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Can These Bones Live?

March 28, 2020 Pastor: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Verse: Psalm 116:1

Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
March 29, 2020
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Lent 5
Can These Bones Live?

Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his saints.

I love the LORD because he has heard 
my voice and my pleas for mercy.

Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.

The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
    I suffered distress and anguish.

Then I called on the name of the LORD;
“O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!”

For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.

Glory be the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;

as it was in the beginning,
is now and will be forever. Amen.

Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his saints.

--
The church must be careful not to let current events drive her message. That said, nothing answers the current crisis better than today’s Introit and assigned readings from Sacred Scripture.

Neither our Introit nor our readings shrink from the reality of death: Ezek. 37 (dry bones); John 11 (raising of Lazarus); Romans 8:11 (by the Spirit we too will be raised from the dead).

Indeed, they all openly and fearlessly acknowledge Death which St. Paul calls "the last enemy to be destroyed". (1 Cor. 15:26).

In all of today’s readings death comes first.

Death comes first! He does his worst! He is no more sentient than an avalanche rushing down the side of a mountain taking out everything in its path. But having neither brain nor conscience, death is unaware that he is about to suffer his own fate because, like Mary and Martha in today’s gospel, Jesus has been called to the scene. (John 11:3)

The Easter hymn: He’s Risen, He’s Risen, beautifully explains death’s present, and death’s future.

2. The foe was triumphant when on Calvary
The Lord of creation was nailed to the tree.
In Satan's domain did the hosts shout and jeer,
For Jesus was slain, whom the evil ones fear.

3. But short was their triumph, the Savior arose,
And death, hell, and Satan He vanquished, His foes;
The conquering Lord lifts his banner on high.
He lives, yea, he lives, and will nevermore die.

Luther famously said that "the devil is God's devil”. What he meant is that even the devil himself must, finally, carry out the will of God. The same is true about death.

When death struck Jesus on the cross, it thought that it had won the victory. Now with Jesus permanently out of the way the world could get back to its deadly business-as-usual.

But then a new thing happened, that had never happened before.

Jesus sprang back to life by the power of the Spirit of God as we heard earlier in Romans 8:11.

He conquered sin, devil and death and was raised immortal. Which he did not do for himself, but for us. And now Jesus, not Adam, is our New and True Ancestor. For: In Adam we all die! But in Christ we shall all be made alive. (1 Cor 15:22)

Now consider the words of our Introit, from the 116th Psalm, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” Why? Because death is now the gate to eternal life with God in heaven. We sing as much in the hymn: Lord Thee I Love With All My Heart:

Lord let at last thine angels come,
To Abram’s bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing.
And in its narrow chamber keep,
My body safe in peaceful sleep
until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my font of grace,
Lord Jesus Christ,
My prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.

And so the Psalm boldly announces, in defiance of every known experience of man – in defiance of illness – in defiance of the fears that have made the world afraid of its own shadow.

“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.”

Of interest also is the fact: that this 116th Psalm, from which our Introit comes, was seized upon by the early church in connection with martyrdom.

Whenever a Christian suffered death, often ghastly, cruel and shameful death, for their faith, this is the Psalm the church sang. This is the Psalm that gave the bereaved courage and comfort to go on. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.”

But the Psalm can only yield such strength because first it applies to Jesus himself: Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of Jesus, his Holy One.

And so this sentence is, first, the Father’s benediction on the death of his Son. As St. Paul says: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” And again: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”

Beloved it is now time for us to seize life as did the saints of old.

It is time for the church to lead the way forward; and teach men not to be afraid of anything, except to fear God who can kill both body and soul in hell. (Mt. 10:28)

Other than that we should have not a fear in the world!

Let us learn to be like the Psalmist who is jubilant because in the midst of his distress and anguish; of his many trials and temptations; even as the tentacles of Sheol, Death and Hell took hold of him he cried out to God!

And God heard him.

God delivered him.

Delivered his soul from death, his eyes from tears, and his feet from stumbling.

Today the world is stumbling. Our leaders are stumbling. Our fellow men who know nothing about “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting” have fallen down and they cannot get up.

Together we have managed to bring the whole world to a stand-still that may take many painful years to re-start.

But God be praised! Because if he is going to let the world continue – to his glory and our blessing – then it needs more than anything to be stopped in its tracks. For St. Paul says: “If you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” (Gal. 5:15)

That is our sin!

Moral cannibalism!

We have eaten our young, and now we are devouring one another. We need to be called to account now while we can still repent, before the Final Judgment when repentance is no longer possible.

And so, you see, it is both the judgment and the love of God that is at work in every trouble and there is no escaping his designs.

And why should we want to escape? Why should we want to run away from home like so many Prodigal sons, once we know that God loves us and promises to “remember our sins no more?”

This is your Father O Man! Your Good and True Father! Not the worm that was recently found in a fossil in Australia, that scientists have jubilantly declared to be our first ancestor!

How hopeless!

How dead!

How wrong!

No wonder human beings are so quick to trash the blessedness of our humanity, while elevating our dogs to the status of little gods

But the question always is: where will we go from here?

After this present panic will we go back to business as usual? And be made even worse than before because of pain and loss?

In the words of Ezekiel: “Can these bones live?”

Can Lazarus come out of his grave?

The holy Christian religion, the font of all joy and hope in the earth, says Yes! Because, “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom. 8:11)

Armed with this divine promise O Man! let us relent of our cannibalism and get back to humanity’s highest calling: the worship of God, and the love of our neighbor.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength …

Then you will we be equipped to love your neighbor as dearly as you love yourself so that the world can recover from his present emergency. Amen