On the Road to Healing

On April 30, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

On the Road to Healing Luke 24 (Road to Emmaus Story) Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins I had a boyfriend in college…okay, I had a few, but I am recalling one in particular. We proved to be ill suited for one another, nevertheless, he had a dear grandmother. His grandmother had suffered a stroke and lived […]

On the Road to Healing
Luke 24 (Road to Emmaus Story)
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

I had a boyfriend in college…okay, I had a few, but I am recalling one in particular. We proved to be ill suited for one another, nevertheless, he had a dear grandmother.

His grandmother had suffered a stroke and lived alone. She was a widow living on her Social Security and her husband’s pension, Until the pension ran out. Living on Social Security alone proved to be challenging but her home was paid for and she didn’t drive since her stroke, so she made due. I liked visiting her. Long after the boyfriend was a distant and not altogether pleasant memory, I would still visit the grandmother.

She didn’t come from an affluent family but she managed, as an adult, to earn a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees. Her children became physicians and professors, and she helped raise her grandchildren. After her husband died she went to work as a college administrator but only for a few years before retirement.

She didn’t get many visitors so she enjoyed when I would come by. She would regale me with stories of her childhood and her life as a mother and finally as someone who joined the workforce later in life. I thought she was lovely and fascinating and kind. I enjoyed every moment I spent with her.

Looking back, I realize that those moments with her were special because they were holy. We shared time together, and stories, and affection, and warmth, and kindness. She made me lunch and gave great hugs at the end of each visit. I now know that what I touched in those shared moments was something divine. Old stories over a tuna salad sandwich and canned spinach may not sound like the stuff of holy communion, but that’s exactly what it was. Sharing. Seeing someone…not just circumstances…not just some odd college kid who would befriend someone else’s grandma, not just a veritable shut in with lots of memories and too few people with whom to share them…but two children of God sharing the most precious gift anyone has, time, and in the sharing experiencing something sacred.

That’s what we see in today’s gospel lesson. Two people walking along, lamenting how badly things have gone. They are walking away from Jerusalem and are 7 miles from it. Jerusalem represents peace, or least the hope for peace, and 7 is the number of completion…so, metaphorically, 7 miles from Jerusalem means about as far from peace as one could get.

They are walking away from peace, and are already far from it, recalling and rehearsing all the pain they have recently been through. But where are they going? They are going to Emmaus, which means mineral springs…mineral spring water has been used medicinally forever. They are hurting and not at peace, but looking for healing…at least that is one way we can understand their walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus.

Then, suddenly, a stranger walks up on them. Even though they are engrossed in conversation and are deeply depressed, they make time for the stranger. They include him in the conversation. They share with him their story, their grief.

Eventually, they find it’s getting dark, so they stop in a village and secure a room and some food for the night, and they invite the stranger in.
It’s late, we’re tired, we don’t know where you’re going but there’s no need to go there on an empty stomach. Join us for some food.
And the stranger accepts their hospitality.

They’ve been sharing…their time, their stories, their hearts, and now their resources. Let us treat you to a meal, they tell the stranger. And when the stranger starts serving them the food, they realize something profound. Christ is in their midst! Something holy is with them and has been the whole time they were sharing, welcoming, inviting, showing welcome to the stranger.

That’s a powerful message, and a very practical Christology…when we, like Jesus, open our hearts to people, and our doors, and our tables…we experience Jesus. The Christ anointing is among us, even on us. The Lord is risen indeed in such holy moments.

While the two people, I suspect a man and a woman, because only one of the two (Cleopas) is named, and it is usually women in ancient stories who are unnamed…both a man and a woman experience Resurrection power that night (all people are capable of experiencing holiness; all people have sacred value). This is a holy and life-changing night in today’s story…if not a night in history certainly a night in Luke’s divinely blessed imagination.

When Cleopas and Whatshername realize that the power of Christ is still available to them, even after the painful events of Golgotha, they look up and discover the stranger is missing. Perhaps he slipped out quietly while they were having their revelation. Maybe he didn’t want to intrude on their miraculous discovery, or maybe he was tired of them and ready to leave. It doesn’t matter. Even if the stranger they have been kind to does slip out without so much as a thank you, it’s not about him any more. They can be Christlike with their generosity, and when they are, they experience Christ…Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed!

The story then says that at once they got up and returned to Jerusalem. Their return to peace was instant. And they told the others the Lord is risen indeed, we experienced that truth when we continued the Christ mission of sharing hospitality and welcome and hope and generosity. We welcomed a stranger to join us on the road to healing, and we shared our time and our hearts with him, and our resources, and in the sharing, we realized That of God which we saw in Jesus we saw in the stranger, and we can always see. The Christ Light shines no matter the circumstances in our lives.

We all find ourselves far from peace sometimes, and on the road that we hope leads to healing. The peace and some measure of the healing we long for can be experienced in a holy instant, whenever we shift our perception from fear to love.

When we welcome, include, share…when we work for justice, affirm the sacred value of all people, strive to create a world that is fair for everyone and lifts up everyone without demonizing or dehumanizing any group, when we share time, talent, and treasure to build people up and form a community of hope and grace, we are witnessing the presence of the Sacred in our midst. That’s the practical message of today’s bible reading, and this is the good news. Amen.

(c) Durrell Watkins 2017

I am on the road to healing.
On the way, peace is possible.
Divine Grace is always with me.
Alleluia!
Amen.

The Resurrected Church

On April 23, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

The Resurrected Church Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Easter 2, 2017) John 20.19-22, 30 Resurrection stories are for people who need to be uplifted. If Jesus’ friends and followers, and those that they influenced, have somehow experienced Jesus beyond his execution, then he can still inspire and motivate people during difficult times. Today’s gospel witness shows […]

The Resurrected Church
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Easter 2, 2017)
John 20.19-22, 30

Resurrection stories are for people who need to be uplifted. If Jesus’ friends and followers, and those that they influenced, have somehow experienced Jesus beyond his execution, then he can still inspire and motivate people during difficult times.

Today’s gospel witness shows a powerful resurrection experience. The resurrection in today’s gospel is the resurrection of a wounded church, or of the leaders of a wounded church. Experiencing Jesus beyond his death empowered them to not let Golgotha be the end of their story.

If Jesus’ teachings, love, and essence live on in us, then we can and must continue to do what Jesus did. Golgotha was empire’s mightiest blow, and it failed. They couldn’t erase Jesus, and if they can’t erase Jesus, they can’t erase his mission which lives on in his church. That’s the point and the power of Easter.

Resurrection is the guiding symbol of my faith. It is the miracle that must occur if God is omnipresent. Omnipresent Life means that life can’t be destroyed. Bodies fade, situations change, dreams stall, mistakes are made, hearts break…but there is more. Hope rises again. Joy rises again. Peace rises again. Omnipresent Life is always seeking to express Itself.

Oscar Romero was a Roman Catholic clergy leader in El Salvador. He was a peace activist, an advocate for the poor, and an outspoken critic of torture. He knew that his using the pulpit to give people hope and to empower those who had been downtrodden could get him in serious trouble. But here’s what he said about that, “I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me I will rise again in the people of El Salvador.” In 1980 he was assassinated while celebrating Mass.

Archbishop Romero understood resurrection…not as something that happened once or a few times in history, but as something that is always trying to occur, a power that rises from the ashes of despair over and over again.

The night before he was killed, Dr. King said, “[God's] allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

Resurrection is always for the community, the society, the world…the messenger may be struck down, but the message lives on and the people to whom the message was given are raised up with the power of hope, determination, and courage.

And that’s what we see in the gospel text this morning. The account we heard this morning is meant to tell a community that they still have purpose, they still have work to do, they are still needed. They may be afraid, they may think they have a lot to lose, but their comfort or privilege is not what they are called to protect. They are meant to practice, what Dr. King would much later call, “dangerous unselfishness.” The story of Jesus’ resurrection is meant to raise them up to a new level of commitment, courage, and achievement.

John’s gospel was written at the end of the first century, but today’s passage could have been written during the Great Depression, the Holocaust, or when Japanese Americans were incarcerated for their ancestry, or during the days of Jim Crow, during the Vietnam War, or the early years of the AIDS crisis, or today.

Any time there is disease, hunger, institutionalized or sanctioned bigotry, the devastation of the planet, war, or refugees in need…the church is called to rise up and dare to be Christ in the world. There will be risk and discomfort, but resurrection is possible and only has meaning in response to Golgotha. Jesus still bears the scars of his torture in today’s story. He shows his hands and his side. Being the church, following Jesus involves some risk. Easter people aren’t those who avoid Good Friday; Easter people are those who do not allow Good Friday to be the end of the story.

Jesus was killed 60 or 70 years before John’s gospel was written. The Holy City of Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed 20 or 30 years before John’s gospel was written. There have been cataclysmic losses, and even so, lepers were still untouchable, widows were still vulnerable, the mentally ill were still called demonic, the poor were still suffering…so there was work to do. Giving people comfort, hope, and protecting their dignity were still holy tasks that had to be performed. Resurrection says, “Snap out of the malaise and start doing what you can to help the many who are in need.” We can’t do everything, but we must dare to do something.

There are four points I want to share with you from today’s gospel reading.

1. The disciples were afraid. They were hiding in fear. They were stuck, closeted, entombed. Their memory or experience or vision of Jesus was meant to shake them awake and cause them to start living out loud again. When we are bound by fear we are not experiencing the fullness of the life-giving love that God is. When we are locked away in our fears, we need an infusion of resurrection power.

2. Fear is natural, but we get to decide what to do with it. As Zig Ziglar said, “fear” can mean either “forget everything and run” or “face everything and rise.” They have been stuck in the first meaning; Resurrection encourages them to embrace the second.
Their fears are debilitating, and honestly, they are reasonable based on what is going on in their world. But if the world is crashing down around them, they can still make it better for others and face the dangers with dignity and courage. Jesus says, “peace be with you”…or we might say, “Go to peace instead of to pieces.”

3. Facing fear and embracing peace is energizing. Once they face their fears and choose peace, or at least choose to believe that peace is possible, they are infused with a new breath of life. In the story, Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the holy breath, the breath of wholeness, the energizing spirit of life.” Just as the winds infused the dry bones of Ezekiel’s vision with new life, the memory and example of Jesus breathes hope and determination into the fearful disciples. The spirit raises them back up to be able to face the world and help it get better.

4. Renewal is followed by recommitment. After facing their fears, believing peace is possible, and thereby receiving a new infusion of determination, they know it’s time to get back out there and start taking some chances. Jesus says, “Just as I was sent, so I am sending you.”

Get back to work. Write some letters, sign some petitions, participate in a march, cast a vote, give some money, donate some food, volunteer some time, hold a hand…let it be known that refugees are welcome here, marriage is about love – not gender, health care is a right – not a privilege, Black Lives Matter, science is real, the environment is ours to protect, men aren’t in charge of women’s bodies, and divine Love is unconditional, all-inclusive, and everlasting.

Resurrection isn’t one more idol to worship from the past; it is a call to action…it is a plea from the very Heart of God that we be Christ in the world, that we rise up and share the healing love of God with a world in need. We pray it in the introit, and it is the prayer we will sing throughout eastertide: “May your blazing Phoenix spirit resurrect the church again.”

God hear our prayer, and answer it in and through us.

And this is the good news! Amen.

(C) Durrell Watkins 2017

May God heal my fears,
Fill me with peace and hope,
And use me to be a blessing to my world.
Amen.

Three Steps to a Miracle

On April 16, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Three Steps to a Miracle Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Matthew 28 (Easter 2017) Resurrection is a recurring theme in the bible. Throughout scripture, we see people who are dead, who feel dead, or who are thought to be dead experience life again, or their loved ones experience them beyond their death. Elijah is said to […]

Three Steps to a Miracle
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Matthew 28 (Easter 2017)

Resurrection is a recurring theme in the bible. Throughout scripture, we see people who are dead, who feel dead, or who are thought to be dead experience life again, or their loved ones experience them beyond their death.

Elijah is said to raise a widow’s dead son back to life, and Elijah’s disciple, Elisha, later does the same thing. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus raises widow’s dead back to life.

A dead body is tossed into Elisha’s tomb and when the body touches Elisha’s bones, it comes back to life.
Ezekiel sees his whole community as being lifeless, but he has a vision of it being renewed, brought back to thriving life.

Jesus raises Jairus’ dead daughter back to life, and in another story, he raises Lazarus as well.

Eutychus in the book of Acts falls out a window and breaks his neck, but is resurrected.

In Matthew 27 a whole bunch of people are resurrected and just start walking around.

And, most famously, Jesus is resurrected in all four gospels. We tend to focus on the stories of Jesus’ resurrection, but it happened several times before Jesus in our sacred stories, and a few times after. The concept of resurrection isn’t unique to Jesus, but it does seem to be a key element in the faith tradition that Jesus both inherited and shared.

Resurrection is the greatest miracle in our scriptures and in our lives; but before I say more about that I want to define what I mean by resurrection and what I mean by miracle.

1. A Miracle is a change of perception, particularly a change that moves us away from fear. Every time we embrace hope, every time we summon courage, every time we experience gratitude, every time we are able to forgive, every time we share love…our lives are altered for the better. The change of perception that moves us away from fear is a miracle.

2. Resurrection is the experience of transformation that reminds us that life can be renewed, dignity can be restored, joy can be experienced in new and life-giving ways.

Whenever we see miracles in scripture, and for that matter, whenever we see the supreme miracle of resurrection, we see fear being dispelled and renewal being experienced. No wonder these symbols were so important to our ancestors and remain important to us.

Now, if miracles represent liberation from fear, and resurrection symbolizes renewal in our own lives, what can we do to experience miracles for ourselves, maybe even the miracle of resurrection? Today’s gospel reading from Matthew gives us a three step pattern that we can follow, or we could say, three steps to a miracle.

A couple of Marys (you know the type) are the ones in this story to experience the miracle of Resurrection. They discover that Jesus isn’t really dead…but, we might have guessed that.
We know that life is energy and energy can’t be destroyed, it only changes form. We know that our loved ones live on in echoes of their actions and in the loving memories we hold of them.
We trust that we all live forever in the heart of God.

So, Jesus not being dead isn’t a real shocker…the surprise is how people experienced him (and experience him still) beyond his death. It is one thing to know life is continuous; it is another to be blessed by a life that seems to have been taken from us.
Mary and Mary, somehow, experience the living Christ, that was their miracle of overcoming fear…in fact, the angel and Jesus both tell them to not be afraid…to not give in to fear during a terrifying time is a great miracle indeed! And how did they get to this resurrection miracle?

1. They looked for it. Other gospel stories show women going to the tomb to embalm a body, but Matthew’s Marys have no spices, no linens, no incense. They’re not there to embalm. They just go to the tomb, looking, but for what? Maybe they don’t even know, but they do know that the tragedies they’ve witnessed and endured cannot be the end of the story. They know they have reason to keep looking.

When we pray, when we ask questions, when we peruse the scriptures, we are looking for an experience of the Sacred. We may not know what it will look like, but we know it’s worth looking for and like Matthew’s Marys, we search. Jesus said, “seek and you will find.”
Like the Marys, if we will seek out an experience of the Sacred, we are very likely to find it.

2. It’s one thing to look for something, but we might not make much headway if we don’t listen while we look. Others have probably been looking too, and they may have discovered some things along the way. On our search there are divine messages offered to us, but we won’t benefit from them if we don’t receive them. The angel tells the Marys to not give in to their fears. The angel tells them to talk to the other disciples, share their experience. The angel tells them to keep moving forward – don’t give up the search for the Sacred. Luckily, they took the wise counsel and benefited from it.

As they followed the counsel to go share their story with other seekers, (which is what the church is…a community of seekers sharing our hopes, our weaknesses, our discoveries, and our resources so that together we can be more than we would be alone), as they continued to follow the advice of the angel…they experienced the Resurrected Christ, the symbol of renewed life. The faithful search for the sacred will give us at least moments of profound renewal. They followed the advice they were willing to hear.

3. Mary and Mary looked and listened, which means they learned and then they put their learning into action. They labored. The story says they RAN…that’s exertion, that’s purpose, that’s determination, that’s focus, that’s energy…they ran to share the hope they had discovered and the joy they had experienced. They labored to make sure others could have miracles, particularly the miracle of resurrection. It wasn’t just about them…they needed to share.

Mary and Mary never say a word in this story. They don’t have to. St. Francis of Assisi supposedly said, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”

And today, we see the Marys, looking for miracles, listening to wisdom, laboring to share hope and joy, we see them looking, listening, learning, loving, laboring…but they never say a word. God talk is fine; God action is better.

Do you need to overcome some fear in your life, that is, do you need a miracle?
Would you like to experience dramatic renewal, a resurrection in your life?

Try the Marys’ 3 point plan. Look for miracles, listen for guidance, and lovingly labor to achieve and share your miracle. And like the Marys, that can best be done in blessed community.

As the community of Christ, let us look, listen, and lovingly labor for miracles…I believe they are at hand. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2017

I give thanks for Resurrection Power.
By it I am continually renewed.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Who is Jesus?

On April 9, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Who is Jesus? Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Palm Sunday 2017 Today begins Holy Week, the final days leading up to Easter. My question for you today, this Palm Sunday, this first day of Holy Week is, “Who is Jesus?” It’s an important question. Jesus has been so misused, his name so sullied, his character so […]

Who is Jesus?
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Palm Sunday 2017

Today begins Holy Week, the final days leading up to Easter. My question for you today, this Palm Sunday, this first day of Holy Week is, “Who is Jesus?”

It’s an important question. Jesus has been so misused, his name so sullied, his character so besmirched, that at mention of his name some people tremble, or rage, or their stomachs turn. Not because of the power of his holiness, but because of the hateful ways his name has been weaponized.

Some who have claimed the title of Christian have insisted that Jesus is the reason they demonize and dehumanize same-gender loving people. They say that it is for Jesus that they terrorize transgender and gender nonconforming people. They blame Jesus for their condemnation of religions about which they have very little knowledge or understanding. They praise Jesus while ignoring, blaming, or tormenting the sort of marginalized people Jesus appealed to most strongly. They claim that Jesus has saved them in some fashion, but there are countless others have sought salvation from the so-called saved. Jesus is the spear they use to wound, control, manipulate, vilify, or intimidate anyone whose life or love or faith or values differ from theirs. They have claimed ownership of Jesus and used him like a bulldozer to squash everything in their path that they find unsuitable.

But is the Jesus they have used like a wrecking ball the Jesus of Nazareth? The Jesus of the earliest Jesus movements? The Jesus we would find if we were to discover him for ourselves? Might there be another Jesus, a better Jesus that we might find and embrace today?

Palm Sunday offers us some possibilities. Let’s journey back to the last days of Jesus’ life.
During celebrations for a big holiday in a big city, Jesus comes riding into town. He’s just one of countless pilgrims. He’s not part of the official parade. He’s not a featured dignitary for the celebrations.

Instead, Jesus rides a silly little donkey through the back gate of town, greeted by the Riff Raff, the outcasts, the people who have been judged to be unworthy, the infirm, the poor, the lonely, the widowed, the orphaned…they’ve heard about this person who touches the untouchable and loves the unlovable and speaks hope to the hurting and they need to see him and hear him and experience him for themselves. They’ve heard what others have said…they need to know who he can be to them.

They erupt into a spontaneous street performance when they see him. Their hope and their curiosity and their excitement blends into camp revelry as often happens when oppressed communities begin to find their voice. And so, ridiculous as it seems, they hail him as if here were a prince or lord, as if here were riding a bejeweled steed and not a jack ass…in part they are applauding him, but they are also resisting the systems of domination and oppression by making fun of them, they are dreaming out loud for a better day where all people are valued and celebrated and affirmed. That’s why they shout “hosanna” which means, “rescue us!” As if a preacher on a donkey at the city’s back gate could. But who knows? In moments of outrageous hope, miracles do seem possible.

It is Jesus who has inspired this seditious, counter cultural, agit-prop performance. Of course people seeing this spectacle ask, “Who is he?”

And the crowds answer, “this is Jesus the prophet.” Or some said “he’s that prophet Jesus from Nazareth”…But I bet many things were said about Jesus that day. Such as…

This is Jesus the Prophet (who speaks for God reminding us that God’s will and word can be summed up as simply love God and love people)

This is Jesus the Healer (who somehow helps people who felt broken begin to feel whole)

This is Jesus the Prince of Peace (who when Peter wanted to attack Roman soldiers who were threatening Jesus, said to him, “put away your sword”)

This is Jesus the Redeemer who affirms the sacred value of all people (remember redeeming soda bottles?)…Claiming the sacred value of people is redeeming them. The woman at the well had been disrespected by a series of men, but Jesus knew their disrespect did not define her. He affirmed her, that is, he redeemed her.

This is Jesus the Messenger of God’s kin-dom (who says God’s realm is in your hands…Caesar has the military might, but the reign of God is in the hands of the suffering, the forgotten, the marginalized)

This is Jesus the Generous (give them something to eat! No questions asked)

This is Jesus the Storyteller (parables)

This is Jesus the Friend of outcasts (lepers, sex workers)

This is Jesus the Gender bender (compared himself to a mother hen)

This is Jesus the Child of God who reminds us we are all the children of God

This is Jesus the Mystic who knows God is always near and always hears us (I know that you always hear me)

This is Jesus the Refugee (Egypt)

This is Jesus the reminder that the Sacred can be found anywhere you look (We find the Sacred in Jesus’ life, Jesus whose ancestors include Moses – a murderer, David – a murderer, Tamar and Rahab – prostitutes…the one we call son of God comes from stock we would be tempted to look down upon…Jesus’ very DNA tells us there’s not a spot where God is not)

This is Jesus the Martyr (executed for empowering people and giving them hope)

This is Jesus the Homeless (nowhere to lay his head)

This is Jesus the humble (I came to serve, not to be served)

This is Jesus the Enemy of hypocrisy (the one who never made a mistake can cast the first stone)

This is Jesus who is comfortable with human touch (as we see his beloved disciple reclines on his chest)

This is Jesus the friend of gays (centurion’s lover healed)

This is Jesus whose love will never let us go (i will always be with you)

This is Jesus the joyful (first miracle tending bar at a party)

This is Jesus the feminist (Mary Magdalene apostle status, gospel of MM shows her to be the fave)

This is Jesus the Anointed (Christ)

Who is Jesus? There are so many more possible answers than we may have been led to believe.
That is why we will not let him be just a weapon for those whose hatreds and prejudices and violence and greed oppose everything he seems to have modeled in life.

This Holy Week, which Jesus will we call our own? I pray it will be whichever one helps us live with hope, and joy, and compassion, and generosity, whichever one reminds us that God is omnipresent, unconditional, all-inclusive, everlasting Love.

May the Jesus we embrace give us courage in the valleys, and hope to ascend the mountains, and joy at the peaks. That is what these days leading up to Easter offer us, and this is the good news.
© Durrell Watkins 2017

In the name of Jesus,
Who is to me what I need him to be,
I live in the power of hope,
I embrace the power of joy,
And I share the power of love.
And so it is.

Infinite Possibilities

On April 2, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Infinite Possibilities Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Ez. 37/John 11 Our two scripture readings share a theme today: Resurrection. As we enter the last couple of weeks of Lent, we naturally enough start thinking about Spring, renewal, life, even miracles. So, the readings are appropriately timed. They don’t really have much to do with each other, […]

Infinite Possibilities
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Ez. 37/John 11

Our two scripture readings share a theme today: Resurrection. As we enter the last couple of weeks of Lent, we naturally enough start thinking about Spring, renewal, life, even miracles. So, the readings are appropriately timed.

They don’t really have much to do with each other, except the writer of the second story would have almost certainly been familiar with the first story.

In John’s story, Jesus’ dear companion, Lazarus, has died. There’s a lot to the story. There was danger involved for Jesus to go visit Lazarus…Jesus’ enemies might be plotting against him and could attack him; Jesus went anyway, but not in time to see his dear friend before he died.

His disciples tried to dissuade him from going at all, but Thomas alone had the courage to say, “Let us go with him so that we might die with him.” The one who had the courage to admit his doubts would of course be the one brave enough to face danger.

When Jesus arrives at Lazarus’ home, his other friends Martha and Mary chastise him for not coming sooner. In times of grief, we will sometimes blame and lash out.

Critics are around in the story as well…aren’t they always? They say since Jesus is supposedly a healer, why couldn’t he heal this one about whom he cared so deeply. And, Jesus’ feelings are confirmed when he weeps for the loss of his companion.

As you heard from the reading of the story, Jesus doesn’t let things end there. He prays for Lazarus, and then calls him out of his tomb. He’s been dead for four days, so when he says, “open up the crypt” one of his friends tells him, “Um, its been a few days; it won’t be pretty.” I love the KJV. Jesus says rolls back the stone, and the reply is, “But Lord, he stinketh.” Lazarus is good and dead. But death isn’t the end of the story.

Some will say this story is meant to be a foreshadowing of Easter.
Some will insist it demonstrates the power of faith and prayer.
Some might suggest it’s an allegory for how love survives death and we can always call forth the memories of our loved ones.
Some scholars even note how special the relationship is between Jesus and Lazarus and wonder about a possible romantic connection. A document from the 2nd century called the Secret Gospel of Mark has an almost identical story and in that story the romance part is much more obvious. In that account, Jesus and the resurrected friend go in the house to spend the night together.

But as fascinating and even empowering as each of these interpretations are, I think the story has very little to do with Jesus and Lazarus, or at least, it isn’t JUST about Jesus and Lazarus. It is about the community of faith. We get complacent, or fearful, or tired, or stuck, or bound by traditions or prejudices or resentments, we find ourselves entombed in our rules and rubrics and the way it’s always been…we become so religious we lose the power of spirituality, or we take our worship for granted and carve out time for it only when nothing else is competing for our time. Our faith becomes passive, and spiritual lives begin to stinketh. And so, we are called to prayer and prophetic action…to come out of stagnation and to experience new life.

That is exactly what the story in Ezekiel is about.

Ezekiel has a dream about a valley of dry bones, and he wonders if they might ever be reanimated. A voice tells him to speak to the bones, to prophesy. Now, to prophesy isn’t to tell the future; it’s to tell the truth. It’s to speak the word of God in a way that people can hear and apply it in their moment of need. It can be a word of challenge or a word of comfort, but it is usually a call to action.

So Ezekiel is instructed to tell the bones, “You have more living to do!” And then he is even to prophesy to the wind…to give the wind a call to action. “Come Wind, and blow new life into these old bones.” And the bones rise up and form a thriving community again.

Ezekiel understands that this bizarre dream is meant to have him encourage his own community. They feel lifeless, overwhelmed, defeated, used up, worn out. He is to pray for them and encourage them and remind them that the future has infinite possibilities.

The story of the bones and the story of Lazarus, I believe, share a purpose: to encourage those who feel like life has passed them by, or as if life has nothing more to offer, to tell them, “God isn’t through with you! Rise up and start moving forward again.”

I’ve seen churches that were facing extinction experience a revival of passion and purpose and become thriving faith communities again.

I’ve seen people who were rejected by their families form new families of choice that were loving, functional, joyful, and life-giving.

I’ve seen people who were not the best parents get a second chance and prove themselves to be absolutely heroic grandparents.

I’ve seen old emotional wounds finally heal.

I’ve seen people who dropped out of school go back 50 years later and finish what they started.

I’ve seen people accomplish in wheelchairs more than they ever did when they had stronger bodies.

I’ve seen people face their addictions and live in freedom.

I’ve seen people outlive their prognoses by decades.

I’ve seen victims transform into survivors, and then into helpers who show others how to survive.

I’ve seen people come out and live in the powerful truth of their gender identity or their sexual orientation and realize that what they once thought of as a problem is in reality a great blessing.

I’ve seen people who had no self esteem come to believe that they are indeed God’s miracle and not God’s mistake!

The tomb you thought you were trapped in may stink, but it’s not the end of your story.
Your world may have felt like a valley of dry bones, but the Life Force is still present to shake things up and get you moving forward again.

Resurrection isn’t just something we talk about at Easter, it is a possibility that we can embrace throughout our lives.

There is a hymn written in the 1930s by Norman Forness…one of my faves:

Give heed, O saints of God!
Creation cries in pain;
stretch forth your hand of healing now,
with love the weak sustain.

Commit your hearts to seek
the paths which Christ has trod,
and, quickened by the Spirit’s power,
rise up, O saints of God!

That’s what both of our scripture stories are telling us today. The past is past and the future has infinite possibilities!
Don’t give in to defeatist attitudes, to pointless regrets, to useless shame, to the fears that often are based on lies…Don’t give in, don’t give out, don’t give up, Rise up!

Commit your hearts to seek
the paths which Christ has trod,
and, quickened by the Spirit’s power,
rise up, O saints of God!

And this is the good news. Amen.

The past is past…
And the future has infinite possibilities!
Thank you, God! Amen.

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