Its a strange feeling. I've prepared this sermon and preached it a few weeks back for a Beatitudes Society event, and I'm in the process of memorizing it for a preaching class tomorrow, but I'll not actually preach it in a church.
We Feed Off of Death, but Jesus Brings Life
I would ask this morning that you suspend disbelief and embrace two absurd, perhaps even grotesque, images with me.
Imagine Ezekiel, carried by his britches through space and time—from Babylon to the great and horrifying depths of the valley of the shadow of death. He is surrounded by the corpses of his kin—the bodies not only of his brothers and sisters, but in a real sense the body of his nation, scattered by war, killed through exile, and buried by the destruction of the temple.
And, while God calls out to him, “Oh prophet, can these bones live?” While God speaks into his soul a new word—a new prophecy of comfort to an exiled people—Ezekiel does not listen.
Ezekiel, instead, gathers in these dried bones and melts them down, stirs them together, and feeds off of them.
Imagine too that Jesus has just affirmed to his disciples that he is returning to the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, in Judea. The disciples have decided to follow after him—after all that’s what disciples do.
Yet as they go they get to talking… and Thomas says to Peter.
“What do you suppose the odds are that Jesus can make Lazarus live again?”
“50/50,” Peter responds.
“I’ll get in on that bet,” replies James.
Simon the Zealot puts down 3 drachma’s on death winning, while the sons of Zebedee pool their money and put their shekels on life–Judas collects bets…. In short they bet on life and death.
Grotesque, right? Absurd, right? Not what the prophet and the gospel are about, right? Ultimately death affirming, whereas our scriptures today are life affirming, right?
Yet the society and world we live in, the way of life that we are all to greater and lesser extents enmeshed in, is this grotesque, absurd, anti-prophetic, anti-gospel, death affirming way of… life.
If you would think critically with me for a moment on the word fossil fuel you will see where I’m going.
What are fossils if not dry bones. What are fossils if not decayed corpses. What are fossils if not the remains of that which came before us. What are fossils if not death.
With regard to the use of fossil fuel—which accounts for 86% of the world’s energy—we are feeding off of death. We are living off of decayed corpses.
But that’s not all—we not only live off of deaths in the past, we also live off a dangerous and deadly gamble.
I was once told that the scientists involved in the first nuclear tests came up with a worrying calculation. After having run theoretical models about what was likely to happen when they detonated the first nuclear bomb, they came up with some odds. There was a 10 percent chance that blowing up a nuclear bomb would cause earth’s atmosphere to catch on fire. In other words, there was a 1 in 10 chance that by testing this bomb the scientists would end all life on earth, creating out of it a flaming barren and dead world. There was a 1 in 10 chance that their actions would have killed everyone and everything
As evidenced by my standing here and talking to you we know that they won their gamble.
Yet I cannot shake the image of a hellish inferno—the air we breathe, the atmosphere we live under—all burning, drying up lakes and rivers, oceans and… everything and everyone, in an instant. I can’t shake the image of being surrounded by death.
With regard to the use of nuclear power we are feeding off of death. We have built our life upon a world-ending gamble.
We feed off of death.
Yet these absurd and grotesque images of an anti-Ezekiel and an anti-Gospel—though manifest in our actions, are not the content of our creed, are not the Word of the Lord for us today.
No… No today we feel the rhythmic rattle of bone returning to bone. We see new sinew stretched out upon dry bones. We feel the breath of the four winds breathing life.
And not only that. We see Jesus marching through disciples and friends who are fixated on death. We are led by him to the tomb. We are commanded by him to remove the stone and unbind the cloth that has enwrapped dear Lazarus.
We feed off death, but Jesus calls us to life and Jesus brings life.
Jesus calls us to life.
He calls us to a life of discipleship—to repentance from the absurd and grotesque realities we have wrought upon this earth. To prophetic words and actions that reconnect bone to bone and to the removing of stones and unbinding of grave-cloth.
He calls us to vocation, to voice, and to tithe.
What does vocation mean? It simply means the material things we do ought to align with the love of God through the responsible service of our neighbor.
Now, you might be expecting me to say that means we all have to quit our jobs and go out and become environmental activists—that that type of job would be the only holy vocation—but that would be as foolish as the assumption in Luther’s era that the only holy vocation was the priesthood. But truth be told we need CEOs, engineers, and all kinds of people working ethically.
When I look at some of the worst excesses and accidents of death consuming energy—I am struck that if there had just been a few more people acting like Christians while on the job—if they had considered their neighbor while they worked—they wouldn’t have happened.
If the engineers working for TEPCO, the company that runs the nuclear plants that are currently destabilized in Japan, if they had considered the potential effects their actions would have upon their neighbors, they might not have submitted 100s of false safety reports to government safety inspectors.
Likewise, if CEOs and contractors who made decisions about cost-cutting measures on the Deepwater Horizon oilrig in the gulf had considered the people and the planet—11 men and a whole eco-system would still be alive.
What do I mean by voice? I mean that Christians need to lift our voice in the public square around issues of energy. Our witness must not be that of a pie-in-the-sky-until-you-die people. No—if we are to be faithful we must be a voice that consistently says:
“we are salt and light to the world, the world needs us, and we have a word and a way for you… and not just about matters of the soul, not just matters of abstraction—but on matters of consumption, of what type and what kind of energy we use, of where we build pollution creating plants—in whose neighborhoods and in whose back yards we bury nuclear waste.”
We mustn’t be afraid to voice our vision and express our ethical tradition to our neighbors.
What does tithing have to do with the energy you may ask.
Well, since 1993 the ELCA has expanded our understanding of what it means to tithe of our time, talent, and possessions.
Not only are we called to tithe 10% of our income to the Church, but also called to tithe environmentally—to produce 10% less waste and consume 10% less non-renewable resources.
Our vocation, voice, and tithe are all ways to follow Christ’s calling to life.
But Jesus doesn’t just call us to life, he also brings life.
Our discipleship, our actions in the face of a grotesque and absurd system that feeds on death—is a meager thing. It is a small mouse standing up valiantly before a hungry lion.
Except that God is here—Jesus is here.
Ezekiel prophecies to the bones, but it is God who knits them together. Lazarus’ tomb and wrappings are removed, but it is Jesus who brings him back to life.
Surrounded by death the Resurrection and the Life is here with us.
We feed off death, but Jesus calls us to life and Jesus brings life.