Lent V Year A 2017
Fr. Dale Matson
Note: My first Lent V Year A 2017 posting on Soundings was not the homily I eventually preached at St. James. The following homily is the one preached last Sunday and while it was written as an exhortation Fr. Carlos our dean suggested I post this also. Perhaps it will apply to your congregation also.
Father Carlos recently referred to St. James as a “church in exile”. What Father Carlos said is one of those things we say in an unguarded moment that is a truth and sum up things pretty well. I don’t believe our Old Testament and Gospel readings could be any more appropriate for us at St. James. In our Old Testament reading, Ezekiel had a vision given to him by God. It was a vision of hope for the Israelites in captivity in Babylon. God would breath new life into the dry bones which represented the Nation of Israel. His words spoken and His Spirit given would resurrect an entire nation from death. This promise seemed impossible in light of Israel’s present condition. She was “dead” as a nation, deprived of her land, her king, and her temple. Is this kind of familiar? Israel had been divided and dispersed for so long that unification and restoration seemed impossible. So God gave Ezekiel the vision of the dry bones as sign. There is nothing more dead than dry bones. The ancients believed that life was in the blood. And where is the blood made? It is made in the marrow of the bones. There is not even marrow in dry bones.
The reviving of the dry bones signified God’s plan for Israel’s future national restoration. The vision also, and most importantly, showed that Israel’s new life depended on God’s power and not the circumstances of the people. Putting “breath” by God’s Spirit into the bones showed that God would not only restore them physically but also spiritually. (Portions of the preceding were taken from here): https://www.gotquestions.org/valley-dry-bones.html)
As the Old Testament lesson was being read today, how many of you thought about the similarities between Israel and St. James Church. We are a church; we are no longer the cathedral church. The bishop’s chair no longer resides with us. Our mission statement we spoke before every service was that we shared God’s love with all people but the mission statement we practiced, the one we lived out for many years, was that we were standing firm. We were clinging to the faith and traditions of the historic universal church. We held to the faith once delivered to the saints. Standing firm cost us members of our faith community who left us. It cost us our church campus and some brothers and sisters have died while we have been in exile. We didn’t keep the property but we kept the faith. What happened to us was not about something we did wrong. It was not a failure to make our case in court. It was simply God’s will that we leave. As each day goes by now, it becomes easier to say that. It was simply what God wanted to happen to St. James. And while our hearts were being broken, they were being made soft again also. God began comforting and consoling the grieving. The Gospel of the Kingdom is not about being righteous. It is about being gracious and merciful. And now these bones are being infused with the Blood of Christ.
Last week Father Carlos read us the letter from the congregation of Our Lady of Guadalupe. They have released us from a partnership in which they were once guests on our campus. This is so they can pursue their own mission as equal brothers and sisters. Now we know to some extent how they felt. We have now walked at least a half-mile in their shoes. Now we are guests on the campus of another congregation. A house is not a home however. It was a mature decision on their part and a decision that is God pleasing. Their decision has helped St. James also. We have a clearer path ahead of us. The Old Testament Lesson has great meaning for us especially.
Personally speaking I can identify with the dry bones metaphor. The marrow in my bones is not producing enough red blood cells quickly enough to end my anemia. I must depend on weekly infusions of the blood of my Savior Jesus Christ during the Eucharist. How does our reading from Ezekiel end? “O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act," says the Lord.” That was God’s promise to Israel and that is His promise to us at St. James. The message of Ezekiel is a message of faith and with faith there can be hope. It is a message that God can resurrect and restore a people and those people also happen to be our congregation of St. James.
We at St. James have hope and our Psalm today encourages us. “I wait for the LORD; my soul waits for him; *in his word is my hope.” We have faith that He will revive and restore us and we have hope for the future.
So why was this process so long and drawn out? Why have we suffered so for the sake of the Gospel? Have we suffered in vain? We can learn why this is so from our Gospel lesson today. “…Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." But when Jesus heard it, he said, "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. The suffering of St. James will not lead to death. Do we need a fresh start? Yes, we do, but we have the faith of our fathers, the traditions of the church and Anglicanism to build on.
The story of Lazarus is the story of each of us as individuals also. We have been in bondage to our bandages. We have been holding back. We have been waiting. Our Master is now calling us to “come forth”. He loves each of us and wept at our suffering.
At St. James, we must reinvent ourselves within the Anglican tradition. We do belong to a new and growing church called the Anglican Church North America with a Godly Archbishop Foley Beach. We have a new prayer book being developed. I know the struggle of reinventing yourself, starting over. Some of you folks know that this is my third profession. I spent 17 years as a plumber and heavy equipment operator. After my renewal, I was handing out bibles to all of the people I worked for and thought this was how God would use me. Then a major recession hit Wisconsin and I was laid off from my job. I pleaded with my employer in his office who was general contractor. “Please keep me on in any capacity” while my family sat in the parking area in our little Ford Fiesta. He said he had no work for me.
On our way back to the house; I was heartbroken and afraid about the future. I had taken a college class during winter layoff. When I checked the mail on our way to the house. My instructor had written on my final paper, “This is the finest paper any of my students has ever written.” It was obvious to me that God had closed one door and opened another. Things were difficult. We came out from church one day to find a food basket by our car.
While I was working on my bachelor’s degree in psychology, I worked in a psychiatric hospital. I remember taking an undergraduate course in communication where we wrote out our resumes’. I put on my job summary, “presently employed as a psychiatric technician.” One of my fellow students remarked, “Oh, that’s an entry level job.” It hurt to hear that but she was correct. I was starting over. I eventually got my doctorate and became a psychologist and a professor for 17 years. God had resurrected me.
Then God called me to Holy Orders and had an opportunity to take classes at the seminary at Fresno Pacific University where I worked as a professor. I retired from teaching to attend seminary but was turned down as a postulate to Holy Orders and told to give it more time. It was humiliating for me and I asked Sharon, “Am I that toxic?” While I initially believed that the ordination committee had made a bad decision, it became evident to me that I needed to deal with what I would call a Metastasized Ego. After considerable Spiritual Direction from Father Ken Richards, I was accepted as a postulate the second time and became a deacon and a priest. I have now been in Holy Orders for ten years. The idea of starting over is quite a challenge but I prefer to think of it as starting afresh. The Israelites had to start over when they left Egypt. Their church in the wilderness was a tent. It was not until the Israelites took possession of the Promised Land, that they built a temple designed by God Himself. God even anointed the craftsmen who worked on His temple. How about you? Are you ready for renewal? Are you tired of treading water? What has god put on your heart?
We are in the process of starting over also and I believe this is a wonderful opportunity for us to come together as a congregation. We have and we celebrate such a diverse congregation. I can feel the love we have for one another as we meet during the peace. But I also know that people have been waiting. They are anxious but eager to move on. They want a plan and a place. They want to contribute. It bothers me when people turn an adjective in to a verb but here I go. Help us with the visioning process. As Scripture states, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18a) What is God calling us to do? At the end of the service, we hear, “Send us out to do the work You have given us to do.” Lord what are You calling us to do? Where are You calling us to locate? Will we be a missionary church? Will our church be a house of prayer?
One thing we will be is Anglican Christians. There is new book that came out last month, which is causing quite a commotion. It is written by Rod Dreher and called, The Benedict Option: The Strategy For Christians In a Post Christian Nation. It was published two weeks ago and is already a best selling book. It discusses what it means for Christians to live in community and aspects of the Benedictine way of life. Just as we were evicted, Christians are becoming estranged from their culture. We feel their pain. How ironic that Our prayer book author, Thomas Cranmer designed a prayer book in 1549 in the Benedictine fashion as a way for Anglicans to live. What is new and attractive to modern culture is as comfortable as an old shoe to us. Our first task is to begin living our lives as Anglicans in our own homes. Let us celebrate the fact that we are now “In Season”. As we approach the Holy and Hopeful season of Easter, let us consider that we are united to Christ in His resurrection. Come forth St. James. Amen.