Fifth Sunday of Lent: The Psalm Passage – Crying out and receiving hope

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.” (Psalm 130:1 – 4)

I stumble at the word “revered”. So I went to look it up, consulting my “friend” Albert Barnes. He said, “The idea is, not that pardon produces fear or terror – for the very reverse is true – but that God, by forgiving the sinner, brings him to reverence him, to worship him, to serve him: that is, the sinner is truly reconciled to God, and becomes a sincere worshipper.“ This sits well my perspective and understanding. With/for a Lord that brings such comfort and peace . . .

“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.” (Verses 5 – 6)

We often think and talk about the return of Jesus Christ and the Lord God. But the reality is that more have gone, passed away, to meet the Divine. The Divine may well return, but what I mean is that while we are waiting souls are passing away. And there wait is no more. The further reality is that it is more likely that I will pass from this life into the next rather than being here on the earth in life when the Lord God Jesus Christ returns. I wait not for the return of the Lord but to be united with my Lord in the life to come. My morning . . . . is my death.

“O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem. It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.” (Verses 7 – 8)

All of the people of Israel – and Judah and the psalmist and all the prophets and the Christians of the early Christian church and most all of my forebearers, spiritual and otherwise – have gone on to meet the Lord God Jesus Christ. It is where our hope is.

My point is, we do not have to wait until the Lord returns. We do not have to wait until our passing either; our hope is now. This is part of the good news, the gospel that Paul and the other disciples journeyed forth to let us know. And I pass that news on to you, beloved reader. Our hope has come! Selah!

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Fifth Sunday of Lent: The Gospel Passage – Jesus Christ = Resurrection and Life

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.” (John 11:1-2)

Some gospels say she was the sister of Lazarus and Martha. Other says she was a different Mary. A not so socially acceptable Mary. It would interesting to know if it was one and the same Mary – the Mary who was socially acceptable, who sat at Jesus’s feet, and who wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. But I digress – the focus is on Lazarus.

“So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” (Verse 3)

In the time of Jesus, any illness had the potential for being serious as medicine then did not follow the same regime as it does now. On with the story.

“But 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.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after 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.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus 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. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (Verses 4 – 16)

I want to insert briefly that Thomas meant die with Jesus, assuming that the Jews in Judea would be successful in killing Jesus.

“When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” (Verses 17 – 22)

Martha had faith in Jesus, and knowledge of who Jesus was (and is still). It was not then that Martha needed to be told and reminded of God’s glory and Jesus being part of that glory. Or at least not very much.

“Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” 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.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.” (Verses 23 – 29)

I have in the past wondered what it was about Lazarus that made him worthy of being resurrected. But as I ponder on this passage, I am starting to think it was not Lazarus per se but when it Jesus’ ministry that Lazarus became ill and died. Lazarus was not the only person that Jesus brought back to life. Nor was Jesus the only one who brought back from the dead. Elijah did also. But it was at this point in Jesus’ ministry that connection between Jesus being Lord over life and death was made. Let us read further in this story.

“Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.
The 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. When 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.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” (Verses 30 – 33)

I have to ask, and I would have to ask the writer of the gospel of John – why the difference? Martha says if Jesus would have been there Lazarus would not have died, assuming that Jesus would have healed him. But Mary says the same thing, and Jesus was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” The biblical commentators reflect two causes; being by the total scene of mourning OR being indignant at the false mourning and weeping that the Jews accompanying Mary were doing. There was such a profession as being professional weepers and mourners to give sound and numbers at funerals. The writer of the gospel John might have made note of such as these, and having Jesus react to them. Or, Jesus upon seeing the woman who wept for him, wept on her behalf. Let us continue the story.

“He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep.
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (Verses 34 – 37)

Criticism and cynicism noted by the writer of the gospel of John, and Jesus reacts.

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.” Verse 38)

I can see where the two interpretations to Jesus’ grief and disturbance came from. I should not forget that many times the writers of the gospel were also acute observers of the society of the time.

“Jesus 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 four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I 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.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The 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.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.” (Verses 39 – 45)

Power over life and death. It is hard not to believe when you see such dramatic proof. But while some did believe, there were others who were angered (or perhaps more accurately, frightened) at the display/report of such power. The verses that follow this passage tell of the reaction of Jewish/Temple authorities and their fear. And the story of Jesus’ ministry moves one step closer to its conclusion.

These events of Jesus’ life are remembered and set down to explain what was to come. While each of the gospels might differ somewhat, they form a cohesive story of what Jesus did. And with these stories in hand, generation after generation has had to decide whether they believe or not.

While we are in the season of Lent, we are also in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary – the year of coming to new faith. In the early Christian church, the season of Lent and Easter was a preparatory time of coming to faith. May you use this time to ponder on your own faith, perhaps coming to new understandings. I pray that you faith in grounded in the strong foundation of who Jesus Christ was, and is to you. And the place of our Lord God in your life. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Lent: The Epistle Passage – The bringing of life in the Spirit

Think of this as the “antidote” passage to yesterday’s theme of bringing those “dead” & dried up back to life!

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
For 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, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:6 – 8)

What the writer of Romans (Paul) meant was that thinking of earthly and/or worldly concerns is wrong thinking. I was just teasing about above! The Ezekiel passage was not concerned with the living body as much as it was concerned about hope in God and faith in God’s nature. And really, what was being revived with the spirit. Remember in the passage from Ezekiel that the body was nothing without the spirit within. And human spirit is called out/by/to Divine Spirit.

“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. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” (Verses 9 – 10)

What Ezekiel prophesied for the nation of Israel, Paul proclaims as belonging to all people.

“If 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.” (Verse 11)

Now, despite what theology Paul might have put forth, we cannot be sure what it means for us to be given life in our mortal bodies. My “friend” Albert Barnes believes this means that the body which is by its nature sinful can be redeemed to be in service to God. Other commentators tend toward the resurrection or life after death theory/theology; maybe more of the Ezekiel-type reanimation.

As for, I just thought it made a good pairing after the Old Testament passage. But I do believe that the Spirit of the Lord God can live through and direct our spirit. Imperfect we may be, and we may not 100% authentically do everything God would have us do. But we can give our will and free choice over the Divine and live according to those precepts. Selah!


Fifth Sunday of Lent: The Old Testament Passage – Them dry bones are going to rise again!

The 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.” (Ezekiel 37:1)

I am not expert on these things, but I suspect this was a dream or a vision. Not to discount dreams or visions brought about by the Divine. I have had dreams/visions that seemed God lead or inspired. Some dreams/visions have been revealed. Some of them I am still puzzling over to this day.

“He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” (Verses 2 – 3)

It is always best, beloved reader, to let the Lord God lead in these dreams or visions. I have tried to puzzle some of mine out, but since the Lord God inspired them I have learned to let the Lord God lead in the understanding of them.

“Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.
I 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.” (Verses 4 to 6)

My seminary professors (or was it preachers from my youth or simply the explanation in the passage itself) explained that this passage is to be interpreted as the Lord God promising to revive the called and chosen people, the nation of Israel who had been made captive and taken away from their land. That anything, even reanimating bones or people lost and gone astray, is possible.

“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. 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.” (Verses 7 to 8)

It is one thing, beloved reader, to revive a person or a people, to bring them back into the land of the living – whatever may have caused their death. It is quite another thing to instill hope and faith where there was once nothing. That is of the Divine.

“Then 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.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 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.’ Therefore 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. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I 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.” (Verses 9 to 14)

It seems rather redundant to say that this passage is used during Lent. Of course it is. But it is not just a history lesson for the nation of Israel. It is a reminder that what we think is dead and gone – hope, faith, compassion, care, love, mercy, grace – can be revived by the Lord God. In the nation (the nation of United States and other nations) there is moaning and bewailing of what has come to pass. Yes, there are tragedies in all places and parts of the world. We thing what had been ours before and has been taken from us is lost and gone forever. That is not so. Yes, it may take the coming/return of the Lord God. Or it may take a total change of events and the current situation. We do not know. If we feel like “dry bones”, we should not think that is our fate for all times. The Lord moves and the Spirit blows where it will, and we cannot predict it. Do not give up hope, beloved reader. In this season of Lent be reminded that dry bones can be brought back to life. Selah!