Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Fifth Sunday in Lent + April 2, 2017
Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:17-27
You’ve heard it said, “Seeing is believing.” This works most of the time. You wouldn’t buy a car if the dealer refused to show you the one you were buying. You wouldn’t work long for an employer who promised you a paycheck but never actually came up with the money.
However, sometimes our faith—what we believe—is opposed to what we see. Think of what we confessed in the Creed—we see God’s visible creation, but not His Son and what He did for us, and while we’ve seen a portion of the holy Christian and apostolic Church, we haven’t seen the Spirit or the rest of it. Nevertheless, we believe in these things because God’s Holy Spirit is at work in us—His Word tell us this is all true.
Think about the valley of dry bones:
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. (Ezek. 37:1-2)
Sight sees dry, dead bones.
Then the Lord asks a question: “3 And he said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’” That’s faith’s answer, because what our eye sees and what our mind knows would say flat-out “No.” But what the rest of the vision shows is that God is able by His Word to do what we may not see or yet see. Even death itself is not too great an obstacle to God.
This is the same thing we see in the raising of Lazarus. “21 Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’ 23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24 Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’” It’s faith over sight. Sight sees a lifeless body, a closed tomb. Faith sees that God is able to do all things good—even if it should be to raise the dead.
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
There again the Lord asks a question. It can only be answered with faith, by the Holy Spirit at work in a person’s heart. Do you believe that God is Almighty, that He is who He says He is, and He can do what He speaks?
Faith answers affirmatively. Yes, I believe because the Holy Spirit tells me God does not lie. He is not limited in what He can do. Everything which we confess in the Creed is true, even though we’ve seen very little of it. All of the Bible is true, even though we may not fully understand some things, and haven’t seen others. We believe that God has given us nothing but truth to cling to.
Doubt and unbelief will put limits on what God can do—sometimes thinking He can only do as little as our own imaginations. “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’” All looks lost, and judging by man alone, it may well be.
God’s people Israel today say can’t bring the people of this generation to faith. We need to spice things up to “get the young people.” They’ll only come if you throw out the liturgy and model yourself after a rock concert. We believe in market analysis and hearsay from false prophets and hypocrites who claim to know the Scriptures but deny the power of God.
God’s people look to themselves and say, “I’m tired and worn out from all that I’ve been through.” I believe in the doctors who tell me all that’s wrong with my health, and the gurus which tell me I need to take some “me time” and focus on myself for a while. I believe in my calendar which is packed with far too many “important” things to fit in serving my neighbor or taking up a job at church.
Yet faith comes first, then sight. Look and believe what God did to dry, dead bones. Look at what He did to a man dead in the tomb for four days! Why do we doubt that He can sustain His Israel, the Church? Why would we believe He’s more at work where we see impressive things happening, and not at work everywhere His Word is preached—including Bethlehem?
We are people who have the gift of the Holy Spirit, who joy in the forgiveness of sins, who are members of the holy Christian and apostolic Church. We are God’s people, and our hope is in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Death is an easy thing for God to overcome by His Word. So, can He not also dispel our sloth and hopelessness?
Even though we do not see the dead raised, we believe that His Word goes out and accomplishes His purpose. He calls the weary to rest, He convicts the indifferent, He raises those in spiritual death.
Now, come you weary people of God, to the feast which your Lord has prepared for you at His table. This is the Body and Blood of your Risen Lord, and by it He will strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting. And faith says: Amen.
 Ezekiel 37:11
 Isaiah 55:9-11