Flesh and Bones – Rev. Tony Romaine – March 29th, 2020
There is a plant called the Rose of Jericho which is more commonly know as the resurrection plant. This plant has the genus name of Anastatica which is fitting, for this genus stems from the Greek word Anastasis, or resurrection. The Rose of Jericho can be dried up and seemingly dead, lying dormant for years during dry seasons until rain comes and the roots take hold and then it sprouts to reveal tiny white flowers ready for pollination.
In the Valley of Dry Bones Ezekiel is facing a scary thing. He is in a valley filled with those who have seemingly died. Not only that, but for a Jew, this place would be highly ceremonially unclean, since to touch someone who had not been properly prepared for burial and was just left out in a valley to die would be taboo. However, in this prophetic vision where God is preparing Ezekiel to prophesy to Israel, God is asking Ezekiel to imagine something that would be beyond normal human thought. And so when God asks Ezekiel if he thinks God can “make these bones live,” Ezekiel answers, “O Lord God, you know.” And then a most amazing thing happens, God breathes life into the bones, or as it says in some ancient sources, gives them spirit.
We read this vision from Ezekiel and hear of God doing this to the dry bones of the valley for a very important reason during Lent, and one that has become even more important to us now in the season we are in. Because the second part of the prophecy after God indeed creates life out of dry bones after Ezekiel shares the Word of God, is that God tells Ezekiel this will be what will happen to Israel. While now it is a people who think they are forgotten, they think of themselves as dry bones in the desert, void of life, void of breath, void of spirit; God is going to do great things with these people.
We are in a season of great doubt right now. We are those who feel like our lives are dry or at the least; parched. We are those who if asked to prophecy that God can and will indeed bring us back to life as a church again, might scatter messages of doubt. But God is indeed breathing life into us and sending us the Holy Spirit. Even in the most arid places, we are still loved by our Creator and God will not abandon us to the desert or the dry valleys. This arid place of social isolation and not being able to be present in our church is just a temporary exile for us, a temporary season, from which we will one day rise again and join in worship with one another.
How do I know? Flesh and Bones
Our God loves us so much as to take on the form of flesh and bone, to send Jesus to come and save us for all eternity. And why would God do such a thing for us. For a people who cannot help but sin, a people who doubt the resurrection even after we see it or learn about it, for a people who are resolute sometimes to do everything contrary to Jesus’ teachings, to God’s teachings. Why would God sacrifice so much to save us?
Look at your hand right now, I mean take a good look. What do you see? You see skin, perhaps scars of a reckless youth, or misshapen fingers due to old injuries or arthritis. You can see tendons which because of muscle and strength can move fingers about. You see blood vessels which carry the life force to your capillaries and back again to your heart. You may even see a birth mark or wrinkle or two! But what you cannot see is the atomic level of your hand. The life which is moving so rapidly in the form of atoms and molecules that it has made your hand hard enough to form a fist or soft enough to receive the hand of your loved ones. What you cannot see is the chemical compounds that are at work within your hand right now. The bacteria that is there and the cells and antibodies within your hand fighting to fend off infection. Now many of you are probably asking why I am going on about your hand…
Well, there is one more thing you cannot see in that hand of yours but has been there all along; God’s hand. You see that hand of yours is not technically yours. Alright, now Pastor Tony has gone off the deep end! No, that hand is yours and attached to your arm alright, but your flesh, your bones that is God’s. God created your hand, every little intricacy that we have already mentioned, and you are God’s creation in every way, shape, and form.
That is why God did so much to save you. That is why God breathed life into your dry bones, that is why God sent Jesus to demonstrate to us all that there is a power at work in our world that is greater than death, that can conquer our greatest fears, and that can save and resurrect even those who we think have died. Because the God who created our flesh and bones loves us as the Creation that sinned and left the garden, as the creation that has been dry for so many years, and as the creation that is now in need of being watered and given roots once more.
We may not be able to worship together right now in a physical location. It may seem like we are tossed about and scattered as seeds in the wind. But we are together, we are always together, for God’s flesh and bone within me, is also the flesh and bone inside you.
We do hear in Romans Paul saying we are not in the flesh, but are in the Spirit together. So why would Paul say that to the church in Rome? Perhaps he wanted them to stop all the vices and sins of the flesh which would prevent them from recognizing the Holy Spirit at work within them through Jesus Christ. Perhaps he wanted them to stop focusing so much on the Roman ways of satisfying every physical need.
But I think more so Paul wants the church in Rome to truly know what it means that when we are connected by the Holy Spirit, by God our Creator, that in that Spirit we are made one through our mortal bodies. And that if we are conjoined by the Holy Spirit then distance, time, or the ills and sins of our flesh cannot separate us from the love of God. Moreover, when we die to the superficiality of parts of our human existence, the things of our world that are of this world but not of God, then we will truly gain life with the Spirit and a new perspective on how we can truly live within our bodies. As Paul says in verse eleven, “If 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.”
Flesh and bone
This now brings us to our Gospel passage for today. If anyone ever doubted that God became incarnate through Jesus Christ, this passage where Jesus weeps at the loss of a friend and feels the very human grief which we all feel when someone close to us dies, is prime example of the human part of Jesus. Yes Jesus knew he could raise Lazarus from the dead. Yes, Jesus knew all he had to do was say the word and it would happen. But there was a part of Jesus that just could not move beyond the grief without taking the time to weep, a part of Jesus that was so tied into the flesh and bone that when it came time to go and see the place where Lazarus lay, even Jesus wept.
Who knows what he must have been feeling at that time? Perhaps he was feeling a physical separation from the distance between Him and Lazarus? Perhaps he was weeping at the loss of a friend. Perhaps he was weeping because he knew yet again, he was going to have to perform a miracle for this stubborn people to believe. Or perhaps he was weeping at his own callousness of when he said that Lazarus had to fall ill, even die, so others would believe.
Regardless, Jesus is still “very disturbed” when he reaches the tomb and Lazarus is definitely dead, in fact he has been for at least four days, and when Jesus cries out to him, he comes out and Jesus commands him unbound. The flesh and bone that had no life was breathed life into it via Jesus and the dry bones of a dead Lazarus were resurrected, so that all who would witness would believe. And in this moment, Jesus did not deny the pain of human existence, or the discomfort and grief that comes with illness and death. No, in this moment, Jesus fighting back the disturbed-ness within himself, works God’s will in the world and demonstrates that those who believe will be given a new life; our flesh and bones which wither and crumble, can gain new breath; our old normal, given a new and amazing future.
The question I am left with trying to tackle then is why? Why put Mary and Martha and himself through all of this? Why not go to Lazarus right away and heal him and just skip the whole “raising from the dead” part? The answer is not perhaps what you might think; well partly! Yes, it is so those who do not believe would believe and those who needed to see it for themselves would believe and so the Pharisees could not just say that Jesus was another magician or prophet who heals, but one who actually can conquer death. That part is well ingrained in us. The other part is so that we proclaim just who Jesus was, what Jesus did, and just how far Jesus is willing to go.
We get this from the part of the Gospel when Lazarus comes out from the tomb and Jesus says, “Unbind him and let him go.” Go where? Do what? Run to Jesus and thank him for another chance at life? Perhaps, but whatever Lazarus does, his life itself is a proclamation to the world that Jesus indeed is God. And whether or not Lazarus became a great proclaimer of the faith we do not hear of, but what we do know is that in the very next chapter of John, the chief priests plot to kill Lazarus! The very existence of flesh and bone that had been saved, that had been resurrected, that in and of itself could preach, without even saying one word, about the conquering of life over death was so dangerous to the chief priests, they plotted to get rid of the flesh and bone that demonstrated the power of God!
See, our very existence whether we are a million miles apart or just feet from each other, is a testament to the will of God. Our flesh and bone are so important that Jesus was sent to save us. And our flesh and bone is so important because it is God’s, that no matter what, whether we are ill and die, whether we are dry bones in the desert, whether we are buried in body or ash, whether we can physically be next to one another or must live through this season of distance as exiled people…our God loves us beyond death, beyond life, beyond all human limitations. And what this world needs to know is that we, who are connected by the Holy Spirit are of one body which cannot be dashed by the Coronavirus or misled by poor governance. That regardless of a lack of date of when or where or how, we know our God will come and call out to us through the doors of our houses, calling us to “come out,” to be unbound and set free to go…
Flesh and bone
One spectacular thing about the resurrection plant…in some particularly dry seasons, it rolls itself up into a ball and can blow around like tumbleweed awaiting its next place to set root, its next place to be watered, its next opportunity to bloom and be pollinated and seed and disperse into the world again. We may be rolling about now in a dry season, a season of unexpected change, a season of doubt and confusion. But do not despair, for the God who breathed life into the dry valley, who joins us in the same Spirit, who loves your flesh and bones, will one day place our roots again in deep soil and water us from the eternal spring; and on that day, we will indeed bloom brightly once more, Amen!
“Unprepared” – Rev. Tony Romaine – 03/15/2020
One time I planned a day long hike for my wife and myself. We were planning on hiking out to a place called Rabbit Ears, were going to eat lunch out there, then return home. Since we knew this trip was going to be a long one, we packed not only our lunch, but plenty of water to drink along the way. We had a very nice trip, but on our way back to our car, we noticed a group of hikers coming toward us that had not packed anything. Knowing they had quite a bit of hiking ahead of them in the Summer heat of the mountains in Colorado, and that they had only a little bit of water and that was it, we gave them what water we had not used and some bananas too boot. But the thought that kept going through my mind was how unprepared they were for this long journey they were on.
Unprepared is probably exactly how our ancestors who we hear in the Genesis passage for today must have felt when they had to journey through the wilderness and did not know where their food would come from or where they might get water. All they knew is that they had to get out of Egypt and follow God’s call into the wilderness. But what they were truly unprepared for was how God would work in their lives and provide for them all they would ever need.
Unprepared is exactly what the Samaritan woman at the well was for Jesus that day. As we hear in Gospel passage, she is so stunned that a Jew would even be talking to a Samaritan, let alone a stranger at a well. But the most stunning thing Jesus does for her is to tell her everything from her past that only she would know about. Demonstrating to her that He is a prophet, until the time she says to Jesus that she has heard one will come who is to be called the Messiah, where Jesus responded, “I am He.”
Unprepared was she also because she was being offered the living water of forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love that only Jesus can provide, water which will quench the eternal thirst of our sinfulness, water that will never run out. And in an act of great significance, but is so often overlooked, as this stunned Samaritan woman, who has just been personally welcomed into eternal life through Jesus, returns to town to witness to all there…she leaves her water jar behind! What need have we of any other water when we have the Word of Jesus?
As I give this message today, we are in the midst of two seasons which leave us unprepared: Lent and, a new one to us, Coronavirus. As a person who does not believe in luck and seeks to find how God is working in everything, I do not want to tie God’s will into any virus or pandemic. However, the fact that this is striking us in the midst of the season of Lent cannot go unnoticed. At the time when we are fasting, praying, meditating, spending time reflecting on our existence and our soul-journey with God, we are now also having to be separated, distanced, away from what is normal, and take precautions that leave us at best feeling unprepared and at worst panicked.
See, we like to think we are very different from the ancient Israelites who were berating Moses and asking him why he led them out of Egypt into this wilderness where they have no food or drink. Sure, they may have been slaves back in Egypt, but at least they had stuff to drink and to eat. But we are not like those people, those people panicked and turned to the only thing that they knew as normal. Those people questioned why God would ever leave them to be in this wretched desert. Those people did not trust that God would provide. But are we very different from “those” people at all?
And are we different from the woman at the well? Perhaps we say to ourselves, “If Jesus were talking to me, I would know it was Him!” Or we say, “Why didn’t she just trust and believe it right away when she saw Him, of course he was Jesus!” Or we say, “How come the townspeople had to invite Jesus to their town to preach, why didn’t they just trust the woman’s testimony?” And again, are we very different from the woman or the townspeople? Would we know it if God was talking to us through a Savior? Would we know it if God were talking to us directly? Would we trust someone who witnesses the faith to us that her testimony is true, or are we a “see it for myself” type of people?
Alright, I think we know the answers and that is why I ask these rhetorical questions. But here is the hope amidst our journey that comes from our passage in Romans: God sent Jesus, Jesus came, and did so even before we could know, even before we could believe; in our total un-preparedness, God saved us. Which begs the excellent question, why?
God sent Jesus, who willingly died for our sins upon the Cross, because we are always unprepared. Whether we willingly sin or unknowingly sin, our hearts need the reconciling love of Jesus Christ to save us because there is an imperfection to our humanity that prevents us from being totally prepared. At any point in time, we are the lost in the wilderness who are doubting our God and asking for food and water, or perhaps even asking to be enslaved by the sins of our creature comforts as we deny that God can or will provide, or are denying God and worshiping our false idols of government or television or celebrity who we think can provide for us. At any point in time, we are the Samaritan woman by the well, trying to hide the sins of our past, trying to hide the sins of our present, trying to be something we are not and being called to the Cross through Jesus who knows the depths of our souls.
But the hope in this, is that at every point in time, we are loved by Our Creator who knows every hair on our head, every inch of our bodies and who loves us beyond compare. The hope is that though unprepared, though imperfect, though sinners, though guilty of treating our neighbors as enemies and our friends as strangers; the hope is that Our God saved us by a grace we cannot obtain on our own, by a power not found through food or water, by a forgiveness that runs deeper than the deepest well, and by a love that can outlast any season, any virus, any wilderness we may be going through.
This is the hope in the eternal Christ who has saved our souls for eternity through the Easter we will one day celebrate, and hope that we will once again come together as a congregation and be able to worship and see each other and perhaps even embrace that we made it through an unprecedented wilderness; that we survived by the grace of God.
And in these times, in this wilderness, of Lent and Coronavirus, when we feel most unprepared, we must use our God-given wisdom and scientifically appropriate precautions to limit our exposure to each other. However, we can still pray, we can still call one another, we can still love, and we can still be together in this journey through the blessing of a phone call, a letter, a card, a note, a mysterious bag of groceries, and yes even an extra package of toilet paper left for those who need it!
I am just as guilty as the next person of being against the distancing modern technology affords. But, we too often forget that medical improvements, modern technology, and the devices we use that indeed can separate us; if put to the right purposes can also be used to draw us together.
This is the blessed perspective that we all too often forget in these times of peril. Yes, if we want, we can fall into despair and depression. But if we hope, if we have faith in God, if we trust in Christ’s promise, then we can make it through by relying on God’s Word, God’s Grace, and God’s Love through each and every one of us.
We are amidst a wilderness; we are on a long hike that seems to have no end. But let us not despair, for we know that there is an Easter light on the horizon, we know that our God will not forsake us, we know that when we cry out to God for help in the middle of life’s trials and tribulations, that God hears our prayers. And when all seems lost, we know and trust and believe in Jesus who is living water, food without end, and eternal love everlasting!
So we are unprepared, we are in over our heads, we perhaps feel we are on a long hike without the basics to get us through, parched, hungry, thirsting for normalcy; then let us turn to Our Guide, Our Provider, Our Eternal God! For God has given us the eternal water of Jesus Christ, the manna of our Daily Bread, and God is longing for us, loving us, even when we are unprepared, Amen!