The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Fifth Sunday in Lent||March 13, 2005|
Probably all of us have heard the phrase, "Be all that you can be." Be all that you can be. Be as fully alive as possible. In fact, an old axiom in the church is "The glory of God is any one of us fully alive." God wants us to be as full of life as possible, as completely human as possible living out our full humanness. The one thing that keeps us from being fully alive, being the full human person that we're called to be, that God wants us to be, is sin.
When we fail to follow God's ways, we don't hurt God; we detract from ourselves. We make ourselves less than what we can be, what God wants us to be. Today the scriptures tell us how we truly can be what God wants us to be, how we can become truly alive.
The first lesson today is about becoming alive. It's that very famous passage from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel that describes the situation where the chosen people, because they had failed to live up to the covenant, because they had failed to be faithful to God, had been taken into exile. Everything was lost. Their city Jerusalem was destroyed. The temple was leveled, and they were as a people in shambles and suffering. Everything seemed to be like death for them.
Then Ezekiel has this vision of a valley of bones, dead dry bones. And God said to him, "Son of man, can these bones live again?" Ezekiel says, "Lord, only you know that." So then God says, "Speak on my behalf concerning these bones. Say to them, "Dry bones, hear the word of God! God says, 'I'm going to put spirit in you, make you live. I shall put sinews on you, make flesh grow on you. I shall cover you with skin and give you my spirit that you may live and then you will know that I am Yahweh your God.' "
It happens later on in that passage, Ezekiel says, "This is what Yahweh says: 'I'm going to open your tombs. I shall bring you out of your tombs, my people, and lead you back to the land of Israel. You will know that I am God, oh my people, when I open your graves and bring you out of your grave, when I put my spirit in you and you live! I shall settle you in your land and you will know that I, God, have done what I said I would do.' "
This vision of Ezekiel is a clear vision of what was happening to the chose people, that God was restoring them to the fullness of life that they had lost because they were not faithful. God was taking them back and going to restore them.
It happened actually. Sirus the Persian king defeated the Babylonians, who had taken the Jews into captivity, and now the chosen people were going back to their own land. They were going to become fully alive as God's people again. But then the important thing is to notice what will happen: "When I put my spirit in you then you live. You will know that I am God." In other words the covenant is to be restored. "I will be your God. You will be my people. You will live according to my way." And as we know from the prophet Isaiah, God's ways are not our ways. God's thoughts are not our thoughts. They're different. They're profoundly different. But when we live according to God's ways, God's thoughts, we become alive! That was what God was inviting those people to do, to come alive again by following the way of God.
In the Gospel lesson, the same thing happened only in a little bit different way. Jesus went into that village after he had delayed a couple days, and Martha went out to meet him and addressed him, saying, "If only you had been here my brother wouldn't have died." She was thinking of Jesus as a wonder worker, a healer and that's all. But then as the conversation goes along we discover it's much deeper than that, and Martha discovers it, because, as Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." She understood him to mean, of course, he would rise on the last day, at the resurrection, the general resurrection. But that was not quite right. Jesus had said something different. He said, "I am the resurrection and the life; if you believe in me you will never die and if you live and believe in me you will always be alive."
Jesus is telling Martha, "Look, believe in me."
That means more than just something in our mind about Jesus that we believe intellectually. When we believe in Jesus it is much more. One time Jesus said, "Not everybody who says to me, 'Lord, Lord.' will enter the kingdom of heaven. Only those who do the will of God." In other words follow the way of God. That's how you believe in Jesus, you follow him and then you come to new life. A life that no one can take from you. A life that begins to enable you to be all that you can be.
When we believe in Jesus, we discover Jesus in a whole variety of places. When I was hungry, you gave me to eat. When I was thirsty you gave me to drink. That's how we enter into the fullness of life, finding Jesus in others, seeing Jesus in the poor, the oppressed, those who are treated so badly in this world. We see Jesus in them and believe in Jesus, reach out to Jesus and follow him. We become alive.
There are so many different ways in which we need to follow Jesus in order to become fully alive. The Gospels spell out all these ways, but there is one that is probably the most important .
To follow Jesus most of all and to come into fullness of life, even now, because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, we must, more than anything else, heed his command: "Don't just love those who love you. Love your enemies." We have to reach out in forgiveness, reach out in healing to others in order to be healed ourselves, in order to become whole. If we hold hatred, vengeance, in our hearts we're less than human.
I've shared this with you before but it's so powerful that I think it's very important to reflect on it today. Something that happened in the Dachau concentration camp 50 some years ago when Martin Niemoeller, a Lutheran pastor, was held there because he had been preaching Jesus, following Jesus. He tells of what happened one day:
It was a moment of great significance when from my bunker cell in the Dachau concentration camp I saw a fellow prisoner being hanged outside my window. I instinctively thought, "The poor fellow. And this damn gang of murderers!" Then suddenly a question bolted through my whole being, "What if Jesus had thought and expressed such a revengeful thought as he was hanging on the cross?" Then there would be no redemption, no wholeness, no fullness of life, no peace."
That example of Jesus is fundamental to everything we believe about Jesus. He urges us never to hate, never to retaliate. Always to be like him, to love. Hatred destroys us. Violence destroys us. So Jesus is calling upon us to be like him. Martin Niemoeller wrote:
Jesus meant what he preached in all seriousness, in all honesty and he knew full well who we are in our mortal existence when he said, 'Happy are the peacemakers for people will call them sons and daughters of God just as they have called me son of God.'
So if we believe in Jesus, if we follow Jesus -- and that's what it means to believe in Jesus -- if we follow him especially in this way of forgiveness and peace and love we will become fully alive. "I am the resurrection and the life. If you believe in me you will never die. Whoever lives and believes in me will live always." Jesus is asking us during this celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation to look deeply in our hearts to see the ways that we've failed to follow him and follow him faithfully, especially in the way of love, the way of forgiveness. If we can be like Martha and say, "Yes Lord, I believe"; if we can, in fact, repeat what happened at the beginning of Lent when we were signed with ashes and we heard the words, "Repent your sin, follow Jesus"; if we repent of our sins and commit ourselves to following Jesus, we will become fully alive and become all that we can be.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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