(Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45)
In the Ezekiel passage and the song Heavenbound sang today, we hear about dry bones coming to life. What is sometimes missed in this marvelous story is that these dry bones and hearts are not just coming to life, they are coming back to life! These dry bones in the desert are the people of Israel, representing their loss of faith in GOD and the leadership their people lacked. Ezekiel was told that the Lord was unhappy with the leaders (shepherds). That he should prophesy to them. They only watched over their own interests and needs, instead of looking out for the good of the people. They would lose their power. He was going to put a new leader (shepherd) in place that would do as GOD promised. He would lead the people back to the Israel GOD intended.
In order to do all of this GOD asked Ezekiel to prophesy! First he was told to prophesy to Edom and foretell of its destruction and desolation. Next he would prophesy to the mountains and valleys of Israel about their healing and that life would return to this land as a place of plenty. Then to the people of Israel that they would be returned from their scattered lands if they could turn back to him. When this was questioned GOD told Ezekiel to prophesy to the valley of dry bones and he would make a nation (army) of the fallen Israelites. He would prophesy the new breath into a lost nation. Ezekiel obeyed.
In the Psalm, David cries out to God for help. From the depths of despair he cries: “I wait for you Lord, like a watchman waiting for morning. Lord, Israel needs your help. I wait for your coming.” David expressed his faith and that he knew the Lord would answer. David, like most leaders, had many faults, but he always returned to the Lord for guidance and forgiveness, a trait that we should all emulate.
In Romans, Paul states that we live in two states of being. When all is perfect the two are in harmony. That is how we are supposed to live. We on the other hand are humans, prone to wander and sin, but if our hearts are given to Christ and we repent (or turn back to GOD) we are forgiven. Our parts linked to that sin will eventually die. Our hearts, souls and minds, linked to GOD, Jesus and the Spirit will live eternally due to the grace of GOD. We must realize that Paul is speaking to a group of believers. He wants them to engage their minds in the process of actively believing, and if they stray, return to God for forgiveness. This act of returning to God breathes life back into their hearts, souls and minds. The body of believers is stronger when their minds are toward Jesus. Their shared experiences encourage growth towards that goal. They, too, must obey.
In John, we hear the familiar story of Lazarus, a true believer and friend of Jesus. His sisters had reached out to Jesus knowing that He had the power to heal his sick friend. Jesus did not go right away. Jesus revealed to his disciples that Lazarus had died and that he would go to him and his sisters. They tried to persuade him not to go, for it was dangerous at this time, but he went anyway. Jesus took this opportunity to reveal a glimpse of what his true purpose is. When he arrived in the area, Martha ran to greet him. She expressed her faith that if he had been there Lazarus would still be alive. He told her that Lazarus would live again. She acknowledged that she believed that as promised he would be resurrected in the end of days. He then told her that he was the resurrection and life. Once again, she acknowledged her faith in him as Messiah. She then ran to get her sister and tell her that the master was here.
Mary got up and ran to him, followed by all the people mourning with her. She also told Jesus that she knew if he had been there that Lazarus would still be alive. He was deeply moved by their pain. “Where have you laid him,” he asked, and they took him there. He wept. He told them to open the tomb, but they resisted telling him of the certain odor from a dead body. (By now he had been dead four days.) He told them that if they believe they will see the glory of God. They took away the stone and Jesus called to Lazarus, “Come out!” He came out still wrapped in burial rags. Jesus said take off the linens and let him go. Many who saw believed in Jesus.
Lauren Daigle, the author of “Come Alive”, the song Heavenbound sang this morning, gave a brief look into her thinking as she wrote this song. In her interview she expressed the need to wake up the dead hearts and spirits in this world. She believed that we need to breath new life into the hearts and spirits of many who have forgotten what it is like to know, trust and love GOD. I believe that some of us have carried on a ritual of religion without remembering that GOD’s mission for us is to have a relationship with Him and take advantage of His infinite wisdom in dealing with whatever circumstances come our way. [You can listen to Lauren Daigle sing "Come Alive" below at the YouTube link, or to Heavenbound sing it at Canton Community Baptist Church FB page.]
All of these stories have one common thread: belief in GOD, having faith amongst unbelievable circumstances and the strength to act on these. Ezekiel, as most prophets, acted in faith while knowing that many would not believe his prophesies and could, in fact, run him out of town or kill him. He still obeyed the Lord.
David took the throne against the wishes of the advisors and leaders but, once again, obeyed, trusting that GOD knew what the nation needed: a shepherd that could lead his people back to GOD.
Paul knew that none of us, relying on our own actions, are worthy of forgiveness and the love of GOD. But, by believing in Jesus, we are forgiven in grace and endowed with the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help us when we need only obey. Can we do it?
Martha and Mary, knowing in their human minds that they should not open a grave when a body had been rotting for four days, still obeyed Jesus. Not only were they rewarded with a brother alive again, but with many other believers in Jesus. In our lives, we need to have such faith and commitment. We need to obey, not only when it’s easy or popular, but when we feel the Spirit’s prompting and know it will be hard. We need to breathe life into our very beings. That’s when we will be rewarded. Not in material blessings for ourselves, but in blessings for the brotherhood of all believers.
Let us pray: Lord, let us go into the world with our eyes open and spirits renewed by you. Let our old, tired, dry bones and lives receive new strength to do your will. Breathe into us new life so that our hearts can return to your loving care. Clear our minds so that we can discern the path you have laid out for us. Only by your divine intervention can we truly fulfill the life you have planned for us and this community of faith. Lead us Lord. Show us the way back to you. We ask this in Jesus name. Amen.
Sermon preached by Jon Case, Moderator and Director of Heavenbound, at the Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, April 2, 2017, the Fifth Sunday in Lent.