March 26, 2023

  “New Life!”

(Ezekiel 37:1-14 & Excerpts-John 11:1-45)

Ezekiel 37:1-14
The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.  There were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.  He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”  Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.  Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.  I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”  So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.  I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.  Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”  I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.  Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’  Therefore prophesy, and say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.  And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people.  I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act,” says the LORD.

Excerpts-John 11:1-45
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.  So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”  But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 
Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”  The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”  Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world.  But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”  After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”  The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.”  Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.  For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”  When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.  When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.  Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”  Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”  When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”  And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.  When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.  He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”  Jesus began to weep.  Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.  Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”  Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”  So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”  When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

     I became interested in studying Science in what is, perhaps, an unusual way.  I have often thought about and reflected upon an early experience I had with the study of Science.  When I was in seventh grade, my Science Teacher took our class on a nature hike to a nearby woodland preserve.  There, he showed us the various tree leaf shapes, colorful fungi growing on the soil and trees in this area, and we collected a water sample from the pond that was located on the preserve.  The next day, my teacher brought out some microscopes, taught the class how to make slides of the pond water we collected, and helped us view all of the living microscopic organisms found in our water samples.  I was amazed… and hooked.  Under the microscope, I was able to view a whole new world.  It was one of new life that I never even knew existed.

     Life can surprise us.  Every day holds the possibility for making new discoveries and finding new truths about which we were previously unaware.  I certainly suspect that is the way the Prophet Ezekiel felt when he was given a vivid vision of new life arising out of a valley of dry human bones.  Ezekiel was a priest and prophet to the people of Israel during the time of their Babylonian Exile in the 6th Century B.C.  Israel as a nation had been scattered, demoralized, and was, as several biblical commentators described them, “all but lost.”  Certainly, hope in a better, brighter future was long lost.  Then, there came a vision God gave to Ezekiel.  In this vision, Ezekiel was transported by the Spirit to a valley filled with many, many old and dried-out bones.  As he stood among them, God asked him, “Can these bones live?”  Ezekiel replied, “O Lord, you know.”  And so God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the dry bones that they would, again come to life.  When he prophesied to the bones as God had commanded, they came together, knit by sinews, and then flesh and skin.  But, as yet they did not have life.  Then, God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the four winds to come and bring the breath of life to these who have been slain, and so he did.  Life came into the bodies of the slain, and they stood as a vast multitude.  God enlightened Ezekiel’s understanding by informing him that these people represent the whole house of Israel.  God told Ezekiel there would come a time when God would restore the whole house of Israel, returning those who had been exiled to their homeland.  Then, God would put God’s spirit within the people so that they might have true life, and believe and know that God was with them restoring both their lives and their unity as a nation.  Now that is some prophecy—a promised future of new life, for with God, nothing is impossible!  

     God gave Ezekiel a vision and a promise of future restoration for the people of Israel back in the 6th Century B.C.  In the fullness of time, Jesus came into the world to fulfill an even greater promise of God for the people of God; the promise of his fulfilling the righteousness of the Law and bringing us new and eternal life in the kingdom of God.  Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  He is Emmanuel, God with us.  Ezekiel prophesied about God’s power and God’s unconditional love which would be revealed in the future.  Jesus came to bring us God’s power and love in a literal and personal way.  That is why, in our lesson from the Gospel of John today, Jesus orchestrated an actual event that would demonstrate the miraculous power of God’s love.   Though Jesus was informed that his friend Lazarus was very ill in Bethany, he continued his work and ministry in a neighboring region until after the time of Lazarus’ death and burial.  This made Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary very sad.  When Jesus returned, they each said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Yet Jesus knew that all things and all power were under his authority.  “I am the resurrection and the life” Jesus said, and he had Martha and Mary take him to Lazarus’ tomb.

     When Jesus reached the tomb, a large crowd of mourners had gathered around to support the grieving of Martha and Mary.  Jesus looked to heaven, thanked God for the miracle about to be revealed to those gathered there, and called Lazarus from his tomb, bringing him back to life again—now that is some new life in Christ Jesus!   The gospel shares that many who witnessed this miracle sign of Jesus believed in him. 

     We will recall that the purpose of St. John in composing his gospel message was to make new believers in Christ Jesus, so that they may receive new life in his name.  John used Jesus’ miracle signs as proof of God’s sovereign power and unconditional love for us.  When paired with Ezekiel’s vision of the multitude of dry bones being restored both literal and spiritual life, I find a few important takeaways we should highlight.  The first is that nothing is impossible for God, no matter how unlikely or difficult it may seem to us.  If God could give Ezekiel a prophecy of restoration for the whole people of Israel, God is able to restore our broken and disjointed nation, and even the divided and disheartened faith of God’s United Methodist Church.  We need to be patient, maintain our faithfulness and commitment to be in community, and heed God’s words and commands to us as we receive and discern them.  Second, God’s promise has a very personal component.  Jesus brought his friend Lazarus back to life.  The scriptures share with us that even though Jesus knew Lazarus’ death was for the purpose of revealing the power and love of God for God’s people, Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb.  That shows us how intimate and personally God loves each one of us.  God can perform great lightning bolt flash miracles, and God can whisper God’s love to us and realize the personal miracles we need in our lives—the signs of new life we need in both our literal and spiritual lives.  We are never, never, a lost cause; no matter how impossible our circumstance may seem to us sometimes.  Like a child’s Magic Slate, we can lift up the page to reveal a clean, new and blank page upon which to write our daily lives.  This is a day of new beginnings, and even now, in the midst of the chaos and confusion of both these times and our daily lives, God is bringing us new life.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.