Unbounded – Sermon for Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 29, 2020

At the time of the Coronavirus Pandemic
Karin Liebster, Pastor for Faith Formation

Ezekiel 37:1-14  Psalm 130 Romans 8:6-11  John 11:1-45

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

So, dear sisters and brothers, how are you today? After this week? We have heard from many from you, and would love to hear from you again or for the first time. By email, by phone, by text, or in the chat room when this worship is broadcast. It’s a wonderful new way of being together apart.

Week 1 into the Stay Home-Work Safe order from Harris County. We know now, only a global effort can slow down the coronavirus pandemic. And we can all contribute to it slowing down. The coronavirus will not leave anyone untouched in one way or another. Death and the danger of spreading deadly infection is all around us. There is no denying that.

Life feels so different now. Routines have changed, levels of anxiety have risen, and we may discover that we have very different ways of dealing with our anxieties in the confines of homes where many more people spend many more hours together than usual. Some spring into action to be useful and helpful, while others are on their phone all the time, clicking every single link with more information about the virus and crises it causes.

My deep prayer is for families who live together in small spaces, families with children who do not yet understand concepts of self-control for the benefit of all. My prayer is for school children and students who do not have the luxury of guaranteed WiFi access for their school work. I am anxious for domestic situations of abuse which are likely to get worse, with nowhere to go for the victims even if they wanted. There will be trauma, new trauma, as well as old trauma reopened.

To put it bluntly, we all face now the real possibility of death, and our participation is required to make a real difference in reducing real death by abiding the safe measures requested and ordered.

We could say, life, your life and my life right now, is bordered, surrounded by death. Death can enter my sphere. It is very scary to see life being threatened in this way.

Our scripture readings this morning in comparison sound a very strong chord of hope. They speak about life (!) out of death. Life flowing and surrounding, choking death.

Let’s visit with God’s people and the prophet Ezekiel. The people are destitute. They are ripped from their homes, life as they knew it has ended. They learn that their own idolatry, their disrespect for God’s good gifts, their mistreatment of neighbor, their exclusive trust in themselves rather than God has brought them into this situation – ripped away from their homeland, bereft of all that was good and familiar. Now their future is this black hole into which they are bound to be sucked in.

I wonder if some of us feel the same right now. Our future, the way things were sucked into a black hole, never to return? How will it be on the other side of this?

It turns out that God, who created all life stays in touch with them – for no other reason than pure love and overflowing grace. I am not giving you up. I will restore you. Breath I will breathe into your bones that feel like dead. My life surrounds your death, it comes with the wind from all four corners, all around you. See, your hope may be dried up, but I am your God, the God of life, surrounding you, infusing you with life, spirit, breath. Death is sucked into life – crushed by life; life spiraling up and out of the hole, breath giving, reviving, restoring.

Dear ones, God turns, God in love turns again to God’s people restoring relationship, forgiving sin, infusing hope. The God of life always has been the God of life, we just didn’t want to see it, know it. We thought we were the authors of life.

The question of life and death is on the table again in the story of Lazarus’ resuscitation, Jesus’ last sign before he enters Jerusalem to be crucified.

Of course we know the answer to the question of life and death. We are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ so that in his being raised we have full share in the resurrection – now and in the world to come. In this same hope and assurance of the resurrection we have also buried our loved ones.

In our heads we know death has no chance. But it’s so hard to actually live it, know it. Somewhere in a corner of our heart there is fear that this pandemic is going to choke out a lot. We need reassurance that God as the source of all life through Jesus Christ is constantly infusing this death bound world with life, uncontrollably beautiful rich life, – our individual finitude notwithstanding.

Because it is so hard, John gives us this wonderful family story of Martha, Mary and Lazarus (whose name by the way means, God has helped). It is the last sign that Jesus does.

Jesus lets Lazarus intentionally die in order to demonstrate the glory of God whose whole intent is giving life, life spiraling up and out and above death.

Walking with Martha and Mary we follow with suspense their believing and not believing, waffling back and forth. Our own emotions well up when we watch Jesus break down and cry for his dead friend Lazarus at the moment when the crowd says to him, come and see. “Come and see” – that is what Jesus normally says to others to point them to the path of life and faith. Now he is invited to come and see, and he breaks down in tears.

John, the gospel writer, very smartly has us waffle back and forth with Martha and Mary, so that at our own pace and in our own circumstances we will come to the point when the words simply form on our own lips, Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.

It is life that surrounds death, my dear sisters and brothers in Christ. We will waffle on that, forget again that it’s not death but life that is leading us. That God’s glory in the resurrection has the upper hand.

Therefore I love those last words Jesus says in the story. Jesus basically shouts at all those bystanders, the crowd of mourners, Unbind him, and let him go.

You know what that means? You and I are called to lift our eyes from the ground and from our phones, and unbind each other, get that life, that hope that in us out and about, pass it on, share it with the world, because we know better, we have seen God’s salvation, we are baptized.

Unbind with your irresistible hope doctors, nurses, suppliers of medical equipment, all who are bowed down under the heavy burden racing against the virus clock. Unbind from exhaustion with your love parents, teachers, store managers and workers, truck drivers, all essential workers, show them your gratitude, acknowledge the hardship. Unbind from the grip of trauma the anxious ones, with your listening ear and comforting words. Be creative, consider your life giving gifts, even homebound.

God’s breath, God’s spirit infuses us still from all around us. So now with our breath let us proclaim God’s love and grace with the Hymn of the Day. And even now, in this time, the refrain has us sing: In the Lord let us rejoice. Now and always. Amen.