Can these bones live?—sermon for 2 April 2017
Can these bones live?
April 2, Fifth Sunday in Lent:
Draft text of the homily, please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.
O mortal, can these bones live again?
O Lord God, only You know.
We live in a deeply divided country.
I’m sure that’s not news to you. It’s just the truth. We all know this. For years, in the US, we’ve been shown maps of blue states and red states…occasionally someone does a county by county map that tries to show that we’re really all purple…but we all feel that the levels of polarization, and divisiveness seems to have reached historic levels. There’s not a lot we agree on.
One thing most American can agree on (seventy-one percent of us in a recent poll) is that the United States is losing its national identity…
Seventy-one percent think that our beliefs and values as a country are no longer clear…
We agree on that. What we disagree on is what those core beliefs and values are…or should be…it seems that the truths we hold are no longer so self-evident.
The good news is, that things like “Judicial fairness, [the] liberty and freedom granted by the Constitution, [and] the ability to achieve the American dream,” those are things that the vast majority of us agree are core to the American identity.
But there’s still a awful lot that divides us. For instance, whether we are, or should be, primarily a culture grounded in Christian religious beliefs…and the mores of our earliest European immigrant ancestors… Or whether we are, or should be, primarily mix of cultures and values from all parts of the world.
Republicans and Democrats in this poll responded very differently to those core identifiers.
Here’s something else most people agreed on, “More than half of Americans say the political polarization of the nation is extremely or very threatening, and another 34 percent say it is moderately threatening.”
We know these divisions are dangerous…but we have yet to see a way through them that we can agree on.
Can these bones live?
O Lord, only you know.
But let’s be honest…political divisions are just one facet of this divisive diamond.
It’s not just partisan politics that divide us: there’s a profound Urban/Rural split, there’s Whites and people of color, men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals, transgender and cisgender, the 1% the 99%, the religious and the spiritual but not religious, the employed and the unemployed, those with homes and those without, and let’s not forget the generational divides between the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers, Gen-X’ers, and Millennials. Everywhere you turn you are confronted with the stark reality of people who see the world fundamentally differently than you do.
We are living in a time of tremendous disruption. Of monumental and possibly unprecedented change. A “paradigm shift” some might call it. All of the institutions that the those of you in your sixties and older grew up with, all the institutions that you were taught to rely on have changed, or crumbled, or been so reconfigured they’re almost unrecognizable. Those institutions (government, the church, education, the media, etc. …) were already changing so rapidly that my generation never really learned to fully trust them. And the generation that is now moving into leadership positions never knew those older iterations of our institutions and consequently have a new set of norms and expectations for how things work…what’s important…and how best to achieve it.
Can these bones live?
O Lord, only you know.
The prophet Ezekiel had an impossible task. His writing spans an intense 20 year period in Israel’s history…about 590 to 570 BCE…the earliest years of the Babylonian exile. During this period, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. And the Judeans, the people of the Southern Kingdom, were very literally a divided nation…part of them (the unskilled, the poor) remaining in Judea, in the countryside around Jerusalem, and another part (the court, the skilled, the educated) living in captivity in the urban centers of Babylon. What Ezekiel gives voice to is the profound challenge they faced, of how to maintain their communal identity, outside of their homeland, with no Temple—no central institution—and no real leadership.
When Ezekiel is taken by God and set down in that valley of bones there is no end in sight to this situation. Two or more generations would grow up with the reality of exile before they made their way back.
It was a time of tremendous disruption. Everything they knew was in flux…their faith in all their institutions, and all their leaders…their faith in themselves…their faith in God…had been shaken to the core…What even was the core? Who were they in this new landscape? Could they maintain an identity, or would they disappear forever…
The narratives of exile (the prophets: Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and many of the minor prophets) resonate deeply for me now…they express this uncanny sense that I think many feel…the sense of being lost in a world not entirely of our own making…of being caught up in a world where things appear familiar, but, scratch the surface and they’re not. They describe this acute sense of being alienated from something central…something core… in a world of massive, and possibly cataclysmic, divisions. And they express a deep, passionate longing for genuine reconciliation, for true and abiding communities in which to live.
Can these bones live? O Lord, you know.
One of the powerful ironies of our time, is that we have so many choices about our communities…there are myriad communities that we could belong to…and yet…in the midst of all these choices, it is still community—real community— that we are starved for. Because we can choose to belong (or not) to any number of communities…we can often end up in a self-imposed exile surrounded only by people who are just like us… only seeing things that already confirm our own biases. And that starves us of true community…of life, and growth, and health.
We crave community. We are desperate for true community…community that doesn’t dismiss or paper over real difference, or that insists that others are welcome…but welcome only to become just like us…the communities we so desperately need are ones that hold those tensions…communities that are open to and safe for difference, that are generous with grace and plenteous with forgiveness.
All Saints strives to be such a community. And our community—our Parish is not just the worshipping communities that gather here on the weekend. People come here, week after week, to find healing in twelve step groups. People come here, week after week, to find wholeness, and challenge, and beauty, through music and arts groups. People come here week after week seeking a safe and hospitable place for their children in nursery school. About three times as many people come here each week to participate in one of the groups listed in the calendar as do who come here for worship.
And I think we share more with them than just our building…We share with them this hunger for community…a deep desire for a place where we don’t feel exiled from our best selves…from our core selves… a place where we can find healing, and wholeness, and support for our joys and our struggles. Where we can explore our relationships with God or our Higher Power, or however you define that…We share with them, and with so many others in our world, a deep and passionate desire for a place where hope, and beauty, and meaning can be found, and made together, even in the midst of so much that looks hopeless, and ugly, and meaningless.
Can these bones live? God knows…and this is God’s promise. This is the promise of Easter… “I will open your graves…and I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.” This is our promise and our calling to live in community…in true community…in communion…with God and with all our neighbors.
Open our graves, O God, and may it be so.