Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lent 5A

from: by Dave & Deb

“Tell me, Father, why is there so much pain and darkness in my soul?”

These words come from a woman of faith, a woman who gave her life to God.  A woman who lived in the gutters of Calcutta trying to meet her God.  A woman pure, holy, and blameless.   This woman who felt abandoned by God for over thirty years of her life is one we look to as a model of faith.  And yet she felt dry.  No matter which direction she took, she could not find God in a tangible way.  And yet she had one of the most vital and life giving ministries.  This woman was Mother Teresa. 

We too can feel dry, dead from God.  Look at the world around us.  There is war, famine, natural disaster, and senseless violence.  Imagine being at the shopping mall when guns start blasting.  Or in a classroom.  Where is God in that?  It makes it hard to watch the evening news, let alone trust in a God who restores.  God seems absent at these times which can leave us feeling feel dry and abandoned by God.

And yet God breathes life into dry, barren places, places of devastation and places that seem to have no hope.  In places where darkness is overwhelming, we can catch glimpses of God when we look closely.

The portion of Ezekiel we hear today is the most familiar passage of the entire book. 
Ezekiel is taken by a vision to a valley.  As far as the eye can see there is nothing but bones.  Not skeletons, just loose bones.  Bones that were dried up and cracked.  Nothing but bones.  No life.  A place of barrenness, a place of dryness.  God asks Ezekiel if the bones can live.  Rather than answer directly, Ezekiel says, “God you know.” 

God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones.  So Ezekiel prophesies to the bones.  Suddenly the bones rattle and start to come together.  Bone on bone they come together.  Next sinews begin to be formed on them and skin begins to cover them.  These dry cracked bones have knit together and been covered in sinew and bone.  But there is no breath in them.  God then tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath.  Ezekiel does and the bones come to life and stand on their feet.  Dry, cracked bones have become a vast multitude.  A living multitude.  Where there was dryness, there is restoration.  God restores hope in the barrenness. 

There was a story told on the radio a few years ago after a round of tornadoes.  As the winds ravaged a rural Tennessee home, an elderly woman watching the devastation going on outside, died of cardiac arrest.  The destruction and fear it brought was too much for her weakened heart.  In the next room her granddaughter struggled with a different kind of pain.  Her much anticipated first child was born six weeks early.  The stress of the storms, sent her into premature labor.  Today the child is in perfect health.  She was named after her great grandmother who died as she was born.  In the midst of tragedy God restores hope.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans we read, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”  That spirit of God is within us, giving us hope for restoration.  God’s spirit is within us.

Much like Ezekiel’s vision, in the story of Lazarus we see the restoration of God.  Instead of going immediately upon receiving word of his friend’s illness, Jesus goes to Judea.  After four days he heads to where Lazarus is placed in the tomb.  No one there thinks his presence will do any good.  Mary even blames him for not coming sooner…if you had been here my brother would not have died.  There appears to be no hope.  Jesus weeps and heads to the tomb.  His prayer is one meant for those gathered, not for himself, he trusts in God’s ability to restore.  He cries for Lazarus to come from the tomb.  Lazarus does so.  Lazarus is raised from the dead.  God restores.  When all hope seems lost, God restores.

Remember Katrina?  The people and communities devastated by it?  Recovery is far from over even today.  Blocks and blocks continue to be nothing but foundation and rubble.  There are families still living in trailers and tents.  Many have given up, moved on.  The pain too great and the daily reminder as they look around too much for them. 

But not Robert.  Robert is past retirement age.  He spent years in manual labor positions.  He never had much.  But he had his home.  His pride and joy.  The small four room house wasn’t much.  But it was his.  He built it with his own hands.  He owned it free and clear of the bank.  Katrina hit and took his home from him.  The one thing he owned.  The one thing he had worked so hard to have.  Robert did not know what to do.  His children and grandchildren urged him to leave the area.  To move near them.  But even with the house gone, the Mississippi coast is home.  He did not want to leave his roots.

Robert is a man of quiet faith.  He belonged to an AME church in his town.  His church was just as broken as his home.  There was no help there.  Just as Robert had given up hope and made the decision to move to Houston to be with his children, a church in the diocese of MS stepped forward.  Somehow Robert’s quiet and unswerving faith once touched a young man from Jackson.  That man had become an Episcopal priest.  When that no longer young man learned of Robert’s plight, he asked his parish to consider helping Robert relocate.  The young priest thought the parish would help with funds for Robert to rebuild his life. 

The priest was wrong.  The parish contributed time and labor.  Today Robert sits on the porch of his new home.  A home rebuilt from the ruins of devastation.  A home built with the spirit of God within strangers who give hope for restoration.  God’s spirit is within us.  In the midst of terrible desolation and dryness.  God restores.

God of all consolation and compassion,
your Son comforted the grieving sisters, Martha and Mary;
your breath alone brings life
to dry bones and weary souls.
Pour out your Spirit upon us,
that we may face despair and death
with the hope of resurrection
and faith in the One
who called Lazarus forth from the grave. Amen.
Prayer from:

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