“The Sounds of Life”

Here are my thoughts for March 29th, the 5th Sunday in Lent (Year A).

We can believe that God is present and still be either six feet away or in the safety of our homes on Sunday morning. The church will always be the church, no matter how physically close its members are. God isn’t just found in the confines of a physical church building — God meets us where we are.   – Miguel Petrosky

As I read the notes on Facebook and look outside my window, I notice that the sounds are different.  I hear the birds a little more clearer.  It isn’t because they have gotten louder but there are no other sounds of life.  As people stay home, the world outside has grown quiet.

Our daily routine has changed and, as a result, the sounds of life have grown quiet.  And as we stare out our windows and we listen to this new world, we wonder, “Can life return to this world?

I think this was the same thought that Ezekiel had when he looked over the valley of the dry bones.

But it is more than just the silence; it is the separation.  We have become separated from our children, our siblings, and our parents.  We worry about those who have taken an oath to heal the sick and protect the weak, some of whom may be our children or friends.

We feel the pain that Mary and Martha felt when their brother Lazarus died and Jesus was not there to comfort them.  In their pain and grief, they felt separated from the world.

Alone in a quiet world, separated from the world, we wonder what we can do.

We know that when Jesus heard that Lazarus had died, he dropped everything and headed to comfort Mary and Martha.  And then, presaging HIs own Resurrection, he brought Lazarus back to life.

We know that God should Ezekiel that life could return to a seemingly dry and lifeless valley.

And we know that we, individually, cannot do anything.  Paul reminds us that those who seek to achieve success for themselves, for those who seek glory for themselves will always fail.

But we are not alone.  Even in our solitude, we are a part of a much larger community.  And through that much larger community, we reach out to other members to make sure that they are doing well.  We reach out to our community to share our prayers and our thoughts.  We may be separate from others but it has not stopped us from worshipping.

And as we bring our community together in spirit, we have discovered that there are many who society has forgotten.  And when the time comes that our physical separation ends and we gather together in celebration, we must begin to rebuild the community as well.

As the sounds of life have grown silent, we have begun to hear the cries of pain and grief from those who are often forgotten or overlooked by society.  We have, in the silence of the sounds of life, heard the voices of greed.

God has said that life can be restored and the sounds of life restored.  It will be because we have heard the voice of God that we know there are many whose voices have been silenced and we must answer those calls.

The sounds of life will return; will they be the sounds of all life?

What Does It Mean to Be Baptized?

This will be the “back page” for the Fishkill UMC bulletin this Sunday, the 5th Sunday of Lent (Year A), 2 April 2017.  The reading is from Isaiah 58: 6 – 12.

It should be noted that I have spoken of this incident on a number of occasions in the past.

There is no doubt in my mind that my faith was challenged during the season of Easter in 1969.  I didn’t understand (though I thought I did) what it meant to be a Christian and then (as I will describe next week) my own faith journey was questioned.

With the war in Viet Nam and the Civil Rights movement constantly in the news, one could not help but think about the correct thing to do.  I was, as many people know, active in the anti-war and civil rights movements on my college campus (much to my parents’ concern).  My participation was based on the idea that it was the right thing to do and it would open the gates of heaven when the time came.

But I found out that you do not do good things to get into heaven; you do good things because it is what you have been called to do when you accept Christ as your Savior.

I believe only you know when Christ calls you to accept Him.  But I know that I could discern that call because I was baptized and raised to understand that my baptism was more than an event in my life.

The challenge is we must build a community that helps people find Christ and that makes the act of baptism the first step on that journey.

What does it meant to be baptized?  It means that we, individually and collectively, have decided to begin a journey with Christ.

~ Tony Mitchell

A New Life for the Church and in the Church

These are my thoughts for the 5th Sunday in Lent, 10 April 2011. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Ezekiel 37: 1 – 14, Romans 8: 6 – 11, and John 11: 1 – 45. I started this last week but didn’t get to finish it because of some other more pressing tasks. The delay did prove to be fortuitous because, in the delay, I was able to find the closure for this piece.

One of the things that happened allowed me to note that some of what I was thinking was not entirely new but rather a restatement of things I had previously written (see “Rethinking the Church” and “To Search for Excellence”). That I reuse my ideas means either I am guilty of what I preach against or we are ignoring the solutions to a problem that has been with us for some time. Let us hope that it is more the latter than the former.

As I noted last week (“The Teaching Fantasy”), I feel that the educational system in this country is slowly being dismantled. In 1963, Clark Kerr spoke of the university (and by extension, all forms of education, as primary producers of knowledge (The Uses of the University, Clark Kerr – cited in http://www.vitia.org/wordpress/2003/09/02/clark-kerr-and-cardinal-newman/). The irony of this speech is that it was used by the free speech movement on the Berkeley Campus to characterize the university as a machine with the students as the workers. Considering the political climate of today, it would seem that is what the whole educational process is today. If current educational reforms are designed to increase productivity and make teachers accountable for what they do, then we have turned our educational process into a machine designed to turn out mindless robots, capable of repeating what they have been told but not capable of any independent or creative thought. And it seems that the attempts to modify this “reform” will cause more damage than is repaired.

We have turned the process of education into exercises of memorization and repetition. All a student needs to do to be considered successful in class is simply repeat, essentially word for word, what the instructor said during lecture. Free and creative thought is discouraged and any class discussion not directed towards the course exams is considered a waste of time, both by the students and the administration of the education factory, whoops, school.

Education should challenge the learner to seek what is not known, to go beyond the boundaries of the horizon. Education should open the mind, not close it. But yet, that is what is happening to so many today. Instead of pushing and prodding us to seek new ideas and new lands, we want education to comfort us and allow us to know only that which we want to know. For too many people, learning stops when the formal education process ends.

Personally, I think it is sad to watch someone who is physically alive yet mentally dead. I have seen countless college instructors, many younger than I, whose only goal in their educational career is to obtain tenure. They use the notes they so ardently wrote down as undergraduate students as their teaching notes and their research has stopped once the Tenure and Promotion Committee has granted them access to the “Holy Grail” of academia. These are the ones who make the argument against tenure a valid one.

But there are many instructors, some who are older than I, who continue doing research and who use tenure as it was meant to be used; for the freedom to seek new things without fearing that failure will cost them their job.

And both sadly and joyfully, I see many in the church, in the pulpit and the pew, who live the same lives. There are those who obtain a level at which they are comfortable and then stop seeking the ultimate truths of life. They learned about the Bible in confirmation class (those in pew) and in seminary (the pulpit) and that is all that they needed to know. One translation of the Bible is good enough for them and anyone who even suggests that other translations may offer new insight are considered heretics. They use the Bible to justify what they believe, even when what they believe is not in the Bible. Those in the pew don’t want those in the pulpit to disturb their sense of the Bible; the Bible was never meant to challenge but confirm. It wasn’t meant to push you into the world but allow the world to be blocked out.

These people often times sound like the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and scribes of Jesus’ time. They saw the Gospel message as a threat to their power, their position, and their status.

But there are many (unfortunately, it is a minority of the population) who see the Bible as a living and breathing document. They are like Ezekiel, dismayed at the valley of dry bones that lie before them. They maybe hesitant at first but they have come to know Jesus as part of their lives and they have heard the call of God to prophesy to the dead bones; God has called them to speak out and seek ways to bring those old, dry bones back to life.

It will take more than doing the same old thing, if for no other reason than the same old thing is what caused the bones to dry up and the breath of life to disappear. All the words being bandied about come from those who really don’t have any clue what the person in the pew hears and the person in the pew long ago tuned out the words “spoken from the mountaintop.”

When I was in graduate school at the University of Iowa, there was a movement sweeping the business world to search for excellence. It even came into the science education field (see the reference in “To Search for Excellence”). What came from this movement was the idea that true and effective change came, not from the top down, but from the bottom up. Second, even when it didn’t come from the top, it was still critical that those at the top support and commit to the changes brought from the bottom. What happened in too many situations was that upper level management thought of an idea and rolled it out to a big fanfare but then delegated the task of implementing to underlings; it then died on the vine, as it were.

In one sense, that is what God did. He spoke to Moses and Moses spoke to the people. In the end, the people lost interest because the message was filtered too much through the administrators. Ultimately, God saw that wasn’t working and He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to live and die with us. And the ones who were picked by Jesus were not the administrators or the powerful; there were not necessarily the best or the brightest but they were willing to listen and learn (though it took them a while). The success of the early church came from the fact that it was first and foremost a community of people, developing ideas on their own. They could not listen to some hierarchical authority because there was no hierarchy.

I have come to a point in my journey where I feel that I am called to prophesy. The other day John Meunier posted a note about some comments that Jay Voorhees had made regarding the Leadership Summit in Nashville (see “A Proposal for Church Development” and the dialogue that Jay and I had at #UMC Lead: The View From Table 9-part 3). Jay’s ideas mirror an idea that I began developing about a month ago to begin a school (only in the sense of an organized collection of classes).

This school will focus on Biblical studies (many of the lay speakers in my district want Bible study), studies on Methodism (you would be surprised how many members of the United Methodist Church do not understand the structure and philosophy of Methodism – see “When Did You Learn about Methodism?” – I would be interested in knowing when you learned about Methodism) and Christianity (each year there is a survey which points out how illiterate we are about what is we say we are) and leadership studies. In his comments, Jay offered some thoughts about books in the area of leadership. What are your ideas? What books have you read that suggest new ways to lead?

I am working with one of the seminaries in the area to find individuals interested in teaching some of the courses; I don’t think that all of them will have degrees in theology and/or divinity. One of the individuals I have contacted about teaching a course in the history of Methodism has a Ph. D. in Pharmacology.

But is the traditional classroom the only way to teach? I happen to like the traditional gathering because I think that the interaction between classmates

Let us bring the dry bones back to life. Let us breathe a new spirit into the body that we call the church. Let us find ways to bring new life and a new breathe in the people who make the church. I would normally say that we should begin that today but it has begun. I am asking that you come along as we seek to bring a new life for and in the church.

“Them Bones”

This is the message that I presented at Tompkins Corners UMC (Putnam Valley, NY) for the 5th Sunday in Lent, 13 March 2005.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Ezekiel 37: 1 – 14, Romans 8: 6 – 11, and John 11: 1 – 45.


I know that it will sound like a cliché but our lives are a journey. We are on a journey that begins at birth and ends at death. It may be that we have no control over where or why we are born but it is clear that we do have some control about where our souls will be when we die. This journey that we take is an individual journey but one in which we sometimes accompany each other. Our paths will cross and entwine many times with countless others and how we interact will determine where each path will lead. But there are times when we must occasionally stop and see what direction we are taking and, if necessary, make the changes in that direction.

On this journey, it seems as if fear and hatred dominate our lives. Instead of using the gifts that we have been given, we seek to hoard them. We respond in fear without thought. We let our hatred for others guide and direct us when we should be working to remove that hatred.

We read in the paper that cigarette lighters are banned from airplanes, though only one person has every tried to use such a device in a terrorist activity. Yet, terrorists or individuals believed to be terrorists can go into any gun store in the country and buy just about any weapon they desire, and it is perfectly legal. Are we looking in the right direction?

There are lists in this country that identify potential terrorists or those believed to have links to terrorist cells. But no one knows who is on the list (or else, why is it that so many individuals can still get on airplanes). And, if by chance your name is on the list, there is no way to determine how it got on the list or how to get it off.

The killing of the Federal judge’s father and mother in Chicago, the killing of the judge and courthouse staff in Atlanta point this out. Are we too blasé about the nature of security? Are we too quick to come to judgement when it comes to determining a suspect? Were it not for a simple traffic violation, the Chicago police would have never found out who the killer in the Lefkow case was. Oh, I am sure that they may have eventually determined his identity but they were stumped as to the direction to go and it was only the actions of the individual himself that lead to a conclusion.

The problem is that the various authorities in Chicago were thinking in the wrong terms. Because of the threats made by Matthew Hale and the nature of his beliefs, the authorities assumed that he was somehow involved. This would not have been an unreasonable assumption concerning Mr. Hale’s background and personal philosophy. But there was no evidence to link him to the crime and, when in the light of evidence, you must make some assumptions about where to look. I am not so sure that I would have made a different assumption, given the public statement of the facts. I am not saying that Mr. Hale is not without guilt and his previous actions certainly warrant suspicion but it is interesting how we are quick to judge when we have so little to use as evidence.

Now, we are hearing that the war in Iraq may turn out to be a good thing. How can anyone think that war and violence can be a good thing? Yes, it appears that democracy is gaining a foothold in the Middle East but will it last? Has anything been done to remove the root causes of terror from that area or, for that matter, from any part of this world? Isn’t it interesting to note that the one Muslim nation where the United States is welcomed and wanted is Indonesia? The people there see the efforts to aid their country after the tsunami and they are thankful for the presence of Americans and the United States. But our presence in other parts of this area is not humanitarian and our presence is not always welcome.

In our own country, we make laws that favor the rich and powerful. Tax breaks are given to the rich and the loopholes that give the poor and middle class a break are closed. Congress changed the bankruptcy laws this week and the ones most affected by this will be the poor and lower income individuals and families in this country. The reason that many of these individuals and families are filing for bankruptcy is rising medical costs. But Congress has done nothing to alleviate the rising cost of medical care and then limiting those who can declare bankruptcy removes a solution, albeit not an attractive one, from those most affected. The last political campaign was about moral values but poverty and sickness and oppression must not be moral enough to be considered. There seems to be a call for a spiritual rebirth in this country. But are those who make the call the ones who should be leading it? Is it not about time that we, individually and collectively, change the direction of our journey?

It is the same question that Ezekial was considering when God took him to the field of bones. The people of Israel were in exile in Babylon when Ezekial’s prophecy was proclaimed. The first part of the prophecy was about Ezekial telling the people in exile of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Far from home, the people saw their hope for the future slowly disappearing. With the loss of the temple, the hope of the people in exile to return to their homeland seemed far from certain. And following the prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, Ezekial was told that his wife was dying. But God directed Ezekial not to openly mourn the loss of his wife just as he was not to openly mourn the loss of the temple. Rather, Ezekial was to pronounce the judgement of God against all the nations of the area, not just Israel alone.

Following the fall of Jerusalem, Ezekiel’s message would be one of consoling hope. There would be a revival, a restoration and glorious future as the redeemed and perfected kingdom of God in this world. But it was not to be the world before the destruction of the temple; rather, it was to be a new one. The bones in the graveyard from today’s passage are indicative of the nature of the people of Israel at the time of this reading. We have a scene of hopelessness and despair. But it is to these bones that Ezekial is to prophesy, to bring hope to the despair, to bring promise of a better future.

The promise of hope and the restoration of one’s life are the theme of the Gospel reading today. But it is also a reminder that a new life in Christ means giving up the old life of the world around us.

First, the fact that Jesus did not go into the tomb should tell us that the new life in Christ requires action on our part. Was it possible that Lazarus did not want to come out of the tomb? How far along the journey after death had he traveled in those four days? How far had he gone down the way of clarity, truth, and reality? How deeply transformed had he become as time and space separated his soul from the prison of blood, bone, and brain?

When Jesus called him by name and commanded him to come out, did Lazarus not want to shout, "NO! Not even for you, my friend and my Master! Please, NO!" With what sense of contempt or ambivalence did Lazarus slip through his grave clothes into his body and back into his troubles? Could Lazarus have refused to respond?

But Lazarus did respond. He came out of the tomb double bound by the winding sheets and the limits of his old life. He brought himself out, burdened with the fetid grave clothes that he would need again and the feeble body in which he would die again. But how can the life that he will now live be anything like the life that he was leading. How can any one who has met Christ lead the same life as before?

We are faced with the irony that in bringing Lazarus back to life, Jesus was ensuring that His life would end. Following this episode, the Sanhedrin gathered together in the meeting where Caiaphas presents his troubling prophecy. Worried more about what the Roman occupiers would do and the attention given to Jesus by the people, the Sanhedrin ask, "What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on thus, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation." But Caiaphas responded, "You know nothing at all; you do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish." So "from that day on they took counsel on how to put him to death." (John 11: 47b – 50, 53)

Aware that this was happening, Jesus will withdraw to Ephraim. But the people kept coming to see Lazarus. So the chief priests plot to put him to death as well, because many were going away believing in Jesus. (Adapted from "Back to Life" by Suzanne Guthrie in "Living by the word", Christian Century, March 8, 2005)

Meeting Jesus is a pretty dramatic event. It is not always going to be like the encounter Lazarus had but it will be one to change one’s life. And in this meeting we find that we must make a choice about what our life will be like after the encounter.

Paul writes to the Romans that setting your mind on the flesh results in death but setting your mind on the Spirit will result in life and peace. Those who are in the flesh, i.e., those who live in this time and place and find their power in the present, will be hostile to God simply because in accepting God, one gives up any pretense to the present. Those who came to see Lazarus were said to leave believing in Jesus. Believe did not originally mean believing in a set of doctrines or teachings; in both Greek and Latin its roots mean "to give one’s heart to". The "heart" is the self at its deepest level. Believing, therefore, does not consist of giving one’s mental assent to something, but involves a much deeper level of one’s self. Believing in Jesus does not mean believing doctrines about Him. Rather, it means to give one’s heart, one’s self at it deepest level, to Jesus the Living Lord, the side of God turned towards us, the face of God, the Lord who is also the Sprit.

Believing in Jesus also means that we move from a secondhand knowledge to a firsthand knowledge of Jesus. Believing in Jesus means that we move from simply having heard about Jesus to being in a relationship with the Spirit of Christ. (Adapted from Meeting Jesus Again by Marcus Borg, page 137)  It means that we give up all that we claim here on earth in order to claim a place in God’s kingdom.

We are on a journey, one that takes us from birth to death. We are at a moment in time where we are on a journey from Christ’s birth to Christ’s death. We know that Christ’s death brings eternal life and victory over sin and death. We do not know what our death will bring. But as Paul wrote in Galatians 2: 20, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2: 20)

We have a chance today to make a change in our lives. Our journeys today take us by a graveyard of old and dry bones. Locked in the ways of the world around us, we know that those bones can never come back to life. But we hear an old spiritual song in our minds, "Them Bones", and we hear the last phrase of the song, "now here the word of the Lord". And in hearing the word of the Lord, we see the bones brought back to life. It is not our belief in the world around us that brings us back to life but rather our belief in Christ. We see the bones and know that life is there if we but believe.

Dry Bones

Here are my thoughts for the 5th Sunday in Lent. The scriptures for today are Ezekiel 37: 1 – 44, Romans 8: 6 – 11, and John 11: 1 – 45.

The past few months have given me the opportunity to ponder the nature of the church and what has happened over the past two thousand years. The recent study by the Pew Foundation on the religious make up of this country (“U. S. Religious Landscape”) hasn’t exactly helped in that contemplation.

As noted in “Pew study raises questions for Methodist leaders”, this study points out that the United Methodist Church is and has been losing members over the past few years. One could plot a trend line and statistically predict when the membership of the denomination will reach zero and thus the death of the United Methodist Church. Of course, such a statistical prediction would have a limited applicability and is still hopefully well off in the future. But if the trend is downward, it means that we are a dying church and not a living one. If the upcoming General Conference reaches the emotional levels that the past two General Conferences have reached, the stress of those emotions may very well hasten the decline and death of the United Methodist Church.

The United Methodist Church is becoming older. Young people are leaving or not even joining. Some churches still cling to the idea that they can “grow” the church from their Sunday school but when the high school kids leave the high school class for whatever reason, they don’t come back. The last two reports on churches (the Pew Study mentioned above and the Barna study that I mentioned in “The Lost Generation”) have shown that the youth of this country are losing interest in organized religion. They may believe but they do not join.

Shall we then just write off the older members of the denomination and the churches to which they belong? Shall we take Jesus’ admonition that you cannot put new wine in old wineskins and just concentrate on new churches and the young? Shall we let the older bones of the churches just lie in the desert to dry out and become part of the desert?

Shall we adapt our worship services to favor the technological approach that so dominates our lives today? Perhaps we can somehow transform our messages from regular English to something more suitable for text and instant messaging. Such a translation would clearly show the younger members of society that the church is “with it”. But are such substitutions of “u r” for “you are” an effective presentation of meaning? How do you translate the care of the less fortunate, the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, the housing of the homeless, or the freeing of the oppressed into text messaging?

As society has been transformed by the technology (how many things can your cell phone do beside make phone calls?), we have let technology become our master. Rather than using technology to provide the means for outreach to a spiritually hungry world, we let technology dictate how the message is presented.

It would appear that simply transforming our churches from staid, old fashioned buildings to technologically updated centers is not having the results that many expected. While more churches are using technology in many forms, the contemporary styles of worship that accompany the adaptations of technology are not have the results people expect (see the Music and Worship Study conducted by the General Board of Discipleship and United Methodist Publishing House or the study summary (UM Nexus for 03/05/08).

The problem is not one of new wine in old wineskins but rather what the message really is. It also doesn’t address the issue of who is worshipping. It is not a question of those who are old and who is young in age but rather whether everyone is old or young in spirit. It is entirely possible that someone is old in years but young in spirit or young in age but old in spirit. Yes, there are those who are both old in age and old in spirit and they perhaps dominate the nature of the church too much. Those who hold onto the past can never embrace the future. They are not looking to the future nor are they willing to do so

But that does not mean that the days of the calendar should drive our thinking. Rather, we must focus on the spirit, not the age of the worshipper. We must focus on bringing the enthusiasm of the early church back into the process.

It is noted in the Pew survey that the United Methodist Church is considered traditional and main-line and not evangelical. But evangelism was the hallmark of the early Methodist movement; our growth in America came during the major revival periods of this country’s history (and those same revival periods were driven in part by the evangelical fervor of Methodists). But we are no longer considered an evangelical church. What happened to the band of believers that was the hallmark of the early church? What happened to the enthusiasm that marked the development of Methodism?

In his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote

There was a time when the church was very powerful — in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch-defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably linked to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners for the struggle for freedom.

I hope that the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour.

The conversion of George Whitfield, Charles and John Wesley led to the outbreak of a religious revival which impacted the Anglican Church and indeed the social structure of England. In an age of social decay the message of transformation preached brought hope to the masses and every level of English society. Some scholars, such as the French historian M. Taine, even suggested that the revival saved England from the social and political upheavals which engulfed France and led to the French Revolution. The religious revival changed course when on the urging of Whitfield, John Wesley took to the open air. The populace was hungry to hear the word of God. They responded en masse to the message of the revival.

It was a revival that focused on the spirit of the person. Wesley understood that people who were starving, cold, or homeless were not going to readily accept a Gospel message that said that wealth was the sign of a righteous life or that poverty and sickness were the signs of sinning. But somewhere along the path of history, we have lost that focus. We have become more concerned about the nature of the people in our churches than we are in working against sin.

We would much rather hear messages that tell us how to get rich or whom to blame for the ills of society. We would much rather hear sermons that tell us how to feel good rather than being called to sacrifice so that others may share in God’s glory. We would much rather wait for the anticipated Second Coming of Christ at Armageddon than work to help everyone enter into the Kingdom of God.

There are people in the church who today who say that the church and the people in it are dead. They are just waiting for the funeral. Perhaps today is the day that we hear God’s commandment to Ezekiel to prophesy to the dry bones in the valley and command them to come alive. Perhaps today is the day that we, empowered by the Holy Spirit, stand before the door of the church and command the dead to arise. (In the commentary that I use, there is a note that suggests that if Jesus had not specifically named Lazarus in today’s Gospel reading, then all the dead that were buried in his tomb would have responded to His command to come out of the tomb.)

The revival of the church today will not come from technological applications to improve the worship or make it more like other forms of entertainment. The revival of the church today will not come from rephrasing the Gospel to make it less demanding on the listener or to change the focus from God to one’s self. The revival of the church when we focus on Christ and the message that He gave us two thousand years ago.

As Paul wrote to the Romans,

“For they who are man-centered think along human lines, and they who are Spirit-centered think in terms of the Spirit. For man-centered reasoning dead ends in destruction, but Spirit-centered reasoning leads to life and space. Man-centered reasoning is hostile to God, because it does not subordinate itself to God’s plan nor indeed can it do so. People who are man-centered just can’t get along with God. But you all, you are not man-centered but Spirit-centered — provided, of course, that God’s Spirit permeates you. If one doesn’t have Christ’s Spirit, he isn’t Christ’s man. But if Christ is in you, the self, because of its sin, is stone dead; but the Spirit, because it is good, is throbbing with life. And if the Spirit of the God who made Jesus to live again permeates you, then this same God will give life to your hell-bent egos by means of his Spirit that permeates you.” (from Clarence Jordan’s translation of Romans 8: 6 – 11 in ‘The Letter to the Christians in Washington’).

Next week Jesus will enter into Jerusalem and the people will be cheering. But they will be cheering for all the wrong reasons and by the end of the week they will be calling for his execution as an enemy of the state.

We have a choice. We can continue to live the way that we live and our bones, no matter how old the calendar says they are, will dry out and we will become part of the dry bones in the valley that Ezekiel found. We will see Jesus but we will see him as those in the plaza calling for his execution, a threat to the establishment and to the status quo.

Or we can hear his call, the call that has echoed through these past five weeks of Lent and repent. We can change the course of our lives and bring these dry bones back to life. In doing so, we become the agents of change that are so desperately needed in this time and place.

Shall our bones lie drying in the sun, waiting for the wind to blow the dust to the four corners of the world? Or shall we bring these dry bones back to life?