Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sunday - It Is Not Finished

Acts 10:34-43 or
Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalm 118
Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts (above)
John 20:1-18 or
Matthew 28:1-10

He is risen!

He is risen indeed!

By the time Easter morning comes around, if I am being honest, I am ready for Holy Week to be over. No matter how many times I have read the familiar verses, as I meditate on them I learn something new. I know what events we recall each day of the week and I know the outcome, but the exercise of reflection and meditation on those events, takes me through an emotional whirlwind. We know the whole story, and there is more to come, that even the closest followers did not know. They knew the body was gone. Some who visited the tomb came back claiming to have seen Jesus and angels. They still had as many questions and those skeptical about the disposition of the body likely had more fear. This Easter Sunday we proclaim joy and confidence in the guarantee of our salvation, but on that first Sunday the faithful were left with even more questions, a different kind of sorrow (at losing the body), while some experienced the thrill of having encountered Jesus.

The lectionary gives us the choice of resurrection narratives from John or Matthew. The passages vary in detail and focus, but the point of each is the same: the tomb was empty. John 20:9 points out that the disciples still did not understand the prophecies and Jesus’s teaching about the purpose for and events around his death. We get the annotated version of the story with footnotes and analysis (and the perspective of time), but the disciples endured it all in real time, with details emerging throughout.

Jesus’s ministry played out in much the same way I tell a story when I get really excited: “This happened and then that happened. Oh don’t forget about….” Different people were present for different events. No two sermons or lessons were presented to the same crowd. Everyone had part of the story so finding the disciples struggling with confusion only reflects that they were humans. All week the scripture texts have presented the influence of human nature on the individuals involved. Human nature does not make anyone wicked. Human nature does not make anyone holy. Human nature does not limit the choices available to us, but the choices we make reflect the core values of our human nature.
We use the occasion of Easter worship to proclaim victory for life and defeat for death as Scripture (mostly the Epistles) has taught us. We stand on that conclusion with the perspective of centuries, yet, we still have as many questions as the disciples in that day. Life may have won. Death may have been defeated. We all still have a lifetime to navigate before we experience that outcome for ourselves. As I live, I still ask, “where’s the body?” Seeking Christ does not end at the resurrection, it begins.

He is risen!

Now what?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Holy Saturday

Job 14:1-14
Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24
Psalm 31
1 Peter 4:1-8
Matthew 27:57-66 or
John 19:38-42

What do you do on a day with no news? If you are the Internet, kittens!!! If you are CNN, hang tenaciously onto the last good story (CNN actually had a “Breaking News”: Titanic sank 100 years ago today). If you are a journalist, work on your book. If you are an Apostle, lay low and wait for someone to tell you what to do. We do not really know what happened with the eleven remaining apostles or in the community of the faithful. We can only imagine what they did because the Bible does not tell about the day. Only Luke 23:56b says they rested on the sabbath. We know what happens up until dusk the day before and we know what happens at dawn the next day. Various faiths have developed traditions covering Holy Saturday. Today’s Scriptures finish the Good Friday story in the Gospel reading(s), offer insight to what the believers may have been thinking based on beliefs from the Old Testament, an offer scriptural cover to some of the spiritual traditions regarding what Jesus was doing that day.

Matthew and John relate versions of the claiming and burial of Christ’s body. I admit that I had never read them side-by-side and notice the differences between them. Mark and Luke most closely agree with the Matthew passage. The Luke passage has the faithful women preparing the spices and oils for burial. The differences between the passages, ultimately are trivial - it does not matter who did what, or how much was done to prepare the body, or who owned the tomb as it was only briefly borrowed and returned good as new.

Job, as one of the oldest books in the Bible, looked at death as final. Early Jewish teaching did not widely consider any kind of spiritual afterlife, much less eternity in a place of reward or judgment. The rewards and punishments came in life and in the story of Job, we watch him experience both. God was seen as active in the day-to-day events of humanity so for the faithful, it meant watching all that one did to earn favor with him. That daily involvement is partly what gave Job the willingness to challenge God. The worst God could do was kill him, and with the troubles he was enduring, death was better than years of lament.

Lamentations continues to hold God responsible for our blessings and our troubles. The author declares that God is angry with him and has caused something like leprosy, fractured bones, mental illness, and isolation. Although God inflicted tremendous physical and mental strain on the author, the author knows God can forgive and fix. He has hope and clings to that.

The passage from 1 Peter offers clues to a passage in the Apostles Creed, and justification for several practices that result from overly-literal readings of the verses. The Apostles’ Creed affirms the belief that on Saturday, Jesus descended into Hell to bring the gospel to those who had died before so that they might have an equal chance into heaven. Verse six says the gospel was proclaimed to the dead, and because Jesus was “dead” in sin (the entire world’s past, present, and future sin), he had to be in Hell. Verse one also brings its own challenge to right behavior. The verse has been used by some to justify self abuse (flagellation) to prove their faithfulness and rejection of worldly ways. Practitioners of these beliefs will beat themselves until they are bleeding to connect with Christ’s physical pain. Contrary to that interpretation, those who suffer still continue to sin. The physical suffering of the cross forgave all sin, but did not stop it from happening. Finally verse seven’s exhortation to “be serious and discipline yourselves” has been interpreted by some to avoid anything fun, that brings pleasure, or that might twist one’s mouth into a smile, for that will be the exact moment Christ returns and instantly damns you to Hell.

The passages today bring a wide variety of ideas found in different portions of Christianity. Their wide reach accurately represents the anxious uncertainty of the day in our faith. Patience today brings us jubilation in the morning.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday

Isaiah 52:13 - 53-12
Psalm 22
Hebrews 10:16-25, or
Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
John 18:1 - 19:42

For many years I considered it a near-mortal sin to start reading a book and not finish it. As a reader, writer, English teacher, I held that stories engage our being so thoroughly that we owed the teller a chance to finish because it is the twist at the end that gives meaning to even the banal events leading to it. I read many bad books over the years that I knew I should have put down at the end of chapter one because the character, plot, and descriptions did nothing to engage me; you cannot judge a book by its cover, but you can by chapter one. There are a handful of books that I re-read because they so capture my mind I enter that world with my entire consciousness for hours at a time. The passages in Isaiah and John have the qualities that bring me into the deep contemplation appropriate for today and the coming days.

John takes us through a stunningly rapid succession of events that climax with Christ’s death on the cross just hours after being arrested in the garden. We are challenged in every verse to consider our own response. We have the gift of nearly two centuries of hindsight to question and judge the actions of every individual involved that day. Put yourself as a dissident in the midst of a mob of illiterate faithful who only know and understand what their religious leaders tell them. The unfamiliar streets in this city where you are a visitor resemble what we call alleys. Their leaders, the teachers they have trusted for years, declare that you and your leader are the latest in a long history of heretics determined to eliminate God’s law rather than fulfill it (the truth does not matter to them as both eliminate their authority and social standing). Peter’s courage at even being in the crowd offers some mitigation to the often taught cowardice of his denial. Where were the rest of the Apostles? We cannot have a greater security barrier than the two millenia separating us from the event, but before we judge them, consider how you would have functioned as one on whom there was a bounty, jostled in a crowd of potential captors, with only rumors for news. It might be time to share some of the grace we have been extended from the events of this day.

As powerful as the John passage is, the imagery of the man in Isaiah fills my mind with a picture of a man so damaged we would struggle to know him as a man, yet so overwhelmingly powerful even the strongest are brought to utter submission in his presence. The vibrant, often violent narrative interwoven with so much peace and beauty challenges my mind to see the connection - to see both as one. Violence and calm. Disdain and adoration. Crudeness and refinement. The juxtaposition of such concepts challenges us at the core of human thought. We struggle when those things we have defined as opposites coexist. Every time I read this passage I am disturbed by injustice and buoyed by hope. To me, this is faith- asking, “What?” and declaring, “Thank you!” at the same time. We must do that with this passage or we get overwhelmed by one or the other sides of the picture he presents.

The great stories bring us back and we find something new each time. Today’s Scriptures do that. In every reading we gain a new insight. Every insight shapes our faith. Our faith sustains us.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 116
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31-35

The most condescending and hurtful insult I think I have ever heard was someone being told to “know your place.” The implied superiority of the one making the statement imposed such inferiority on the one to whom it is directed there is no response that can be given. It stops everything. Growing up in the south, that statement was infused with even deeper meaning as it was often directed toward African Americans and poor whites who did or said something that made the impression that they imagined they were higher in status that the speaker knew them to be. The comment made to anyone not in either of those categories suggested that they belong in one of those categories. During the Passover evening with his Apostles, Jesus essentially directed two apostles to know their place; however, the lesson he delivered defines our place in his kingdom and it is far from insulting.

The Exodus passage provides the requirements for Passover along with God’s command for observing it. One aspect to Passover that stands out against other festivals and rituals is that it focuses on practical actions for those who are prepared to flee at a moment’s notice. The directions for observing the holiday involved communal preparation, cooperation, and taking care of one another. Celebrating the event is supposed to remind the Jews of their salvation from Egypt.

Christians have our own event that mirrors the Passover. Thursday evening, Jesus retreated to a secluded upper room for an evening together with his Apostles. Jesus instituted communion as he broke the bread and shared the wine. With such staples as bread and wine, Jesus gave his followers a way to remember him and a way to share his ministry to others through the symbolism attached to the elements. Jesus also took the time  to wash the feet of each disciple. The disciples were not ready to grasp the significance of the actions, but within hours everything he said suddenly overflowed with meaning as those who had been taught by him understood the meanings of his lessons. By observing the rite as Jesus commanded, we are reminded of the sacrifice for our salvation.

Jesus found himself still addressing the right attitude of his followers even while teaching the final lessons of his ministry. The fiery and impulsive Peter struggled with the balance between humility and authority in Jesus’s kingdom. Jesus sternly corrected him twice as he demonstrated the power of servant-leadership. So much of what Jesus taught contradicted popular belief of strength and weakness then and now, yet when closely examined we have found what Jesus directed was remarkable in transforming the interaction. Jesus, knowing the events that would unfold sent Judas out to do what he was to do.

In his final lesson to the Apostles, Jesus commanded them to know their place. Rather than humiliate them into submissive obedience, Peter became a powerful church starter and Judas was able to go out and complete the betrayal. For both of them the power they exercised came by submitting to the people they served. Jesus reiterated his great commandment to love one another, which would become even more important when he was gone. The practices of communion and foot washing assist us to remember his lessons and to accept our place. Our place at the table. Our place as servants. Our place in authority, able to do anything  God desires us to do.

Know your place!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Holy Wednesday

Isaiah 50:4-9
Psalm 70
Hebrews 12:1-3
John 13:21-32

The first days of Holy Week have given us examples of people responding according to their human nature.

Nothing to see here, folks. It’s just the way we are.

Or maybe there is something to see. Each Scripture today reflects a person responding to (often brutal) cruelty in exactly the opposite way our human nature would encourage. When threatened or attacked, our central brain judges the situation and gives us the option of fight or flight while prepping our muscles for an energetic burst. Christ called us to be different and each of today’s passages demonstrates the possibilities.

The writer in Isaiah proudly affirms that he gave his back for beating and held his face up so his tormentors could pluck his beard. The speaker gives no reason why he is being attacked, but confesses that because God is with him, all will be right in the end; there is no insult or injury that can overcome the blessing of God. His confidence in his right place overcame the base instincts to escape his situation.

In Hebrews the author steels his courage with the thought of all who have gone before. As surely as they were a force for encouragement, he quickly turns to Jesus, the first to  take the path. He recognizes Jesus’s willingness to adopt all of human frailty to overcome the barrier between God and humankind: sin. In those moments of ultimate humanity, Christ did not change the outcome to avoid embarrassment. If anything, that moment served to magnify the victory.

The passage in John recounts one of the latter scenes from the upper room where Jesus was completing the passover dinner with his apostles. When he announced that one of them would betray him, the passage makes it sound like the room was in stunned silence as they eye each other up and down suspiciously. Finally the fiery one, Simon Peter, asks the obvious question: who? Although Jesus answers him, it does not appear that he nor anyone in the room fully understood Jesus when he told how he would identify the traitor. Instead when he tells Judas to go, the others assume it is to get some necessity or do some task with the poor. Even if they had realized Judas was the one, they were not prepared for the degree of betrayal that was coming despite Jesus repeatedly telling them. Jesus, though, did know, but took no action to stop it.

The passages prior to today focused on those who were apart from Jesus reacting to the situation around them and doing a good job of reflecting our human nature. Today, the passages considered individuals in the right place to God. Rather than react to the situation, they handled they managed each incident with the calm assurance that comes from getting faith right.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Holy Tuesday

Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 71
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
John 12:20-36

Recently I heard a news story that sought to explain the re-emergence of illnesses that, while not eradicated, had not had widespread outbreaks in decades due to childhood vaccinations. A community of parents has embraced the idea that the vaccinations cause a variety of lifetime ailments. They would  rather risk a normally short-term illness (though they have their own lifetime risks) than chance damage from the inoculation. Despite the research many of these parents cited being fully discredited, they remained convinced of the potential harms. Health care and psychological researchers began to examine why “the facts” actually reinforced the beliefs instead of changing them. They found that the more convinced someone was of an idea directly contradicting/disproving the belief, the more attacked the person felt and the more they clung to the idea with which they were comfortable. Today’s Scriptures have passages that challenge what we know is true and violate the norms we have accepted in society.

The prophet Isaiah puts a twist on the coming Holy One by revealing that he would not only be for Israel, but for the entire world. Despite the challenges Israel regularly posed to God, the prophecy declared that saving them alone is too easy. He also describes this coming one as despised and a slave, yet in the end one to whom the powers (kings and princes) recognize in the correct way and react humbly and with respect to his presence. A despised slave from Israel who commanded honor from those recognized as powerful in the time contradicted every norm of that time. The idea so crossed norms and expectations, that the Jews, years later in Jesus’s time, didn’t accept that his message was for the world.

Sometimes Jesus speaks clearly leaving no doubt about the meaning for this listeners. Sometimes Jesus spoke in riddles. Sometimes he challenged their sense of order as he does in the John passage. He challenged the values of life and death, light and darkness. His example of the wheat grain offered a contrast between limits and potential. As long as the grain goes ungerminated, it does nothing. Upon germination, though, it produces a full plant thousands of times its size that culminates in the production of a grain-head with many copies of itself. He presents it in human terms as the value one has for his own life: being centered on preserving one’s life limits what one can/will do while valuing something other than one’s life opens one up to anything God can do with you. The idea that a group of uneducated working-class men could be the voice of God blinded the educated leadership-class to the message before them. Despite the history of prophets being called from all walks of life, the Jewish leadership in the time of Jesus held to the idea that only they or someone like them could speak with authority. Society’s structures guaranteed it.

God does not respect the beliefs we convince ourselves are most important. As soon as we establish rules that control God, who he can love, or who can join his kingdom, God makes a shepherd a king, a farmer a prophet, a carpenter the Messiah. When we open our mind to potential and release the limitations society has determined for anyone, God’s work begins through us.

Holy Monday

Isaiah 42:1-9
Hebrews 9:11-15
John 12:1-11

We all have that thing that motivates us, that thing we cannot resist. For some it is money and the ways to make it, legal and illegal. For others it is the thrill that comes from escaping a dangerous situation like skydiving. For others, it is chocolate! Each of us responds in a certain way given a certain stimulus and varies in intensity with each of us. Just as on Palm Sunday we saw a variety of events that sparked the leadership to respond, but they only capped growing fear and resentment in those who were threatened by Jesus’s ministry. The passage in John takes place prior to the triumphal entry, but sets the stage for much to come.

Isaiah and Hebrews reference covenants of God with humankind. In the Isaiah passage, the author celebrates benefits of being the people in covenant with God. The Hebrews author presents the supremacy of the covenant that came through Christ. The differences between the covenants so drastically changed religious practice that the entire economy around worship was demolished while the reward for those following the new covenant exceeded that for those following the old.

The passage in John takes us to Jesus visiting close friends in Bethany just before making his journey into Jerusalem. At dinner with Mary, Martha,  Lazarus, and at least some of the twelve apostles, Mary with passion and humility does the most meaningful thing she can think of doing. She take the very best of perfumes and spreads it over Jesus’s feet with her hair. As the author of John presents it, Judas feigns disappointment in suggesting a donation to the poor would have been a better use of the perfume while internally coveting the money for his own use. Various passages present the weakness of various apostles and here is Judas’s fault.

The message Jesus gave of his coming death, in the home of the one he raised from the dead, went unrecognized by those present. Judas’s greed and the apparent obliviousness of the others present reflect typical human nature. For Jesus to say he was going to die, while sitting at the table with one he had called from the grave, was beyond what those present were able to imagine. It is not that they were not paying attention, they could not believe Jesus could die.

The crowd who gathered to see Jesus also came to see Lazarus. People Jesus cured could be found all along the routes of his ministry, but Lazarus represented the ultimate miracle. And the ultimate threat to the religious establishment. John reveals the determination of the religious leadership to not only kill Jesus, but to kill Lazarus who was proving the convincing evidence for Jews who had up to now resisted the teaching of Jesus. For those chief priests and religious leadership barely holding on to power in the midst of an occupation by a culture hostile to the Jewish faith, a competing religion threatened their hold on power more than the military. Their position and livelihood could disappear as quickly as their followers.

Even today we see people in all walks of life responding to greed and power as did those in the passages today. Even we respond to these basic urges. Our responses to those urges define us regardless of who we claim to be. Those responses label us old covenant, new covenant, or no covenant. When faced with the challenges of life, I need to stop and consider which covenant my response reflects.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sixth Sunday in Lent - Palm Sunday

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Matthew 21:1-11

One reason I rarely watch any of the major news broadcasts is the obsession with the foibles of individuals who, because of their role in politics, entertainment, or justice, the media labeled a celebrity (1.  a famous or well known person -via Regardless of the impact that a celebrity’s personal mistake will have beyond themselves, the story [given the constraints of a broadcast/publishing schedule and the ability to tell it concisely] drives what then gets presented. The story becomes much more compelling when the fall comes after a rapid rise. I can only imagine the breaking news coverage that would have followed Jesus during the final days of his earthly ministry.

Sunday: Leading Messianic Contender Barnstorms Jerusalem
Monday: Revered Religious Teacher Terrorizes Temple
Tuesday: Embattled “Savior” Goes on the Offensive
Wednesday: Missing Messiah - Where is Jesus?
Thursday: Prophet Celebrates Passover with Closest Advisors
Friday: Crowds Call for Traitor’s Execution
Saturday: Activist’s Movement in Shambles
Sunday: Where’s the Body? New Theories Point to “Supernatural” Involvement

It does not take two thousand years to realize that a celebrity’s infidelity will leave little trace on the progress of humanity. Nevertheless, we benefit from the millenia of hindsight in our consideration of the events in Holy Week and how they have shaped Christianity and the impacted the world as we know it. Even as we understand the global transformations experienced from the force of the events one insight becomes clear: our human nature remains unchanged. Today’s Scriptures begin Holy Week with the first extreme response of the week as Jerusalem welcomes this man labeled with heroic titles by some and considered villainous by others.

Jerusalem represented  the greatest challenge for Jesus’s ministry. As the religious capital of the Jewish world and was home to the Pharisees and Sadducees who almost universally opposed the ministry of Jesus and who held remarkable influence over the daily lives of the people. Entering the city provided access to an audience who had heard the stories of the great ___________. Each audience had their own title to fill in the blank and each one threatened the religious leadership. Although the ruling class opposed all that Jesus did, they feared the vast populist support he garnered from the community. The jubilation of the masses and incorporation of festival rites in the triumphal entry could only have increased those fears and the urgency to eliminate the threat.

On Palm Sunday we often focus on the jubilation of the throng, waving palm fronds, declaring, “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” and shouting, “hosanna.” We have associated them for so long with celebration that their origins in Jewish worship ceremonies. Palm fronds along with branches of olive trees and myrtle bushes were used in some festival processions in keeping with the law. The phrase, “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” is also used in festival chants. Hosannah is one translation of a cry of the people for the Lord to save for deliver them. No doubt the people were celebratory when Jesus came into town as they had heard of his healing and expansive teaching which contrasted the message of Temple leadership and its focus on law and enforcement that limited almost every aspect of life.

The enthusiasm of the people likely heightened the concern of the religious leadership who were constantly stymied by his wisdom and understanding. Their academic and theological concentration on interpretation of the law into a definite and inflexible set of codes which governed virtually every aspect of life probably made the appropriation of  ceremony/festival rites into Jesus’s arrival something more than they could tolerate. They could not identify the source of his education because he was not taught in their schools and their schools were the only ones, yet they could not stump him. He had power to perform miracles they never possessed. Now that his followers treated his arrival in Jerusalem like an official festival gave Jesus a degree of legitimacy, at least as the governing bodies perceived the situation, the officials had to act.

The exact same situations happen today. Voices that bring a new or deeper understanding to the faith tend to be ignored or disregarded as long as they remain in the wilderness. When they come to church, though, they are a threat to be silenced at all cost because they threaten the teaching the elders have presented as God-given, immutable, understanding of his Word. One phrase found in both passages brings to light the danger of outright rejection of a teaching/understanding of Scripture different than the one learned in church or seminary: “one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Matthew took that title as a name for the messiah. The Jews chanting the line at a festival procession would have understood it to me a highly restrictive group of individuals selected by God to be his spokesperson, namely the chief priest, prophets, and the patriarchs. The individual called by God to deliver a message is obligated to deliver that message (think Jonah - fled because he didn't want Nineveh to be saved, yet ended up delivering the message). A message delivered in the name of the Lord will not go unheard.

Likewise, those who come in the name of the Lord are not allow to deliver their own message, but only what God commands. The leaders in Jesus’s time had good reason to be skeptical of anyone making spiritual waves. Individuals appeared from time to time claiming to be messiah. False prophets delivered powerful messages - but not from God. The same thing happens with false messengers today and we must carefully consider the different teachings we receive from any source claiming to be from God.

Jesus’s actions and teachings through Holy Week carry their own meaning yet have foundations deep in the history of our religious practice. Those actions and teachings, though holy and delivered by one coming not only in the name of the Lord, but as the Lord, still inspired the same reactions in religious leaders as new teachings inspire today. This Holy Week as we learn from Jesus’s final lessons on earth, let us open our own understanding to ideas different than the ones we have heard before as we test them for the blessing of God.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

Few topics spark less consensus in the social, spiritual, and scientific communities than how we define life and death. The more we know about physical and psychological aspects of life, the more we are able to diverge in our beliefs about it. Medical advances blur the distinction between life and death. Years ago, when I worked for a hospice, I learned the various deaths a person with terminal illness often endures before the cessation of life at the cellular level. Despite, or maybe because of, the inevitability of death, it is a topic most people find uncomfortable to discuss or consider in depth. Today’s scriptures confront what constitutes life and death at the spiritual and physical levels. We learn that physical and spiritual life are inextricably connected and fundamentally in conflict - though not perhaps in the way we think.

In Ezekiel, we find the prophet in a remote area having a conversation with God. God led him to an area that was possibly the location of a deadly battle many years before. The prophet observed dry bones everywhere, noting that the valley was “full of bones.” The beings, for whom those bones gave shape perished years before so that none of the soft tissues remained. He responds with a degree of incredulity when God asks if those bones were capable of living. That God asked about dry bones is interesting. Bones are living, essential, parts of the body, yet when presented without the connected flesh and sinew they seem to be the least lifelike component of the body. The are individually hard and unbending, more mineral in appearance than other elements (flesh, blood, sinew) that together make a living being.

Nevertheless, God challenged Ezekiel to deliver a message of life to the bones. As he delivered the message from God, the loose bones assembled into skeletons; the various tissues reconstituted themselves over the bones until the message of the breath brought them to life. The least lifelike body material brought together a long-dead multitude into restored life - a multitude identified as the “whole house of Israel.”

We know from the accounts in the Old Testament that God did not send prophets to Israel when the nation was spiritually consistent and connected to God. If there were any “happy happy joy joy” prophets, they did not warrant a book accepted in to canon. God sent Ezekiel to prophesy to the nation so spiritually dead they might as well have been the bones in the valley where God took the prophet. God used the prophet to share the message that no matter how spiritually sick or dead we believe ourselves/our community to be, God can make a way for us to return into the right relationship with him.

The brief passage from Romans makes clear that our “life” focus shapes our faith. Fleshly life versus spiritual life presented stark contrast when they are seen as determining our connection (or lack of connection) with God. Put simply a fleshly/physical focus separates from God. A spiritual focus connects us to God. We make a mistake when we read or interpret the passage in a way that leads to denial of physical need (nutrition, medical attention, hygiene) or comfort. The verses refer to the outlook or mindset of the people, NOT the nature and needs of our human lives bound by physical bodies - we should keep in mind that God created us with these physical bodies. God appointed humankind caretakers of creation; we are obligated to take care of our bodies.

When the passage refers to a physical or flesh driven mind, it means a way of thinking limited by our human nature, not the substance of our body. It binds us to temporal thinking which is driven by the limited experiences we have in a lifetime. The spiritual mindset embraces God’s eternity and is guided by unlimited opportunity. It opens our understanding to embrace the possibilities that come when we work in God’s kingdom.

Ezekiel replied to God from the temporal, limited mindset when God asked if the bones could live, but when given a direction by God, he displayed his eternal mindset. Ezekiel gave us an example for meeting God’s expectation by putting aside the limitations we have defined by living in a limited body and accepting the guidance from God with the understanding that it came from God and is shaped by the eternal mindset.

The nature of life (and death) in Scripture is as complex as in the social and scientific texts. What we really want to do, though is live. We can control our temporal nature and practice working in the eternal kingdom with a purpose that exceeds our physical life span and what we can comprehend. Before long, we’ll be hearing the bones rattle.