3.06.2008

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Ezekiel 37: 1 - 14
Psalm 130
Romans 8: 6 - 11
John 11: 1 - 45

In general, with the "popular" understanding of God, we want to imagine God as All-Powerful. We want to imagine God as All-Loving. And inevitably, as we sometimes misread, misinterpret, and misallocate scripture, we run in to questions like, "If God is All-Powerful and All-Loving, how could God allow the Holocaust, Genocide in Darfur, children dying from malnutrition, desecration of the Creation, etc?"

It is easy in the middle of horrible situations (from the large scale of Genocide to a smaller scale of losing a job) to shake our fist at the sky and wonder why God has left us hanging out to dry. It is easy to assume that because some sort of difficulty has arrived in our lives, we are being punished for something we have done or left undone.

We want God to be SuperHuman and solve our human problems in ways that we can imagine--the thing is God is not human.

Part of the difficulty of this type of question is that we are applying Our Human understanding of Love and Power and Our understanding of Control and Our own logic to....God. This is not to say that genocide is not painful to God. However, we do sometimes get caught in a trap of wanting Our world to be (from Our perspective) smooth and bumpless; and then, since We cannot seem to make things work out Ourselves (because, it seems We might be a part of the problem) We call in, and sometimes blame, God.

We pray that God will hit the reset button.

We pray that God will make the particular problem go away.

Essentially, We are praying (and hoping and sometimes demanding) God will eliminate the problem (and all of it's contributing factors) as we have defined it, as we understand it, and as we would solve it.

When we read the stories of scripture carefully, we notice God provides solutions We could not imagine in ways We are not capable of envisioning. We see God providing miraculous solutions and We want to have a miracle of Our own. It turns out God is not under Our control, obligated by Our understandings, accountable to Our clamoring, Our questions, or Our time table.

Ezekiel is a prophet called in the midst of Israel's exile in Babylon after the fall of the Temple. He is part of a society beaten and bruised, away from the comforts of home and the familiarity of their own culture and tradition. They have pushed back on God and their covenant again and again. It seems they have lost the land once and for all. By all human measures, they should be lost to God. Amidst a valley rattling with dry bones, the Lord commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones themselves, telling them to come together, to grow flesh and to breathe again. God remained faithful in God's own way and in God's own time. And behold, they do. Beyond this week's reading, God shows Ezekiel a new society, a new justice and new tranquility.

The Psalmist writes about expectation and supplication and ultimately hope. The encouragement is for Israel to recognize the Lord's great power to redeem. It is easy for us to project on this writer that he or she may have had some plans on what God should / could do whenever God showed up "in the morning." However, we do see in this Psalm the hope and trust that God will be faithful and will stay true to the covenant made earlier.

In the gospel of John, we have a more convoluted story. Lazarus has been a good friend to Jesus. When Jesus receives word of Lazarus' illness, he asserts that this illness is actually an event through which God's glory will be revealed. And then he waits two days more, after which he tells his disciples that they are going to return to Judea. Now the disciples protest - in Judea they will face an angry crowd. Jesus knows this, and chooses to face the threat. He's not bending to societal pressure. Nor is Jesus (the Son of God, remember) held down by the same fears that are holding the disciples. He's in relationship with God and is doing what he understands that he is to do regardless of what his followers or his society thinks. He knows Lazarus is dead and he knows that he is going to change that. He confidently calls Lazarus out of the tomb because he knows God remains faithful in God's own way in God's own time.

Paul's letter to the church in Rome encourages the community to understand the difference between what they know in flesh and what they know in Spirit. The people he writes to are under terrible pressure to not be followers of Jesus. They are surrounded by the threat of persecution. They are attempting to follow a new model that runs contrary to the Roman, Caesar-worshiping society around them. Paul is gently reminding them that if they live only looking at the physical problems (of the flesh) surrounding them, then they will surely die. If they only look at the difficulties, then difficulties will be all they see. He encourages them to rest in the Spirit of God that "will give life to your mortal bodies", even in the midst of the broken American...er..Roman system.

Nowhere in the Hebrew or Christian scriptures do we find a promise from God that everything will be perfect or that we will not experience pain in our lives. Nowhere do we find a promise that our bodies will not decay and die. Nowhere do we find a promise that when we wish upon a star, no matter where we are, our dreams will come true. Contrary to the border-increasing "Prayer of Jabez", God is not a genie in a lamp that we hit up for favors
and use to stay out of trouble.

However, it is easy to find examples and promises that God will be faithful to us. The difficult thing here is discerning / understanding what God's faithfulness looks like for us. The difficult thing is allowing that maybe We, while completely loved by God, might not have the greatest perspective on what are the primary problems, nor how they might be made right.

  • ­Do you believe God is in complete control of everything?
  • Is God responsible for everything we attribute to be Divine Punishment or Reward?
  • What role do we play in the creation and solution of the difficult circumstances of our lives?
  • Where have you seen in your life (or in history) God putting breath back in to dry bones?

The light of life is a finite flame. Like the Sabbath candles, life is
kindled, it burns, it glows, it is radiant with warmth and beauty. But soon
it fades; its substance is consumed, and it is no more. In light we see; in
light we are seen. The flames dance and our lives are full. But as night
follows day, the candle of our life burns down and gutters. There is an end
to the flames. We see no more and are no more seen. Yet we do not despair,
for we are more than a memory slowly fading into the darkness. With our
lives we give life. Something of us can never die; we move in the eternal
cycle of darkness and death, of light and life.

-The New Union Prayer Book

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