March 29, 2020

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death. Breathe upon us the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ and serve you in righteousness all our days, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (ELW p. 28)

Ezekiel 37:1-14

37The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ 4Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breathto enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.’

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

11 Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.’

Valley of the Dry Bones by James Nesbitt

Psalm 130

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
2   Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!

3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.

5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.

Romans 8:6-11

6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

John 11:1-45

11Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ 8The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ 9Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ 11After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ 12The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two milesaway, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ 23Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 25Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ 27She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ 35Jesus began to weep.36So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ 37But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ 40Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Sermon – Meggan Manlove

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

I’ve always loved the story of the dry bones.  Many of us hearing today’s reading from Ezekiel, that rich and vivid story about the valley of dry bones, instantly remember the old African American spiritual: “Them Bones, Them Bones, Them Dry Bones.”  There can be little wonder why it emerged out of the experience of African Americans in the southern United States. It welled up from the midst of a people trapped in that dark period of our history when slavery still prevailed.  Whites stole the labor of captive Africans, who as slaves mostly embraced the Christian religion of their masters.

It is easy to understand why those who had, against their wills, been removed to North America found in the stirring words of Ezekiel great cause for hope. They translated that imagery into a song. The song, in turn, could help them walk as human beings in the cotton fields of oppression. They understood the experience of Ezekiel’s people.

The Israelites of old, Ezekiel’s audience, were also a people enslaved by foreign masters. They had been forcibly removed from their native land into exile.  They were far from their beloved home, compelled to toil in the service of a conquering empire. Though alive, they felt like they were dead. They were a people without hope. Like a nation of dry bones, they cried out in their misery as all oppressed people must. Israel cries out, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”

It is no wonder that so many of us who follow the same three-year cycle of scripture readings were drawn to the valley of dry bones this week. Not being able to gather together in person, in a church building or anywhere else, we resonate with the exiles. Here in Idaho, we had our first reported Coronavirus deaths this past week. Though it’s true that people continue to die by many other means, these deaths bring the world-wide pandemic closer to our doorsteps. And woven into all of this is a new kind of communal stress—a weight that we are sometimes aware of and sometimes not, but which has us saying things like, “I have started regulating how much news I take in. Why do I need more sleep? I am sad for our world.” We are all experiencing grief in real time, mourning the loss of life as we knew it. We are also experiencing what is called anticipatory grief; our body is anticipating grief for what we will lose individually and communally.  All of that impacts our capacity for hope.

So, let’s return to the prophet Ezekiel and his imaginative vision. It is, after all, a vision given for a people who have lost heart, who are suffering a death of the spirit, a living death in exile in a foreign land. Their temple has been destroyed, their holy city plundered, their leaders maimed and put in chains, their soldiers put to the sword, their young men and women either killed or dragged off into a foreign land. Ezekiel witnesses the soul of his people gradually wither and die, becoming as lifeless as a valley of dry bones.

Ezekiel’s vision begins when God transports the prophet by means of the Spirit and brings him to a valley. Pay attention to the role of Spirit in this story. The valley is full of bones, which have lain on the ground long enough to be stripped of their flesh and dried by the sun.  A valley of dry bones, of dead warriors is a shameful image.  Bones left unattended, bones not gathered up and cared for by the family were disgraced.

God asks the prophet if the bones can be made to live again.  His response is the only line of his own in the story–the only line in which he breaks from narrating and speaks his mind.  “O Lord God, you know,” he replies.  Ezekiel knows that only God can answer the question.

Ezekiel prophesies and the bones begin to array themselves with flesh.  “There was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.  I looked and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.” Then the wind/spirit enters the bones and supplies the life-breath that reanimates them.  Bones and sinews were repaired, but the work is not complete without the Spirit of God–God’s breath which gives life, as it did at the beginning of creation when God breathed into the first human being.

God will give the house of Israel a new heart and a new spirit.  Israel’s heart has become like stone, like bones dried up, and God will replace it with one of flesh.  The restoration of Israel will be like that of the bones’, not complete until God’s spirit enters in and generates faithful obedience.  There is breath and new creation for the Israelites.

Ezekiel prophesies to the breath and the slain bodies “lived, and stood on their feet.”  We know that the pieces never get put back together in the same way.  God’s people are going back to the land of Israel, back to their own soil, but their relationship with God is changed.  “You shall know that I am the Lord … you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” God says.

This vision reminds every generation that God not only gives life but restores life. This vision reminds every generation that death will not have the last word, even when all signs of life have been taken away. This vision reminds every generation that God is the Creator of life.

Our call then is to welcome God’s breath of life.  As change occurs, it is our responsibility to tune our senses to how the Holy Spirit is and could be working in our community and world, even during an international pandemic.  Restoration of life for Israel was not simply a return to a corrected state of pre-exilic life.  Ezekiel’s prophecy was restoration to the knowledge of and trust in God.  But this knowledge and trust were not former things.  Israel would know God’s faithfulness to God’s promises, which creates new life.  The valley of dry bones illuminates God’s actions, God’s heart, and God transforming death into life.

In scripture this morning we hear that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  When I hear that God has the power to bring Lazarus back to life, when I hear that God has the power to breathe life into skeletons in the desert, I know that God has the power to breathe life into our valley.

This year, my Lenten devotional has been Luke Powery’s book, “Were You There: Lenten Reflections on the Spirituals.” We had no idea on Ash Wednesday that we would be sheltering in place on the Fifth Sunday in Lent. When I started reading devotionals based on the Spirituals, I had no idea how deeply they would resonate with our current circumstances. I do not want to equate the pandemic with the institution of slavery. At the same time, I do believe that we can learn something powerful about suffering and faith and hope from the people who wrote and sang the Spirituals.

In his preface to the book, Powery writes, “Suffering is always present like the paparazzi. It seems to stalk its human prey. Suffering is a part of the broken, sin-sick world. And if there is a theo-musical genre that reminds us of this, it is the Spirituals. They are musical memorabilia created on the anvil of misery by enslaved Blacks. They are sorrow songs. They are suffering songs. However, to sing can be a sting to the reality of suffering. It can be a sign of hope and the presence of God in the midst of agony. This is why they are called the ‘Spirituals” because they are the Spirit’s song and the Spirit will not be stopped and will blow through every season of life, even liturgical seasons like Lent.”

May we trust this day that the Spirit of God will not be stopped in the Treasure Valley, in our state, and around the world. God’s spirit/breath has been creating new life since the dawn of creation. There is every reason to believe that the Spirit’s work will continue, new life will come forth. In this particular moment, we may need to take a cue from those who composed the Spirituals. We may need to be singing sorrow songs. Even so, we can trust that the Spirit is working through our sorrow. As Powery says, “to sing can be a sting to the reality of suffering. So, let our songs be signs of hope and witness to God’s love in our lives.

Prayers of Intercession (written by Trinity member Steve VanAtter)

With the whole people of God our Creator, in the name of Jesus Christ, let us pray for the church, those in need, and all of creation.

Let us pray for the church universal, its ministry to all of creation and the mission of the gospel to all people. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the well being of your creation, for rain, for sunshine, for the life giving water and nutrients you provide that helps creation bloom and thrive. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For peace and justice around the world to all people, especially those that suffer from economic disadvantages, political abuse and corruption, famine and war. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those in authority, that why will remember the weak and make decisions that will serve the least among us and not their own political and economic self interests. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the poor, oppressed, sick, bereaved, and lonely. Lift them up and comfort them. Bring them wholeness and abundant life. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For all who suffer in body, mind, or spirit. Up lift them and give them strength to live in dignity. Give them a sense of well being and joy. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the congregation of Trinity Lutheran Church, that we will see the glory of your creation and experience love from those around us. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord God, you are the giver of life to all things, we ask for guidance, compassion, love, and healing for all of your creation.

We give thanks for your saints (especially). Join us together with them as your children in this world and the next. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

According to your steadfast love, O God, hear these and all our prayers as we commend them to you; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Spiritual, for your listening pleasure:

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