October 9, 2017
I learned something important from my friend Roger:
“You don’t have to be dead to be raised from the dead.”
Today we conclude our series, “What Christians Believe And Why It Matters,”
And we’re looking at the last line of the Apostles’ Creed:
“I believe in the resurrection of the body and life afterlasting.”
“You don’t need to be dead to be raised from the dead.”
He says that it began innocently enough…
He and his wife would have a glass of wine with dinner.
They were foodies, and the wine was always good wine,
And paired well with whatever they were having to eat.
Roger had a stressful job,
And when he got home from work he like to have a glass of something to help him unwind.
And at night, when he watched sports on TV,
There’d usually be a glass at hand.
It began very innocently.
Well his wife was diagnosed with lung cancer.
And for awhile she was in and out of the hospital.
And Roger was anxious, and he was lonely,
And to help deal with the stress he would have more to drink than he had in the past.
His daughter was grown by now,
And she came back home for a visit to her parents,
And she was alarmed by the amount her father was drinking.
She confronted him..
And he got angry…and the visit didn’t end well.
One day Roger went out to his car and noticed that the passenger side window was missing.
He wondered if someone had sideswiped him when he was parked on the street,
And he just hadn’t noticed it until now….
And then one day he came out of the grocery store
And noticed that his car was parked kind of crooked-
He was parked in two spaces instead of one.
Once when on his way to visit his wife at the hospital,
He must have blacked out – he doesn’t remember what exactly happened.
He was taken to the ER and they checked him out and had him follow up with his own doctor.
As his doctor reviewed his test results,
He told Roger that his blood pressure was up,
He was a bit anemic, and his liver function tests were high.
The doctor asked if he could just ask Roger 4 questions – the so-called “CAGE” questions,
To get a better sense of his alcohol use.
So he asked Roger,
“Have you ever tried to cut down on your drinking?”
(The “C” in “cut down” is part of the CAGE questions.)
Roger said that he’d been thinking of cutting down –
Maybe after the holidays.
And then the doctor asked him the “A” question:
“Has anyone ever gotten annoyed with you about your drinking?”
And Roger remembered his daughter,
And his wife, too, had been irritated with him more recently.
He said, “Well, family members always get on your case about something, don’t they?”
And then the doctor asked,
“Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking?”
And Roger thought to himself that he had felt guilty – and ashamed.
He’d been hiding his stash – some in the car, some at work, some in the garage…
And he felt guilty when he lied about when he’d gone to the bar after work.
He acknowledged to the doctor that he did feel guilty at times.
And then the doctor asked the final question of the CAGE questions –
He asked, “Have you ever had an eye-opener….a drink first thing in the morning?”
And Roger was indignant…
He said, “Never! I am not an alcoholic!”
The doctor replied,
“Well I am concerned about your alcohol use – let’s just make a plan for you to come back in two weeks. And in that time, can you agree that you won’t have anything to drink?”
Roger quickly mumbled his agreement and left the office.
He never returned.
I don’t know how much longer afterwards this happened,
But Roger had a friend who brought him to a meeting one night,
And then the next night,
And then the next one.
And Roger eventually became sober.
By the time I met him, he had been in recovery for about 10 years.
And he was a pastor.
And we would meet for breakfast once a week with other colleagues
To talk about the upcoming texts that we would be preaching on Sunday.
And when we got to the passages in Matthew about the ‘outer darkness,’
And the place where there is ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth,’
Most of us pastors would groan wondering how we could preach that –
Where is the good news of the gospel in those passages?
And Roger would laugh.
And he would say,
“I love preaching those passages….
Because I have been there…
I have been to the outer darkness.
I have been to the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
I have been in hell.
You don’t have to be dead to be raised from the dead.”
When we talk about eternal life and heaven and hell,
usually the talk is about after death.
We wonder what heaven looks like…is there an after life at all?
The Creed says most definitively ‘Yes.’
The Bible has surprisingly little about what heaven is like.
In Revelation we have the image of streets paved of gold.
But in the gospels when Jesus speaks about the kingdom of heaven,
He most often uses a different image – that of a wedding feast.
Wedding feasts in his day were lavish affairs.
They go on for days and were filled with joy and laughter,
Eating and singing and dancing,
Family and friends.
The image of a wedding feast is perhaps as good an image as any
For heaven, for the after life.
But…you don’t have to be dead to be raised from the dead.
Jesus also talked about eternal life not as beginning some day in the future after we die..
But right here and now.
In our reading from Ezekiel, it’s helpful to have some context…
In 597 BCE, the Babylonians conquered and destroyed Jerusalem.
Many of the Jewish people living there were deported –
They were taken back to Babylon (modern day Iraq) to live.
This is often called the ‘Babylonian Exile.’
Ezekiel was one of the people who had been deported.
Life in exile felt like utter darkness.
There was physical suffering.
There was communal suffering – they were separated from their people and their communal identity in Jerusalem.
But perhaps most significantly, those in exile experienced a spiritual crisis.
Jerusalem and the temple were gone.
God had promised that the reign of King David would endure forever – and the monarchy was gone.
And the Jewish people began to wonder….Is the Babylonian god more powerful than God?
And so we get to the part of the story we heard in today’s reading.
God brings Ezekiel out to this valley – and there in the valley are dry bones.
There were many bones….and they were very dry…the text says.
The word ‘bones’ in Hebrew means our deepest self;
Our existential self.
(Recall in Genesis when Adam meets Eve and he says,
“This at last is bone of my bones!”)
There were many bones and they were very dry in Babylon.
God points to the bones and asks Ezekiel,
“Can these bones live?”
Of course the obvious answer would be ,”No.”
But Ezekiel is with the Lord…
So he replies, “You know, Lord.”
And then God says to Ezekiel,
“Prophesy to these bones…
Speak to these bones and tell them the Word of God…
Tell them that bone will come together on bone;
And I will place sinews on them;
And flesh and skin;
And then I will breathe on them – and they will live!”
So Ezekiel speaks to the bones.
And suddenly he hears something – he hears a rattling sound….
And sure enough, the bones start to come together;
And sinews connect them,
And flesh and skin cover them..
But as yet there is no life…the breath (in Hebrew ‘ruach’ – the Spirit)
Has not yet come into them.
So God says, “Prophesy to the breath…
Call the Spirit from the 4 ends of the earth to come into these bones that they may live.”
And Ezekiel prophesies to the breath…
And God’s spirit, God’s breath comes into the bones which were once so very dry,
And they stand up…and they live.
You don’t have to be dead to be raised from the dead.
I don’t know where your dry bones place is…
Perhaps it’s Las Vegas…
Perhaps it’s Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands or Florida or Texas…
Perhaps it’s within your family relationships,
Or work or with friends.
Where is the place where it seems like utter darkness?
Where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth”?
God says, “Prophesy to the breath – call on my Spirit,
And these bones will live!”
Roger knew firsthand that bones – even very dry bones – could live.
And so he preached with joy over and over,
“You don’t have to be dead to be raised from the dead!”
I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.
Amen. Thanks be to God.