Promise and Call. 3/26/2023
For me, as an Enneagram 8 with a strong 7 wing, it’s betrayal. Betrayal is something that is really hard for me to forgive. Or to let go of. It gnaws on me. Betrayal makes my blood boil and my heart break. It sends me to the pit of despair. Sends me to the valley of the dry bones.
Betrayal is really just unmet expectations. We expect someone to act a certain way, to have your back and be on your side, and they fail to do so. Betrayal can leave a relationship desiccated, like the scattered dry bones on the valley floor of today’s story from the prophet Ezekiel.
Unmet expectations are often at the heart of our sorrows, our struggles.
Like when we expect relationships and marriages to last, but they don’t. For so very many reasons: we change, they change, it all changes. Heartbreak.
Or when our body, due to illness or genetics, accidents or disease, fails us. Or as we age, and our bodies can no longer do what they once did. Frustrating, challenging, hard to accept.
The same is true for our mental and emotional capacities; we expect our minds and our psyches to perform in certain ways, and when they fall short: struggle. Grief. Hardship.
What about our family relationships? Parents whose expectations for their childrens’ lives are unmet, due to so many reasons; it could be addiction, an unhealed emotional wound, disease, illness, a personal choice, accident and happenstance. When the hope-filled and loving expectations for our children's lives are not realized, we hurt deeply for them. And the reverse is true: children whose parents do not live up to the child’s expectations for security, unconditional love, a home as safe haven. All too often these unmet expectations create life-long struggle and sorrow.
And then there are collective expectations for institutions, for governments, for policies and programs. It can be crippling to be let down by these institutions that we are led to believe are in place for our safety, our well-being. When institutions and governments do not live up to expectations, societies fail.
And then there’s the church……which is too often synonymous with God for many people. When church fails to meet our expectations, we can experience it as if God fails to meet our expectations….and where does that leave us? Is it any wonder that for many who once were followers of Christ the church feels like this valley of dry bones? Or like the death tomb in which Lazarus lies? In fact, in today’s reading from Ezekiel, when the Hebrews were lamenting and saying: Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely, the Hebrew can be translated as : we are severed from our expectations. And most likely, Beloved, what is being referred to here is their expectations of God: how they had translated and understood what God would do for them; what believing in God would do for them.
Like when we think believing in God somehow might mean bad things won’t happen to us; I mean, I know we know that bad things happen to good people—but deep down—don’t we still kinda believe that it won’t….if we are good enough or pray hard enough or go to church enough…..After all, What’s it all for anyway? Believe? Believe what? What good is that belief? What does it prevent? What does it provide?
Today we hear both a promise and a call. The promise isn’t about what happens when our bodies die. It’s not about the great beyond and what happens then. It’s about here and now……this life, your life, my life. It’s about what can happen when we have to face unmet expectations.
I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you and you shall live…..I will put my spirit in you…..
I am resurrection and I am life……
In the beginning, God–who is Love, or at least that’s what verse 8 of the fourth chapter of the first letter of John tells us: God is Love. So, let’s use that name for God, for the source of all being today: Love.
In the beginning, Love took up a handful of dust, of soil—adamah in the Hebrew–which is so close to the Hebrew word for human, adam–or ADAM as we pronounce human’s name—Love took up the soil and blew the breath into it and humanity lived. Humanity lives. Love blew the breath, which in Hebrew is ruach and in Greek is pneuma and in both languages it means: breath, wind, Spirit. Love blew Love’s spirit into the dust of the earth and human came to be. Do you hear the Holy Trinity here: Love, Earth, Human. These three are interdependent and inextricably intertwined.
And today, Love promises that when we find ourselves in those valleys, those dry and desiccated places, when our bones are scattered across the land, Love will come. And step by step—sinew, bone, flesh, skin–Love can rebuild us. And then Love will blow Love’s spirit—which is life itself–back into us. And we shall live. Again.
Think about it. I bet it has happened to you. Maybe it was a small valley–when you felt such sorrow or fear that you were stopped in place. Afraid to move forward or too tired to take the next step. What happened then? Something happened. You are here. Maybe a friend called or a partner took your hand or a child gave you a dandelion or a song played on the radio or the sunset took your breath away or your heart told you to take a deep sleep and rest or go on a walk and clear your mind…….Love shows up in so many forms. That—Beloved—that is God. That is how God, that is how Love, works.
I know, we want the supernatural; we want the miracle. We want the Lazarus story. But the miracle isn’t the takeaway from this story. It’s the wisdom conveyed in this story that Love wants us to capture. The wisdom of what it is that brings life to where there once was death. After all, this is the essence of God—who is Creator, Source of all Being, God who is love:One who brings forth life where there was once death. The breath of Love.
And these deaths we experience, Beloved. They are not a one-time thing. These deaths happen again and again to us. So many unmet expectations in a lifetime. So many things to let go, to bury, to leave behind. Many tombs, many graves, many valleys. The Promise is that there can be life after each of them. A changed life—hopefully a life that has grown or strengthened in some way—but new life can be resuscitated. That’s the Promise.
And then there’s the Call. In both of today’s Wisdom stories we hear Love’s call:
Prophesy Mortal, Prophesy to the breath……Love’s words to humanity
Unbind him and let him go! Jesus’ words to the crowd gathered to see Lazarus come forth from the tomb…..still bound by the deathshroud. Unbind him and let him go.
And that Beloved is the call; that is our work. God blew breath into humanity so that humanity might breathe Love into each other….and into all of Creation. Love begets love begets more love.
We, as Church, have entangled this Promise and Call into a bit of a hot mess. It has too often been turned into memorizing doctrine and creed and dogma….asking us to perform our faith rather than to live our faith, but, perhaps, we will be a generation who will breathe the life back into these desiccated bones. Not so much with the supernatural, but with the primal act of breathing love…….
That time your heart was breaking and somehow you were whispered back to joy….that was Love…..that was God.
That time you failed and you were embarrassed and ashamed and you didn’t know how to go on, but somehow—through time and friends who still called and family who still loved and new chances and opportunities to try something new at which you excelled….you were able to let go of the shame and embarrassment and feel strong enough to come out of their shadows….that was Love….that was God.
Or when a riverbed is swollen with garbage and trash and folx come and clean it up so it can flow freely and the wildlife and ecosystem around it is restored…….Unbind him and let him go….
Or when immigrants and refugees come to our town and we work to make them a home and companion them until they can manage for themselves in this new foreign land….Or when we restore our yards and our gardens to native plants for butterflies and bees and all winged and crawly things….
Or when we recognize we have hurt someone with our words and we own our bad behavior and apologize….
Or when we shut down gossip and story of a fellow student or camper–even though it means some others will think we are not very much fun….
Or when we gather in small groups to learn about the racism and prejudice that still storms our nation
Or we acknowledge that patriarchy and white supremacy is still polluting our systems, our institutions, our churches and communities…..
Prophesy Mortal…..prophesy to the breath……
Promise and Call. For me the truth has been that the more I trust the promise, the more I have died and been brought back to life through the life-breath of Love, the more I am empowered and equipped to embrace the call. In fact, the more I want to…..
Love pulls us up from our graves and tombs so that we might be the Ones who pull up whoever next needs resurrection. What if, Beloved, God is not so much supernatural? What if God is deliberate….intentional? Deliberate, intentional love.
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Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.