Reflections from Sunday, April 2/17
Transform: Transforming unjust structures, challenging violence of every kind, and pursuing peace and reconciliation.
Have you ever noticed that the world around us is full of stories of people trying to find their way? Whether it’s individuals braving the harshest of winter conditions to trek across seemingly endless fields, waist deep in snow, literally risking life and limb; or families having to leave the home they and their families have known for generation upon generation because it has just become too dangerous to stay, or people having lost members of their families unexpectedly, sometimes even tragically, and having to find a way, impossible as it may seem to go on without them. Displacement.
We see this theme of displacement frequently in the Hebrew Scriptures – think of some of our best known stories … Adam and Eve told to leave the garden of Eden, the children of Israel living lives as foreigners and slaves in Egypt, not to mention 70 years of Exiles in Babylon. In the New Testament there seems to be endless stories about how life takes us in directions we would not have asked us to go, and yet here we find ourselves, left with little to do other than wonder how we got here.
Today our lectionary has selected for us two reading that while very familiar to us, speak further to us about this idea of displacement.
The Book of Ezekiel is in the opinion of many, one of the most puzzling books of the Bible. It is full of signs and visions, and allegories, with bizarre and extreme images of all kinds, as the prophet tries to put into words what he believes God is trying to say through him. At its essence this book is trying to deal with the profound and difficult question that lived in the hearts of the people of Israel in the time of Ezekiel, “Has God abandoned Jerusalem? Has God abandoned his temple?” Their nation sacked, their temple leveled, their leaders all taken away to Babylon… just how were the people of Israel to understand their current tragedy, to understand this suffering? This current trouble stood in such stark contrast to the former glory of that nation under King David. For you see, it just wasn’t supposed to be this way! They felt alone and abandoned by their God. As we read in Psalm 137, “By the rivers of Babylon-there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.” How exactly by all that is holy, did we get here?
For the people of Israel you see had given up hope saying, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost.” Ezekiel starting from this place of despair stands with them in their valley of dry bones, brittle, lifeless and disjointed and has a message to share. For as unlikely as it seems, into all this despair, into all this seeming powerlessness, God will breathe new life…and so, bit by bit, little by little, these disjointed and lifeless bones, come together to once again stand on their feet and be whole.
The household of Mary, Martha and Lazurus had also felt abandoned and alone. Had they not supported Jesus in his ministry? Had he not dined with them, been a guest in their home? So where was he when they needed him? When Lazarus first fell ill, they called for Jesus, believing in his power to heal. They had seen it a million times! They called and they called for what seemed forever…but he never came…he never came … and the unspeakable happened, their beloved brother, and sole supporter of their household … he died! How was all of this possible? We enter into the grief and despair and profound loss of these women. When Jesus does finally show up, Martha still dares to hope, believing that God will “give you whatever you ask of him”. And in this brief exchange Jesus delivers to her a truth that is the bedrock of all of our hope, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” With Martha by his side and soon joined by Mary, they walk along to the tomb of Lazurus, now gone four full days, Jesus experiences the full weight of the grief of those around him. And even knowing that he has the power to change the situation in the end, as he takes it all in, he is touched so deeply by the despair of the human condition outside of God’s intervention that his only reaction can only be to weep. But we know, in the end, the impossible will become possible and in a dramatic calling forth from his tomb, Lazurus will be restored to his family.
Transformative accounts like this, are part of our story as Christians, the dry bones, the raising of Lazarus, and of course, the joy of Easter morning. We believe that this transformation has been, can be, will be a part of our lives as Christians. And much as last week our response to having been loving tended by our Shepherd, we reach out to tend, we also having received from the hand of God, we become participates in God’s mission.
When Jesus came to live among us, his voice was a voice of comfort and of hope, a voice of love and assurance. He told us that God loved us and valued us. He lifted up the poor and gave them a special dignity. He introduced to us kingdom principles, principles that were entirely different from principles in the world in which we wake up every day; challenging principles, principles meant to wake us from our sleep, to inspire us for service.
While unquestionably bringing messages of love, Jesus would also, bring messages of warning, and would be to the world a prophetic voice. His voice was at times a critical voice pointing out human hypocrisy, challenging human systems of oppression. He challenged the religious rulers of his day and the systems that they put in place – systems that divided people, that distinguished between the “righteous” and the “unrighteous,” between the ones favored by God and those despised by God. Some were “in” and some were “out.” And Jesus challenged those systems by the way that he acted and by the way that he taught.
And so part of the mission of those who are followers of Jesus in the world is to be a prophetic presence in the world: to see and to challenge unjust structures; to challenge oppression; to challenge the separation of the powerful against the weak, or the rich against the poor; to break down those walls that divide us; to lift up the lowly, and to give them honor and dignity; to ensure that they have every opportunity to live into the fullness of their lives.
And so we who follow Jesus also take on this mission in the world. This is a mark of God’s love and a mark of our witness in the world, our work in the world, our vocation in the world — to challenge unjust structures that oppress and divide people, to challenge violence of every kind, and to pursue peace and reconciliation. Christ came to tear down the walls that divide us and he urges us to do the same — to reach across the racial, and cultural, and class divisions that separate us. To stop thinking in terms of “we” and “them” and to see the unity of all people, all of us created in God’s image, loved by God, and valued by God. And to work toward peace and reconciliation wherever strife, and hatred, anger, and division exist.
This week we ask ourselves how we can live more fully into the prophetic role that God has invited us into in imitation of Jesus, in imitation of the prophets of God throughout history who have spoken challenging words to those who oppress with power and privilege.
To help us think about this a little, our transformative and transforming homework for the week, can be found in your bulletins/binders. We are asked this week to consider what things in our lives, in our structures, obstruct the purposes of God and distract us from them and what things help us to be true to God’s vision for us and for the church? As we think of both these things, we are to compile a ‘picture garden’ as a starting place.
May God give us eyes to see as God sees, with a heart that is open to a true vision of wholeness and peace. Amen.
 Many thanks to the SSJE for their leadership whose thoughts I have shared with you in the above text. For more see: http://ssje.org/ssje/2017/02/16/prophetic-witness-week-5-day-1/