UnBusy: The Power to Live 4-6-14

As we get ready for Holy Week, beginning next Sunday, we get to notice that we serve a God who doesn’t just show up when the birds are singing and the flowers are blooming. There’s a cross up here, you may have noticed, a cross that shows that God takes on death itself and wins, that God is with us in the middle of our struggles with life and with death.
When folks asked Luther, the founder of the Protestant movement, if he feared death, he could say, “No, because I have already died a hundred deaths, beginning in my baptism, and I cannot fear what I have already done.” He always emphasized baptism as a dying into new life.

John 11:32-45 When Mary got to Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “If you had been here, Lazarus never would have died.  When Jesus saw her weeping, and the other mourners as well, he was troubled in spirit, moved by the deepest emotions.  “Where have you laid him?” Jesus asked. “Come and see,” they said.  And Jesus wept.  The people in the crowd began to remark, “See how much he loved him! Others said, “He made the blind person see; why couldn’t he have done somethings to prevent Lazarus’ death?”  Jesus was again deeply moved.  They approached the tomb, which was a cave with a stone in front of it. “Take away the stone,” Jesus directed.  Martha said, “Rabbi, it has been four days now.  By this time there will be a stench.”  Jesus replied, “Didn’t I assure you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took the stone away.  Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said, “Abba, thank you for having heard me.  I know that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd, that they might believe that you sent me!”  Then Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  And Lazarus come out of the tomb, still bound hand and foot with linen strips, his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus told the crowd,  “Untie him and let him go free.”  Many of those who had come to console Martha and Mary, and saw what Jesus did, put their faith in him.

April 6, 2014

UnBusy: Reconnecting with an Unhurried God: The Power to Live

The best part of fasting from my phone, computer, and TV from 5:30 to 7:30 each day during Lent has been walking and eating. Especially when I’ve been out here in the office in the evening, the fact that I have had to get any work on those electronic devices done before 5:30 has meant that I have had time to walk around Bryn Mawr at dinner time and get something to eat – rather than rush to eat so that I could get the last bit of work done before an evening meeting.
Now that the days are getting nicer, this discipline is becoming more and more pleasant and feels more and more life-giving.  One of the ironies of our contemporary obsession with electronics – TV, phone, computer, social media, and all that, is that we sort of think of them as enhancing our lives – and they do. And at the same time, we use them to avoid and deny death. When we get too enamored of them – when we turn the TV on first thing in the morning and leave it on all day, when the first thing we do in the morning and the last thing we do at night is check our e-mail and our Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest or Snapchat or whatever. When these things take over meal time or family time or friend time, they steal our lives instead of giving us life. They keep us from facing our troubles, and feed into a death denying, death avoiding culture that is the opposite of what our Christian faith is about.
I notice when people evaluate computer games like Candy Crush or the latest solitaire game or whatever, one of the terms of high praise is often, “It’s addictive. I can’t stop playing it.” They mean to say that it’s fun, but when anything becomes addictive – whether it’s drugs or money, shopping or alcohol, gambling or smartphones, it is part of a culture of death rather than a culture of life. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that addictions are part of our dying, not part of our living.
If it takes you away from your family, from your loved ones, from the beauty of living, eating well, enjoying spring, connecting with friends, taking care of your body, dancing and singing, it is part of our dying, not a part of our living. It’s part of our pretending that we won’t die, rather than an acceptance of death that leads to life.

Ezekiel ben Buzi (ironically son of Buzi) was a prophet born about 623 BCE. When he was 30 years old, the Babylonians conquered Israel and took all the leaders of the people into exile, back into Babylon. From 593 to 571, Ezekiel had visions and spoke and wrote to the people, challenging them not to give up hope.
As the years went by and their people started to die in exile, as they began to bury their loved ones away from their beloved homeland, the people began to despair. At that time, Ezekiel had his fourth vision, which brother Roy read this morning – a vision of the dry bones.
He said the hand of God came upon him and took him to a valley full of bones, and they were very dry. He saw his people not just as dead, but very dead – the bones were brittle and dry. Ezekiel saw these people whither in exile, a people whose soul was gone, a people without hope. And God asked Ezekiel, son of Buzi, “Human, can these bones live?”
Now Ezekiel must be thinking, “This is a trick question. Obviously, these bones are dead as dead. Nothing is living up in here and nothing can live. But if God is asking, who knows what can happen?” So he answers, diplomatically, “Only you know, God. Only you know who and what can live.”
And God does know. God is the One who created this world in the first place, who fashioned water out of hydrogen and oxygen and people out of mud and breath. God is the One who told an old childless couple in Haran that their descendants would be more than the sands on the beach. This God is the One who brought them out of the living death of slavery in Egypt and made covenant with them, calling us to life again and again, no matter how many times we choose death.
Ezekiel’s vision is for a people who have lost heart, who have lost hope, who are suffering a death of the spirit, lost in their addictions, numb to the beauty and possibilities of their lives. Ezekiel’s vision is for all of us when we get plowed under, when we somehow decide that we just have to mark time in our lives, rather than feel the pain and the joy, when we’d rather go shopping than face the hard challenges that obscure the hopeful parts of our lives.
Ezekiel, son of Buzi, has a vision of God bringing even the driest bones, the numbest hearts, the most hopeless souls back to life. Can these bones live? God answers “Yes, these dry bones can live. I will breathe life. I will breathe hope. Even after they are dead, even after the most brutal of winters, these bones can come to life.”

In a death-denying and death- avoiding society, the church is able to boldly and confidently face that which the world spends most of its time running away from. The church is able to do this, not because of our hope for eternal life, but because of our bold and confident faith in the eternal love of God. We expect death from the beginning. It does not come as a surprise to us. It is that which we spend our lives preparing for, participating in, noticing every time we face the cross.
We are able to have a peculiar realism about death because we have a peculiar hope in God, a hope and a faith and a knowledge that God’s love is stronger than death, that God’s love can make the dry bones of our sick-to-death, busy-to-avoid-death society come to authentic, genuine, sweet, full-out-loving life, unafraid of death, unafraid to live facing the cross, unafraid to live.
Amen?  This is God’s good news! Bring your treasure to the chest.