Saint James Episcopal Church • 3100 Monkton Road • Monkton, Maryland 21111 • 410-771-4466

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Sermons & Writings
Unbind Him!
Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Lent
Charlie Barton
Saint James, Monkton
5 Lent, March 9, 2008
Ezek. 37:1-14; Ps. 130; Rom. 8:6-11; John 11:1-45
From the Balkans to Basra, from Darfor to Kabul intractable conflicts threaten lives and hold peace at bay. Terrorists and innocents alike die in random and senseless violence that seems to accomplish little other than to spill more blood into a already deep sea of human misery. Where is the Prince of Peace - the King of Glory - is he coming on the clouds of dust that rise from fallen building? Does he hear the cries of anguished souls, their broken bodies crying for release?

My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

In the alleys of Baltimore and the streets of L.A. Bloods, Cripps and MS13 battle for turf and bargain for souls. Twelve year olds hold satchels of drugs for dealers and point guns at their rivals. Addicts of all ages smoke and snort, huff and shoot all manner of things into their lungs, their noses and their veins. Dishonoring the temple of the Spirit and destroying the body in which they dwell, so many will die before they have even imagined a life worth living. It is dangerous to walk on some streets even in daylight. It can be as deadly to ride the bus in Baltimore as it is in Jerusalem. How can we possibly be restorers of streets to walk in, repairers of the breach? The work is too big. The pain is too broad. Where is the Holy Spirit who will lead us into all truth? Where is the Lord, the bringer of life? Where in the midst of this mountain of evil, this valley of death, is the Christ- the one who came to set us free?

My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

The man sits at the table with his head bowed, but not in prayer. He looks down at his hands. They grasp a glass that is half full. It has been full, then empty, then full again more times than he can remember. But that is just one more thing he'd rather forget. If he doesn't drink, he shakes and sweats. If he does drink he slides deeper into the blurry nightmare that has already swallowed most of his life. Whiskey has washed away his marriage. Strong drink has unglued most of his relationships and diluted his capacities to think, act or feel clearly. He is one reprimand away from losing his job and already two months behind in his bills. There are so many skeletons in his closet- things done and things left undone while under the influence- that dry bones spill out and fill the entire range of his vision. Where is the prophet Ezekiel when you need him? Where is the breath of the Spirit of God that passed over another valley of dry and defeated bones and drew them together with sinew and flesh and gave them new life?

My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

Lazarus was ill and Jesus was elsewhere. Martha and Mary sent word. Even when he heard that the illness was grave, Jesus did not come. Two days crept by. The sisters looked down the road as the light faded each evening. Jesus had not come but still they hoped and waited.

My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

Lazarus died and was buried. He was wrapped in linen and put in the tomb. A stone was rolled across the opening to trap the sight and smell of death inside and four days passed.

And now Jesus comes, in his own time, not on the timetable of Martha or Mary's desire.
Lazarus' death is cause for weeping, a call to action, and an opportunity for the glory of God to show forth. "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God," Jesus asked. And he commanded, "Lazarus come out!"

Bones and sinew, flesh and spirit- all work together and fallen man rises from death and the grave. But note that Jesus did not lay hands on Lazarus. He invited him into the impossibility of new life and even in death Lazarus heard, got up and left the tomb. Notice that Lazarus came into the daylight still blind from the burial linens wrapped around his face, still bound by a corpse's cloth. Martha and Mary and the present crowd had a part to play in resurrection too. "Unbind him, and let him go," Jesus said.

Remember when the 5000 were fed? There was a miracle at the hand of God. But first Jesus said, "You give them something to eat." And a sign of faith came with five fish from the hands of a small boy. Jesus broke the bread but the disciples had moved through the crowd and had them sit in groups of fifty. Bread broken and passed went from hand to hand, and all were fed. In the end there was no thought of scarcity, but twelve baskets left with food for tomorrow. Twelve full baskets, twelve changed disciples - they had moved from saying "send them away for this is a deserted place, the hour is late and there is no food," to an understanding that with God nothing is impossible.

Scripture is full of the stories of prophets, kings and nameless strangers who feel the nudge of God urging them to do impossible things, in God's name. Sea's part, bones come together, thrones fall and shepherds become kings. Yes, the presence and power of God is at the heart of these stories- but so, too, is the faithful action of those who trusted that God would do what God had promised. "I will be your God and you will be my people," God had said on the side of a mountain. It was true on the mountain. It was true by the sea. It was true in the desert thousands of years ago. it is true here, now

God made water spring from a rock for a thirsty nation. But Moses acted when God said, "Strike the rock with your staff." Jesus healed blind Bartemaus, but first he asked him, "What do you want me to do for you." Volition and assent is required of those who would engage with the power of God.

It is God who breaks the bow and makes wars to cease, as it says in the psalms. But it is faithful people searching their hearts and listening for the peace of God that say the words and take the actions that lead to peace.

It is God who is living bread, but it is we who are asked to feed the multitude. Jesus will break the bread and send us- if we will go. Are we to go to the whole world- how can this be? Perhaps- but if we listen we will hear clear instruction. If God speaks a word and we lean into it, there will be twelve baskets where once there were none. I do not mean simply bread for the stomach but bread for the spirit, for both are needed to restore streets to live in whether it is in Jerusalem or Baltimore.

It is God who is living water- the libation that quenches our deepest thirst, but it is we who offer the cup to another. Tell the Good News of salvation and new life to the man with both hands on a glass full of death. You give him the water of life.

Jesus says to the crowd- that would be us-
"Unbind him, unbind her, unbind them all… and let them go in my name!"

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