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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