Fifth Sunday In Lent
March 29, 2020
“God’s Answers to Life’s Questions”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Isn’t it a pity when a preacher can speak for 15 minutes, or so, and when it is all done the folks (and maybe the preacher) really doesn’t know what was said? Seems like a waste of time for the speaker and the listeners, doesn’t it?? Sometimes that problem exists because us preachers don’t know what we are trying to say. And sometimes the problem lays with the listeners, the congregation, who didn’t listen very well.
So, today, I don’t want you to miss the one thing that I really want to say to you. In today’s sermon I am asking you for only one thing – I am asking you to open your life to God. I want you to do that, but more importantly, God wants you to do that. Open your life to God.
This week, through various orders in our county and state, it was determined that we will not be open for Holy Week nor Easter. Can you imagine that? Easter is postponed!! Mike Zehnder came up with quite a word to me a few days ago. He said, “Lent is being forced upon the whole world, whether they want it or not.” He’s right. Lent, the time for quietness, repentance, change, reflection, thinking of things that truly matter, is being forced upon us. We aren’t to go anywhere, we are to shelter in place. This is the time for all to open their life to God.
My cousin, Amy, from Crystal Lake, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, is married to a pastor. Though I don’t agree with everything that he wrote on his Facebook page, it gave me something to think about. He writes, In three short months, just like He did with the plagues in Egypt, God has taken away everything we worship. God said, “You want to worship athletes, I will shut down the stadiums.” “You want to worship musicians, I will shut down Civic Centers.” “You want to worship actors, I will shut down your theaters.” “You want to worship money, I will shut down the economy and collapse the stock market.” “You don’t want to go to church and worship Me, I will make it where you can’t go to church.”…Maybe we don’t need a vaccine. Maybe we need to take this time of isolation from the distractions of the world and have a personal revival where we focus on the ONLY thing in the world that really matters. Jesus.
Ezekiel writes during the time of great devastation for the people of Israel. He spoke for 7 years before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 B.C., and then continued his preaching for 15 years after that. For those 22 years, some of them, awful and terrible, God addressed His people through Ezekiel. “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’” (Ezekiel 37:1-3a)
What a terrible sight. I’ve seen some of the Holocaust documentaries, showing mass graves, sometimes only seeing the bones and the skulls of those who were brutally murdered. This was a vision of a hopeless people, a nation who had lost their faith in God. Later Ezekiel is told from God, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’” (Ezekiel 37:11)
But, you see, God has an answer. He always does. We stand amazed at what He does in the middle of hopelessness. When Ezekiel is asked, “Can these bones live?”, he gives a wonderful answer of faith, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” (Ezekiel 37:3b) Ezekiel uses a phrase throughout his book – 86 times, and of those 86, 3 are here. The phrase is “Then you will know that I am the Lord.” “I will make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” (Verse 6) Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.” (verses 13-14)
Open your life to God and see the works that He alone can do. Our God is the God who can do the impossible. We are shown a place of battle where the fighters suffered a terrible death and did not even receive a burial. Their skeletons fill acres and acres of land. Can they live? No way. That is the only answer you can give until God places His hand upon the dead.
You know the account of the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary, the mother of Jesus, who was a virgin. When she was told she was going to give birth of Jesus she had a practical question that needed to be answered, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) God’s answer? “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)
When Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25), the apostles were baffled, “Who then can be saved?” And the answer? “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Luke 18:26-27) Open your life to God – He does what is impossible. He took dead, dry bones and breathed into them the breath of life. He chose a virgin to give birth to the Savior of the world. He lets rich people, and poor people, and the people who are somewhere in the middle, into His heaven.
On Wednesday I changed the church sign at Windermere and Caley. When we shut down on March 13th we wanted folks to know that we were not worshipping on Sunday and that temporarily we had suspended activities in the parish. But I wanted to give a more hopeful message than that. I decided to put the verse from Romans 8 that says, “Nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus” on the sign. But I thought I’d be clever and only put a portion of the passage up each morning. The sign watchers in our neighborhood could watch it grow. First day – “Nothing”. Second day – “Can Separate Us.” Third day – “From God’s love.” But the first day, after only putting up the first phrase of the verse, I immediately got two phone calls and one email. They didn’t like what I had put up. They thought a Christian church could do much better. They were disappointed – even a little angry. The first day, Wednesday, all I put up was the word “Nothing”. One of them said to me, “A church should give some hope, especially in these tough times.” “The word you put up there, “Nothing” is so empty and discouraging.”
I didn’t apologize, but I explained my madness. Nothing, a negative word, becomes a positive word when you connect God’s name to it. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Open your life to God and see His great work.
This is the fifth Sunday of Lent, March 29. During these weeks leading up to Holy Week and then the events of Good Friday and Easter we clearly see miracles done at graves. The Gospel reading for this Sunday is the account of Lazarus from John 11. When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for 4 days. He had been placed in a tomb, but Jesus didn’t let that stop Him from bringing him back to life. “Lazarus, come out!” “The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.” Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave cloths and let him go.” (John 11:43-44) This is like Ezekiel 37. “Can these bones live?” “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
The greatest impossible made possible is what happened on Easter. Jesus, dead, from Good Friday until Easter, came to life. He rose, physically defeating death.
It sure seems that God is doing works constantly in graveyards – with Ezekiel, with Lazarus, with Jesus. And with us. Open your life to God and see what He can do in you. His miracles come not just in death, but also in life. Romans 8, today’s epistle says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you.” (Romans 8:11)
In every account I spoke of today, the dry bones of God’s suffering people, with Mary and the visit of Gabriel, with the question of who then could be saved, with the death of Lazarus and the crucifixion of Jesus, each of these difficulties that were large and troubling, God always provided an answer to life’s (and death’s) question. It is called faith. Trust in Jesus’ death for your forgiveness and His resurrection for your eternal victory. In this section God gives this promise, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:25-26)
Today’s sermon is all about faith – asking you to open your life to God. He alone saves. He alone forgives. He alone does the impossible. Open your life to God today and tomorrow and every day until He does the impossible in you forever. Amen!!