Fifth Sunday of Lent
2 April 2017
Holy God – in this precious hour, we pause and gather to hear your word– to do so, we break from our work responsibilities and from our play fantasies; we move from our fears that overwhelm and from our ambitions that are too strong, Free us in these moments from every distraction, that we may focus to listen, that we may hear, that we may change. Amen
Research from the mind lab at the University of Sussex stated that, reading for as little as six minutes each day can reduce your stress levels by up to 68% PAUSE
People read for many different reasons; to gain knowledge, as a form of escapism or just for pleasure and with a variety of different genres now available there really is something for everyone.
The late Sir Terry Pratchett created a world for his readers to escape too – this was the Discworld- for those of you who are unfamiliar with his work the Discworld is a large flat disc balanced on the backs of four elephants which stand on the back of a giant turtle name a Great a Tuin which spins through space. Pratchett gave his readers an alternative realism that featured satirical parallels with the real world.
If someone were to pick up the bible and read in isolation our first reading from Ezekiel they would be forgiven for thinking that they had picked up a sci-fi novel. Imagine how Ezekiel felt being transported into this dry valley that is filled everywhere with scorched bones. God tells Ezekiel to prophesy that these bones will rise and live … and they do. The reading describes in fantastic detail how the bones come to life growing sinews, flesh and skin.
Then God tells Ezekiel that these newly formed bodies can breathe, can be alive Ezekiel does as he is commanded and sure enough these once dry scorched bones turn into living breathing people. God breathed life into these bones just as he did in Genesis when he created man.
But the bible is not a great work of fiction it is not a story that allows us to escape the trials of everyday life and it may not even make us feel better – the bible can be quite challenging and I am not sure that when I read certain parts of it that my stress levels decrease especially when I know God is challenging me.
So why do we read the bible, why do we strive to understand the writings of people from thousands of years ago?
Well let’s look a bit more closely at Ezekiel – I want everyone to close their eyes for a moment imagine you are in a worn torn country you are Ezekiel and everyone around you is heavy with despair there is no hope left and people are looking to you for the answer,….you are their leader….. Open your eyes and write down on your piece of paper how you feel about the task that is laid before you and hold it up
Comment on the feelings scared alone etc
Now close your eyes once more for me and remember how you are feeling then God appears before you and takes you to a deep, hot dry valley you look around you and the valley is filed with piles and piles of dry scorched bones.
God says to you, Ezekiel can these bones live you reply a bit confused, only you know God. Then God says to you Ezekiel speak to the bones tell them they shall rise and live, you do as God has asked and before your eyes the bones come together into human form you see the muscles, the flesh and the skin grow over these bones , where there was once bones there is now many people standing before you.
Then God says prophesy that life will breathe into these bones, you do as your lord commands and the bones come to life just as when God breathed life into man in Genesis. God says to you this is what will happen to the people of Israel He will raise them up out of their graves of despair and breath new hope into them. No open your eyes and write down one word to how you are feeling now about the task ahead now you know God is with you – he will help you
Comment on words
When we know that God has our back when we truly believe that he is with us we can lay all our own fears at the cross and God will give us the strength we need to keep going.
Ezekiel followed God without question and this was because of his relationship with God – he had a relationship built on love and trust and this is how the bible guides us to have that relationship with God.
This relationship with God is also portrayed in the second reading from John.
Jesus returns to Bethany where his friend and the brother of Mary and Martha, Lazarus has died. Mary and Martha both talk to Jesus and state that if Jesus had come sooner Lazarus would be alive. Jesus is troubled and asks to be taken to the tomb where Lazarus has been laid. Many people from the village join Mary, Martha and Jesus at the tomb they are questioning what Jesus had allowed Lazarus to die when surely he could have saved him as he had healed many others who were sick or disabled.
Jesus is angry – maybe because he feels that the people have forgotten that he is the son of God because they have forgotten how much God loves them. He talks to God his father outside of the tomb he says
“Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.”
Why did Jesus talk to God out loud in front of these people? Because he come to earth to build our relationship with God to show us the right way – guide us back to having a relationship with God and of course the ultimate sacrifice dying for our sins which we will discuss more as we enter Holy week in a few days’ time.
Jesus knows that God always hears him, his relationship with God is unfailing he knows without doubt that when he calls Lazarus out from the tomb he will come.
Jesus talks aloud to his father for the sake of the people around him – for the sake of all of us so that we might believe that God is always listening to us he always hears our prayers and although he may not always bring back our loved ones from death or answer our prayers in the way we want him too– he does act and we have to trust that what is Gods will, is the way even though that can be hard sometimes to accept.
I just want to share one final thought with you … when I was little I watched a film over and over called the Neverending story. It was about a boy that read a forbidden book that he stole form a bookshop, As he reads the book the lines between his world and the world in the book became increasingly blurred until both worlds were linked. The world in the book was being destroyed by a force called the Nothing – the Nothing fed on those who had no hope, those who lived in shadows and it left and empty nothingness as it swept through the land. At the end of the film – I can remember the screen is completely black with only the boy and the princess from the book. In the boys hand is glowing sand and with this dust he is able to wish and imagine the world back into being- he is the hope he restores the world.
Our faith is a bit like the sand that the boy has and we have choices – we can keep that sand to ourselves or we can use it, we can take up the call that God gives to each and every one of us. We can do this, with a bit of imagination, every day to create and the best world of all – The Kingdom of God.