Dead Ends

Hello!  I love having my little podcast schedule kind of of force me to get these sermons posted by Sunday night.  I was always so bad about it before.

We are on week 5 of the sermon series, Bootcamp for the Soul and this week the theme is Dead Ends.  I’m really enjoying the prompts for these sermons and I hope you all are enjoying them as well!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 2, 2017

Ezekiel 37:1-14
John 11:1-45

Dead Ends (Sermon Series: Boot Camp For The Soul)

Over the past few months, several people have recommended to me the television show, Call the Midwife, which a BBC drama that premiered in 2012 and follows a community of midwives and nurses, half of whom are nuns, in East End London in the 1950’s. And while I am not entirely convinced it is a good idea for a pregnant woman to watch a show where the storyline frequently highlights varying degrees of pregnancy and delivery complications, curiosity got the better of me this week (and I do love British accents), so I watched the first few episodes.

There was an episode where a woman had fallen and suffered a concussion that caused her to go into pre-term labor. When she delivered, the baby was stillborn. The midwife tended to the woman while her husband and one of their other children wept at her bedside. The scene progressed quietly when all of a sudden a cry was heard. Against all odds, the baby was alive.

While I understand that this is a television show and anything can happen when producers and screenwriters are in charge of the storyline, as I watched this episode, I could not help but think about the fact that, in life, we never really know where grace might lie. This scene highlights, I think, the deep and profound theological truth that sometimes when all else seems lost, hope can still be found.

This truth is what strengthens the foundation of who we are as Christians; of who we are as people of the resurrection.

Our two scripture readings for this morning are stories of resurrection that, for all intents and purposes, are kind of unbelievable. We started in the Old Testament, in the book of Ezekiel. To be honest, we do not often end up in this book, as it is one that has perplexed theologians (and, quite frankly, me) for years. Ezekiel comes from a priestly lineage, but then becomes a prophet. Throughout the entire book he sees really strange things and then prophesies some dangerous messages.

Take the passage we just heard, for example. It was described in one commentary I read as, “one of the most imaginatively dramatic readings in all scripture.”[1] The prophet Ezekiel has a vision where he is brought into a valley of dry bones. God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones; he does this and hears a noise. The bones start rattling and come together; flesh grows on them and God breathes breath into them.

You can see why this one perplexes me.

But then we moved into the Gospel of John, which records the resurrection of a man named Lazarus. While I have spent much more time preaching out of this book of the bible, I have made it no secret that this story has always perplexed me, as well.

Lazarus has been dead for four days when Jesus arrive his village of Bethany. Martha tells Jesus he is too late, that the corpse is already starting to smell. But Jesus encourages her to believe, calls to Lazarus to come out and Lazarus walks out of the tomb.

These are not stories of miraculous healing, of being cured of some awful disease or even of a body dying for a few moments and then resuming its breath and heartbeat. These are stories of resurrection; stories where death seems to have the final word and God proves otherwise, stories where bones are dry and corpses have decayed and yet life is found. Here scripture teaches us of the bold and remarkable truth that when it comes to God, death does not have the final word.

Before Lazarus comes out of the tomb, Jesus says to Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”[2] These stories – albeit strange – call us to believe. They call us to look beyond our human and earthly understandings of life and death and see the glory of God. They call us to expand our expectations of the capacity we have within ourselves for God’s work to be done.

And I think these stories call us not only to believe in their resurrection, but also to believe in our own personal resurrection, as well.

We are on week five of our Lenten sermon series, Boot Camp for the Soul and this morning our theme is, Dead Ends. While our scriptures address a much more literal understanding of a dead end, I think it is safe to say we have all kind of “been there” at some point in our lives, whether it be personally, professionally, relationally, medically, financially or in another way. We have all suffered heartbreaking losses, unspeakable tragedies and frustrating obstacles. We have all gotten to a point in our journeys where we feel as though we are not simply at a crossroads, but facing a dead end with nowhere left to go. These are the moments when all hope seems lost. The circumstances might be different for each of us, but the questions are the same: Where do we go from here? How do we go on?

These are not easy questions for us to think about; but the Lenten journey is not necessarily supposed to be an easy one, it is supposed to be a transformative one. Lent is about allowing ourselves to be the most broken and vulnerable version of ourselves – just as Jesus was on the cross – so that God can make us whole again. We face our dead ends without fear knowing that God is always capable of a new beginning.

We are people of the resurrection. The dead ends we face do not make us inadequate or unworthy of God’s grace; in fact, I think it is our brokenness that allows us to be more open to God’s grace.

These two scriptures – Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones and the resurrection of Lazarus – teach us that when all seems lost, God’s hope is still alive. Always! Death does not and will not have the final word.

I know this is hard to believe sometimes; there are in our earthly lives when it seems as though death, darkness, pain, anxiety, frustration, grief and suffering do have the final word.

In fact, many of us may be experiencing some of things right now.

But scripture teaches us that the dead ends we face here and now are not the end. From dry bones, came a body that new life was breathed into. From a decaying corpse came the resurrection of a man people were already mourning. And from the darkness of the challenges we face, light will shine.

What dead end are you facing at the moment? Where do you feel stuck? Are you grieving a loss? Trying to overcome a hurdle? Seeking a change to the course you are on?

This Lent – and this morning, especially – we are reminded that when God is involved, death never has the final word. Grief, sadness, frustration, struggles, anxiety, conflict and pain do not have the final word. God is stronger than all of them.

And God gives us that strength, as well.

We will find those moments of grace. We will find a renewed strength. We will experience resurrection. We will not be defined by the struggles of our earthly circumstances, but by the love of our resurrecting and redeeming God.

The dead ends we face will not be the end of our story. Our journey will continue.

So may resurrection be something that you not only find in scripture (or in British dramas). May you find, experience and be made whole by resurrection in your own lives, as well.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2, page. 123
[2] John 11:40, NRSV

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