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Mr. Not Without Hope, by The Rev. Wm. E. Exner

~~Mr. Not Without Hope

Next Sunday is Passion Sunday, commonly referred to as Palm Sunday.  It is the start of Holy Week just one week from now. Five weeks ago I, in the name of the Church, invited you and everyone in our faith community here at St. Matthew’s to the observance of a Holy Lent. It’s a standing invitation to devote extra time to prayer, to contemplation, good works – giving up some not so good things in your life and taking on a healthy thing or two.

And on that first Sunday morning in Lent, a cold and snowy, slippery one no doubt this year, I invited you to hang a tag on a barren branch – a tag describing something you really wanted God’s help with through this season as we approach Jesus’ time of confrontation, challenge, his arrest, his trial, his crucifixion and his eventual resurrection as the Christ of God. I had no idea you would respond so honestly, so deeply, so plentifully.

And so over these five weeks I have watched the barren branch take on the foliage of your prayers, and if not yours then surely of the person near you.
I sat with, prayed with your requests to God this week. I was moved how alike we are in so many respects. How so many of us sincerely wish to die to our enslavement to impatience. How many of us plead for forgiveness and for the ability to forgive more readily than we have before. How many of us are asking God this Lent to unbind us from our lack of compassion for others, How many of us are requesting a new chance to lead new lives more loving, less busy, more tolerant and kind.  This barren Lenten branch has born the fruit of our honesty to God, an honesty that yearns for new life, new ways, for God to re-invent us, perhaps to resurrect us.

This fifth Sunday in Lent you heard two of the longest and most famous bible stories known to Christians, Jews and the rest of the world alike, Ezekiel’s prophetic vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones, and Jesus’ raising of his dear friend Lazarus who had died.  Both accounts are all about resurrection. They are about our yearning for another chance, a new lease on life – a taste of the eternal- won with God’s help.

In Ezekiel’s case his people, his culture had lost touch with its soul. It’s spirituality had dried up as they had lost their distinctive identity as people of God over time. They were, in fact, exiled from their homeland at the hands of the Babylonian Empire in 586 BC. 
And whether you believe that the word of God at work through the exiled  prophet 600 years before Christ really raised up “dem bones,dem bones- dem dry bones” as the old spiritual sings it, the point is the same, WE WITHER, WE DRY UP AND DIE WHEN WE LOSE TOUCH WITH GOD, WHEN WE SHELVE OUR SPIRITUALITY UNDER THE PRESSURES OF THE AFFAIRS OF THIS WORLD.  AND WHEN WE WITHER AND DRY UP INSIDE AND DIE TO HOPE, IT TURNS OUT THAT GOD IS OUR ONLY TRUE HOPE AND GOD STILL CALLS TO YOU, TO REVIVE YOU, TO BREATHE GOD’S SPIRIT INTO YOU AND RENEW YOU ONCE MORE.

And in the case of Jesus’ friend Lazarus, a good young man who had died too young, well, according to St. John his people and culture too, were losing their connection with God. Under Roman military occupation and in a time of great change in their corner of the world, as the people yearned so for a taste of the truly holy in their time of trouble, all their religious systems gave them were more rules and platitudes when what they craved was the spirit of God to be breathed into their hearts again.  So according to St. John Jesus resorted to extra ordinary measures to assure them, to excite them, to reconnect them to hope in God again. And so Jesus stood at the foot that tome where Lazarus had been lain the last four days, and Jesus called, “Lazarus, come out!”  And by God Lazarus came out of his tomb to live once more. Neither pressures, nor armies, nor even death itself can separate us from God.

Now the point is not the raising of the one man from the tomb here, nor is it the raising of many from valley of the dried bones hundreds of years earlier, no, the point is that whether as individuals or cultures we lose sight of God, dry up inside and even die, God does not lose sight of us – does not give up on us. Even in the face of death and losing our way Jesus calls you out to new life, to a new day. Lazarus, come out!

Soon the barren trees  in N.H. will bear more than our tags of confessed shortcomings and deep needs, they will bear new buds of fresh beauty. And so can you. For the name Lazarus, it means ‘Not without hope’.  Even the dead man was not without hope in Jesus Christ.

In Christ, you are not without hope either – not ever. Amen