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Can These Bones Live?

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

Jesus began to weep.
When those around him saw his tears,
someone in the crowd said,
“Look how deeply he loved him.”
Another among them said in a sceptical voice,
“Well, if he loved him so much,
why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying?
After all,
he opened the eyes of a blind man.”
We are not told why Jesus wept,
only that he shed tears at the tomb of this beloved friend, Lazarus.
Perhaps he wept
because he felt deep emotion
at the loss of his friend
and empathized with those around him who grieved.
Perhaps he wept
because he knew that all too soon he would go to Jerusalem,
the city where prophets such as he
were seen as threatening to the Roman rulers and temple hierarchy –
the city where prophets were killed for speaking their truth.
Perhaps Jesus wept because those around him,
his good sisters Mary and Martha their friends
and the group of disciples who followed him,
did not believe that he had power over death.

Whatever the reason for his tears
it was obvious that a return to
‘life a usual’
for the sisters and those who knew Lazarus
was impossible.

Sadness, grief, loneliness, anger,
fear of what the future might hold,
despair, hopelessness –
all of these emotions
must have been present among the gathered group.

We know what it is like don’t we?
When the unbelievable happens,
when life as we know it changes irreversibly.
The earth seems to be shifting under our feet as though we are on quicksand,
negative emotions take hold and we flail around
searching for solid ground.
Our peace of mind,
the solid rock for which we search,
is in jeopardy.

In our time,
the threat of climate change
comes with the realization
that we can no longer take God’s created world for granted.
Water, soil and air all risk contamination
from corporate and personal abuse.
Life is threatened for many animal species.
Human skins cells are damaged
by the essential, life-giving rays of the sun.
The polar icepack
and the rain forests known as the lungs of the planet
are at risk.
The experts warn, “The environment as we have known it
is in jeopardy.”

In our time,
cultures, religions and ideologies mix and mingle in our global world
to an extent never before seen in history.
Clashes between people and their beliefs
and hunger for power and wealth,
lead to violence and war.
It seems that the will to find solutions
that will bring peace to our world
is in jeopardy.

In our time,
churches are realizing congregations are aging,
buildings are crumbling
while financial resources diminish.
The need to keep ministry and outreach initiatives in place and relevant
are in competition with increasing maintenance costs.
Folks worry about the future of the church
when so many young adults and young families
have other priorities in their lives.
The practice of our faith seems to be in jeopardy.
A pink slip of paper enclosed with the pay check reads:
“we regret to inform you that your services are no longer need by this company”-

the voice on the phone says,
“we have the test results back
and the doctor needs to see you as soon as possible”,

when an urgent knock at the door in the middle of the night
wakes you from sleep,
and, instinctively, you know the news is not good,
life as you have always known it is in jeopardy.

For Mary and Martha, their lives were in jeopardy too.
Their brother, deathly ill, was in need of healing.
But the healer, Jesus,
didn’t come and Lazarus could not be saved.
According to Jewish beliefs of the time,
after three days the soul left the body.
It was over, he was gone.
In spite of this,
when Jesus arrived at the tomb on the fourth day
he said, “Remove the stone.”
Martha, said,
“Master, by this time there’s a stench. He’s been dead four days!”
Jesus looked her in the eye.
“Didn’t I tell you that if you believed,
you would see the glory of God?”
Then he said to the others,
“Go ahead, take away the stone.”
They removed the stone.
Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed,
“God, I’m grateful that you have listened to me.
I know you always do listen,
but on account of this crowd standing here
I’ve spoken so that they might believe that you sent me.”

Then he shouted,
“Lazarus, come out!”
And in that moment God acted.
Spirit was at work.
And a figure emerged from the tomb,
a body,
still wrapped from head to toe,
and with a bindings covering his face.
Jesus told the onlookers,
“Unwrap him and let him loose.”
* * *
Imagine the shock!
Imagine the surprise
one who was dead comes back to life.
It was as though Lazarus were a bulb lying dormant in the earth
responding to the Spirit of life,
that encourages rebirth.
Grave bindings,
like the outer shell casings of the bulb that enveloped past life and growth
are cast aside.
Lazarus stands whole before their eyes. – new life!
* * *
This story is difficult to believe.
This story is not intellectually credible
to our 21st century minds.
Contemporary theologian Marcus Borg writes,

“Very few, if any, mainline scholars
affirm that this story is historically remembered…
Like many of the stories in John,
this story is symbolic,
a purely metaphorical narrative.”

There are clues that this story’s importance lies beyond its literal meaning.
When Jesus speaks to Martha he says,
“I am the resurrection and the life”,
“I am the resurrection and the life”,

Jesus speaks of resurrection as a present reality.
Resurrection is not something one waits for at the end of time,
It is with us here and now.

Lazarus is every man and woman,
Lazarus is you and Lazarus is me.

We all find ourselves dead and bound in a tomb at some times in our lives.
As Jesus called Lazarus to come out of the tomb,
Jesus calls every one of us to come out of our tombs
whatever they may be.
Jesus gives life and sets us free.

David Giuliano, our church’s moderator and a cancer survivor, writes these words:
“The path that leads to new life often passes first through the valley of death
and a garden of agony.
It is true,” he says, “from the personal to the planetary…”

The Moderator writes:
“We are learning about God’s power made perfect in weakness.
We are being forced to rest in
and live out of God’s power,
rather than our own.
We are coming to know the God
who has always resided among the fragile and vulnerable.” (end quote)

When we become the fragile and vulnerable,
when we become the ones with the hurts and needs,
when we are the ones looking up at the sky from the depths of the well,
it is then we depend on God because there is nowhere else to turn.

The glory of God is Spirit at work in our world.
We see evidence of Spirit at work
when increasing numbers of people become involved in the healing of creation,
when God’s work in the world becomes a priority
and we let go of the need to be comfortable and in control.
Spirit of life is at work
when those who have much of the world’s wealth
learn to share with those who have little,
when people live out of love and compassion and not war,
when hearts are healed of grief
and all people are accepted and loved as children of God.

Jesus began to weep as he stood beside the tomb of his friend.
signs of humanity,
signs of vulnerability
signs of our need for God’s strength
because the situation is out of our control
and our power no longer works.
Tears mark the end of self-reliance,
and the beginning of our surrender to let God take charge.

Jesus weeps,
and Spirit awaits our readiness for new life.

And when the time is right for healing,
the Spirit will come and raise us up,
this is what we believe
this is the affirmation of our faith,
“We are not alone”,
we never will be alone.

Through the centuries this has been the Good News of our faith.
In 1752, Katharina von Schlegel wrote a poem that spoke of this faith
her words found their music in 1899
with the help of Jean Sibelius.
250 years later,
the song is still being written.

Rolf Lovland and Brendan Graham
have affirmed this good news
in words and music for our time.
Listen now to words of our faith
expressed in words of our past and our present time.

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