Ezekiel 37: 1-14
JOHN 11: 23-27 & 38-46

March 29, 2020 – WEEK TWO of the VIRUS REALITY

Throughout my life I suppose you could have identified me as a BASEBALL GEEK. Baseball was my first sport, which might surprise those of you who have only known me for the last decade or so because everywhere you look you’ll see reflections of my being a Buffalo Bills or a Buffalo Sabres fan plus some bonus University of Buffalo football and basketball reminders strewn around my office and home. Yes there are my Phillies and Yankees caps but the other sports predominate. But, friends BASEBALL was first.

My first clear and concise memory of actually being with my dad comes from his rushing into the house to see the seventh game of a World Series oh so long ago. Back in the day those games were played in the daylight hours so dad closed his business early in order to see a little bit of baseball history. And, although I was still too young to understand I saw my dad’s total joy when Bill Mazerowski hit the walk off home run … off of Ralph Terry to give the Pittsburgh Pirates a 10 to 9 victory over the New York Yankees. OCTOBER the 13th in the year 1960! The day my dad and this son gained a commonality.

Now, you might have thought that dad’s joy and celebration of the team from Pennsylvania would have aligned me with him in cheering on a favorite team in the future but by the start of the 1961 baseball season I was a confirmed NY Yankee fan.

On this strange last Sunday of March in the year 2020 when we are keeping our social distance … when self quarantine and isolation is keeping some of us from the ones we love most … where the mere concept of human skin touching human skin in a hug or handshake or kiss are abstract thoughts for those living by themselves … I am thinking baseball. But, my thoughts about baseball I think are relevant to our faith connection … I think my reflections on a game whose connection to my life is so great that I still have my first baseball glove that I wore out onto the Little League fields of Western New York and sitting on top of that glove is the hat I wore with the emblem of the Cleveland Indians because that was my first Little League team.

I played strato-matic baseball … I kept statistics … always a pencil in hand at the ballpark. Pee Wee Reese and Dizzy Dean on Saturday’s broadcast and one consistent … the opening game of the Major League Baseball season would be the first Monday afternoon in April in Cincinnati, Ohio where the Cincinnati Red Stockings whose name has morphed into the Cincinnati Reds would host baseball’s opening game … it was tradition … it was the way it was … UNTIL

Until THE MAN … some MAN … SOME POWER HUNGRY MONEY SEEKING ANTI-TRADITIONAL MAN or group of men decided to heal the game by having the first game appeal more to a television audience rather than to tradition. Rather than throwing out the first ball in Ohio they decided to change it all … to me it marked the end of the game of summer. Profit and convenience replacing what had been.

And, here we are in church today. Even as I attempt to get us focused on our healing I am not rooted in never changing because change is inevitable. Without change you would not be seeing nor hearing today’s worship service from St. Paul’s. Music and the arts change … so the sense of worship has changed through time but even today I will reflect on healing, which is one of the oldest faith traditions.

But, sometime within my life time … someone or some group of folks decided to change another reality … another you might call tradition … it has to do with the opening day of the week if you look at most calendars … a day called Sunday. Once upon a time in the not so distant past Sunday’s started off with families traveling to a service to worship God … a service that frequently included study time for adults and children called Sunday School. It was our way of life … the reason that there are so many United Methodist churches in America is that these churches were built in neighborhoods and people in neighborhoods walked to their church on Sunday to gather with friends …the reason you see so many amazing Roman Catholic Churches on so many street corners in our cities is that once upon a time people in those communities walked to church on Sunday’s … I could go on and on but something or someone or some group of people decided … WE DON’T NEED CHURCH … maybe it was when the man on the TV set who said put your hand on the TV and BE HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEALLLLLLLLED! And, we watched actors, con men fall into Ernest’s arms and people sent him all kinds of money that made him rich. And doubt began and some took advantage of the diminished concept of personal faith to erase Sunday’s from the expected and the anticipated journey of life and faith and instead made the opening day of the week as one where folks could travel to almost any location except the one their predecessors went to every week.

When we read Scripture we will notice that the human condition truly hasn’t changed so my reflections of the false healer or the change in our desire to escape God for ourselves is nothing new but friends God wants to be the healer … God is still God today and even though we all too often want to play God or deny God … the truth comes back that in our hours of aching … our hours of wondering … God is there to hold onto. The reason I received a call from the ICU of Inspira Hospital this week and prayed over the speaker phone for Mr. Pyle in his last hours with his family and nurses listening in was a need for those in the room to sense God.

Our Gospel lesson today is perhaps one of the most emotionally confrontational lessons from Jesus life. We are exposed to some of the people whom Jesus loved most. This is a love story … this is a story of isolation and separation … this is a story of loss and of sorrow and of healing … This is a story for our times.

Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus. Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was critically ill. Not sure if it was an e-mail or text because Scripture doesn’t say how … maybe a phone call but Jesus didn’t go right away to be with them. So, of course Mary was angry when Jesus finally got to the family home in Bethany because Lazarus was dead already and buried. Martha confronted Jesus … ‘If You had been here!” Lazarus would not have died.

John in sharing this moment from Jesus history reveals two moments of healing to the reader. The first in this season of Lent … in our seasons of trouble … in the times when we are getting angry with God asking and wondering why … friends no matter how long you have been in your journey called life this Scripture lesson … the question that Jesus asks Martha who had just screamed at Him in anger because of her loss and their family’s isolation is a question for all time and all people. Jesus asks her … and I need you to ask yourself this morning … DO YOU BELIEVE Jesus asks her by saying “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live even though they die and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. DO YOU BELIEVE?”

Church … no man can heal you .. no man can save you … no man can magically wave his hand to declare the pandemic is over but the Son of God can heal our eternal lives and after all these days, weeks, months, and years when we have found it so easy to abandon the traditional … to accept the human directives … so many of us have allowed God to vanish and Jesus to disconnect … that is why right now and in these moments when we each have bonus time and social separation … we need to look at ourselves and decide does GOD matter? Have we tossed God to the curb ignoring the validation of God’s existence for the sake of ourselves and our desires and wants? In these moments I can’t answer for you … I can’t be the man saying touch your computer and be healed but you can pause and whisper or shout or just think to yourself … JESUS I NEED TO BELIEVE today and tomorrow and in whatever number of days I have left … friends we need to be healed for our forever.

Yesterday I lost a friend to COVID 19 … a woman of faith; a woman who was always joy-filled …a hugger … but one thing I know about SHERRIE DOBBS JOHNSON is that she had Jesus! She cared for the poor … she welcomed the stranger in our land … she gave love to the downtrodden … her faith was shown through the life she led and the words she spoke and she stood up for justice and condemned those who bring injustice into the world. A pastor; a preacher; a woman of faith; a woman who loved …. Can you say that about who you are and how you live? Do friends examine your life and say JESUS is there … JESUS is lived … JESUS is believed. He is the healer .. He is the sustainer.

And, that brings me to the rest of the Gospel lesson … Jesus had already wept. The Son of God .. the Savior of the world … He knew what it meant to be sad … He understood how loss and suffering could break us down into tears … He saw Mary crying, Martha crying and other friends crying … Friends then and I believe now as He sees our suffering JESUS WEPT. Those in the crowd said … “See how He loved Lazarus” but truth is God … Jesus … love all of us today and want to heal us from the world.

And, so Jesus came to the tomb … we are encased in the tombs of our homes today. But even before COVID 19 became a reality we have been isolated from God by the world’s rolling of a ROCK of adventure, activity, and time stealing forces that we have allowed to take away faith and worship and even living our lives in faith because the world has blocked the LIGHT. But, Jesus is ready to heal and change us … God is calling to us … our dry old bones that for even many church attenders have turned to the dust of faith .. God is ready to bring back to life for God …to be those who stand for loving all neighbors in this time of crisis … to be the people whose faith showcases who we are. To unwrap our bindings so we can dance, sing, and praise God … the healing is not from a man of our times but from a God of all times … you and I and our friends and our family so desperately need to find the hope, the peace, and the joy God has.

So, Jesus turned to Martha who doubted saying ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed … you would see the glory of God?’ They took away the stone … Jesus thanked God … and Lazarus came out and they took away the grave clothes.’

And, the Lord God proclaims, “I’m opening up your graves! I will raise you up, my people! You will know that I am the Lord! I will put my breath in you and you will live! You will know that I am the Lord!” And, those dry bones became alive with the energy of God’s Holy Spirit and they were healed.

So, in these difficult times when old traditions seem so far removed … when someone has pushed you away from God whether it was the TV preacher, the charlatan political connected so-called Christian leader, or the failed human who claimed faith to you but fell victim to his or her human frailties … none of them were healers but the Son of God is. Your faith is your choice … mine is mine but God is God of all … God’s love through Jesus is for all. This season of Lent is a time to get closer to God as we approach Holy Week. This Lenten Season has given us through our isolation more time to again discover our faith, our call to be alive in faith, and to discover hope amidst the storm.

Be HEALED through CHRIST FRIENDS … if your faith bones have seemed dusty let God and Jesus Christ bring you back to life! Find hope and joy show love to all .. be FAITH-Filled people. And, in the meantime, I am ordering a STRATO-MATIC baseball game if anyone wants to return to that old baseball tradition with me and play online.



© 2017- St. Paul's United Methodist Church, West Deptford, NJ