Sunday, April 27, 2014

Faith Strengthened and Refined ~ 1 Peter 1:3-9 ~ Second Sunday of Easter

Five years ago, I was invited to eat lunch at the home of a family belonging to the church I served during seminary.  There’s three things I remember about this visit:

1)      Being pinned helplessly to the couch as their golden retriever washed my face with his tongue

2)      Their eight-year-old son rolling up his five-year-old sister in a Rug, and dragging her to my car for me to take home as “a gift”

3)      The parents’ brutally honest prayer request at the dinner table.

This was a family that had definitely realized the American dream.  The husband and father owned a tremendously successful commercial real estate development firm that he started from a high school summer job mowing lawns…  They lived in a large, nineteenth century stone farmhouse so beautiful and picturesque, that it won national awards.  By all appearances, life was perfect. 

When we sat down to eat lunch, I asked for prayer requests.  They asked me to pray that God would permit their lives to continue to be as wonderful as they’d been.  So I prayed that very prayer.  That’s a desire in all our hearts.  We want our lives to be as free from trouble and pain as they can possibly be.  But what happens when that prayer isn’t answered?  Where is God when faith is on trial?

The letter we know as 1 Peter was written to provide encouragement to baby Christians living in a very difficult time and place to be one.  This wasn’t a time of widespread persecution, but the common folk would have generally been hostile towards them.  They lived and acted in profoundly different ways.  They didn’t worship the same the gods (which in and of itself was considered a civic duty).  This was enough to make Christians outcasts and pariahs.  Because of this, there was grave concern that these newest converts to the faith would buckle under the pressure and fall away from their faith. 

The message of 1 Peter was this: don’t think it unusual when you undergo various trials for your faith.  Trials refine and strengthen your faith.  It is by faith that one takes hold of God’s greatest gift, which is the salvation of our souls, made possible through the death and resurrection of Christ.

Does this mean that trials are good?  Do our trials come from God?

Trials happen when we are afflicted by God’s enemies.  Death, sin, unbelief—are these God’s enemies.  God will never abandon you to these enemies.  But God will save you in the time of trial.  When you’re frightened, discouraged, and doubting by the hurts you suffer and the dangers you see in the world, Jesus comes to you.  He uses your trials to reveal his faithfulness.   When you’re broken and cut down, his resurrection gives us birth and new beginnings every time. 

We may not want to believe or admit this, but know Christ more fully in the resurrection and rebirth he gives us out of trials, rather than if our lives persisted in a state of general prosperity. 

It is most certainly true that most of us are facing many trials right now…  We’re living in a time when people are becoming increasingly hostile towards Christians and Christianity.  None of us like it when we’re told that we can’t wear religious symbols at work, or when we see out-of-state atheist groups fighting to keep religion out of the public square.  But these are not our only trials…  Trials come as loved ones die; as health fails; as we face economic hardship, and as we suffer evildoers.  Trials are our temptations—and dealing with the consequences of giving in to those temptations.  It’s a trial for our church that we’re not as packed as were years ago (or last week, for that matter.)  It is a trial that our children don’t feel safe at school. 

It is incredibly difficult to trust in Jesus in these trials—because they make us feel so helpless.  Fears speak so loudly, telling us that our faith is in vain, and that the monsters of the world are soon to devour us.  We become like Thomas, who acted as though there was no Jesus to believe in…

But Christ meets us in these places of fear.  When we’re brought to our knees because it’s all just too much, Jesus comes.  When we lock ourselves away and hide because we can’t face the down the demons of the world, Jesus comes.  When courage, strength, and faith all fail—Jesus comes to raise us up to new life in him.  Jesus saves us in the time of trial.  Jesus uses our trials to reveal his love to us and draw us more deeply into his mercy and peace.

We’re all waiting for resurrection.  Our world certainly is waiting.  Sometimes the waiting is so long, and it is so easy to let go of all hope.  But Christ never lets go of you.  He will bring you to the Garden of Resurrection.  So let faith be that persistence in waiting; coming before Christ and offering our lives to him, to do with them what he will.  May Christ’s resurrection be the promise that brings you peace amid your pain and hope amid your sorrow. 

And let’s not forget our neighbors who wait for resurrection just the same.  Let us pour out our lives as an offering that speaks this greatest truth: that Jesus is alive and that he is here.  He is here to bring new lives and new beginnings to all.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Keeping Faith When It Hurts ~ Bible Study blog for April 24

Tonight we read of Esau and Jacob, the twins born to Isaac and Rebekah. 

Esau was his father’s favorite; Jacob was his mother’s favorite.  But Jacob proved to be a master manipulator…

Early in their youth, Jacob is making stew, and Esau comes home from the field being hungry.  Wanting some of the stew, Jacob agrees to give Esau some in exchange for Esau’s birthright—his inheritance rights as the elder son.  Esau agrees, thus dishonoring his parents (and himself) by despising the inheritance rights and privileges of being the eldest son.  Later on, when Isaac was old and blind, Rebekah schemes with Jacob to fool Isaac into giving Jacob his older brother’s blessing (and God’s favor).  Jacob dresses in a hairy garment, to resemble Esau’s hairy skin.  The scheme works, and Esau is furious to the point that he is planning to kill his brother.

It’s clear that Esau has been cheated twice—and it hardly seems fair that Jacob would receive God’s favor in the wake of his scheming.  But Esau is not without sin.  First of all, he traded his birthright for a meager meal.  This is a classic case of giving into the temptation of instant gratification.  But his brother’s second scheme brings out murderous anger.

So how are we to react when people scheme against us, when they mistreat and abuse us?  How are we to react when we suffer pains and trials that are clearly unfair and unjust?

It is so easy to act out our anger, our hurt, and our fear in ways that hurt others.  Hurt has a powerful way of bringing out the worst in any of us.  Anger is not a sin—especially when people sin against us and we suffer unjustly.  But in our anger we can sin, as we lash out, abuse others, and condemn them with our words and actions.  Sometimes, our fiercest anger is brought out when our children and loved ones are hurt by someone else.

But how does God react to the people who abuse and crucify his son?  Christ asks his Father to forgive—and God does.  God remains merciful and compassionate, even in the face of evil.  It is terribly difficult for us to do the same, and put on a Christ-like patience, forbearance, and forgiveness in the face of evil.  It is equally as difficult to keep trusting God when we pray for God to end suffering and pain, and God doesn’t seem to be doing anything to help. 

But God is always with us, no matter what.  By faith, we persist in prayer, in worshipping God, and encountering God in Word and at the Table.  Because God is with us, there are always opportunities to do good, even when our pain is tremendous.  We can forgive sins as Christ forgave those who denied, betrayed, and crucified him.  We can even reach out in love towards those who do us wrong.  There will be ways to serve and support others, to help bear their burdens and ease their pain.  There will always be ways to act out the love and mercy of Christ.

Faith means trusting in God to care for us as we hurt—as well as trusting God to make us whole in the wake of terrible pains and losses.
Our next Bible study will be Thursday, May 8 at 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Christ's Resurrection and Yours ~ John 20:1-18 ~ The Resurrection of Our Lord

Have you ever been so tired that you just can’t sleep?

Your body and mind have been going full throttle all day—but when the time finally comes to rest, you can’t…  Stress and worries pound away at your mind.  You toss and turn, as your mind and body deny you exactly what you need most…

We all have sleepless nights.  For me, they always happen any time my life changes dramatically, for the better and for worse…

I can’t imagine Mary sleeping in the days after Jesus’ death.  She loved Jesus deeply.  She believed him to be a man of God.  His crucifixion was the most terrible trauma.  Mary can’t move beyond the grief.  That grief is what takes her back to the tomb, well before dawn… 

But she suffers yet another trauma when she arrives at the tomb, and finds it empty.  The most obvious conclusion would have been grave robbers…  She then runs back to town and awakens Peter and Jesus’ beloved disciple to tell them the terrible news.  Immediately, they run to the tomb to see it for themselves.  Once they see for themselves that the body is gone, they go home.  But Mary stays at the tomb, still weeping…

Most of us can easily put ourselves in her shoes.  We suffer traumas so severe, that life literally melts away into sorrow…  No matter how hard we try, we just can’t move beyond the grief.  We can’t face tomorrow because tomorrow promises no relief.  Just more sorrow.  More uncertainty. 

And all along, Jesus feels dead to us.  Like we’ve lost him forever…

But Jesus meets Mary at this horrible place of death.  Jesus calls her by name.  He brings Mary into his victory over death—for Jesus’ resurrection is also Mary’s resurrection

Notice what Jesus says to Mary: he says, “do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father.”  In other words, “don’t hold onto me.”  While this may sound like a very cold response, his words speak an important truth about resurrection: Jesus’ resurrection is not be a return to the past.  Things will not be going back to the way they were before.  Jesus will abide with them through the Holy Spirit; the Advocate whom Jesus promised them over and over again, who will guide them into all truth and keep them forever in union with him.  They will see him not by sight, but by faith. 

Jesus’ resurrection does not mark a return to the past.  It begins a new future.

This is one of the most important truths about resurrection in a time when so many of us know so many sleepless nights because of so many hurts and fears.  It is inevitable that we will find ourselves, at some time or another, brought literally to our knees following a traumatic loss.  Our lives are built and lived out on the foundation of relationships with loved ones; along with our health and our abilities. Our lives are built on our vocations and on the plans we make for our future.  But when we suffer the loss of one or more of those things or those people, we’re brought to our knees with fear and sorrow.  We’re brought to our knees when we do wrong and there’s nothing we can do to make it right.

But resurrection happens within these traumas.  Jesus takes hold of you in the places of hurt, death, and fear.  He pours healing grace into your hurt.  He lifts you up out of our doubts and our despair.  He becomes the strength and the courage and the hope that we need to face tomorrow.  He takes you back into the world, where life is lived—so that you may live in and through him.  Jesus turns sorrow into joy He tHe , so that even when the loss is great, Jesus will be greater. 

So if you have been brought to your knees by sorrow, or if tomorrow is so daunting that you know no rest today, take heart: Jesus has come for you, to give you a new beginning.  Your grief will turn to joy and peace.  Believe in Christ, trust in his promise, and you will see.  It will happen.

But bear in mind that so many of our neighbors dwell in darkness.  There are so many who weep and languish in these difficult times we’re living in.  They know no rest from sorrow.  They need resurrection.  Our community needs resurrection.  Our world needs resurrection.  This beautiful gift Jesus gives to us is a gift that needs to be shared.  We need to go forth and speak it with our lips and also with our hands.  Our place is with Jesus, as he goes to all the Marys of the world, who are weary and broken down by sickness, poverty, and greed.  

Today, Jesus invites you into his resurrection—and into a new beginning.  Come to his table to eat and drink of his body and blood to be raised up for new life in Christ.  Return to the waters of baptism, and celebrate that you have been baptized into his resurrection.  If you are not baptized, know that Jesus’ arms are open wide to you.  It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done, or what lies in your past.  He gives his blood in love to wash it all away with forgiveness.

Today is a new day to live in Christ; to rejoice; and to live in hope. 

He is risen indeed!  Alleluia.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Joy of Washing Feet ~ John 13:1-17, 31b-35 ~ Maundy Thursday

Brian was the man that every man wanted to be. 

He was the father of four great boys and a loving wife.  He was a very successful architectural engineer.  He coached his boys’ soccer team. 

He was kind of man who could build anything or fix anything.  At fix-foot four, he was a tower of strength, wisdom, and knowledge to everyone who knew him.

On top of it all, Brian was a man of God. 

But everything changed on a cold winter’s evening, when his car hit a patch of black ice and rolled over an embankment. 

Upon getting the phone call that no one wants to get, his family, his neighbors, and his friends united in prayer as he clung to life.

The next day, their prayers were answered when they learned that he would live.  But the joy of the  news was short-lived when the doctor informed them that Brian would be permanently and completely paralyzed from his injuries.

After months in the hospital, the time came for Brian to return home—but life was never again going to be easy.  He required round-the-clock care—and everything needed to be done for him.  A nursing home was not an option for the 35-year-old father, from a family standpoint as well as from a financial standpoint.  The medical bills had decimated the couples’ savings—and with Brian unable to work, his wife Pam had to get a job.  The money wasn’t there to pay caregivers.  But Pam and the boys couldn’t do it on their own.  They did not know what they were going to do. 

But everyone kept on praying.  Little by little, friends, neighbors, and members of their church came forward to help.  It began with meals for the family—but gradually, they gave more.  They did laundry.  They helped get the boys off to school.  They fed Brian.  They helped to dress him and bathe him.  They even changed his adult diapers. 

To this day, they’ve never been without help to take care of Brian in their home.

One of his friends spoke about the experience this way: “God never answered my prayers quite like when God sent me to change a grown man’s diapers.  If Jesus died on the cross for me, then how much less this is for me to do for a friend and his family in need.”

This is the key to understanding the cross: you understand complete helplessness—and you give yourself completely to a person in need, for no other reason than because that person needs it.

Recently, I worked with a group of boy scouts on their God and Church Award.  The lesson of the day was “How Jesus Served.”  So we set up a chair with a basin of hot, soapy water.  One by one, they washed each other’s feet.  When we were done, I asked them about the experience.  What was hardest for you—to have your feet washed?  Or, to wash someone else’s feet?

There was really no consensus, because both are hard.  But from Brian’s standpoint, there’s no question: it’s terrible to be dependent on others.  

As Americans, we love our independence.  We treasure it.  We practically define ourselves and our own worth in terms of our independence.  I doubt any of us would have wanted Jesus to wash our feet, had we been there at his last supper.

Most of us can (and do) wash our own feet.  But there’s one thing none of us can do for ourselves: we cannot make ourselves right before God.  We are sinners.  We’re no better than Judas Iscariot, when it comes to our sin.  And we are mortal.  And it doesn’t matter how strong we are, how righteous we presume to be, we are all beggars in chains to sin and death.  Then Jesus comes along, and does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  He puts himself in our place of helplessness.  He gives his life to us as a gift.  He embraces us in our helpless situation—and the power of God that raises him from the dead comes upon us just the same.  The Holy Spirit makes us a new creation, such that Christ lives through us.  Our sins are nailed to the cross.  In him, we shall live forever.

So as you come today to the Lord’s table, remember that Jesus gives his body and blood for you because you need it.  Not because you deserve it, but because you need it.  And because Jesus loves you that much.

But this is only one side to the truth of the cross.  To know the rest of the truth is to take up your cross and follow him.  It is to die to your self—to all your ambitions, your successes, your own way of life, along with your independence.  It is to get down on your knees, and wash your neighbor’s feet.  It is to do for others—and not for the sake of what we get, and not because we feel they deserve it.  We do good because our neighbors need it.  The more that love demands of you, the more you will understand the cross.  The joy of the Lord comes by washing feet. 

To be a servant is hard, but there will always be grace to do it.  The food and drink you receive today will bring you into the whole truth of the cross, giving you the faith to receive Christ’s love, and the strength to put that love into practice. 

We do it all for Christ’s sake—because Christ gave it all for ours.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Change of Plans ~ Lenten Wednesday Sermon Series ~ Mark 10:32-34

When Elizabeth and I first met, she had a sign in her dorm room that read: “Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be bent out of shape.

I should have heeded that advice, especially this winter…

The snow and bitter cold temperatures have wreaked absolute havoc on my schedule—and on First’s events schedules.  In February alone, we cancelled seven of a total of fifteen scheduled events (that do not include Sunday worship!).  There were a few things we did not cancel, but the weather wreaked havoc on the attendance: like our annual congregational banquet and our pancake brunch.  So much time and energy went into planning and preparing for these meals, but so many could not participate. 

It’s so aggravating to make plans and those plans don’t work out.  But that’s life.  Usually, they say “rules are made to be broken.”  This winter, I’d argue that “plans are made to be broken…

Jesus’ disciples certainly experienced this fact firsthand…  It didn’t take much time following Jesus and witnessing his miraculous deeds of power for the disciples to make big plans for the future.  They had few reasons to doubt that Jesus wouldn’t raise up an army that would kick King Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Romans, and the corrupt religious leaders out of the Holy Land, so to firmly establish the Kingdom of God.  They were so confident that Jesus was going to do this that they began arguing amongst themselves as to which of them would be the greatest, and get to sit to the right and left of Jesus’ throne once their big plans came to fruition.  They couldn’t get it through their heads that this wasn’t Jesus’ plan, even after he foretold of his death and resurrection a total of three separate times…

Simple common sense would affirm that Jesus’ arrest and death were the culmination of a spectacular failure in the cosmic battle of good versus evil.  What else was there to believe about a dead Jesus?

The cross was a catastrophic failure of the disciples’ plans—but it was the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plan for the salvation of the world.  There is no greater love than the love of Jesus, to lay down his life to take away the sin of the world.  His resurrection from the dead marked the beginning of the end for the powers of death and sin.

So when your best-laid plans crumble to dust, remember the cross.  We all have plans that don’t work out—but God’s plan for your salvation always works out.  We will never know the reasons why bad things happen and why we suffer.  It’s never part of God’s plan to afflict us, anymore than it is part of God’s plan for us to sin against God and one another.  But God can take even the worst of heartbreaks and our most spectacular failures to reveal God’s works in you.  When everything falls apart, God’s grace rebuilds your life so that you can live more fully into God’s plan.  There is Easter grace for every cross we bear—and we never bear any cross alone…

Something amazing happened after all those snowed-out church meals—opportunities came along for us to prepare two meals for two Christian groups in the community.  None of that food or that hard work went to waste—because God had a plan.

You can be just as confident that when your best-laid plans fall to pieces, there will be grace to bring you into God’s great plan.  You can trust God to take you through every high and every low to bring you at the last into God’s glorious Kingdom. 

Journey into God's Heart ~ Matthew 27:11-54 ~ Sunday of the Passion

How could it be that Jesus came into Jerusalem with a hero’s welcome, only to be led out as a condemned criminal just five days later?

How could it be that the crowds would choose to have a notorious prisoner released, instead of one who committed no crimes?

How could it be that the Son of God would die?

The answers to these questions lead us deep into our own hearts, where we come face-to-face with the most painful truths about ourselves.

We share in the guilt of those who denied Jesus, who deserted Jesus, who betrayed Jesus, who despised Jesus, and who afflicted upon Jesus the utmost in cruelty.

To hear this most certainly brings out from us the kind of denials Jesus heard from his own disciples on the night of his Last Supper, when he said, “one of you will betray me.”

We all love Jesus.  We can’t imagine ourselves doing such a thing.

But his disciple Judas hands him over to be killed.

All the rest scatter and run when he’s arrested.

His disciple Peter denies knowing him three times.

And who were the people who plotted against him?  People who studied the same Scriptures and worshipped the same God.

So when we hear of the crowds rejecting Jesus called Christ for Jesus Barabbas, we must bear in mind that we reject him just the same.  Every day, in fact…

Much of the time, our rejection of Jesus is hidden from our awareness, and is instead deeply embedded in habits.  It’s embedded in our ambitions and our desires.  We reject Jesus when we’re afraid; when we feel he’s let us down.   It’s easiest to reject Jesus when he brings us face to face with our sin.  When we sin, we trample on others and to get our way.  We deny Jesus his authority over our lives.  Then we’re standing before Pontius Pilate, yelling “crucify him!”

But who do we see before our eyes?  We see a Jesus who does not reject us for rejecting him.  We see a Jesus who gives his life for sinners.  We also see a Jesus who is full of compassion for those who are hurting; those who are weak; and those whom society counts as nothing.  Jesus claims us as his own, in spite of our weaknesses, our foolishness, and our lack of faith in him. 

This is why we are invited to walk with Jesus to his cross—because the journey to the cross is the journey into the heart of God, who is full of love, mercy, and forgiveness.  But first, we must take up our crosses and follow him.  We must die to our selfish desires and ambitions.  We must die to possessions.   We must die to our need for security, success, and winning everyone’s approval. 

But first, Jesus puts to death our guilt, our shame, and our fear about what the future may hold.  Our weaknesses and our failings no longer dominate our existence.  To die in Christ is to live in Christ and through him.  There is no one who will be rejected, no matter how much you’ve rejected Christ.

So on this Holy Week, walk with Jesus in the freedom he gives you from sin’s deadly grip.  Remember him and think upon the life he gives for you.  Let his love both form and transform you and the desires of your heart.  Walk in his ways; trust in his promises.  For to live in Christ is to serve in Christ and ultimately, to rise in Christ.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Defining Faith: Bible Study blog for April 10

Tonight, we heard the remarkable story of Abraham and Isaac.  God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering.  In spite of this unthinkable command, Abraham obeys without question—right up until God stops him from slaying his son.  But before all this, Abraham says to Isaac: “God will provide himself a lamb for the burnt offering.”  He didn’t know how, or when—or even what God was up to.  But God proved himself faithful—and both he and his son learned how faithful God really is.  

Faith is the gift of God that acts in anticipation of God keeping promises—in spite of not knowing what God is up do or what God will do in the future.  It is far more than just intellectually acknowledging the existence of God.  Faith lives and breathes according to how we love and what we do in response to God’s promises.  Faith is built on the foundation of God’s promises, as well as God’s actions in the life of every believer.  Faith gives thanks and remembers God’s goodness in the past—and that remembering serves as the basis for faith in the future, particularly as one struggles to know what God is up to in the present.  Faith expresses itself through testimony—telling others our story of what God is doing in our lives, and living out our call to use the good gifts we are given in service of others.  Faith grows through times of trial.  Faith will often die in the face of life’s disappointments and heartbreaks, but God raises our faith back to life.  In testing, we learn of God’s goodness.   

The times we’re living in put our faith to the test.  The widespread poverty, violence, and hatred in our world suggest that our faith is in vain.  But our God is stronger than evil—and God makes us stronger than evil.  By faith we live as people of hope, proclaiming God’s Gospel in the world and serving our neighbors in love.  Our neighbors need our good works, and they need our testimony of Christ’s love.  The Gospel we proclaim is God’s compassionate love, mercy, and forgiveness revealed in the cross of Christ.  As our neighbors suffer sickness and need; as teens endure rampant bullying; as the world appears to be spiraling out of control, Jesus is pouring out his life for the sake of all.  In faith, we pour out ourselves and our gifts to our neighbor.  As we live out our faith, the power of God is sure to heal broken lives and weary souls. 

It is the faithful people of God who reveal the presence of Christ to the world.  We demonstrate God’s truth by living God’s truth—that this is God’s world, and God loves each of us so much that Christ is given for our sake.  This is good news that everyone needs to hear, to believe, and then to see, by God's good grace.

Our next Bible study will be Thursday, April 24th. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

New Life in the Valley ~ Ezekiel 37:1-14 ~ Fifth Sunday in Lent

All the time, people ask me, “where do you live?”

I always give them the same answer: “I live behind the old Montgomery Ward’s.”

You know something?  Just about everyone knows where that is—even people who aren’t local. 

I hate to say it, but this 28-acre eyesore is Lower Burrell’s most famous landmark.  One community leader calls it “our big black eye.”  

If this site were located in some other place, say in the North Hills, you can bet that it would have been snatched up and redeveloped right after Ward’s closed its doors.  But not here in the Kiski Valley.  For more than a decade it’s sat abandoned.  Nobody wants it.  The reason why is obvious: this is not the bustling region it once was.  Major employers have closed their doors, and many families have left for greener pastures.  It certainly doesn’t make us feel any better to know that there’s a nuclear waste dump just two miles down the road.

So what does this do to us who still call this valley our home?  How do we live as people of God, amid so much struggle, so much loss, so much death?  Is there hope for this depressed community?

In our first reading from Ezekiel, God brings Ezekiel into an unnamed valley.  The scene the prophet describes is one of nightmares.  Bones are scattered all across the valley, and they were all very dry.  This was not so much a valley as it was a sea of death. 

God asks Ezekiel a question: “can these bones live again?  Rather than answering “yes” or “no,” Ezekiel sends the question back to God.  Then, God commands Ezekiel to speak to the bones: “I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.  I will cover you with skin, and you shall live—and then you will know that I am the LORD.”  All of the sudden, the bones come together, and skin covers them—but aren’t breathing.  So God commands Ezekiel to speak again: he commands the winds to come into the dead—and then, they come alive.  But still, they cry, “our hope is lost.” 

That’s the real power of death: it doesn’t just destroy bodies. It destroys hope.  It destroys faith.   This is a terrible thing—because without hope, a human being is living dead.  Fear takes captive your every thought and your every action.  No longer is there anything to be thankful for; no longer is there any good to be received or shared.  Peace, purpose, and rest are all pipe dreams.  Survival becomes the key objective.  Happiness comes in grabbing whatever pleasures and thrills come along, giving no thought to the consequences.  It is the hopeless who say, “let us eat and drink; for tomorrow, we die” (Isaiah 22:13).

Hopelessness is a kind of death—because it blinds us to the reality of the Author and Giver of Life.  Hopelessness is the resignation of faith that Jesus has power and authority over death.  The hopeless say, “Jesus isn’t there; Jesus doesn’t care.”  This is the tragedy for which Jesus weeps.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life; he loves us so much that he gives his life for us.  His grace is sufficient to deliver us in any time trial.  But we don’t believe.  We don’t trust him.   We do not obey his word.  We live and act as though death is in control.

And this isn’t hard to believe.  Turn on the news and what do you see and hear, but stories of violence, suffering, and greed?  There’s warnings that the economy is on the verge of collapse, and that global warming is slowly making the planet uninhabitable.  Then there’s the so-called “doomsday preppers;” the people who are so certain that that we are on the cusp of our doom that they’re building bunkers and stockpiling food and weapons. 

Even the rapid trend toward secularism and the decline of institutional Christianity is enough to convince anyone that all hope is lost.

But what we see is not ultimate reality.  Jesus has come into the Valley of the Dry Bones that is the world we live in.  He makes his home with us in our valley. 

Think about what this means for us who live in depressed times in a depressed valley…

In the meantime, Jesus is in our valley.  He speaks to us in the Word.  We receive his life-giving flesh and blood at his table.  His forgives our sin.  He walks with us so that we may see his goodness by faith.  Death and evil are not going to have the last word.  The sorrow and turmoil of today are giving way to a glorious future of peace and justice for all. 

As disciples of Jesus, we call new life into being, just as Ezekiel does.  People need our gifts and our good works.  They need our prayers and our encouragement.  God has given us stories to tell, gifts to share, and love to lift our neighbors out of hopelessness.  By grace, we make Christ real as we peak God’s truth—and live according to that truth.

Resurrection is hard work.  Mission and ministry mean following Jesus to people and places we may not wish to go.  It demands persistence, just as it did for Ezekiel.  It demands that we trust God.  But this is God’s will.  If you are committed to doing God’s will, God will give you everything you need to do it.  Of that, you can be certain.

So in what ways can we as a church call new life into being?  What gifts can you bring, that will not only help a neighbor, but give hope?  Our Easter Egg hunt is two weeks away.  Do you know a child who could use a little joy this Easter?  In six weeks, we’ll be opening our doors for our clothing closet ministry.  Are we going to continue to reach more people, as we’ve been doing over the last two years?

And how may God be calling us to grow—so that God’s abundant gifts to us may meet more needs?  Where and how may there be an abundance to share?

Do you know someone who could use a prayer, a friend, a helping hand, or a community of love?

Life is too great a gift to be lost to hopelessness.  Death is already defeated.  So be alive.  Let the power of Christ make you alive—and then go and call new life into being.  Go and see resurrection as you do it, by God’s help.