John 11: 1-45
I wonder how many people remember the Ray Harryhausen films?
From the 1950s through to 1981 he created films which captured the imagination... using what was then state of the art stop motion photography, his figures came to life.
This week’s Old Testament reading put me in mind of one in particular: Jason and the Argonauts, and the skeleton warriors.
These bones rising up from the ground, joining together and advancing towards Jason was thrilling... and to be truthful, even now I love to watch one of his classics: Jason, or the adventures of Sinbad – the skill and patience that went into creating this illusion is breathtaking...
But of course – it is an illusion
And minute attention to detail are what made these films so innovative – now of course, it is all done with computer graphics and blue screens, and takes a fraction of the time.
But, what the story of the Valley of the Dry Bones reminds us, is that sometimes when we are faced with an insurmountable problem, there is only one answer: God alone knows... yes, that comes straight from the Ezekiel reading today.
From that valley of the impossible, we move to another sort of resurrection, this time not a valley of scattered bones, but a beloved brother, recently dead... yet, still, very definitely dead.
There is raw emotion here
Martha and Mary are Jesus beloved friends; it is to their home he retreats when he wishes to escape the crowds. It was to him that the sisters appealed when their brother became ill...
And, they are more than distraught; not only did Jesus not come
But now Lazarus is dead, and they can see nothing hopeful
The reproach is tangible:
IF you were here Lord
If you had come
If you had responded...
None of this would have happened... grief and raw anger permeate their words.
In both these stories, the resurrection itself is almost secondary: Jesus declares right from the start – this is to bring Glory to God
And Ezekiel’s vision and prophecy is not about bringing a long forgotten dead army back to life, but about restoring hope to a scattered, desperate people
And in each story there is hope
In each situation what seemed hopeless is turned around
These stories may be old, but there is great truth in them still
We live in a world where many people have lost hope in the church
They on the outside make assumptions based on sitcoms, and soap operas, and a vague recollection of what church was like the last time they were there... when they were children, or at a wedding or a funeral...
They simply remember it as dull, grey and boring
Or sad and helpless
Or as somewhere you had to go before you were allowed to the party...
Now, we know church is not like that – don’t we?
But how do we get that message out?
How do we tell people that the church is trying to address the needs of new generations, new circumstances – new traditions?
Well – yesterday in our own church hall was one example of how
You can’t tell me that church is dying when we have families coming together to share fun; to listen to the stories of Jesus; to learn that God loves them and to have fellowship around a meal table...
Because that’s what happened yesterday
Our first venture into Messy Church was hard work – and would have been impossible without the marvellous group of volunteers who prepared, and led, and encouraged, and prayed, and donated baking, and chatted, and kept up a continuous supply of tea and coffee to the 12 families who attended
Yes!! 12 families!
And their 26 children!
And in amongst that melee – new relationships were forged
And the Good News was shared
On Friday I prayed Ezekiel’s prayer as I thought about what would happen on Saturday: Lord, only you know
Only you can answer the question
In the reading the word Ruach is used eight times, translated as both breath, wind and breathe
Ruach is the breath of God – the Holy Spirit
And the Spirit blows and inspires (breathes in) and new life comes
God says to us: “you say the church is dried up without any hope and no future – but I will put my breath into them and bring them back to life...”
Jesus wanted everyone to see just what is possible with God
He didn’t go running to Martha and Mary when Lazarus became ill, because he wanted the people to have one, brilliant, amazing sign to hold on to...
Because with God nothing is impossible!
Jesus was on the final leg of his mission
Jerusalem was in sight
The final chapter was about to begin
So it was vitally important that everyone saw a glimpse of God’s power at its utmost: yes, even a man who has been dead and buried for four days can be brought back to life... with God nothing is impossible
When we look at the church and find ourselves asking the question: can these dry bones live?
Remember the Breath of God – the Holy Spirit is with us to the end of days
The Breath of God can breathe life into ANYTHING!!
Even our church
Especially our church