Strengthen Your Hearts from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.
1The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord God, you know."
4Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord." 7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.
9Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
11Then he said to me, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.' 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
7Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
11Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. 12Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your "Yes" be yes and your "No" be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
This is the final Sunday in our Lenten series on James. Next Sunday begins the drama of Holy Week. Palm Sunday will give way to Passover's Last Supper. That messianic meal morphs into mourning as we grieve into the darkness of Good Friday. Looking ahead to that drama together, we also take stock of all that James has taught us over these weeks.
James 4:14 Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.”
James 1:21-22 21Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
James 2:22 You see that faith was active along with [Abraham's] works, and faith was brought to completion by the works.
James 3:9 With it we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God's likeness. Blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, it just shouldn't be this way!
James 4:8-10 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded. 9Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
James teaches us to live lives worthy of the gospel we have been freely given. He challenges us to show our faith, and not just recite it. This epistle describes how our lives ought to be transformed by the gospel. The presence of Christ in a community will not leave it the same as it always was.
But it’s so easy to feel stuck. It’s easy to slip out of intentional, actionable faith and into the rote worship, where we go through the motions without being moved by the Spirit. I think everybody goes through a period where their faith doesn’t have the liveliness that it used to. When you’re in the middle of that phase of your life of faith, it’s easy to see your faith as dead.
We hear in the news about all the terrible things going on around the country, around the world. On top of that, many church leaders are unsettled by the rise of the “nones,” folks who claim no religious affiliation are at the highest point since we started asking those questions. Most denominations are seeing their all of their numbers decline except average age. Our own congregation also remembers a recent period of steep decline. In this environment, it’s easy to see the Church as dying.
Which begs the question: Can these bones live?
O LORD God, you know.
“Thus says the LORD God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord."
We know that ours is the God who raises the dead. Even in times when we are completely lost in the wilderness, God can guide us back. Even in times when our faith is dead, God can breathe life back into it. Even when we forget who God is, God repeats the promise, “you shall know that I am the LORD.”
My read on the world right now is that our culture is tuned towards despair and outrage. We shake our heads in resignation at some things, and we shake our fists in rage at others, but nothing changes. The lyrics change, but the tune stays stuck in our heads. We say “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”
But restoration is coming. The LORD God has spoken and will act. Our hope is not lost, and we are not cut off from grace. The Lord is coming. We do not know when, but we know that the Holy Spirit has given us the courage to reach out and embody our faith before, and will do so again.
Doing the work of faith, James reminds us, is not an easy task. It is an ongoing challenge of increasing devotion of Jesus Christ. It is an ever widening conduit of grace into a world that doesn’t have the capacity to soak it all in. Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. This is not meant to be a singular experience, it’s mean to be a life of discipleship. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.
This is the final Sunday in our Lenten series on James. Next Sunday begins the drama of Holy Week. Palm Sunday will give way to Passover's Last Supper. That messianic meal morphs into mourning as we grieve into the darkness of Good Friday. The hard part lies ahead of us, we’re headed to the cross, after all.
We’re headed to the cross because we remember who our God is. We’re headed to the cross because we remember when our Lord has spoken and acted. We’re headed to the cross because we are followers of Jesus Christ and that’s where he is leading us. We’re headed to the cross because we know that the dry bones can live, and sure so can our bones that have been soaked in the waters of our baptism, tying us to Christ’s death, and his resurrection beyond.
But until all is accomplished, Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Until all is accomplished, remember the examples preserved for us by the Holy Spirit in the scriptures: prophets, priests, and sages who showed endurance so that we might know the character of God, and might glimpse his purpose for his creation. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Until all is accomplished, remember
We have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. The road ahead is not easy, Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Even though we may feel like our faith is only dry bones, even if we are trapped in despair or outrage, even if grumbling is easier to pronounce than praise, Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. We know that the LORD has spoken, in compassion and mercy, and with power to breathe life into the world so that we shall live, and know that the Lord alone is God.