Connecting People to Jesus
OT Lesson: Ezekiel 37:1-14
NT Lesson: Romans 8:6-11
Gospel Lesson: John 11:1-45
The area of Gainesville generally between Archer Road and Newberry Road; west of 34th Street, east of I-75 is a hub of shopping and apartments; Butler Plaza, a large student village, Hogtown Creek Swamp, and Oaks Mall.
55 years ago it was a sparsely populated area of north Florida woods. Vestiges of the Old Stage Road – which connected the Bellamy Road where is crossed Alachua County up near the town of Alachua, with Cedar Key – generally followed a southwesterly route near the creek to Lake Kanapaha. It ran by the Split Rock hotel and spring-fed pool, by the Kanapaha Presbyterian cemetery.
Other than the Old Stage Road there were no official roads, the wood being threaded with footpaths which gradually accommodated automobile traffic, but only rarely, and usually only by the inhabitants of the Dry Prairie and Daysville backwood communities.
My great-grandparents’ dairy farm and moonshine operation sat in that thicket.
The woods were littered with Native American burial mounds and work sites such that every hard rainfall bled up arrow heads and chard and pottery fragments.
North of present day 20th Avenue – on an abrupt high slop of ground next to the creek sat the Daysville Community Cemetery where Black people of the woods had been interred back to 1840.
I was about 10 years old – Zachary’s current age. My father and I had walked through the woods hunting squirrel. The cemetery was isolated and overgrown, and to a 10 year-old boy, spooky.
I had lost sight of my dad as he was closer down by the creek in the dense forest. As I walked through the cemetery, I spotted a mound of dirt.
I ran up onto the mound and almost fell face-first into an open grave – a grave with an occupant.
The skeletal remains were that of a man. It was a gruesome sight. The bones were clad with remnants of a dark suit but someone had degraded the body apparently to remove articles of value – like a ring, watch, gold –teeth.
I was terrified.
We have all seen displays of skeletons in science class, but it is quite different when you know it was a real person; a real life, and a real death – AND you find yourself almost literally among the remains.
The valley had the look and aura of chaos and carnage.
Bones everywhere. An open Golgotha.
Strewn; ripped apart; broken; plundered by predators.
The Bible tells us Ezekiel was ‘in the middle’ of all this; not some distant observer.
As he walked, he saw bones. Everywhere, bones.
Bones here broken by parents’ divorce; there severed by losing a loved-one without being able to say goodbye; this one with signs of prolonged bruising by religion built upon guilt and fear;
This one bleached and broken by depression during a time and a culture that branded such suffering an “attitude”, not an illness;
This one sundered by addiction;
This one scarred and disfigured by the burden of un-repented sin.
Silent screams from fleshless faces locked in eternal cry at the waste; at damage; at the loss.
As Ezekiel looked around, all he saw were reminders of futility-of-ignored opportunity; missed possibilities; potential expired, blessing squandered.
The natural, human reaction? What a tragedy. What a waste. What sorrow.
God’s reaction was quite different. He asked Ezekiel a question.
“Can these bones live?”
“Can these bones live?”
Amazing even to ask the question.
Sisters Mary and Martha – and their brother Lazarus – were followers of and good friends with Jesus.
Lazarus had died. Apparently his sickness abrupt and his death unexpected.
When he became ill the family sent for Jesus.
Jesus delayed. Lazrus died and was buried.
Not being wealthy, the family likely did not have him embalmed. He was buried quickly as was the Jewish requirement, and the tomb sealed.
That Jesus tarried, and that –at the grave – He wept – I believe – was because He knew this would be the act that finally sealed His fate.
It is true he had raised Jairus’ daughter, and the son of the Widow of Nain. But both miracles had been proximate to these peoples’ deaths – so there was perhaps some plausible explanation.
But Lazrus had been dead 4 days.
To raise him from the dead would be too much to credit coincidence, or to think perhaps some coma-like state had ensued.
At the tomb Jesus made no mention of delay or of decay.
He said to the crowd, “Move the rock.”
To Lazrus, “Come out.”
With these two Bible passages God shows us – the Church – our missional covenant; our purpose; our calling, our reason for being.
Our missional covenant – and that of the entire Church – is to connect people to Jesus – by the example of Jesus Himself, and by the power of God’s Word.
Not by politics. Not by rhetoric. Not by theological prowess, not by money, education, or culture, and certainly not by harshly demanding adherence to a man-made list; not of works lest anyone should boast or brag or disqualify
Not even by miracles or ritual or doctrine.
But by the Word of God – Incarnate (Jesus the Christ) and written (the authoritative treatise of revelation for all who have eyes to see and ears to hear) – empowered by the Holy Spirit; such that God’s supernatural authority can yield even among mere mortals – supernatural results – for the cause of the Gospel.
“Can these bones live?”
Ezekiel did not say, “Are you serious? Look at them; they are broken, scattered, damaged, and have been lifeless for a long time.”
He did not say this.
What he said was, “God only knows.”
And with that powerful statement of truth and faith, God replied:
“Speak to the bones.”
Speak to the lost. The broken. The lonely. The disenfranchised. The ignored. The forgotten.
Those victimized by society or culture – even by their own decisions and choices.
Speak to the scattered and to the lifeless. Even speak to those who have no idea they are skeletal; to those who think they know all about Me already, but use their ‘knowledge’ as a weapon and not as a welcome. Speak to even these.
And speak as if you were Me. Speak my love and mercy; my peace and tender care.
Ezekiel did not say “Are you serious? They are beyond hearing, beyond being influenced, beyond help, beyond reach.”
So, he spoke, as God commanded.
And you know what happened.
Resurrection. Rebirth. Renewal. Rejoicing.
The Church surveys a world of waste and hurt; of colliding ideologies and competing philosophies. Economic largesse abounds but so many remain bereft of hope. Education lifts our potential but too often lowers our sight.
Culture becomes the arbiter of truth and society the calibration of what is good and right, and as the Church stands perplexed, we too often draw lines of exclusion because we are just not up to the task of engagement and we have not sought revelation.
We too often withdraw into an island of doctrinal purity where as our numbers shrink our reaction becomes defensive and shrill and uninviting.
And, to a world in desperate need, Grace goes wanting for an authentic witness and a winsome voice.
Our missional covenant is not to be the judge.
It is to connect people to Jesus.
And having understood and committed to such a missional covenant, Jesus tells us “Move the rock.”
No debates as to the worthiness of the effort.
No checking a list of agendas.
No presenting of religious credentials.
Just offering release from the cave that entombs us.
Whatever that is.
Jesus told Lazrus to ‘come out’ and he did.
Dry bones made alive by the power of God.
Reconstructed by His Spirit.
Empowered by the same love that died for you and was raised for you.
How is it with you today?
Are your bones dry, broken, or scattered?
Are you entombed? Imprisoned?
By disappointment? By religious ritual-without- relationship?
By dry doctrine that simply does not salve nor succor?
By the cheap Grace of confession without commitment?
By physical or emotional pain?
By personal demons and the burden they cause?
Here is where you find help, and rest, and direction, and renewal, and a call to living a life worthy of repentance.
We are the Church.
The people of God.
Can these bones live?
Can they be re-connected?
Can the entombed be set free?
You bet they can.
Because He said to Ezekiel “Speak My Word.”; to the crowd, “Move the rock.”
To us ‘Be My witness. Teach My Gospel. Proclaim My Kingdom’.
Use words if absolutely necessary.
Thus do we continually fulfill our missional covenant by connecting people to Jesus.
It is such a joy to be doing this together with you.