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5th Sunday in Lent year A 2020

1. IT seems like we hear about it again and again; the end of the world!

2. Groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses regularly predict it

3. Groups like the Seventh Day Adventists say it is coming soon!

4. We heard about it for years as we approached Y2K,

5. And then again when the Mayan calendar came to an end.

6. Usually the end of the world is supposed to bring fire and earthquakes,

a. but I remember ONE time when it brought joy.

7. Back in the late 1980s the world rejoiced

a. when nation after nation threw off communism and embraced democracy.

1. Many said it was the end of the old world!

2. an idea which reminded many of the kingdom of God and of heaven on earth.

b. Only in this case we had brought it about;

1. we had ushered in the end of the world

2. and the beginning of a new one.

8. I do not know how long we believed it,

a. But when September 11th happened

1. we were forced to face the fact that there were people

1. who did not think the new world we had made was heaven on earth,

2. And that they would stop at nothing to destroy it.

9. Moreover, in the years since then, we have waged war in Iraq and Afghanistan

a. We have seen country after country slide into chaos

b. Syria tear itself apart in a civil war

c. Muslims slaughter Christians in Africa

d. Despots abroad and here at home

1. turn the clock back to the old divisions of race religion and class

2. which plagued our world in the years before the second world war.

3. And now due to their inaction allow a virus

1. to become a pandemic affecting the whole world.

10. In the face of these crises

a. We have trusted in our leaders

b. We have trusted in our military

c. We have trusted in our power and our wealth

1. To restore the peace of that new world we once dreamt of.

11. And yet. all we have to do is open the paper or turn on the news these days

a. and we can see that trusting in these things

b. might not mean heaven on earth, but hell.

12. It was hell on earth for the prophet Ezekiel

a. when he saw a vast field of dry, desiccated bones.

13. It was hell on earth for Martha and Mary

a. when they saw their beloved brother Lazarus die.

14. For Ezekiel knew that these dry bones were the bones of his people,

a. who had been attacked slaughtered and carted off into exile by the kingdom of Babylon.

b. Ezekiel’s people, the people of Judah, had of course done everything they could

1. they trusted in their prophets

2. they trusted in their king

3. They trusted in their armies

c. In the end, however, they realized that they were not strong enough to defend themselves and restore the peace and security they knew.

1. Now, in exile, cut off from their land, their temple and their God, they were dead, as dead as a field of dry bones.

15. Martha and Mary knew that the death of their brother meant their death as well,

a. For as two sisters, living with their brother,

1. they had no husbands to protect them

2. No family to support them

b. They could not own property, could not really earn a living,

1. It is little wonder that they tried everything they could to save their brother.

2. They had even called their friend Jesus,

1. who was known as a healer, to come and try to heal Lazarus.

c. Unfortunately, for Martha and Mary, nothing had worked;

1. not even Jesus had bothered to come.

2. And now, standing at their brothers grave,

1. Martha and Mary knew that,

2. cut off from their brother, his love, support and protection,

3. not only was Lazarus dead, so were they.

16. Jesus arrived four days later.

a. All Martha and Mary could say to Jesus was, “Maybe you could have done something for him when he was still alive, but you’re too late. He’s dead.”

b. But then Jesus goes to Lazarus’ tomb, orders it opened, and shouts into the hole, Lazarus, come out!

c. This must have seemed like insanity to Mary, Martha, and everyone present.

1. For who in their right minds speaks to corpses?

17. Well, Ezekiel did, for starters.

a. For standing there before that field of dry bones God

1. orders Ezekiel to prophesize,

2. to speak God’s word to the dead people of Israel.

18. IT must have seemed like insanity to Ezekiel as well,

a. but he does it . . . and the impossible happens;

b. the bones are knit together with flesh, and his dead people rise to life.

19. This story must have seemed like insanity to the people in Babylon who heard it

a. Until only a few years later,

1. powerful Babylon is conquered by a still more powerful Persia,

2. and the impossible happens:

3. king Darius allows the people of Israel to go home,

4. and their people rose to life once again.

20. So when Martha and Mary watch Jesus shouting into Lazarus’s tomb,

a. it must have seemed like insanity as well . . .

1. until the impossible happens, and Lazarus,

2. still bound in his burial shroud rises to life.

21. And frankly, in the face of the growing chaos of our world,

a. And the failure of everything we have tried to control it

22. To even listen to these stories with their happy endings

a. must seem like insanity to many of us.

23. But you know these stories must have seemed like insanity to Jesus’ disciples as well,

a. Especially when, a short time later, Jesus,

1. the one in whom they had trusted to bring about a new world,

2. was crucified, and with him died their trust.

24. But then, the impossible happens . . . he rises to life.

a. IT was only then that his disciples realized the reason

b. for death and resurrection of Jesus,

c. the reason for the death and reanimation of Lazarus,

d. and even, in retrospect for the death and revival of Israel;

1. It was a warning;

1. that whenever we place our trust in ourselves

2. in our strengths, our abilities, our wealth and power,

3. to protect us and bring us security

4. Sooner or later someone who is stronger will come along and we will fail.

2. But it was also a promise

1. that even when it seems like insanity to trust in anyone,

2. God brought new life to a people thought dead through Israel’s revival

3. God brought new life to two sisters whose lives died with their brother through Lazarus’s resuscitation.

4. And God brought the promise of life to Jesus’ followers through Jesus’ resurrection.

3. Because God is the one who by definition makes the impossible happen.

25. There are still many who believe that the things we are experiencing now

26. mean that the end of the world is at hand,

a. that the kingdom of God is just around the corner,

b. And that we should pay attention to the warnings we hear in places like the Bible, in stories such as the ones we hear today.

c. But if all we hear is their warning, then we have missed their great promise

27. that whether it is the world we live in,

a. or our own personal world,

b. just at that moment when the security we yearn for comes to an end.

1. And we believe that it will be impossible to begin again

2. We must remember

1. what Ezekiel said,

2. what Mary and Martha saw

3. and what the church has always believed.

28. That Our God is by definition the one who makes the impossible happen.

a. And thus one day, our nation, our city our church will rise, and we will experience the life and the freedom that are the signs that the kingdom of God is at hand.

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