The journey of this Lenten season is not remarkably different from the journey to the priest to offer the first fruits of the ground. We can say this journey is about having to really think long and hard about our story; that we have to practice some daily or weekly disciplines to keep our story fresh in our minds; that we have to work harder to be better or more sincere Christians. But, is that the journey this text is really describing or is it the journey we have proscribed for ourselves?

Is Lent really about giving up chocolate, carbs, or alcohol? Is it really a liturgical self-help season to restart failed New Year’s resolutions? Or is that just a simplistic view of Lent? Is there something more?

I wonder if the journey we hear about today in Deuteronomy, the journey to which Lent calls us, is really about celebrating God’s unimaginable grace, abundance, and love? I wonder if it is about the overwhelming sense of God’s blessing in return for our faithfulness? I wonder if Lent is really about refocusing our attention and receptivity to God’s grace so that we may be worthy to participate in the mystery of God-with-us?

This idea of faithfulness to God, and constantly adjusting our focus on God’s call to us is not unique to the Israelite’s journey in Deuteronomy. It is also at the core of today’s Gospel passage: Luke’s telling of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

temptationThis passage from Luke’s Gospel is at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus has just been baptized, the Holy Spirit descended on him, and a voice came from heaven proclaiming, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And being full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by that same Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.

 

The first time Jesus is tempted by the devil, the devil says, “If you are the Son of God.” This, according to some scholars, is a reasonable translation of the text. However, it is more likely that the accurate translation should be “Since you are the Son of God.” After Jesus’ baptism there is no question “if he is the Son of God.” The question now is what kind of Son of God will he be. Will he be the Messiah who takes the easy way out? Or will he be the Messiah who is faithful to God?

These three temptations – turning the rock into bread, claiming all the power and authority of the kingdoms of the world, and testing God – are incredibly important. First they are not necessarily bad things. How bad could it be for Jesus to start ending world hunger by converting the rocky terrain of Jerusalem into bread? How bad could it be for Jesus to claim the power and authority away from the brutal power of the Roman Empire? How bad could it be for Jesus to ask a sign of God? This is the point. Can Jesus be lured away to take the easy way out? Can his followed be tricked into following the comfortable Messiah? Instead of falling for these temptations, Jesus abides by the most difficult of all commands as he quotes the words of Deuteronomy to “worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

Luke’s portrayal of Jesus, the meaning of his earthly ministry and Baptism is unfolded in these three trials. While he refused to turn stones into bread, he spends his ministry feeding the hungry. While he refused political power, his preaching and teaching are proclamations of God’s empire of love and justice. While he refused to test God, he goes to the cross in confidence that God’s will for life, will trump the world’s decision to execute him.

Each and every time Jesus’ tempted to take the easy way out – to follow the comfortable path, he says no. By saying “no” to the world, he is saying, “yes” to God. As such, today’s Gospel text is not about the power of evil, the nature of Christ, or the power of temptation: this Gospel passage is about obedience – Jesus’ choice to be obedient to God, and our invitation to follow in his footsteps. It is our invitation to say, “no” to easy answers and half-truths and to loudly proclaim, “yes” to God. To shout “yes” to God’s love, to shout “yes” to God’s grace, to shout “yes” to God’s call to action and service.

Jesus’ journey in the wilderness recalls Israel’s forty years of wandering. In the harsh environment of the wilderness, habits formed by the Israelites while in slavery in Egypt are discarded and new ways of complete trust in God are formed. Jesus is the perfect example of this trusting relationship. As we enter into this wilderness season of Lent we are invited to discard all the habits we have picked up while being held by the bondages of sin and death and replace them with the perfect freedom that comes from obedience and service to God.

The season of Lent reminds us that we do not have to be stuck in slavery, that we do not need to be stuck in the way we have always done things. Renewal is possible. Change can happen. Because 40 days from now, the second person of the Trinity, the divine Son of God, Jesus will die on the cross. He will descend into hell, break down the gates of death once and for all, and rise victorious from the grave.

Jesus begins this journey, he enters the wilderness, only after being baptized and claimed as Beloved. We too have shared in those waters of Baptism. We too have been claimed as Beloved of God.

Jan Richardson, artist and poet, beautifully captures the importance of our identity as Beloved children of God on this wilderness journey. She writes:

If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing.

Do not leave
without hearing
who you are:
Beloved,
named by the One
who has traveled this path
before you.

Do not go
without letting it echo
in your ears,
and if you find
it is hard
to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what
this journey is for.

I cannot promise
this blessing will free you
from danger,
from fear,
from hunger
or thirst,
from the scorching
of sun
or the fall
of the night.

But I can tell you
that on this path
there will be help.

I can tell you
that on this way
there will be rest.

I can tell you
that you will know
the strange graces
that come to our aid
only on a road
such as this,
that fly to meet us
bearing comfort
and strength,
that come alongside us
for no other cause
than to lean themselves
toward our ear
and with their
curious insistence
whisper our name:

Beloved.
Beloved.
Beloved.

(See more at: http://paintedprayerbook.com/2016/02/11/lent-1-beloved-is-where-we-begin/#sthash.OtT5QTxb.dpuf)

As we enter into Lent, as we embark on this year unlike any other, as we set out into the unknown may we be assured that God is with us and that we are Beloved.

AMEN

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Why? Because of Love

Sermon preached at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea, Narragansett RI on Good Friday (4/18/14) at the 7pm liturgy.  You can listen to the sermon here.  

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every story whispers his name.

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every story whispers his name.

This past week in our Wednesday pre-school chapel service, I read the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. There is something deeply profound and incredibly daunting about teaching crucifixion to a group of four year-olds. I knew they would have questions, and sure enough I was not wrong. “Why did God do that?” “Why did Jesus have to die?” How could I answer them? I still – and I think always will – wrestle and struggle with these questions. As I read the story, I came across the following words, “You see, they didn’t understand. It wasn’t the nails that kept Jesus there. It was love.” Why did Jesus have to die? Love. Not just any kind of love, but a never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever kind of love. God loves us so much that he gives his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Jesus dies on the cross to save us from ourselves, to save us from sin and death, to restore us to wholeness and right relationship with God.

It is easy to come to this day thinking that Jesus dies on the cross so we do not have to. That instead of punishing us, God punishes Jesus. But, it seems to me, to do that takes away the true meaning and power of the cross. Jesus died for me, so I do not need to worry. I can keep going on with my life as I always have because Jesus has paid the price for my sins. This misses the point. The cross, this day, the central plotline throughout the entirety of the New Testament is not about retribution. It is not about the models and standards of societies penal justice system. It is not about Jesus being tagged in to take the punishment we deserve. What is going on this day is all about restoration.

Think back to the Gospels we’ve heard throughout this season of Lent. They all portray a marginalized person – someone left out, someone broken and suffering – and how they are restored to wholeness, how sight is restored, how life itself is restored. A restorative approach to the cross, rather than a punitive one, recognizes and addresses our underlying brokenness; brokenness that so often leads to hurtful behavior. What happens when we look at the cross through the lens of our own brokenness and the ways we fall short instead of through the lens of capital punishment? What happens when we recognize that our brokenness and the brokenness of the world is reflected in Jesus’ brokenness on the cross? What happens when we choose to accept this radical gift of love, to allow it to break us open and heal us?

Jesus has not come only to forgive sin, but to liberate us from everything that could possibly separate us from God and life, whether that means crushing illness, dehumanizing poverty, or spirals of destructive behavior. When we understand the cross in this way we can no longer allow ourselves to ignore the cross for all but one day a year. Breaking free of punitive theology, allows us to in a healthy and helpful way contemplate the mysteries of the cross in our daily lives.

I recently came across a quote from a Nicaraguan peasant named Oscar. Oscar understands the connection of the cross with our daily lives. Here is how he puts it:

Lots of people in Holy Week think only about the sufferings of Jesus, and they don’t think about the sufferings of so many Christs, of millions of Christs that exist. And Jesus didn’t want them to be wailing for him but to wail for the others that were going to suffer like him or worse than him.

Each and every day people through out the world face suffering and death – brutal torment and torture. It is the absolute worst side of humanity. But, Christ’s suffering and death on the cross says something to those in these most horrific situations. It shows that the Lord and Savior, the Redeemer of the world suffered as they suffer. More than that, he chose to suffer out of love for us all. No matter what our brokenness is – be it physical brokenness at the hands of others or emotional brokenness by our own self-deprecation – Jesus chooses to suffer with us.   He suffers so that we might be released from our brokenness and bondage and made whole once again. That we might live as God intends us to live. This is the most amazing kind of love there is. This is the most amazing gift we could ever receive – to have a Redeemer that loves us so much he will go to the cross and suffer for our restoration and redemption. How can we even begin to respond to this love?

This season of Lent, I have been reading from a book of meditations titled, “A Time to Turn: Anglican Readings for Lent and Easter Week.” This is a fabulous collection of works from people throughout the history of the Anglican tradition. But, one meditation, more than any other, has captured my heart and my imagination. Last Friday, I read a mediation on the cross from Poems, Centuries, and Three Thanksgivings by Thomas Traherne. In this meditation, Traherne wrestles with how to respond to this love that Jesus offers us on the cross.

Lord Jesus, what love shall I render to you, for your love to me, your eternal love! Oh what fervor, what ardor, what humiliation, what reverence, what joy, what adoration, what zeal, what thanksgiving! You are perfect in beauty, you are the king of eternal glory, you reign in the highest heavens and yet came down from heaven . . . And shall not I live for you? O my joy! O my sovereign friend! O my life and my all! I beseech you to let those trickling drops of blood that run down your flesh drop upon me. O let your love inflame me: love so deep and infinite . . . What shall I do for you?

What shall I do for you, O preserver of all: live, love, and admire; and learn to become such to you as you are to me . . . Why, Lord Jesus, do you love us, why are we your treasures? . . . Show me the reasons of your love that I may love all others too. O goodness ineffable! . . . O you who are most glorious in goodness, make me abundant in this goodness like yourself, that I may as deeply pity others’ misery, and as ardently thirst for their happiness as you do . . . Holy Jesus, I admire your love.

LoveWe are called to love as Jesus loves, to see the sufferings of the world and stand up against it. When we stand before the cross of the crucified Christ this day, we stand before the sufferings of all people. Jesus does not want us to wail for him, but for all of God’s children who have been cast down and broken

Who do we see when we look at the cross? Where is there suffering in our comunity, our nation, our world? Who have we put down in building ourselves up? Who have we crucified to preserve our power and privilege like the authorities crucified Jesus?

We are called to put our brokenness, shame, failings, and sin, at the foot of the cross and leave them there. This day we are reminded of our call to accept the radical gift of love that Christ has offered us. But, we are also called to share that radical gift of love with the world. It only takes one look at the newspaper to realized that this world of ours needs a lot of love. This world of ours needs the restorative, redeeming cross that we stand before this night.

May we go forth from this place reminded of the radical gift of love God in Christ offers to us. May we allow it to restore our brokenness to wholeness and strength. May it empower us to go out to do the same for the rest of the world.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name.

 

AMEN.

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A Sermon for Lent 5

Sermon preached at The Church of the Redeemer, Providence RI on Sunday April 6, 2014 (Lent 5, Year A).  You can listen to the sermon here.  

This week, my twitter feed has been flooded with commentary of the Afghan presidential elections. But one tweet more than any other stood out to me. “Afghan presidential vote extended by an hour because of heavy turnout.” I sat staring at my computer screen for a few moments thinking, “Hours extended due to heavy voter turnout?” This made no sense to me. A people who have known so much war, violence, and poverty have shown up to vote even in the face of terror. It made we wonder what is inside them – what moves in them – to give them this courage. Does the same thing move inside me? Inside you? Is there something inside us that allows us to stand up in the bleakest of situations, in the face of adversity, and attempt to change the world?

ImageThis morning we have heard one of the most imaginatively dramatic readings in all Scripture: Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones. This vision reminds every generation that God not only gives life but also restores life even in the bleakest of situations. We are reminded that death will not have the last word, even when all signs of life have been taken away.

The key word of this passage is the Hebrew word ruach meaning, “breath,” “wind,” or “spirit.” The prophet prophesies just as God commands and the bones come back together, sinews and flesh come upon them. But there is no life in them. They need the breath of God – they need ruach. It is this life-giving breath that makes these bones live once more. But, this breath does so much more than bring these bones back to life. This is the same wind that moved over the waters in creation; it is the same breath God breathes into the first human beings; it is the spirit that comes upon each one of us when we are baptized; and it is the same life-giving force that moves in Lazarus.

When Jesus calls out to in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Breath is restored to Lazarus and he lives once more. He who has been dead for four days gets up and walks out of his tomb. But, just as was true with the man blind from birth last week, there is far more going on than the miraculous nature of this episode.

In many ways the miracle itself is not the focal point, but rather this restorative act serves as a sign of something far greater than one moment in time. The revelatory nature of this act tells us something about the power and glory of God. The raising of Lazarus signifies that God’s eschatological promises – God’s promises for the end of time – are here and now, already being realized amid, and despite, the ordinariness of the course of life, which includes illnesses, deaths, and burials just like those of Lazarus.

This chapter from John’s Gospel opens with Jesus letting those around him – and us – know something important is going to happen. “This illness” meaning Lazarus’ illness, “does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be gloried through it.” It is important to keep in mind that “glory” and “glorification” for John have to do with oneness with God. It has to do with Jesus being lifted up on the cross, being lifted up from death to life, of being made one with God. This oneness is central to the Gospel message, to the Christian life, to all that God has in store for us and for the world.

Life as we know it is a balancing of the tensions between life and death. In this season of Lent – in this Gospel passage – this tension between the hope of resurrection and the finality of death is palpable. It is far too easy to see the world as a valley of dry bones both literally and metaphorically. In the midst of war, violence, and death – of news stories of shootings and tragic accidents it is easy to lose hope, to be dried out, to think all is lost. At times it seems as if the world around us is stacking the deck towards death – towards an old way of understanding the world.

In the midst of all this we yearn for resurrection and the unbinding that releases us to dream beyond the boundaries and experience life anew. To dream beyond the boundaries is to imagine a world in which wholeness, well-being, health, and prosperity are normative expressions of human existence and to partner with the God of life in making that dream a reality. It is to see the world as God sees, to take our place in the life giving work of God, to be open and receptive to the breath, the wind, the spirit of God.

In this new life we have a role to play. We cannot be passive observes and just wait for God to do all the work. In Ezekiel’s vision, it is the mortal who follows the command of God and prophesies to the bones. It is the prophet whose actions usher in the will of God. In the Gospel our charge comes in the penultimate sentence, “Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” Jesus calls on the community to participate in Lazarus being raised from the dead. In this Jesus brings the reality of resurrection to the present.

In this respect, resurrection confronts us as an urgent call, impelling us to consider the possibility that those whom our world deems dead – no matter if that be socially, physically, spiritually, or emotionally – might live into a new reality; that life is still possible for them. We pray that all those oppressed and held in bondage will be filled with the spirit of God and come out! Each and every one of us can participate in this new reality. We have the power to unbind, to release persons and communities from the clutches of death. Resurrected woman, men, and children today require caring communities that are willing to nurture and strengthen them until they are able to walk alone; they need to be unbound, to have the graveclothes of self-doubt, social isolation, marginalization, and oppression removed. We can help them tear away the wrappings of fear, anxiety, loss, and grief, so that unbound people might walk in dignity and become creative agents in the world. The breath of God moves in all people – the restorative, resuscitating, renewing, and resurrecting spirit of God is present in the least, lost, and left out of the world. Our call as Christians is to unbind them and set them free so that they can be restored and live without fear.

The bones Ezekiel prophesied to represent the whole house of Israel. They have gone through devastating loss. Their temple has been destroyed, there has been tragic violence against them and their leaders, and they have been removed from their land. Everything they knew has been taken away from them – they are in despair and all seems hopeless. This is the same witness that our world needs today. Ezekiel’s vision is for these people who need to be unbound. It is for those people who pay the physical and spiritual toll of poverty, natural disasters, and genocide.

We are called to prophecy to the dryness of the world. We are called to unbind those who are held captive to oppressive forces. When God asks, “Can these bones live?” This is what God is asking. This is what God wants us to do.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, gives us a glimpse of how we are to do this. He makes clear that we are to set our minds on the Spirit, we are to allow the Spirit to dwell in us. We hear this morning that, “to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” We are to set our minds on the Spirit. Throughout Romans, the most comprehensive statement of Paul’s theology is that the Christian mind must become the initial, and transformative, locus of renewal. When we set our minds on the Spirit, we set our minds on life and renewal. We allow the spirit of God to dwell in us – that same spirit that raised Christ from the dead, breathe life into the dry bones, and brought Lazarus back from death.

This makes accessible to us a force beyond ourselves. It gives us the power to stare sin, decay, and death squarely in the face – to proclaim that death will not have the final word. We are given the wisdom to discern how God is calling us; how God is equipping us to serve the present age as agents of God’s transformative work in the world.   To live life in the Spirit – to set our minds on the spirit – refers to how we conduct ourselves. It is manifested in how we use our physical energies and our material resources, how we care for our neighbors and for our planet. It is through this spirit that we participate in the power of Christ’s resurrection.

In an historic election Afghan people showed what happens when people are unbound. They know the destructive nature of evil and death, but they have been able to stand up and be counted. The breath of God is moving in our midst and making all things new. Death is being transformed to life, despair is turning into hope. Today we find ourselves quickly approaching the end of this Lenten season. The three holiest days of our life as Christians are within sight.

This Lenten season, may we look at the dryness in our souls. Where do we need the birth of God to bestow upon us life-giving strength? Where do we need to proclaim God’s saving love and grace in the world? Where is there unbinding that we need to attend to? Who can we walk with and participate in their restoration to health, wholeness, and oneness with God? When God says to us, “Mortal can these bones live?” let us stand together and proclaim, “Yes, Lord, they most certainly can.”

AMEN.

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