LENT 5, A – April 6, 2014

SCRIPTURES – Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:1-11; John 11:1-53; Ps. 116

 

God said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord, God, you know.” Then He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’ ”  Ezekiel 37

 

You know, sometimes we know things so well that we pay little attention to them; until we find out we are mistaken. For example, we know that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, right? His Emancipation Proclamation of Jan. 1, 1863, declared them free! Well, not exactly. Did you know that in the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln only declared free the slaves who lived in states, or areas of states, that were in rebellion? Slaves who lived in the border states of Kentucky and Maryland and Missouri and Delaware were left in slavery. Who knew?

 

Or, take today’s reading from Ezekiel 37. Dried out and scattered bones come together, are covered with sinews and flesh and filled with breath, and so become living people. What an amazing picture of the resurrection from the dead! Except, this reading actually has nothing to do with the resurrection of the dead. It’s about the resurrection of the nation of Israel, which had been conquered, with its cities destroyed and it people carried off. So, the old song “Dem Bones” uses this Scripture incorrectly!

 

Is it possible that you could have the wrong idea about the Church; about our church, our congregation? Well, just consider: why does the church – a congregation of people – exist? Various reasons can be given.

 

  1. The church exists to do good works, such as helping the poor and disadvan-taged. We do, of course, do such things. Don’t we have a 40 Cans For Lent food drive going on right now? It is good to do such things. But, you don’t need to belong to a church to do such things. The Red Cross, or Person to Person in Norwalk, does an excellent job of helping people.

     

  2. The church exists to provide good moral training and support, for kids especially but also for adults. Yes, it does, and this is good and important in our society, which is increasingly uncertain as to what is moral and what is not, what is right and what is wrong. God’s Ten Commandments tell us how to live to honor God and help others. They are clear and straightforward moral teaching. But, isn’t the home the main place where good morals are taught? The church can only reinforce this. If right and wrong aren’t taught in the home, the congregation will have little success in doing so.

 

  1. The church is a place to meet on Sunday to get your head on straight, feel good about yourself, and start the week off right. This, of course, can happen. But, a round of golf or a ball game or a good movie or a nice walk may result in this, too.

 

Good works; good moral teaching and training; good feelings — these are all good things. But, they are not the main thing, the main reason we have a church. Not by a long shot!

 

“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus declares. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Life: eternal life in heaven, of course; but also, a confident and hope-filled life right now; this is what Jesus Christ is all about. And, His Church? “Prophesy to the breath,” God commands Ezekiel. “Prophesy, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” The Church, Martin Luther says, is a “mouth house.” It is God’s mouth through which the Holy Spirit speaks God’s words and gives Christ’s life. Life with God in Christ, given through God’s words: this is what the Church is all about. This is what His Church offers.

 

“Son of man, can these bones live?” God asks Ezekiel as he stares upon the dry and scattered bones of a dead nation. It’s a question that could be asked of our congregation. “Can these bones live?” Joe Wash asked this of you in a letter he wrote that was included in our April Parishscope. I hope you have read it. As a former congregational President, Elder, and servant on other Boards, Joe is asking for your input on what can be done to turn around the decline we have been experiencing and bring life to these bones. I hope you read his letter and give it serious thought.

 

As you do, keep God’s words to Ezekiel foremost in your minds: “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’ ” God’s words are our life, for they hold before us Christ and give us His life. The Church exists above all to proclaim God’s words of life in Christ, to breathe them on those who have been slain and are dead in their sins and so breathe into them life in Christ.

 

And, this is the word that Christ’s Church proclaims: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Notice: Jesus doesn’t ask, “Do you believe?” but, “Do you believe this?” This: that life has a place, a location. It is in Jesus. It is there, because only He took our sins upon Himself and bore their death and punishment for us. It is there, because only Jesus rose from the dead to bring forth a new life for us all. Where Jesus is, there is life: the blessing of eternal life lived in God’s favor and the blessing of that life in our lives here and now. Where Jesus is not, there is nothing but sin and death under God’s wrath.

 

Jesus is in God’s words. Many of the things the Church offers – good works, good moral teaching and training; good feelings – can be found elsewhere in this world, and often in more effective and interesting and exciting ways. But, eternal life with God in Jesus; eternal life that fills us and blesses us and renews us in this life; eternal life that is yours through the forgiveness of your sins, a forgiveness so complete that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1); this can be found only in the words of Christ which His Church breathes out and proclaims.

 

I pray that you know this and believe this. I also pray that you show this in your words and actions: in your seeking of God’s words, hearing of God’s words, sharing of God’s words, and living of God’s words. I also pray that you have the guts to say to those who so often choose to stay at home and ignore this more than, “You missed a good Service today,” but to say, “You are missing out on life with Christ!” For then, you will not be dry bones. You will be Christ’s living believers, people who have His Spirit living in you, giving life to your mortal bodies and breathing out that life to others!

 

“Son of man, can these bones live?” Yes! As the Word of God is heard and believed, the Spirit of life in Christ is received. And, God raises up as a mighty army, His mighty believers in Christ!