Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sermon -- 9 March 2008

5 LENT—9 March 2008
St. Mark’s, Maquoketa—10:00

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

“I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live!”

Long, long ago (though not in a galaxy far far away, but just on the other side of our own planet!), God called Abraham to leave his home and father in Mesopotamia and to go to a new land, where, God promised, he would become the ancestor of nations. And, in faith, Abraham went. And his family prospered and multiplied in the land of Canaan.

Yet famine drove his descendents south into Egypt, where they were eventually reduced to slavery. But God liberated them from their bondage, with great signs and wonders, and God gave them the Torah, the holy Law, to teach them how to live, and God promised, “You will be my people and I will be your God.” And God brought them back to their own land.

Again they flourished; and from among them God raised up a shepherd boy to be king. And God promised David, “Your dynasty shall reign forever over my people Israel.” And David’s son Solomon, the next king, built a great temple, where the Name of the Lord God of Israel might dwell, at Jerusalem in the midst of God’s people.

[Pause] And now that temple lies in smoldering ruins. The land lies desolate and abandoned, pillaged by the heathen Babylonians. And the People of God languish in exile. “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” The promises have all come to naught. God has forgotten us. If indeed God is even there. All is lost.

But God has not forgotten; and in far-off Babylon God speaks to the priest Ezekiel: “Mortal, Ben-Adam, Humanchild, can these bones live?” And Ezekiel says, “You know, Lord God.” And God says, “I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.”

In the Gospel today we see another of Jesus’ signs. Now, Jesus’ miracles are never just “wonders” to astound the onlookers, they are always signs which point to the breaking in of the Reign of God; they are effective signs which themselves inaugurate the breaking in of the Reign of God. In the case of the raising of Lazarus, we see and experience the glory and power of God, and that it is God’s will and purpose, indeed, God’s very nature, to give new life to God’s people. If Jesus were concerned only for Lazarus and for Lazarus’s sisters Mary and Martha, he could have arrived in time to save Lazarus from death. Jesus makes rather a point of not arriving in time, actually, and is reproached for it by Martha and Mary. But God had a more important vocation for Lazarus—to be someone in whom the glory of God would be shown forth.

The raising of Lazarus was not an ultimate resurrection—that is, Lazarus was resuscitated and restored to his previous state of life, but later on in due course he would die again. But it was a real raising from a real death—Jesus waited until he had been dead four days—so that everyone would understand that Lazarus was really dead. The Gospel, the good news, is not just that God can rescue us in the nick of time, but that the power of God can reverse a final situation. Lazarus was dead—stinking dead—and Jesus called him out of his grave. And Lazarus came out.

And that’s the Gospel. That’s the Good News. God raises the dead. The Gospel is not just about some sort of personal immortality in which our souls survive somehow in some sort of afterlife. The Good News is not that somehow everything will be patched up. It is not that we can go back to some Good Old Days. It is not just that we can escape this vale of tears, or somehow get through it with minimal damage. There is no such promise. God’s promise is that we, and this whole vale of tears with us, our whole valley of dry bones, will in Christ become a new creation, raised and brought to fulfillment. This new creation, this new life, is fully accomplished only at the consummation of the ages, but it begins in us now. We do not escape death (in any of the many ways the power of death intrudes and encroaches upon our lives)—but we pass over from death to new life, risen life, through the death-conquering Passover of Jesus. The power of sin and death and hell is not escaped, it is not avoided; it is finally and forever broken. And although the fullness of the realization of this victory is not yet, the beginning and the promise and the effective sign of it are already. God can raise us from the dead now.

As we think about this in terms of our common life and mission as Christians in the world, and as you think about this as your Christian parish community in this place in the world, let us think on this: When Jesus called, “Lazarus, come out of there!” ol’ Lazarus could presumably have just lain there and replied, “Oh, no thanks, it’s okay, I’m comfortable this way, this is how we’ve always done it, so if you don’t mind I’ll just lie here and stink.” But he didn’t. Lazarus came out of there.

This Lent—as indeed always—Jesus is calling to us: “Come out of there!”

“I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live!”