SUNDAY, MARCH 29, 2020
FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR A
In today’s gospel Jesus reveals his power over death by raising Lazarus from the dead. The prophet Ezekiel prophesies God breathing new life into dry bones. To those in exile or living in the shadows of death, these stories proclaim God’s promise of resurrection. In baptism we die with Christ that we might also be raised with him to new life. At the Easter Vigil we will welcome the newly baptized as we remember God’s unfailing promise in our baptism.
Confession and Forgiveness
All may make the sign of the cross, the sign marked at baptism, as the presiding minister begins.
P: Blessed be the holy Trinity, ☩ one God, who is present, who gives life, who calls into existence the things that do not exist.
P: If you were to keep watch over sins, O Lord, who could stand? Yet with you is forgiveness, and so we confess.
Silence is kept for reflection.
P: Gracious God,
C: have mercy on us. We confess that we have turned away from you, knowingly and unknowingly. We have wandered from your resurrection life. We have strayed from your love for all people. Turn us back to you, O God. Give us new hearts and right spirits, that we may find what is pleasing to you and dwell in your house forever. Amen.
P: Receive good news: God turns to you in love. “I will put my spirit in you, and you shall live,” says our God. All your sin is forgiven in the name of ☩ Jesus Christ, who is the free and abounding gift of God’s grace for you.
Prayer of the Day
P: Almighty God,
C: your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death. Breathe upon us the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ and serve you in righteousness all our days, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
First Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14
Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones is a promise that Israel as a nation, though dead in exile, will live again in their land through God’s life-giving spirit. Three times Israel is assured that through this vision they will know that “I am the Lord.”
1The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
11Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”
1Out of the depths
I cry to you, O Lord;
2O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.
3If you were to keep watch over sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
4Yet with you is forgiveness,
in order that you may be feared.
Second Reading: Romans 8:6-11
For Paul, Christian spirituality entails living in the reality of the Holy Spirit. The driving force behind our actions and values is not our sinful desire for self-satisfaction but the very Spirit by which God raised Jesus from the dead and will also raise us from the dead.
6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If 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.
Gospel: John 11:1-45
Jesus is moved to sorrow when his friend Lazarus falls ill and dies. Then, in a dramatic scene, he calls his friend out of the tomb and restores him to life.
1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
Prayers of Intercession
P: Turning our hearts to God who is gracious and merciful, we pray for the church, the world, and all who are in need.
A brief silence.
P: God of life, bind your faithful people into one body. Enliven the church with your Spirit and bless the work of those who work for its renewal. Accomplish your work of salvation in us and through us, for the sake of the world. Hear us, O God.
C: Your mercy is great.
P: God of life, you love the world you have made, and you grieve when creation suffers. Restore polluted lands and waterways. Heal areas of the world ravaged by storms, floods, wildfires, droughts, or other natural disasters (especially CoVid-19). Bring all things to new life. Hear us, O God.
C: Your mercy is great.
P: God of life, show redemption to all who watch and wait with eager expectation: those longing for wars to cease, those waiting for immigration paperwork to finalize, those seeking election, and those in dire need of humanitarian relief. Come quickly with your hope. Hear us, O God.
C: Your mercy is great.
P: God of life, you weep with those who grieve. Unbind all who are held captive by anxiety, despair, or pain (especially). Fill us with compassion and empathy for those who struggle, and keep us faithful in prayer. Hear us, O God.
C: Your mercy is great.
P: God of life, we give thanks for opportunities for this congregation to collaborate with our community in caring for the needs of our neighbors. Strengthen our ties with other local congregations, agencies, and services. Hear us, O God.
C: Your mercy is great.
Here other intercessions may be offered.
P: God of life, you are our resurrection. We remember all those who have died and trust that, in you, they will live again (especially). Breathe new life into our dry bones, that we, too, might live with you forever. Hear us, O God.
C: Your mercy is great.
P: According to your steadfast love, O God, hear these and all our prayers as we commend them to you; through Christ our Lord.
P: Holy and generous host, you set a table where we feast as friends. Prepare us to witness to your goodness with every gift you have given us to share, that all people may know your peace through Jesus Christ, now and forever.C: Amen.
5 LENT—3.29.2020—EZEKIEL 37:1-14
There’s an old story about Moishe, a medieval Jewish astrologer who prophesied that the king’s favorite horse would die soon. Sure enough, the horse died a short time later. The king got angry at Moishe, certain that his prophecy had brought about the horse’s death. He summoned Moishe and commanded him, “Prophet, tell me when you will die!”
Moishe realized that the king was planning to kill him immediately no matter what answer he gave, so he had to answer carefully. “I do not know when I will die,” he answered. “I only know that whenever I die, the king will die three days later.” Guess what? Moishe lived a long life.
Prophets have one job: to speak for God. And sometimes God has some uncomfortable things to say to us. Pastor John W. Ritenbaugh says, “When a person is freezing to death, he feels a pleasant numbness that he does not want to end. He just goes to sleep as he is freezing to death. But when heat is applied, and the blood begins rushing into the affected areas, pain immediately occurs. Though it hurts, the pain is indicative of rescue and cure. God sends a prophet to people who are cold in their relationship with God—spiritually freezing to death—though they want to stay that way. The prophet turns the heat on, and they become angry with him when he is actually working to make them better.”
So instead of viewing prophets as killjoys, what if we should view them as symbols of hope. Because if God had given up on His people, He would not send a prophet. He would not send anybody. If God sends a prophet, that means there is still hope.
Ezekiel faced a difficult task because he was called to prophesy to the Jewish people at one of the lowest points in their history. The small nation of Israel had been under siege and finally conquered by the mighty army of Babylonia. Jerusalem lay in ruins; the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. Ezekiel, along with thousands of other Jews, was forced into exile to the capitol city of Babylon which was in modern day Iraq.
Can you imagine being a refugee, living in poverty in a strange land? Your center of worship has been destroyed. Your community has been scattered. Where is your family? Where are your neighbors? How do you rebuild your life when everything has been taken away from you? Their life was in their worship, in their identity as God’s chosen people. Did this mean that God had ended His covenant with the nation of Israel? Had the people lost their very identity as the people of the One True God?
Yes, I think you can imagine. You have been isolated from your friends and neighbors. You have been separated from your house of worship. You have been left with doubts and fears and questions. You need to hear God’s promise. You need a word of hope.
God sent Ezekiel to the desperate and broken people of Israel to answer their question. Ezekiel brought a word of hope in a hopeless time.
In 1665, the bubonic plague swept through the city of London. In his book A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe described the devastation we would have seen if we walked the streets of London back then. People who had the means to escape the city did so. Others barricaded themselves in their houses. More than 1500 people died each day. Bodies were piled up in open pits because there wasn’t enough ground or enough grave diggers to give the dead a proper burial.
Defoe writes that men roamed the streets, prophesying God’s coming destruction on the city. One prophet wandered naked through the streets chanting, “Oh, the great and dreadful God! Oh, the great and dreadful God . . .” Is that what Ezekiel wanted to say when he stood in the Valley of Dry Bones? “O, the great and dreadful God!” Maybe so. It was a terrible time.
David Guzik, in his Enduring Word Commentary, writes that Jews insisted on a proper burial for their dead as a way to honor them. So, an unburied body was a sign of shame, of disgrace. This was a time of fear and heartbreak for Israel. Again, I think we can relate right now.
And then God asks Ezekiel the strangest question: “Son of Man, can these bones live?” Why even ask the question at this point? Where is the hope in the Valley of Dry Bones? We find our hope in this: God always keeps His promises. If God tells you that things are going to turn out all right, trust Him, for God always keeps His promises.
Ezekiel was confronted with a challenging situation, wasn’t he? These were not people with a future. These were dry bones. And God is calling Ezekiel to prophesy to them. As someone who was called to preach God’s word, I can tell you it is hard enough to prophesy to living people. You may have a hard time believing this, but there are some hardheaded people in churches sometimes who do not want to listen to a word from the Lord. Why prophesy to dry bones? The power was not in Ezekiel’s obedience. The power was in the promises of God.
So, Ezekiel begins to prophesy to the dry bones. And God begins to speak through him: “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.”
And at the sound of God’s promises, those dry bones rose up from the valley floor and those bodies came to life and stood on their feet and assembled themselves into a vast army. Not a crowd. Not a mob. An army. An army has a purpose. An army has an allegiance. An army has unity and power, a goal and a mission.
And God explains to Ezekiel that this Valley of Dry Bones represents the nation of Israel. They were dead, hopeless and cut off from the power of God. But they will not remain that way. No matter how circumstances look now, no matter what the history books or the politicians or the pundits say, listen to what God 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. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 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.’” God will keep His promises to them.
But when did God first make those promises to the nation of Israel? Way back in Genesis 12 God told Abraham: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” How would that happen? When God sent His Son, Jesus, through the lineage of Abraham and the nation of Israel, to make a new covenant in his blood that would offer salvation and new life to all peoples on earth. That’s why you and I are here today. We are included in God’s promises too.
On September 4, 2012, Alex Sheen’s father died. Most people would describe Alex’s father as an “average” man. But Alex describes him as a man of his word. At his father’s funeral, Alex passed out small cards to everyone in attendance. He called them Promise Cards. At the bottom of each card were the words “Because I said I would.” His father lived by those words. He could always be counted on to keep his promises. In honor of his father, Alex challenged those in attendance at the funeral to write a promise on their card and to make a steadfast commitment to keep that promise.
The people at Mr. Sheen’s funeral were so inspired by Alex’s Promise Cards that he began printing more and sending them for free to anyone who requested them. Today, Alex Sheen runs a nonprofit that does character education programming in schools, colleges and prisons. He teaches about integrity and honor and character and keeping your promises. His organization has sent more than 11 million Promise Cards to people in over 150 countries.
Alex also has a website, Becauseisaidiwould.com, where people who have received a Promise Card can post their stories of the promises they have made and kept. I’d like to share with you the story of Elizabeth, a 26-year-old nurse in the UK.
Elizabeth works at an assisted living facility. She eats lunch every day with a particular patient who has dementia. Every day, at the end of their lunch, the woman would become afraid that Elizabeth would not come back to visit her. Her dementia made her forget how faithful Elizabeth was to her. So Elizabeth took a Promise Card and wrote on it, “I promise I will come and have lunch with you tomorrow.” And at the bottom of the card were the words “Because I said I would.”
The next day, when Elizabeth showed up for lunch, she found her friend clutching the Promise Card. She looked up and smiled and said, “You remembered . . . “
God will never forget His promises. God will never forget His people. Across every page of the Bible, God writes His promises and signs them with “Because I said I would.” Listen to the promises God made through Ezekiel. To His people who were dead and hopeless and cut off, He will give new life and new hope. He will bring them back to their home again and put His Spirit within them. He will turn death into life. He will turn a valley of dry bones into the army of God. How do we know this? Because He said He would. “Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.” As we move through this solitude toward our Resurrection celebration, remember that God is not done keeping His promises to His people. God is faithful and God’s plans are eternal. And we, as God’s people, can base our lives and our hope on the promises of God. AMEN.