Taking a Step Back

Things got deep yesterday.  They got deep in a hurry.  The comments on yesterday’s post were helpful, and I’m always grateful for those who not only take the time to read my posts, but who reflect on them and offer helpful critique, council, and a different lens through which to view the readings.  If yesterday’s post got you thinking about theophany and God’s role in the good and bad of the world, please go check out the comments section.

I woke up this morning at 5am to a baby who couldn’t find her pacifier.  At 5:15, the construction crew at the new Foley Sports Complex fired up their dozers, excavators, and rock trucks.  At 5:45, I gave up and hit the treadmill.  As I ran nowhere [not particularly] fast, wishing I had remembered to pop a piece of gum in my now very parched mouth, I pondered the lessons for Sunday again and got to thinking about just how much I love Ezekiel’s Valley of the Dry Bones.  I wondered if perhaps I hadn’t jumped the gun yesterday by focusing so narrowly on one particularly difficult portion of the Gospel lesson when such a wonderful and odd lesson is available in the Old Testament this week.

So let’s take a step back and consider which of these two amazing lessons the preacher might want to focus on this week.  Let’s also be clear that because of the length of the Gospel lesson, you can’t preach both.  Don’t do it.  Just. Don’t.  The merits of the Lazarus lesson are obvious: you’ve just spent 7 minutes reading it, you might as well say something about it.  In John’s Gospel, there is no Holy Week without Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, so it serves as a perfect entree into Palm/Passion Sunday and the week that follows.  Jesus’ teaching on the resurrection, that it isn’t about the last day, but about today, is profound and should be repeated as often as possible.  And, quite frankly, there are two kick-a** lines in that lesson that could be played with, “Jesus wept” and “He stinketh.”

All that begin said, I still think that Ezekiel’s Dry Bones is a suitable choice.  The preacher has the chance to talk about Old Testament prophecy, the Babylonian Exile, and the Hebraic understanding of God’s place in the world and resurrection.  It is a deep story, rich with texture and meaning, and the image of dry bones is just too cool.

Also, if you subscribe to my Monday preaching question, “What will the average listener in the pew be listening for?”  Is there a story more in need of explanation than the Valley of Dry Bones?  I’m still not sure which I’ll preach this week, which means I have 30 pages of notes to sort through on two difficult texts, but I know that neither lesson is a stinker this week.  Which one would you preach?

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3 thoughts on “Taking a Step Back

  1. Give a mouse a cookie, and he’ll ask for a glass of milk. And when offered the milk… he requests a straw. Then a napkin, a mirror… and so on. This gospel makes me feel like the mouse.

    Why wasn’t I satisfied with just a cookie, the truly unsolicited gift?
    Why wasn’t I even more thankful when my thirst was satisfied with milk upon request?
    How could I be so vain to seek wiping away the evidence of having received those gifts… and then after getting a glimpse of myself – continue to address my needs alone, asking for more… seeking for the next answer to “What can God do for me now?” – no matter at what expense, or to what end.

    What next God? What else can you do for me? How far are you willing to go to earn my faith?

    “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”

    Prove it Jesus. Do something impossible for me. But this is the final straw… the final sign that unites the Pharisees against you. Now they will conspire for your death. [John 11:46-53]

    Why don’t you die for me Jesus? Because in my sin, expect nothing less.

  2. I believe you can preach both. The idea of breathing life into something that was dead, or not truly living, reverberates in both. I don’t think you can take apart both, agreed, but in 12 minutes, it is hard to pick anything fully apart. These two readings so strongly inform each other, it is almost a shame not to tackle them, though I understand your words of caution.

    • My rector said the same thing, George. He was a bit shocked that I was so strident about not preaching both. My argument is that the Ezekiel lesson requires so much back story to tackle it at all that you either have to focus on it entirely or not bother. I agree that there are common threads, but I’m not sure that simply saying Ezekiel is about resurrection like Lazarus’ does it justice.

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