Saturday, March 28, 2020

Year A, Lent 5, Ezekiel 37.1-14, John 11.1-45

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
By the time you hear this sermon I’m not sure where we will be.  We recorded it 10 days ago so I’m not sure what will have happened already since then.
Life is at one and the same time on pause as we step back and spend our days social distancing to prevent the spread of the COVID 19 virus, and also a frantic whirlwind as changes are coming every day.
I pray that you are doing well, taking your precautions, and most of all remaining healthy.
Two weeks ago I talked about viewing this time as a time of solitude, not isolation.  Solitude in a spiritual sense of stepping back from the world to reflect, and most of all, to listen.  To listen to God, and in a new way, perhaps even to one another as we find different ways to connect.
So this is a time of solitude.  A different sort of Lenten journey for us.
Still, amid all the changes and closures and shortages caused by this outbreak there are those that question whether this is really a threat or not.
Let me share a couple of statistics from China that were current as of March 16th.
What they’ve experienced in China is that the COVID 19 virus is not seriously affecting young people.  For example, no children under the age of 10 have died.  And for those under the age of 40 the mortality rate is 0.02%.
But then it becomes more deadly as we age.
Those in their sixties have a mortality rate of 3.6%.
Those in their seventies have a mortality rate of 8%.
And 15% of those over eighty who contract the disease will die from it.
Again, those are the statistics from China as I write.
“Max Roser, Hannah Ritchie and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina (2020) - "Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – Statistics and Research". Published online at Retrieved from: '' [Online Resource]”
Put in perspective, if the virus were to spread through our little congregation of 20 to 30 people we could expect numerous deaths.
That’s why we are taking precautions. I don’t want to do any funerals for a while.
That’s why this service is being done remotely.
And that is why we must remain cautious and careful, limiting the contact with one another.
As we do this, I pray we can act in love, not fear.
That is, I’m going to stay home, not because I’m afraid of getting the disease from you, but rather because I love you and want to avoid possibly giving the disease to you.

In the midst of it all, we listen to God’s Word.
1Out | of the depths
  I cry to | you, O Lord;
2O Lord, | hear my voice!
  Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my | supplication
6My soul waits for the Lord more than those who keep watch | for the morning,
  more than those who keep watch | for the morning.
Of all the prayers we could offer at this time, perhaps the most critical would be for the health care professionals who are diligently working to care for the sick and to come up with a vaccine or cure.
Lord, help them.
The impact of this will be far reaching.
Businesses are being forced to close.
Children can’t go to school.
Churches across the nation have cancelled worship and all other activities.
And all of a sudden our telephones and computers have become our only safe source of connection with one another and the world in which we live.
Four weeks ago, I would have never imagined this scenario.  But here we are.
Today’s lessons speak to hope in the face of disease and death and the unraveling of a country.
Ezekiel wrote at the time of the exile.
He saw a vision of a valley of dry bones.  Those dry bones represented what was left of their country after it was destroyed by Babylon.
Nothing but dry bones.
But then he was instructed to declare the Word of the Lord and from those dry bones the nation would reemerge. 
And then we have the story of Lazarus, and Jesus calling him forth from the tomb.
Both of these passages in scripture point to one most important reality.  Hope is never lost for those who trust in God.
We need that kind of hope right now.
We live in a time of fear.
I find myself dealing with a variety of fears.
I’m concerned for my family, but not nearly as much as they are concerned for Karla and I, we being the elderly, now.
I’m concerned for you.  To put it bluntly, I’m concerned that when we are finally able to resume worship you will all be there.
But having said that I wonder about the impact of this on our little congregation.  Can we survive?  What will happen to us if this goes on for a long period?  If we lose members to the virus?  If the offerings dry up and we become bankrupt?
I’m concerned for our nation and the impact this is having, even beyond the health threat.
Businesses will close.
Life savings are dwindling.
People are hoarding stuff, creating a situation of the haves and the have not’s.
And I’m left wondering about our world.
I can sort of understand why people are stock piling toilet paper.  Sort of.  I mean, really folks, toilet paper?  Even in a worst case scenario there are other ways to clean yourself.
What I really can’t understand is why people are rushing out and buying guns.  I mean really, it’s not as though you can defend yourself by shooting the virus.  Have people gone mad???
But then there is hope.
I hope because we have great people in the medical field, many of whom are working non-stop to find a solution.  This likely won’t be as bad as the flu in 1918 because we have made many advances in medicine since then.
I hope because we can do this.  We can wash our hands and live in solitude for a while to stave off the spread of the virus.
I hope because rather than destroying our congregation this may be a time of renewal.  When we can finally meet again we may find ourselves cherishing that opportunity more than ever.
I hope because often adversity brings out the best in people, not the worst.
But most of all I hope because God can bring forth life from dry bones and call us out of the grave.
We are fasting in the broadest sense of that word.
But the time is coming when we will be able to feast once again.
I don’t know how long that will be, and the guidance we are receiving from the government changes daily.
When we cancelled services, our understanding was that we might be able to resume meeting on Easter Sunday.
Now, it appears likely that it will be much longer.
How long until the threat passes we simply do not know.
But I remain hopeful because, as Jerry Kramer, the hall of fame football player and Sandpoint native, said:  “You can if you will.”
We can meet all of these challenges.
The only question is if we will.
We can wash our hands, for Pete’s sake.
We can avoid unnecessary personal contact for a season.
We can care for one another in new and safe ways.
We can be the people of God even when we cannot assemble here in this place.
The only question is will we?
And I have confidence in you and your spirit to do these things.
But more than that I have confidence in the Lord to watch over us and our comings and goings and to renew us by the power of his Spirit and to restore our good fortune.
May this peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen

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