Sermon preached April 6, 2014
Texts: Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-44
I like poetry. If any of you were hoping that I would be that pastor who would be inviting you to my next mixed martial arts fight (http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/church-fight-club-pits-pastor-pastor-23188184), I am sorry to disappoint you. I was delighted to read this line in Anne Lamott’s book Help, Thanks, Wow: Poetry is the official palace language of Wow (79).
I might be no surprise to you then, that one of my favorite movies is Dead Poets Society (1989), where Robin Williams plays an English teacher at a boys prep school. The film is where I recall my attention first being drawn to Henry David Thoreau’s words from Walden: I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life…. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life (172). In the film the lines of Walt Whitman are cited (as on your insert). The question, O me! So sad recurring – What good amid these, O me, O life?/Answer/That you are here – the life exists and identity,/that the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Life. Life and life only. Full, rich abundant life, better life than we ever dreamed of. Among the shades of God as we know God in Jesus Christ is that God is life giving. In the words of theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, God liberates because God is the God of life (The God of Life, 3)
The two Scripture texts for today are well-known to those of us who have been around the Bible for a while, and they are well-known stories about the God of Jesus Christ as life-giving. Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary, dies. He is dead, stinking dead – “already there is a stench.” Martha trusts that her brother “will rise again in the resurrection on the last day,” but Jesus assures Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.” The stone is rolled from the grave. The stench clears and Lazarus is unbound.
God gives a vision to Ezekiel. 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…. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?”… Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live…. The breath came into them, and they lived.
There is life, and there is life. Thoreau did not want to come to the end of his life and wonder if he had lived. In Help, Thanks, Wow, Anne Lamott writes, “when nothing new can get in, that’s death.” Somehow, even when we are alive, our lives can become bound up and stink. Even in the midst of life, we can become like dry bones. Where is the Life we have lost in living? the poet T. S. Eliot asks (“The Rock” chorus 1). The theologian Dorothee Soelle writes, “It is possible to miss the whole of life, to throw it away, to treat it as a disposable object” (Choosing Life, 8).
We can live life so that life is narrow, fearful, cynical. That kind of life is like being bound in stinky grave cloths. That kind of life is like dry bones strewn across a valley.
God desires for us something else. The theologian Paul Tillich, in words not on your insert, argues that life in the Spirit is marked by “increasing awareness… increasing freedom… increasing relatedness… increasing transcendence” (Systematic Theology, III, 231). God desires for us life that is truly life, life where we are more aware of ourselves and the world, life where we are freer, life where we are more deeply related to others, and life where we grow in relationship to God.
God, the life-giving Spirit, the God of Jesus Christ who is the resurrection and the life even now, not just at some future time, God desires for us life that is truly life – wider horizons, a larger heart, minds set free, room to move around. Patrick Henry goes on to write, Curiosity, imagination, exploration, adventure are not preliminary to Christian identity, a kind of booster rocket to be jettisoned when spiritual orbit is achieved. They are part of the payload. (The Ironic Christian’s Companion, 8-9)
God, the life-giving Spirit, the God of Jesus Christ who is the resurrection and the life even now, not just at some future time, God desires for us life that has some Wow in it. Anne Lamott: “Wow” is about having one’s mind blown by the mesmerizing or the miraculous: the veins in a leaf, birdsong, volcanoes…. Gorgeous, amazing things come into our lives when we are paying attention…. Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time. Let it be. Unto us, so much is given. We just have to be open for business. (Help, Thanks, Wow, 71, 85)
This life that God desires for us is not something that we hoard, but something that is also shared. Life in God’s Spirit is a life of increasing relatedness. Lazarus comes to life again in the midst of relationship with Mary, Martha, and Jesus. Together they unbind him.
This life that God desires for us is something God desires for the whole world. To come more alive in God’s Spirit is also to realize that there is a lot in the world that does not promote fullness of life, and God calls us to do what we can to clear the way for life. Dorothee Soelle: Choosing life is the very capacity for not putting up with the matter-of-course destruction of life surrounding us, and the matter-of-course cynicism that is our constant companion (Choosing Life, 7). Jurgen Moltmann: Life in God’s Spirit is life against death…. To say ‘yes’ to life means saying ‘no’ to war and its devastations. To say ‘yes’ to life means saying ‘no’ to poverty and its humiliations. There is no genuine affirmation of life in this world without the struggle against life’s negations. (The Spirit of Life, 97-98)
Our job as a church , as a Jesus community, is to connect with the God of life. We are here to unbind one another, to help each other move from dry bones to the dance of life. Connecting with the God of life, we are different. Connecting with the God of life, we seek to make the world different.
Let me leave you with these images of living life in the dance of God the life-giver (Denise Levertov, “The Avowal”).
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.