We’ve a Story to Tell – No Bones About It: Lord, If You’d Been Here…

Ezekiel looks on a valley of dry bones. He’s sure. ‘No life here! It’s all over. His countrymen feel just the same, suffering in exile. But when we overhear his conversation with God, his certainty, and ours, is in for a real surprise! Two gospel sisters are certain of two things… their brother is no more… and if Jesus had been there in time, it would have been different. They’re sure. But hear their conversation with Jesus and their certainty, and ours, is in for a real surprise. No matter your age, Girl Scout to gettin’-on-in-years let me ask you. Of what are you certain? ‘Really sure? Is your certainty a burden or blessing, a sin or salvation?

Jesus is determined to deal with our certainty… on his way to the cross. See, he knows it will color and shape our experience of his suffering and rising alike. This is urgent! Lent’s closing down. Next Sunday’s Palm Sunday. Cock your head. Listen. Even now, you can hear the sound of crosses being lashed together and awful uprights being driven in the ground… just waiting. As you walk this way with Jesus, of what are you certain?

If you’re a front row child/scout today, there are things we pray you’re sure of. God made you. God loves you. You’re family loves you; we love you. Somebody’s always lookin’ over and lookin’ out for you. God is. Jesus is. We are. Your school is. Your friends, too. These are for-sure blessings for you and for us.

Grow up and other certainties attach to you. You all know, “There are only two things certain… death and taxes!” (Even Lazarus heard.) Surely, keep the main thing the main thing. The main thing is, “Look out for number one.” You know Murphy’s Law, “Whatever can go wrong will!” Do you Cornford’s Law, “Nothing’s ever done ‘til everyone’s convinced it oughta be, and has been convinced so long it’s now time to do something else!” Certainty comforts us. But it becomes a lethal limitation, a fence around us that keeps moving closer and closer. More, it becomes a sin! It says all things are not possible, even with God! Christ will speak to this sin on his way to the cross. He will unbind and free us of it.

Jesus walks willingly to the cross today, carrying my sin and yours, the world’s, on his back. All these, crucified with Jesus, as the Bible says, so we too may be dead to sin and alive in Christ Jesus. So what are these sins? We each have our own list. Some, like mine, way more inventive than others! But likely, the classic 7 Deadlies cover us: pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, gluttony, lust. Yet at least one other runs so deep, Jesus will turn on his way to the cross to take it on in the most extraordinary, prophetic way. What is this thing? CERTAINTY! Soul-fencing, God denying, cross-doubting certainty! This is what brought Jesus (late) to Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Jesus loved Lazarus more than enough to heal him. Yet he lingered elsewhere. There was need of a greater cure. So Lazarus is four days dead when Jesus comes. His sisters: bereft, bewildered at the lateness of the Lord. But Christ knew everybody there was stricken with a thing more lethal to body and soul than death itself! Imagine! I call it, the sin of certainty! Jesus, cure this!

Just like us, those sisters and the rest were sure about urgency, sure about limitation, and sure about death. Urgency. Do you believe what they believed? “Lord, come quickly, because time will run out. We don’t have all day. Lord, we need to stay on schedule, and we want your schedule to be on our schedule. You may be the Lord of time. But we declare ourselves the lords of timing. So come right early, come! I want what I want when I want it, and I want it now!” Sound familiar? Martha and Mary were dealing with life and death. There are folks in this room dealing in the same. But for most of us, our urgency’s much less radical, yet our demands no less insistent. Our sin: we distrust that God will come at just the right time, the time God knows best. Those old souls were certain there are limits! (‘Ever say that?) They truly believed a patient could be too far gone, even for Jesus. A person’s mind, circumstances, prospects could be already made up. Nothing can change things. The crowd/congregation can’t be redirected or redeemed. (‘Ever say, they’ll never change?) Our sin: denying God has all the power God needs to do what God wills to do. Oh, they were certain about death. “Lord, Laz has been layin’ there 4 full days. He stinks already! I know there’ll come a great good gettin’ up day, but just now, we can’t do anything about dead. Dead is dead. It’s the outer limit. Not even you can change that.” Now here is the crux of sin. We treat life as though death has the last word. (Ask your doctor.) Absent Jesus, we say the possibility that life wins is impossible. Final is final. Jesus says, “I AM the Great Good Day, and I’m here with you right now. I AM the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Just days from the cross, Jesus takes on the sin of certainty. He says, urgent isn’t what it seems. The God of time is always the God of timing. GOD’s time’s the right time, your surety is not so sure as God. Christ comes to this sorrowing house to show that there is no limit to what God can do! To believe otherwise is to deny God’s power, to play God, the ultimate sin! Every heart, person, problem, terror, torment, addiction and abandonment is convertible! Even death. It’s the ultimate test: So, Jesus walks up the hill to the grave, where Martha, Mary, even we can see, and commands Lazarus to rise. He does. Then, referring not just to the windingcloths, but to the misplaced certainties that bind us, Jesus commands, “Unbind him, and let him go.” The whole point of the story: to show that God is able! Christ is able! Here is the confidence we need to walk to the cross, and the faith we need to wait in the garden. Jesus offers both, before Jerusalem.

Jesus knows his Bible. He knows his friends need to know before their struggles from his cross to his tomb, what the Prophet Ezekiel sees and teaches amidst of his people’s greatest struggle. God is able. Though we feel dead, dried up, defeated, exiled, like a valley of dry bones, or as mourning sisters of a dead brother, God hasn’t forgotten, or lost power. God is a grave-opener, a bringer of souls back home. “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live,” God promises, “and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act.” God is always asking, “Mortal, can these bones live?” The answer is always yes, by the Spirit, despite all our misplaced/sinful certainties.

Here’s the take home today. A word not in self-help books or pop psychologists on TV. On his way to the cross, drawing on a faith as old as the prophets, Jesus demonstrates this truth and urges us to be open to it. GOD IS ABLE, ABLE IN GOD’S SON. Set aside every other supposed certainty. That means: repent them all. And see what happens…

When we are lost, God is able to find us.

When we’re crushed by guilt, God’s able to lift this burden.

When we’re without vision, God’s able to inspire us.  When we’re overwhelmed, God’s able to calm us.

When we’re attacked, God’s able to deliver us.

When we’re feeling disconnected, discouraged, dried up, even dead, God’s able to reconnect, refresh & resurrect us.
(Merrill)

No bones about it! Ezekiel saw it. Jesus showed it. We can live it!

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