Sunday, March 9, 2008

The End? - A Sermon

When I was in middle school I had this girlfriend, Julie Conlogue.  I think we went out together for a total of 2, maybe 3 weeks before we broke up.  At the time, it seemed like the world was crashing down around me.  I thought my life was over and I'd never be able to go to school again. 

I saw myself as a tragic hero of a classic novel done wrong by the love of my life.  I started trying to figure out who would play my role in the movie version.  Three weeks later I was going out with Jeanette Simon and all was right with the world.  I tell you, it's the stuff of bestsellers.  

Speaking of novels, last year I went to a conference where there were a bunch of workshops on writing.  One agent who spoke at the conference, and whose book I bought autographed it.  He wrote, "Tension on every page."  In his talk, he said you want to bring your characters past the brink of disaster over and over again.  You want to make your readers think that there is no way now that your hero will EVER get out of this -- it's too late, this is the end, and it's a disaster.  The only reason you can't quite believe it's all over is because there are still 200 pages left in the book -- but you can hardly imagine how you're going to make it through any more crises.

That's makes a good read because we people love it when the impossible happens -- when all hope is taken away only to have it come rushing back after all.  Life is hard and often seems hopeless -- like it's all over.  And yet, somehow, there is life at the other end.

But no novel has anything on the bible stories for today.  If you want to talk about all hope being taken away just think Dry Bones.  It doesn't get any worse than that if you want to bring life to a situation.

But dry bones are exactly what the people of Judea thought they were dead as a people -- utterly defeated, utterly destroyed -- dry bones.  Judea was at an end, and nothing could possibly bring them back to life.

So God speaks to Ezekiel -- Take dry bones, God says, and prophesy to them -- tell them what God is doing.  And what is God doing?  Bringing life to the lifeless.  Even dry bones.  To God's people.  It's never too late.  It is not the end.

The Gospel tells us the same story.  Lazarus, Jesus' close friend, is sick.  He dies and is in the tomb for four days before Jesus arrives.  The funny thing about this is that he coud have arrived sooner, like Mary and Martha wanted -- or not at all.  Talk about tension.  His disciples did not want him to go back at all because it was dangerous.

But Jesus delays on purpose -- and when he tells Martha and Mary that Lazarus will rise, they say, "Come on, he already stinks!"  In Jewish teaching of the day, the soul hovered around the body for three days before making its final departure.  So, as far as everyone is concerned, Lazarus isn't just dead; he's really really dead.

Think about it.  Lazarus is in the grave four days -- that's longer than Jesus will be in the tomb.  It's too late.  Jesus says it's never too late.  It is not the end.

So, do we ever believe it's too late?  Do we believe the circumstances in our lives  are too much, too hard, too hopeless.  Have any of us here ever said, "That's it.  It's over."  We have the ability to end things, and indeed we should at times, but is it ever too late for our lives to matter in the eyes of God?

When we die -- is it too late?

When we fail -- is it too late?

When we sin -- is it too late?

When we feel like fools -- is it too late?

When we suffer defeat or hit bottom -- is it too late?

When we lose hope or faith or a sense of purpose -- is it too late?

This is a simple message but so hard to make our own -- to really believe.  It is not the end, even when some aspects of our lives do end.  

For the Jews in exile, one aspect of their life was over, but they continued on, and went on to bring life to the world.  For Lazarus and his sisters, life was not the same after he was raised, but he lived.  

When we face crisis, it may well be that things will not be the same as they were before.  But it is not too late for life to be breathed into our dry bones.  For God, it is never the end.  Amen.