This week in our Lenten series, we looked at the power of the choice to persevere in difficult times; the choice to move beyond roadblocks and discouragement. Today we read two familiar stories that begin with an ending: death. How do we move beyond that? When our hopes seem dashed, when our bones are out of joint, how do we find the faith to persevere?
The priest, Elijah, receives a seemingly impossible job: to encourage the nation of Israel after they had been deported by the Babylonian empire. He is called upon by God to “prophecy” – to lead the lifeless people to renewal. And Jesus is confronted by his close friends, Mary and Martha, after the death of their brother, Lazarus, challenging Jesus to do something. In both stories, the question beneath, a question that often can stand in our way as we try to reconcile what we think we know about God’s goodness with the harm we see happening – through politics, nationalism, war, disease – the question we want to ask, to demand is why Lord? Why would you let this happen?! And in both readings, the answer comes as a surprise, as unpredictable as the breath of Spirit, the Wind — transformation! We see it in nature: things that seemed dead in winter darkness begin to spring to life in new ways. Elijah witnesses God’s transforming power in the House of Israel; Jesus demonstrates God’s power to raise an individual to life again.
How do we, then, see this power in our lives, and even, in our Church? Can we face the facts and persevere? I’d like to show you some data gathered by the Missions Department of the Episcopal Church in 2014. It presents us with some information: like God’s words “eaten” by Elijah in Chapter 3, some sweet, some bitter. And I believe it may point toward transformation.
When we look in dismay at empty pews, at dwindling budgets, and overworked staff members, we often ask Why?! God seems to be answering us also: so that you can be transformed! Only we are not a bunch of lifeless bones just laying around in the valley, or a corpse lying dead in a tomb. We have agency, we are called to choose. Are we willing to invite God’s transformation? Are we willing to let go of our fixed ideas, and allow ourselves to become revitalized in order to grow and flourish? That is the question God has for us!
After service, we will be looking at some goals that the Vestry discerned on retreat. The goals are based on the Five Marks of Mission, not on personal preferences, or the needs of any one person. When Jesus chose to delay going to Bethany, he was putting the mission of his movement before that of his own personal desires. Now, there was only one Jesus, and he does not require any of us to be sacrificed (thank you!). He does call us, invite us, to “roll away the Stone!” To Come out! To unbind ourselves from old, dry ideas and to Live!
What do you say, St. James? Are you willing? Let it be so! AMEN!