Son of Man, Can Your Bones Live?

What would it have been like, on the first Holy Saturday?

What would it be like, tonight, if Jesus has been dead for almost 33 hours?

All the hopes and dreams of tonight’s readings – shattered. Blown away by the cold winds of death. Jesus of Nazareth lies in a dark grave, and we, his shell-shocked followers, gather to make some sort of sense of this week’s events – to salvage some sort of hope from this week’s wreckage.

And so, some sorry snots get up to try and encourage us. They open up the Hebrew Scriptures and read about our great God.

  • Remember, when He made the heavens, earth, and humans?
  • Remember, when He rescued Noah?
  • Remember, when he stayed Abraham’s knife-laden hand?
  • Remember, when he rescued us from Egypt?
  • Remember, when he promised to bring us back from exile, restore our fortunes, and open our… graves?

It’s too much, too soon. Shut up and sit down! Leave us mourn and weep awhile! Jesus is dead! The one we thought would save us is dead!

It’s been over a day. It’s been almost 2,000 years.

Can these bones live?

Can these bones live?

The question haunts us. The answer is so obviously “No! Of course not! They’re bones! No flesh, no breath, no life!”

And yet, God asks Ezekiel. And He asks us. Can these bones live?

And sure, we know the answer, but sit with this awhile.

Can these bones live? Can Christ’s bones live?

Surely this question must have flickered in someone’s mind on the first Holy Saturday. And, yes, we know the answer, but sit with this awhile.

Look at the world! Dealing in death, day by day. Wars. Famines. Floods. Diseases. Droughts. Death.

Can these bones live?

Look at the Church! Claiming with her lips to follow Jesus Christ, and yet so often proving with her life that she wants no such thing. Scandal. Hypocrisy. Idolatry.

Can these bones live?

Look at yourselves! I’ll be honest, the question “can these bones live?” is put to every preacher facing a congregation! If the Spirit doesn’t move, I’m throwing hot air at dry bones!

Can your bones live?

But then, look at me! Just as scandalous, hypocritical, and idolatrous as any – and yet here I stand, presuming to proclaim the Word of God to you.

Who do I think I am? Can my bones live?

Can all these dry, dead bones live?

Friends, there’s a reason why we’re here, though it’s so dark, so late. Sure, it’s to bring in, bright and oh so early, the celebration of Easter.

But it’s also because keeping vigil is what the Church does every day. We keep vigil for the sake of a suffering and dying world. We keep watch for our bridegroom to return and wipe away every tear, to right every wrong. We stay awake at the world’s late hour, surrounded by so many dry, dead bones.

Can these bones live?

Yes. They can. But, what do they need in order to do so?

First, they need some WATER. Did you notice how often water has appeared in tonight’s readings?

  • The waters of creation, out of which God called the dry ground – out of which He formed human beings.
  • The waters of judgment, through which God saved Noah and his family in the Ark.
  • The waters of redemption, through which God rescued Israel from the Egyptian house of slavery.
  • And the waters of cleansing, by which the Lord promised in the prophets to wash away His people’s guilty stains.

Water, water, everywhere! Except the dry valley.

I think the dry bones need some sort of water.

They also need some sort of SPIRIT. You know, God’s Spirit, His breath, His wind, who hovered over the waters at creation.

  • Who filled the first humans with life.
  • Who led God’s people.
  • Who inspired and preserved the words of Scripture we read this evening.
  • Who rushed upon the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision – making them into a great army, alive!

Dry bones need the Spirit.

But, the question isn’t “Can these bones get wet and windy?” It’s “Can they LIVE?!”

And, if they’re going to live, they’re going to need a RESURRECTION.

  • They need the defeat of their most ancient enemy: Death!
  • They need Death’s reversal! They need Death’s death!
  • They need exactly what God promised Ezekiel: to open their graves, and lift them up, living!

Amen! Glory, glory, hallelujah!

But, if I hear Ezekiel’s glorious vision read at the first Holy Saturday, I’m tempted to lose it at this point. To bitterly ask those gathered:

When?! That sounds great, but when?! When is God going to do this?!

For over five hundred years since Ezekiel, we’ve been falling into our graves over and over again – and staying there! Sure, it’s no longer in Babylon, but we’ve been invaded and harassed and dominated here in Judah ever since!

Is it really that much better to fall into the grave under Rome’s heavy heel, like Jesus?

Why not Babylon’s?

Why not Assyria’s?

Heck, why not Pharaoh’s?

When is God going to turn things around?!”

Thankfully, I wasn’t in the audience back then. But we’re here, tonight. And maybe you’re similarly tempted to lose it and freak out sometimes in church!

All this pretty Jesus-talk, when for over 2,000 years the Church has travailed in the midst of a deadly and dying world.

We thank Jesus for our oversized meals, cars, and houses, while thousands fall into their graves around us – tired, hungry, destitute, and alone.

So, on the first Holy Saturday and the 2,000th, the question is roughly the same:

When?! When is God going to turn things around?!

And the answer is likewise the same. We sang it, earlier:

When?

THIS IS THE NIGHT.

When did God open the grave?

THIS IS THE NIGHT, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.”

So, can these bones live? Yes!

Can Christ’s bones live? Yes! For on this night, some 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ got up from the tomb. He was alive. He was dead. But he is now alive again.

Can our bones live? Yes!

How? Because Christ has provided the resurrection, the Spirit, and the water we need.

Because, through the waters of baptism, we receive the Spirit and the resurrection.

Now, we aren’t going to baptize anyone tonight. We’ll have to wait until later this morning to do so. But we are about to renew our baptismal vows.

  • Through our baptism, we are preserved, like Noah, from the waters of Sin and Death, in the Ark, the Church.
  • Through our baptism, we are ransomed and rescued, like Israel, through the waters of the Red Sea.
  • Through our baptism, we are cleansed with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, as God promised through Isaiah and Ezekiel.
  • Through our baptism, we are buried with Christ in his death, and are raised with him in newness of life.
  • Through our baptism, we are empowered and emboldened to proclaim the good news to a desperate world that JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN.

So, we can assure the world that their bones can live, because Christ has died.

We can rest assured that our bones can live, because Christ is risen.

And we can keep watch for the sake of a suffering world, because Jesus Christ will come again.

Amen.


(Sermon preached on Easter Vigil, March 26, 2016. For an idea of the readings which preceded the homily in this service, see here.)

The Hope of the Holy Innocents

(PDF: The Hope of the Holy Innocents)

Today is December 28 (2014) – just the third day since Christmas – a commemoration of what is often called “The Slaughter of the Innocents,” the killing of the baby boys of Bethlehem by King Herod.

The Church’s regard for this day as a feast day is quite early, going back to at least the fifth century. In the fourth century, Chromatius described these babies as the first martyrs of Christ – the first counted worthy to die on Christ’s behalf. Around the same time, St. Augustine claimed that these nameless victims, “whom Herod’s cruelty tore as sucklings from their mothers’ bosom are justly hailed as the infant martyr flowers, the first buds of the church killed by the frost of persecution. They died not only for Christ but in his stead.”

What if we knew the names of the victims of Herod’s infamous, paranoid rage?

What if the cries of Bethlehem took place today in Birmingham?

…For [REDACTED (NAMES OF BOYS IN CHURCH AGED TWO AND UNDER)] Continue reading “The Hope of the Holy Innocents”

Down With the Pacifists!

The past week has been a great one for slipshod attacks on pacifism. First, from First Things (Stephen H. Webb) on October 15 —- “John Howard Yoder and the Violent Power of Pacifism” (emphasis added below):

“Nevertheless, pacifists, at least the ones I know, can be very enthusiastic about the rightness of their cause. Since there is no rational justification for pacifism, defenders typically turn their rhetoric against their critics by casting them as stooges of the status quo. Since pacifists are against all forms of violence, anyone who disagrees with them must be in favor of violence. What this ploy misses is obvious. In a fallen world, not only is violence pervasive but it is also a toxin that, when legitimately used, can cure as well as kill.

[…]

“So we now know that [John Howard] Yoder was a violent man who believed so wholeheartedly in his own non-violent theology that he thought he could re-order human sexual relations. This single case does not invalidate pacifism, but it does reveal just how delusional the pacifist goal can be. The pursuit of peace at all costs is just as dangerous as any other dream that cuts against the realities of human nature.”

Exactly one week later, Mark Driscoll came out with this gem, “Is God a Pacifist?”:

“JESUS IS NOT A PANSY OR A PACIFIST 

“One of the defining attributes of God’s coming kingdom is shalom—perfect peace untainted by sin, violence, or bloodshed of any sort. Such a kingdom is only possible if an all-powerful, benevolent Authority vanquishes his enemies. In other words, the Prince of Peace is not a pacifist.

“God is the author of life and sovereign over death.

“Those who want to portray Jesus as a pansy or a pacifist are prone to be very selective in the parts of the Bible they quote. But the God of the bloody Old Testament is Jesus Christ. When he became a man, he walked the earth as a working-class carpenter. The European, long-haired, dress-wearing, hippie Jesus is a bad myth from a bad artist who mistook Jesus for a community college humanities professor. But if we want to learn all about Jesus we have to read all that the Bible says about him. Here’s how Jesus will appear one day:” [Proceeds to quote his favorite Bible passage, Revelation 14:14-20.]

What about you? What’s your take on pacifism? And, if you’re going to critique it, please do a better job than Driscoll & Co.!

Unity?

The more I study the New Testament, I become more convinced that the unity of the Church is of utmost importance to God.

What bothers me is that this has never been taught to me before. All of the things I’ve learned (specifically in my studies on Philippians, Galatians, and now Romans) about the importance of unity for the sake of the Gospel mission and the Kingdom of God have come as somewhat of a shock.

It’s not that I’ve never heard about the importance of unity before. But when the topic has been addressed in the past, it’s amounted to little more than being nice to my friends…people who are already likely to be remarkably similar to me, people already within  the little camp of Christianity in which I have grown-up.

But it’s never been encouraged to spread to other Christian “camps.” Forget the Pentecostals, Anglicans, Methodists, Catholics, Presbyterians, etc. If the pastor’s feeling a bit edgy, we can partner with them on service projects, but unless the “others” get their act together, they are to be tolerated at best, and at worst ridiculed.

Instead, in my particular stream of Christianity, the focus has been placed on two things: doctrinal orthodoxy and moral purity.

Please don’t hear me wrongly, I am not denying the importance of either of these two things. God is meant to be known well, and to do that we must think, talk, teach, and speak about him well. Theology is not to be a shoddy enterprise, and we must constantly examine ourselves, aware of the shortcomings of our humanness, in the pursuit of understanding of Yahweh. Furthermore, Yahweh is a holy God. He hates Sin and Death, and if we are serious about following him, we must hate Sin and Death as well.

Christ calls us to live Genesis 1-2 lives in a Genesis 3 world.

But, wait a second. Go back and read that again. “Christ calls us to live Genesis 1-2 lives in a Genesis 3 world.” What popped into your head as you read that sentence? What should characterize that Genesis 1-2 kind of life?

I fear that, if you’ve inherited the same stream of Christianity that I have, unity and interpersonal relationships were not the first things to color your vision of what Genesis 1-2 would look like today. Instead, we (conservative evangelical North American Christians) are much more likely to think of living a morally spotless life driven by a flawless theology. With no sin to fetter us and lead us toward doctrinal laxity, we would be free to enjoy God forever.

We have flattened Christianity by focusing on these things at the expense of focusing on the rich vision of community and unity that we find in the pages of Scripture. Read Genesis 1-2. We were created to enjoy God, yes. We were created to live without sin, yes. But we were created to enjoy and be enjoyed by each other. We were made to know and be known. God’s perfect shalom included much more than moral purity and doctrinal orthodoxy. It included perfect relationships: with God, with each other, with our own “self”s, and with all of creation.

And likewise, the Fall of Genesis 3 broke relationships. It separated us from God, estranged us from each other, introduced discord within our own psyches, and infected the creation in which we dwell. Sin and Death were unleashed into the cosmos, and they have polluted and twisted every layer.

The call back to Genesis 1-2 therefore involves much more than right doctrine and moral purity. God is in the process of redeeming everything. And every time we cut his redemptive mission in half (or sometimes smaller), we do so at our own peril.

…toward the administration of the fullness of the times, to head up all things in Christ – the things in heaven and the things on earth. (Ephesians 1:10 NET)

I believe that God’s heart breaks over the lack of unity in his Church today. Is he pleased with the individual moral sins we love to emphasize? By no means. Is he pleased with bad theology? No way. But something is seriously amiss if we do not think that God’s heart breaks over the fragmentation within the Body of Christ.

What do you think about this issue? Why does this not bother us like it should? And most importantly, what can we do to address this problem?

Grace and peace,

~Josh