"The Windy Season"
March 21, 1999
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Ezekiel 37:1-14 and John 11:1-45
Some of you are aware that I am the adult leader of Mitchellís cub scout den, a responsibility I reluctantly undertook last September. I now have a great deal MORE appreciation for second grade teachers! Well, since the Ides of March usher in the windy season, I arranged for the boys to make homemade kites last Thursday. As we used to say in college, "that was a real trip!" I have no idea if those kites safely made it home, let alone up in the air. I do know that the boys were sure flying pretty high that night, and I didnít feel any wind blowing inside that room.
Indeed, it is getting to be the windy season, and Iím not just talking about the weather. Yes, with the coming of spring the doors and windows of our homes can be flung open to let in a fresh breath of air to blow through the stale places that winter has closed in. On a deeper level, however, we long for that wind to blow through our inner spaces, where we feel dry, if not dead. Lent is a time for becoming aware of the "dead wood" (so to speak), the "dry bones" within us. Itís a season for repentance, for turning (thatís what "repentance" means: "turning") from the sin that leaves us stagnant and desolate, and turning toward the One who blows the breath of life into us.
I, for one, am ready for this windy season. Weíve had our share of death recently. Loved ones have let go after a long struggle, or have passed too quickly for us to catch our breath. Oh, for Easter to come! Iím not talking about the bright hymns and festive atmosphere, though those are, indeed, a real plus. Iím talking about the stone being pushed away, the resurrection bursting forth, and new life sprouting from the ground upon which we stand. Iím talking about a windy season that blows a fresh breath of life into our sagging spirits. Iím ready for Easter. Arenít you?
Of course, every Sunday is supposed to be an Easter celebration. In fact, rising from that which seeks to pull us down is a part of every new day for those who trust in the One who said, "I am the resurrection and the life..." Easter is not tied to a particular date on the calendar, nor is it really held hostage by a season of weather changing from cold to hot. We need to recall, as my Australian pen pal reminds me, that Christians in the southern hemisphere celebrate Easter in the fall, as the leaves begin changing and the weather starts its march from hot to cold. No Easter bunnies there. Itís not time, there, for lilies to bloom, but rather for bulbs to be planted in the ground, a promise of what Godís tomorrow will bring. "In the bulb there is a flower..."
Even with this global reminder, I still am more than ready for this windy season, this fresh reminder of empty tombs and dry bones coming to life. Arenít you? Iím ready to put a string on these stories of faith that weíve heard this morning, and run with them that they might soar. These are Easter tales - the raising of Lazarus, the dream of Ezekiel. Wonderful stuff... Now, before attempting to fly these kites too high, Charlie Brown, it might do us well to remember the tree limbs that seem to reach out and snatch them.
In truth, these stories arenít as easy to get up in the air as they seem. Take the one about Lazarus. Yes, itís a tale about Jesus raising a friend from the dead. But itís also about the frustrations our Lord encountered along the way of glorifying God and breathing new life into a dry and weary land. Iíve said before that in the storytelling style of John the gospel writer, those who surround Jesus constantly misunderstand his message and works. Our Lordís words and actions, from Johnís perspective, always point beyond themselves, like road signs to a destination further down the path. The problem Jesus faced was that of turning people toward the destination instead of having them get stuck at the signpost.
The summer Karen and I spent in Alaska, we traveled up from Anchorage to see Denali (or Mt. McKinley, as it was renamed more than a hundred years ago). As we approached that great mountain, seeing its massive size way off in the distance, we came across a sign saying the entrance to the park was still 100 miles away. We stopped and took a picture of both sign and mountain, side by side. I suppose we could have ended our journey there. To be honest, that was the best sight we had of Denali on the whole trip. A storm later came up and prevented us from seeing up close this tallest peak in North America. But the sign wasnít the mountain, was it?
Many of those who followed Jesus nearly 2,000 years ago focused more upon the signs and wonders that pointed the way along Jesusí earthly journey, than they did upon where he was going. The same is true of many Christians today. We confuse the signs with the peak to which they point, the wonders with the wonder-ful, awesome God who once spoke on Mt. Sinai, the miracles with the real miracle worker. We are just as prone to misunderstand as those in the stories John tells.
As awesome as it was for Lazarus to come out of the tomb, to rise from the dead at the shout of our Lord, that event was but a signpost along the way to something greater. Not all that much further down the trail Jesus himself would be lifted up on a cross, and himself be placed behind a cold, unyielding rock to rot and decay. I wonder if anyone put two and two together as they laid Jesus in the tomb, and recognized, as it was happening, that this was what that earlier signpost had been pointing to? Hello! Did anyone remember Lazarus?... All indications are that the new math of the resurrection hadnít yet sunk in, even with all the clues along the way.
Now, before you go getting all smug that we arenít as dense as those first followers of Jesus, let me assure you that we struggle just as much with this "new math" as they did. How often do we really pay attention to the signposts along our way which point to the resurrection? Oh, Iím not talking about the Lazarus variety. To be honest, I havenít witnessed anyone who has died coming back to life... Or have I?...
Is it a signpost to the resurrection when a father and his young daughter step out by faith and step into new relationships in the church following the death of their wife and mother? Is it a signpost to the resurrection when a couple reunites after a separation? Is it a signpost to the resurrection when a young man moves past the abuse of his childhood and steps into marriage and parenthood, seeking to break the cycle of violence? Is it a signpost to the resurrection when a woman reestablishes a relationship with her estranged father?
Is it a signpost to the resurrection when a retired man finds joy in caring for someone who canít fully care for himself? Is it a signpost to the resurrection when a person makes a difficult but necessary decision that moves her out of an unhealthy situation? Is it a signpost to the resurrection when a young couple perseveres through difficult times and starts their marriage on the right foot? Is it a signpost to the resurrection when persons who had grown inactive in their commitments to Christ and his Church discover that the roof doesnít cave in when they step back through the open door of Godís family?
Have I witnessed anyone who has died coming back to life?... Maybe not in the physical sense, but I must say that if all those circumstances I just mentioned are evidence, then yes, the signposts to the resurrection are all around us here - and those are just a few of the many that could be spoken. Do we dare to do the math? Do we dare to connect the dots? Or are we as dense as those first followers of Jesus?
As I read that of that vision Ezekiel had, the one about a valley full of dry bones, I associate less with the prophet and more with the bones. Donít get me wrong, vision is important - without a word from the Lord, Proverbs says, the people parish. Part of my task as a pastor is to cast a vision for this congregation. I should step into Ezekielís sandals, then, and experience this scripture through his eyes, but (as I said) the bones get me every time. Perhaps itís because of that hungering and thirsting for the windy season.
For those who first received these words, the promise had to do with new life springing from the ashes of a defeated nation. Israel and Judah were no more. Ezekiel had himself prophesied the fall of Jerusalem, and it came to pass. These words were spoken after the fact, a reminder that all is not as it seems, an assurance that what had been destroyed will be rebuilt, an encouragement for those who had lost hope to stand up and start walking toward Zion. This vision was a signpost marking the way: "Windy season ahead."
Like everyone else, I have my dry times. Anyone who says that Christians never go through such valleys of dry bones is playing fast and loose with the truth. Yes, we are resurrection people. We pull from Ezekielís dream a promise we believe came true in Christ - not just the rebuilding of Jerusalem several hundred years before Jesus walked the earth, but in his rising from the grave. We hear, also, the promise of Godís spirit being placed within, and as we listen the sound of a rushing wind blows. The Holy Spirit is at work within us, we believe.
Still, we walk through the valley. In fact, we can well associate with the dry bones just lying on the ground - disconnected, lifeless, a sign of the past not the future. "Can these bones live?" Well, you heard the dream. From those bones a multitude arises, a people of God. And then the wind blows - the breath of God which brings them to life. I like that part. Not just as somebody watching from the sidelines. I need that breath myself.
Itís almost become unconscious on my part that when I pray, one of the first things I do is take in a deep breath. Sometimes I think thatís the most significant part of the prayer. All the words that follow are an afterthought, a reflection of Godís breath bringing these bones to life.
Allow me to finish this message in a rather unconventional way. Please stand if you are able, picking up your hymnal and turning to #356 as you do so. Get that over and done with. Now, take in some nice long, deep breaths. Itís a healthy thing to do, or so Iíve been told. Do like you do when the doctor puts that cold stethoscope on your back and asks you to breathe in and out. Become aware of the very gift of Godís breath of life. Breathe in, breathe out. In a moment, Karen will begin playing the final hymn for us to sing. The windy season is coming.
©1999Peter L. Haynes
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