Bible Text: John 11:1-45, Ezekiel 37:1-14 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: Giving It Up | Today we are going to continue working through our Lenten sermon series, “Giving It Up,” as we enter into the fifth Sunday of Lent. As we have talked about, during Lent many people will give up a luxury in their life like certain foods or drinks or habits. And this has proven to be a powerful and helpful thing for so many people. But what if there were other things we could give up, things that God wants us to give up? And not just for Lent, but always?
Last week we talked about giving up darkness and how we can find light not only through God’s grace and love, but also in each other. We talked about how, especially in current climate we find ourselves, we must always try to be light for others, and also allow them to be the light for us when we struggle in the darkness of uncertainty, loneliness, and pain. Today we are going to be using our readings from Ezekiel and the Gospel of John as we talk about giving up our lives.
These past weeks we have been talking about giving up things like control, expectations, superiority, and darkness. But now we come to the idea of giving up our lives. And just like everything else we have talked about so far, this can be interpreted in many different ways and understood from many different perspectives. We need look no further than our own lives and surrounding community to see how this idea can be thought of quite differently by many people.
If you are a parent or grandparent, you have given up your life to care for and raise your child or grandchild. You have sacrificed your own comfort, your preferences, and in some cases like that Baby Shark song, your sanity. If you are a police officer, firefighter, first responder, serve in the military, you have given up your life to serve and protect others. You have sacrificed your time and for some, your health and life.
If you are a medical professional like a nurse or doctor or others who work in hospitals and clinics and other places, you too have given up your life. Especially with where we find ourselves right now with this virus, you have given up your life to help sustain the lives of others. If you are a teacher or educational professional, you have given up your life to educate and help young people grow. You have sacrificed your time, your personal money, and, like parents, probably your sanity at times.
There are countless ways we can talk about how different people, different professions, and all of that have given up their lives. But what kind of perspective and focus do we find from our Scripture readings for today? Let’s jump into our passage from the book of Ezekiel and see what we find in those fourteen verses from the prophet priest from Jerusalem.
In this reading we find the story, or prophesy rather, of “The Valley of Dry Bones.” Here Ezekiel is brought by the spirit of the lord to a valley full of bones, like tons of them, all dried out. And God asks Ezekiel if these bones can live. Ezekiel says, “O Lord God, you know.” And then God calls Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones that God will bring them to life.
So, Ezekiel does as God commands and God brings the bones together, covers them with muscle and skin, and the breath of God comes into them. And then God says to Ezekiel, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel.” God goes on to talk about how God is going to reclaim the people, bring them back to life, rebuild the covenant with them. God creates life from death, nothingness, and hopelessness.
And the Bible is full of these kinds of paradoxes, and we find another example in our reading from John’s Gospel. Here we have the well-known story of the death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. Jesus actually was risking his safety by going back to Judea where Lazarus and his sisters were living, as the locals were close to stoning Jesus when he was last there. But Jesus being Jesus, went anyway to see his friend and do the ministry he needed to do.
So, Jesus goes and finds Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, as they are in mourning. Jesus reassures Martha that all is not lost, “Your brother will rise again.” And Martha replies that she knows that her brother will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. But Jesus tells her that he is the resurrection and the life, how those who try to keep their lives will die, but those who give up their lives for others will live.
Jesus goes to the tomb where Lazarus has been laid, and he weeps. Here we see the side of Jesus’ humanity in full display. But Jesus makes them move the stone away and he calls to Lazarus to come out. Lazarus does and is shown to be alive and well again. And we are told that, “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.”
You know, we are really used to thinking of life in terms of fixed beginnings and ends. And maybe even more so during times of panic and uncertainty like we are in now. But this story of Jesus calls us to throw away our old categories and presumptions, and to instead embrace God’s larger vision of eternal life that begins here and now.
Jesus gave up his life for all of humanity and creation. And we are called to give up our lives for each other. Maybe not in the exact same way as Jesus did, but we are called all the same. We are called to give up our lives for others by loving each other, by helping each other, by trying to meet the needs of those who face oppression and dire circumstances.
We find ourselves in the midst of strange times. The church is called to be IN the world, to reach out to the world, to be the body of Christ for the world. But right now, we cannot gather in large groups. We are supposed to practice social distancing. We are being asked to do things that are seemingly in opposition to what we understand the church to do. How can we give up our lives, and be the church when we are supposed to stay away from each other?
I think there still are some ways. I think we can give up our lives for others by calling each other. Especially those who we know are isolated the most. We can write letters, send postcards, and more. We can still be in contact, even if not in-person, and give of ourselves for others.
And maybe this is the time, more than any other, that we should really try to step it up in giving up our lives for others. Know someone who cannot get out to get their own groceries? See if you can drive them or just go pick food up for them. Know someone who is lonely? Call them. Write them. Draw them a picture and send it.
We probably, at some level, take for granted just how connected we are able to be normally. And now that we are needing to practice this social distancing, we struggle. But social distancing in this case is about physical interaction, not about cutting off our social connections to each other in other ways.
This Lent has been an usual one to say the least. We have been asked to give up much more than candy or coffee by this virus outbreak. And I know I have been asking a lot of us all too in giving up control, expectations, superiority, darkness, as well as our lives. But Lent is also about the journey to Easter. We know there is something amazing coming. We pray that this outbreak will soon be under control and we can get back to socializing, worshiping, and living in-person.
I hope and pray that we will all be together again soon, and I thank you for your patience, your support, and your love. No matter how long we must be apart from each other, we are still connected as beloved children of God, saved by the grace and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Stay strong in that knowledge, pray for one another, and stay healthy. Amen.