COMING ALIVE

5.20.18 Pentecost B

 

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Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’ ” 

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. 

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ ”

 

Do you know what the Spirit can do?  Have you seen it?  Well, I have, and let me tell you the story.

I was called to be God’s spokesman to his people, Israel.  The hard part of that was not listening to God.  As astounding as his visions were, he was very clear on what I needed to say and write.  The hard part was the people.  You’d think that people who had God’s promises would listen to his Word.  But that’s the thing about people – it doesn’t matter if you’re a descendant of Abraham or if you are foreigner, a king or a slave – we struggle to listen to God’s words the way he wants us to.

After receiving the call from the Lord, he wanted me to say some things to get their attention.  They needed to realize that what was happening to them was because they had neglected God.  And when that happens that means sin is winning in your life.  When sin is winning in your life, spiritual death is not far behind.

See, God wants his people to be different.  When he spoke with them at Mt. Sinai and gave them his 10 Commandments, the arrangement was that they would obey everything.  Well, Israel was kind of up and down on that.  After they arrived in the Promised Land was a good time, but then they got lazy.  Every so often God would send judges to help them get back on track, but the message never sunk in.  Then came the kings.  David was a good one, his son, Solomon, was ok, but only 7 or 8 others encouraged the people to follow God and serve him alone.

To help the people see their sinful ways and the destruction that sin causes, God called prophets, like me, to preach.  I was in Babylon at the time.  Why Babylon, you ask?  That was the punishment God forewarned.  The people didn’t get the hint that sin is not ok with God, so God sent Babylon to conquer us.  Over about a 10 year period, we were exiled to Babylon.  Everything back home, including God’s Holy Temple, was completely destroyed.

I don’t know if you can imagine how downcast and depressed everyone was.  God had told them in the past what their sins would cause, but that didn’t change a thing, so God had to bring down judgment on His own people.  Even in Babylon, I was given the task to point out their wickedness and God’s disappointment.

After years of visions and proclamations of death and doom, came the day when God brought me to that valley of dry bones.  The closest thing you could compare it to here in America would be Death Valley, but even that isn’t a fair comparison.  All around I looked, back and forth I went, and all I saw was death, an utterly lifeless landscape.  It was not an enjoyable place to be.

That is the place where God had a question for me.  “Son of man…” he liked to call me ‘son of man’ because I am just a regular guy and he was not… “Son of Man, can these bones live”?

What would you say? Do you think life could come from a valley of death?  After what had happened with Israel, I had my doubts.  Israel had proven what human people are really like.  People don’t blaze a path to life but a something else, something worse, something deathly.

Israel said they were going to be faithful to God alone.  They said they didn’t want to associate with other sinful and pagan nations and get themselves into trouble.  They said they would remember God’s commandments and his promises.  They said a lot of things.

What really happened?  Their lies lead to idolatry.  When God’s promises were taking too long to come true they found other religions and gods that looked more sensible and pleasurable.  All the things that God had said and recorded for his people took a donkey ride into the desert.  It is tragic to even talk about it.  People, by nature, do not want any part with God.

Do you know anyone like that?  Do you know people who say they will serve God?  Do you know people who promise they won’t follow the wrong crowd?  Do you know some who say they will remember God’s promises, but personal experiences and preferences seem to be good excuses to neglect what God says?  I’m sure you do.  I’m sure you can find someone like that in your neighborhood or your pool of friends.  But I know for a fact you can see someone like that if you take a good look at your own heart.

People haven’t changed much over the last few millennia since I was in Babylon.  The lying still leads to idolatry.  Patience with God’s promises wears thin, so other things can take his place and priority.  Maybe you don’t have wooden gods of Asherah and Baal, but that was not Israel’s only problem.  They got too wrapped up in themselves to pay attention to God’s Word.   And when you put yourself as the be all and end all, don’t be surprised if it all ends wrong.

Do you know what lying and idolatry leads to?  Thinking of my day out in the valley of dry bones makes me remember what the Apostle Paul wrote long after I was gone, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” For Israel, for you and me, and for all the world, those dry bones are about as good as we get.

“Can these bones live?” Only one person knew the answer to that question, so I said, “O Lord GOD, You alone know.” It was at that point that I thought he would give me a clear, yes or no.  But instead, he told me to talk to the bones as if they could hear me.  Just talk!  That was it.

The Lord didn’t tell me to think outside of the box to try or find some new fresh way to connect to those dead bones.  He didn’t tell me about any kind of gadgets and ideas that might work.  He didn’t tell me about computers.  He didn’t say that certain song styles or instruments would raise those bones to life.  He never mentioned a specific style of preaching that would be better than another.  He didn’t tell me about pulpits or pews.  Intrestingly, he also didn’t talk about traditions.  He didn’t say anything about the way it always was.  He didn’t say that the same way is the best way.  He didn’t say stubborn attitudes and unchanging ideas will cause nasty, dried up bones to live.

None of the things that people argue about would do anything for those bones.  I am not downplaying what advancements and blessings can do.  But I know for a fact that anything other than the Word of the Almighty God cannot bring life to a place of death.  Nothing but the Word of God can turn a heart of cold stone, to a heart of life….not even a little bit.  The only thing that causes life is God’s Word.  I was there to witness it.

He told me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!  I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” I did what God told me to do and the results were overwhelming.  Simply put, God’s Word worked.  He’s got the power.  He’s got the Word.  And it works. The bones started flying around. And the noise – millions of bones coming together – was more than anything your kids could produce with their toys.

After all the bones came together, the tendons, guts, muscles, and layers of skin formed around each skeleton.  It was vastly different from when I first arrived at the valley.  Some might say that everything was different, but really it was still the same.  The bones now were perfectly in place with all that is needed for life, but the bodies still lay there, motionless.  They were still just as dead as before.

God had done the amazing work, but there was one thing missing.  The Lord gave me more of his words to speak.  “Come from the four winds, o breath, and breathe into these slain, that they might live.”  The breath was not normal.  In Hebrew, that’s the language that I spoke back then and the one I used to write my book, “breath” is the same word as “spirit.” So, when God told me to call the breath, it was his way of telling me to call for the Holy Spirit.

What I had seen in the valley was death, but with God’s Word and the work of the Spirit, I saw death coming alive.  The multitude of dry bones came together perfectly.  The flesh wrapped them perfectly. The breath came and filled them perfectly. Where death was, God made life.  This is all God’s handiwork, and it is always his handiwork when death turns to life.

There they stood an army to serve its source of life.  God had created a massive group.  When I had seen armies in the past they had a mission to conquer or defend.  This army was no different.  The Lord did this to show me and all of Israel what he can accomplish with his Spirit.  He can make life.  He can make that life achieve his purpose, just as he said.

What I am looking at right now, is not much different than what I saw in that valley.  God has worked another miracle.  I am not staring at random bones.  I am not staring at death, but life.  This is not something you did.  This is the power of God.  The same power that raised Jesus from death to life continues to work today. Through his Word and Spirit, God brings life.

The Holy Spirit came into you the same way I saw him go into the bodies in the valley.  At your baptism, death was swallowed up in victory.  The Spirit planted the life-giving gospel message of free forgiveness through Jesus Christ in you.  Through the powerful Word of God, he keeps faith living and active.  You aren’t a pile of bones.  You aren’t lifeless corpses.  You are the same army that I saw thousands of years ago standing ready to serve your Creator and your life-giver.

This experience in the valley of dry bones wasn’t just for me.  I had to tell all of those people who were in exile with me.  I had to tell them God’s life-giving message.  But, if you are like the house of Israel, then you also might find yourself focusing on the negative side of things.  They said, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”  In exile, there wasn’t a lot to be positive about.  They had received a just judgment from God.  They didn’t see the sun rising on a new day.

If you ever feel yourself swamped in pessimism, then listen again to what God told Israel because he says that to you, too.  “O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them.”  

Do you know what God did to make this come true? He sent his own Son, Jesus, to conquer the grave, not just for himself, but for all who believe in him. With Jesus’ resurrection, God assures us all that what He told me in the valley is true.  God will open graves and restore life again.

Today is a special festival for you to thank God for life.  When I arrived in the valley, I didn’t see much hope.  Generations after I had gone, it didn’t look like there was much hope for the fledgling church led by the disciples.   But, today there is a different tone.  You are celebrating Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit.  I was blessed to see firsthand that death comes alive through the Word of God. Generations later, The Spirit brought the same kind of life through the message of Jesus that Peter and the disciples preached.  3000 joined their numbers during that Pentecost celebration.

The promise God gave me in the valley is still life-giving promise for you. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live. The Holy Spirit has not quit yet.  Wherever God’s Word is, there the Spirit will be with his heavenly breath to bring life.  Amen.

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THE ONLY ONE

5.14.17 Easter 5A

Easter Season A

John 14:1-12

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

It’s the trip of a lifetime.  The suitcases are packed.  The oil is changed and the gas tanked topped off.  Everything fits into the trunk magically like Legos.  The whole family is in the car ready to go three minutes early.  Your favorite driving music is cued up on the road trip playlist.  Mom must have been in charge of it.

With all the preparation and work that goes into planning an epic family vacation, could you ever imagine dad turning to mom with a blank stare while the car sits in the driveway to say, “So, can you tell me where we are going and how to get there?”

Now, in our high-tech generation that might not be so devastating, because two family members would offer him a GPS enabled phone with three possibilities depending on what kind of route you wanted. All Dad would have to do is listen to the GPS lady say, “In 500 feet turn left.”  Then, detours could be added and subtracted all along the way until those magic words: “You have arrived.”  Although I don’t imagine anyone would pack up and getting ready to go without first having a destination and a route in mind, it could be done.

When we see Thomas, Philip, and the other disciples in our Gospel today, it isn’t that simple. There is no OnStar.  There is no GPS.  There are no planes, no trains, no automobiles to get them were Jesus was going.  It was unsettling for them to hear Jesus speak the way he does that night before he died.  He says, “I’m leaving you, but you know the way.”  You can almost picture the look on their faces.  Stunned. Shocked.  Worried.  It is as though Jesus is giving them an impossible task rather than a trip of a lifetime.

Does it feel like that for you?  Does it feel like Jesus has given you a destination but no directions on how to get there?  Do you feel like Thomas asking, how can we know the way?  I think that is a very important question for us to ask, because life is not always the joyful journey we want it to be.  Sometimes we find ourselves distracted or lost without much direction.

In this road trip called life, do you notice when that is happening?  Do you recognize when the surroundings are changing and the signs are confusing?  It’s not because Jesus took the GPS away.  It’s not because he is no longer there for you.  This trip gets hard when we think we don’t need him as much.

When kids start to think they don’t need Sunday school, that worship is boring, or when you spend time memorizing video game hacks over spiritual facts in Scripture, that’s when the distractions are grabbing hold.  When teenagers are listening to their science teachers more than the creator of science, when you are going to parties and competitions more than worship and Bible study, when you are listening to your changing bodies more than your changeless Lord, then potholes are doing some serious damage.  When people put their career goals before God’s goals, when you focus on building a home and family without the foundation of Christ, then that road starts to crumble and breakdown.  When parents jostle for center stage for their kids, even though there is already someone fulfilling that role perfectly  for them, that’s a dangerous direction to follow.  When kids make life harder for their parents on purpose, that’s not a good road to be on.  When retired folks spend their last years reliving the past rather than promoting the one who provides an eternal future, that can’t get you back on track.

There are so many obstacles, distractions, recalculations that we add to life’s road.  These things don’t pop up because Christ is gone or because he has forgotten about us.  They pop up because we are trying something different or we might just be forgetting the way.

That’s probably why Jesus begins this whole conversation with this encouraging reminder: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God and also you believe in me.”  Jesus simplifies things. He tells me that I don’t need to make things work out.  He says I don’t have to trust in my abilities or my knowledge or my personality.  I don’t need to follow after everything my family or my friends are doing.  I don’t need to be enamored with celebrities or athletes.  I don’t need to crave more money or popularity.  To start this conversation today, Jesus makes it really simple.  On this road trip of life, the reason you don’t have to worry or be distracted is because God gave you faith.  Your faith clings to his promises and Jesus’ salvation.  You faith wants nothing more than follow Jesus.

But every now and then you and I might wish for a little more.  We want the road of life to be just a bit better. Maybe it’s a simple request, “Jesus, I know you have given me what I need, but what about just a little more, something that I’m looking for. Give me something I can use.”  That sounds a little bit like Philip, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”     Philip had Jesus right there.  The Savior of the world was right across the table.  Jesus had everything under control.  But Philip wants just a little bit more than what he already has.

Thinking we need more from Jesus is so dangerous because then you might start thinking that the way you are going in life is all wrong.  You begin to question everything.  And like Thomas you find yourself wrestling with way to go.  “Lord, where are you going, and how can we know the way?”

Jesus has a great answer to this question.  An answer that isn’t angry or annoyed.  It’s just what we need when we are distracted like Philip or worried like Thomas.  Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  If you need direction, if you’re feeling lost or distracted, if you are trying to find your way on this road trip of life, Jesus is your answer.  His free and full forgiveness and salvation answers all the question and worries we can come up with.  He is literally the only answer.

Imagine if Jesus would tell us, “I am a way, a truth, and a life.”  Wouldn’t you feel let down a little bit?  Wouldn’t you think that there could be better options?  There is a big difference between ‘the’ and ‘a.’ ‘A’ is part of a group.  It’s generic.  It’s common. There is nothing exciting or special about ‘a.’ If you don’t believe that there is a difference, then which of these statements would you say to your mother today: ‘You’re a great mom,’ or ‘you’re the great mom’.  Those two statements are not the same.  ‘The’ is specific.  It takes a stand. It’s exclusive.

Jesus didn’t tell us, “I’ll show you the way,” like a gas station clerk trying to help you with directions.  Jesus says, I am the way. Jesus didn’t say, “I have the truth,” like a lawyer in a courtroom.  He says, I am the truth.   Jesus didn’t say, “I will lead you to life,” like 21st century TV evangelist.  He tells us, I am the life.  There is nothing generic about Jesus.  He isn’t ‘a’ Savior, one of many different options. He is the Savior and the only way to heaven.  And just to make it all crystal clear, he says No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus is the way through this life to God’s home for us in heaven.  When our world talks about religion it uses ‘a.’ It says there is a god out there and a better place.  Find whatever works best for you.  Find your god and your way and everything will be ok. When so many voices are distracting us like that and pulling us into this idea that there are many different paths, Jesus is the only way.  When suffering and loss grab you, Jesus is your only way out of sadness and depression.  When your future looks dim and dismal, Jesus is the only truth that enlightens you for eternity.  When your past mistakes and problems try to drag you down, Jesus is the only life that is free of sin and guilt.

That’s why we keep coming here to this place. Jesus is the only Way, Truth, and Life.  Without the Way, you are going to wander off.  Without the Truth, you’re going to listen to so many of these opinions and half-truths going around.  Without the Life, you’re going to die for eternity.  Jesus is  what you need for the road of life.  You don’t have to wander around.  You don’t have to keep searching.

The trip of a lifetime would become quite annoying, and even worse, if you didn’t know where you were going half the time or if you kept getting distracted and lost.  That’s why we have GPS or a map.  And you know the important thing about GPS or a map, right? They are only good at getting you from point A to point B if you use them.  What good would a GPS be if you turned it off during the middle of your trip and then turned it on again only to realize you missed three turns?  What good would a map be if you shove it in the trunk?

Do you know what God gives you so that you know The Way?  He gives you his Word, not as a list of directions to follow, but as his living Way, who paved the way to heaven for you.  He gives you his Word, not as a collection of truths and moral absolutes, but as his Truth of forgiveness and salvation.  He gives you his Word, not as a way to keep the idea of Jesus living, but as his living and enduring testament of love that he will never leave us forever.

Brothers and sisters, don’t lose it.  Don’t turn off the GPS that God has given you.  Don’t shove it under a bunch of things in the trunk. Use the GPS God has given you. Use his Word every day.  Use it by yourself.  Use it with family and friends.  Use it until you know The Way really well and then use it some more.  Jesus is the only Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He is the one who conquered sin, death, and hell for you.  He’s the one who is preparing a room for you in God’s house right now.  He is the one who promises that you will be with him forever.

Amen.