Five weeks ago we began the season of Lent with broken beach glass at the Ash Wednesday service, as a symbol of our own brokenness and our hope that in God, even brokenness can be made into something new.
The first Sunday of Lent we participated in “Freedom Sunday” and learned about the brokenness of modern day slavery and the hope and work of healing and freedom that we can all participate in.
On the second Sunday of Lent I got your attention with the sound of breaking glass as we encountered Abram and Sarai who broke away from all that was familiar and stepped out in faith towards something new.
We met the Pharisee Nicodemus who visited Jesus at night, searching for something that was missing and broken in his soul.
The third Sunday we sat with Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well and realized all the cultural and religious chasms of hatred and grief that Jesus crossed over and sought to heal in speaking with her about the Living Water.
And last week we heard the story of the blind man who was healed by Jesus and we considered the brokenness that comes with spiritual blindness when we refuse to learn from and listen to each other and to a still speaking God.
Time and again Jesus’ teachings address the brokenness of our societal and personal lives and offers God’s healing and hope as we learn ways of forming and living in community that are just and humane for every level of society.
Like the pieces of broken glass that come together to make a beautiful stain-glass window or mosaic --- through God, the pieces of our lives – the mistakes – the losses – the wars and tsunamis – the hatred and divisions can in time be brought together into something whole and life-sustaining. Not just in the next world – in the sweet bye and bye, but in this world and on this precious planet we call home.
This image of new life – of pieces coming together into a new whole is illustrated beautifully in the vision we heard this morning from the prophet Ezekiel about the valley of dry bones. A wasteland stretches out, whitened bones are scattered all about; not a sound is heard for there is no life until God tells Ezekiel to cry to the bones. In crying to them the bones come together and God’s living breath is blown into them and they rise – they rise up into new life!
In addition on this fifth Sunday of Lent we are given the story of the raising of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha who has been dead for four days by the time Jesus arrives to see them.
Now I am not going to ask you to literally believe this story any more than I would ask you to literally believe Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones! But I am going to challenge you to lean into the spiritual power of the story and hear the incredible statement of trust and hope that is being proclaimed here: We do not have to stay in the spiritual, social and political tombs we humans so often bury ourselves in.
The name “Lazarus” means “God helps” – and the city where he lives, “Bethany”, means “house of affliction”.
As I see it -
Lazarus is all of us. God can help all of us and we all need God’s help whether we want to admit it or not… and Bethany is every city, town and country because we are all afflicted by the brokenness of our blindness, grief, fears, hatred, injustice and refusal to love our neighbor or love ourselves.
In this story we hear the author of John proclaim that “Jesus is the resurrection and the life!”
To follow the ways of Jesus is not simply a promise about the life hereafter, about resurrection – it is also about life now as we walk the streets and sidewalks of our daily existence.
We don’t baptize infants, boys and girls or adult men and women in order to insure a ticket to eternal life, we baptize them as a sign of blessing and as a way of saying, “okay, there is a world out there that needs loving, that needs justice, that needs compassion, no tomb living for you – you are loved, go out and love.”
We know from history that what Jesus taught and how he lived had huge political and religious ramifications because eventually, the threatened political and religious leaders had him killed because of it.
When we baptize our children most of us don’t think about that when we invite them to follow his teachings, do we?
Most of us don’t wake up each morning out of the tomb of our slumber and consider that our faithful-living might threaten anyone.
Maybe that is one of the tombs we need to be called out from?
Maybe we’ve made our faithful living too comfortable?
Maybe we have missed something by believing that resurrection and new life is simply something God does to us or for us – maybe it is actually something we participate in?
That is certainly an excellent question now as we near the reality of the cross and the violent death Jesus experienced there.
Recognizing of course that there are a variety of understandings about the meaning and purpose of the cross, I have come to believe that God did not put Jesus on the cross – I believe it was our inhumane “tomb living” that put him there - our fears, prejudices and greed.
This story of Lazarus is a foretaste of the horror of Good Friday and the incredible grace of Easter and a reminder that neither Good Friday nor Easter are ONE TIME EVENTS.
How we live our daily lives contributes to death or to life, to tomb-living or to unbinding the grave clothes of war, genocide, poverty, disease, abuse, loneliness, and oppression.
I have been thinking and praying about this tomb-living and resurrection life all week and have come across three examples of resurrection living:
The first was just last night as we watched a documentary called “1%” which was produced by a son of the “Johnson and Johnson” family. He is concerned with the growing distance between the rich and the poor and the ultimate impact this will have on our country. Did you know that 1% of the population owns 40% of the wealth in the U.S? The wealthy make an average of 1 million a year while the average American makes $35,000. The film is not criticizing wealth as much as it questions the responsibility of the wealthy to use their resources on behalf of the common good. William Gates was held up as example of someone in the top 1% who is awake to the responsibility and the opportunity his wealth bestows on him for resurrection life, not tomb-living.
In a conversation this week I learned about the Rotary Club project that is taking wheelchairs to parts of the world where some disabled persons have actually never seen one before. The Rotarians take the wheelchairs and put the pieces together once they arrive. Some of the disabled people have spent their days lying on the sidewalk, now they will have a chair to sit in.
I can hear the words of Jesus – “Lazarus, come out!
After weeks of deliberation, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill abolishing the death penalty in Illinois. He signed it on Ash Wednesday after being influenced by religious people such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, author Scott Turor, and Sister Helen Prejean – the author of “Dead Man Walking”. After listening to these people and consulting his Bible, Quinn remembered the words of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin who said: “In a complex, sophisticated democracy like ours, means other than the death penalty are available and can be used to protect society.”
I can hear the words of Jesus – “Unbind him, and let him go.”
How we live our daily lives in relationship with God and with each other, friend or foe – impacts the coming together of the broken pieces into something beautiful.
Ezekiel’s vision and the raising of Lazarus are profound stories of hope, symbolic stories of what God can do and what we can do with God’s help. “I am the resurrection and the life” is an invitation to a way of life, not a ticket to heaven.
While it is right to be dismayed by the brokenness of our human existence, may we not underestimate what is possible with God, even if in the moment we cannot see it.
Let us pray.