Saturday, April 5, 2014

Dem Bones: a work of the meantime.

It is hard to hear the story of the Dry Bones and not think of the spiritual, Dem Bones.  It is almost as hard to hear this story without cartoon images coming up of skeletons dancing.  And after going to Mexico this past fall for the Day of the Dead, these Halloween images were conjured up in my head as I tried to prepare these lessons for today.   

But that is not the point of this very powerful oracle in the book of Ezekiel.  In this story which is paired today with the Raising of Lazarus in the Gospel of John we are supposed to acknowledge the subject of Resurrection in these readings.  But the kind
of Resurrection that we find in both of these readings is not the Glorious Resurrection that we identify with Easter.  In both of these stories we find that Resurrection is hard work.  It happens with the greatness of God, but it demands the work not only of the individual, but the work of the community to help God present that new life is the work of us all.
In the story of the Dry Bones, Ezekiel is taken to a valley—it was THE valley where the armies of Judah had been defeated some 50 years before and God asks if the bones lying in the field could be reconstituted.  It is such an impossibility that Ezekiel can only mutter:  “O Lord
God, only you can know.”  In human experience, dry bones cannot be raised from the dead.  But a vision plays out for Ezekiel in which the bones do come together, sinew by sinew, but they have no signs of real life. 

This story is not about raising the dead.  This is a story about reviving the spirit when it has gone out of a community of faith.  Ezekiel is not prophesying to the dead.  He is preaching to a people who have lost their confidence in God to become a unified people again.  The Hebrew word ruach is used nine times in these few verses.  That is the word for breath.  It is also the term for wind and Spirit.  This story is about the renewal of a people—the story of the Spirit of God being rebreathed into a community.  It isn’t resurrection, where the body comes from the tomb.  It is image of people with the gift
of the spirit given a sense of newness by working together, by becoming whole, by being revived by the loving center in God.
This story should be quite familiar to us in this diocese.  When Judy and I came here in 2010, we saw a people who had been liberated from a type of bondage, from their own Babylon.  I remember coming here then and listening to you sharing your faith, excited about learning what the Episcopal Church had been doing for the past 30 years.   The Spirit had caught you up and breathed new life into you. 

But once Ezekiel saw the dried bones formed again, he knew his work was still not done.  As the returnees from Babylon came back to Jerusalem, they wanted to return to the old faith. But that faith had changed.  It had embraced new people.  It had opened its doors to those who had not had the experience of exile.  The reason that we have the book of Ezekiel was because the oracles that Ezekiel had was not just for the specific people who had returned from Persia; they were oracles that were to be heard by the people for all time.  The bones needed to be continually renewed.  The faith needed to be constantly vigilant to be open to the Spirit moving within it.

Stagnation is always a problem with communities of faith. It doesn’t matter what religion or what denomination. All of us come to faith and then we want to stay the
same.  But the Spirit doesn’t work like that.  The spirit stirs us up.  Those of us here in Texas know what the wind does:  it is constantly changing the landscape, even if it is only the landscape of our sinuses.  The Wind of faith, the Holy Spirit, changes the landscape of the Church too. 

We cannot go back 30 years to catch up with the Episcopal Church that has changed around us.  We can’t just remake the church on the principles of even 5 years ago.  We must be willing to breathe into the life of what the
Church is and is becoming.  Now I know I am preaching to the choir here.  You have taken the ball and run with it here at St. Alban’s.  But there are still those who long for a time when it will ‘calm down’---when things will get back to ‘normal’—when we get our parish buildings back. But I would like to suggest to you that that time will never come.  (That doesn’t mean that I don’t care about the property that belongs to TEC.)
I know.  I would like that Church back too.  It is familiar, warm and comforting to me.  But that Church no longer exists.  That Church has moved on.  We are a Church now that is trying to put past conservative/liberal fights aside.  We are a Church that is saying that it is more that an ideology.  We are a church that has taken some important stands, such as being a church where people CAN have differing opinions about theology and politics and still come to the same altar.  We are a church where we can support people who are
different from us.  We have said to those who have come to us that you are welcome, not because our old, dried bones have been given life, but because we have breathed the Spirit of freedom, have known the touch of the Divine and found in the community of united hearts that God does meet us in this place despite our scenery, our ‘unchurchy’ music, our wanderings in the desert.  God has breathed life into us even when we would rather have kneelers and solemn liturgies.  That is what the story of the Dried Bones tells us today.
And the story of Lazarus is the same.  Resurrection is not for sissies!  So be prepared for Easter!  Resurrection is not for the faint of heart.  Resurrection takes not only faith but it takes a community for it to happen in.  Lazarus can’t get out of his funereal bindings without help.  It takes the whole community to free him from his tomb-wear.  It takes a community which is willing to remove the stone, to be willing to put up with the smell so that Lazarus can come forth.  Newness isn’t magic.  It is hard work and it requires a willingness to find life where it is.  New life is not always visible at first.  Anybody here have perennials in your yard?  You aren’t always sure they are going to come back each year.  You have to go looking for the new life, under a leaf, or in the corner of the garden. 
We already are that resurrected church.  We already are living into what it means to be Spirit filled.  But there is a temptation to say—this is just the meantime. 
All of life is the Meantime.  We all live in the meantime as Christians.  We are always being breathed into new life—the new life of faith, the new life of a changing world and God gives us the breath to carry on loving, supporting, changing, and embracing the new.  AMEN.

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