Keep Faith Alive

March 9, 2008

 

The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor

Montgomery United Methodist Church

 

Ezekiel 37: 1-14

John 11: 1-45

 

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Our title and our topic for today is K-F-A…Keep Faith Alive. And this message is for folks who have known about discouragement and have known about grief and disappointment and have been tempted to give up in some way. Oh, if that describes you in any way or ever has, this message is for you. And the Bible has wonderful thoughts to share with you. KFA – Keep Faith Alive.

 

Well, in this morning’s scripture reading, my friends, we have two monumental pieces. We have the remarkable story about Ezekiel and the Valley of Dry Bones, in the Old Testament, and we have the story of Jesus raising Lazarus in the New Testament. Now, if you’re the type of person who likes to draw, I invite you to draw a pillar of stone. We have a great monolith of stone from the Old Testament that is the story of Ezekiel in the Valley of the Dry Bones, and we have another great pillar of stone in the New Testament of Jesus raising Lazarus. The challenge before us today is to ask, “Are these connected?” I would suggest to you that they are. Let’s look at these scripture readings together.

 

In the Old Testament, we find the prophet Ezekiel walking around in the Valley of Dry Bones. Something inside his heart has been called by the Lord to walk around in this remarkable, dream-like place. He’s looking around, walking, and he sees that there are many bones, and they are very dry, indeed.

 

Then the voice of the Lord comes to him and says, “Son of man, child of life, can these bones live?” It’s a big question.

 

Ezekiel says, “Only you know, O Lord.”

 

And then the Lord says, “Prophesy to the bones, Ezekiel. Prophesy to them, and tell them that there is to be life in them.”

 

Ezekiel agrees. He prophesies to the bones. What does that mean? It means he speaks the good word to them. He speaks the word of power to them. The Lord prompts him to say good things to the bones. Ezekiel is walking in the valley of broken dreams; he’s walking among broken, dry bits. But the Spirit says, “Prophesy!” And so Ezekiel takes a deep breath, musters up all his courage, and prophesies to the bones, to the broken pieces.

 

And lo and behold! There is a sort of rattling. It almost sounds like music. There is a rattling, and the bones start getting connected. You know the old song, “The foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone…” – that’s where it comes from. Ezekiel is amazed; he sees that the bones have grown sinew and skin, and they’re all sort of droopy and lifeless and breathless.

 

 And then the Lord says, “Ezekiel, prophesy to the breath.” The breath is the symbol of life and liveliness and hope and vitality. “Prophesy to the breath, that the breath may come into these bones.”

 

And Ezekiel does. With renewed courage, he says to the breath, “Come into these reassembled bones.” And the breath does. There is life where there was no life, and there is hope where there was no hope, and there is a way where there seemed to be no way. And that is the great tower, the great pillar, in the Old Testament.

 

Over in the New Testament, Jesus comes to Bethany, His home away from home. He comes to Bethany to the place where Mary and Martha and Lazarus live; they are His adopted family. Yes, He has the disciples, but His heart is here in Bethany. He finds that Lazarus has died. Martha comes to Him. Martha – the cook, the dishwasher, the one who cared about the house so much – she’s the one who comes and says, “Jesus, if You had only been here! If only You had been here, my brother Lazarus wouldn’t have died. And yet, I know that God will do whatever You ask.”

 

Jesus goes to the place where Lazarus is buried. By this time, Mary, His beloved Mary, has joined them. Jesus says, “Where have you laid him?”

 

They say, “Lord, come and see.” And then we encounter the shortest verse in the Bible and perhaps one of the tenderest. Do you know what it is? “Jesus wept.” Jesus says, “Your grieving is important. Your grieving is real.” We must never diminish the importance of grief, but we must also never diminish the importance of hope. Jesus says, “This happened so the goodness of God could be made manifest.”

 

And Jesus says, “Someone roll the stone away!”

 

“Oh, Jesus, this is not a good idea.”

 

He says, “Roll the stone away!” So they do. And then He says, “Lazarus, come out!” And to their amazement, out of the tomb comes this figure all bound up with cloth, awkwardly walking, walking out of the tomb. And Jesus says these words: “Unbind him, and set him free!” They do, and Lazarus is able to run and walk and maybe even dance. Life has come back.

 

Friends, we have these two great pillars, Ezekiel, and Lazarus and Jesus. But I would suggest to you, if you’re still drawing, that there should be an arch over the top with words inscribed on it. Use three letters, if you would. KFA – Keep Faith Alive.

 

What do these two pillars have in common? By worldly standards, we are facing the impossible. But God can make a way where there is no way. And it is the dear hope of my heart that you will carry this into the week, my friends. If you have known discouragement, if you have known grief, if you have known impossibility, if you have known doors that have seemed to be shut, won’t you carry this slogan with you? Keep Faith Alive. Don’t give up on God, because He’ll never give up on you.

 

Take these two great stories of what the world would call impossible and see what God has done. Let the God that has brought about these great things bring about great things in your life. He only asks one thing, that we keep faith alive. To the discouraged Martha, He offered His supernatural power. To the grieving Mary, He offered His sympathy and empathy. He helped them heal, and He brought great things to happen. And He can do it for you.

 

Consider Lazarus – there are two meanings here that I can see. Hope for those that have gone on to the afterlife; that’s the symbol of that story. There is hope for us even beyond this life. And also, I believe, there is hope for those of us who are flat on our backs and totally discouraged. That’s the other symbol I believe Lazarus serves for us.

 

Can you imagine what it was like to be Lazarus? He’s lying flat on that stone, wrapped up in bandages, and suddenly he hears his name called. “Lazarus, come out!” He wakes up and looks around, gets off the slab, saying, “I feel like I’ve been dead for four days.” (Have you ever felt that way in the morning?) He gets up, and they unbind him, and he is well. He is set free.

 

Friends, even when you feel too weak and too depressed to offer a prayer, Jesus is caring for you and has the power to lift you up. Won’t you take that to heart? Won’t you let Him lift you up? If you are no stranger to discouragement and disappointment and grief, please know that ours is a God who, when a door shuts, opens another. Ours is a God who can make a way out of no way. Ours is a God who loves us through and through, no matter what. And so, whatever you face, keep these great stories in mind, won’t you? And keep faith alive, because God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.

 

© 2008 Anthony J. Godlefski