A Word from Our Pastor 2017 April

The message of Easter can be summed up simply: our God is in the business of new life!

Every year, we tell ourselves this story, to remind ourselves that there is always a reason to have hope.

This Easter, in addition to the story of Jesus’ resurrection, my sermon focused on a passage that may be new to some of you, the Valley of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37. The prophet Ezekiel has a vision of a valley full of dry bones, and God tells Ezekiel to tell (prophesy) to the bones that they will live again. This story is the basis for the children’s song, “the leg bone connected to the ankle bone. . .” as the bodies come back to life. For a long time, from the stories of the Hebrew Bible to the resurrection of Jesus, God has been trying to tell us that there doesn’t have to be a “dead-end” to our lives.

Perhaps this year, you are feeling as if you have gotten trapped in the valley of dry bones. This is more than just a bunch of dead bodies: they have been dead a long time, the flesh gone now, and all that is left are bones bleached white in the sun. The miracle of new life seems very, very, far away. I

Is there something that you have given up on – given up so long ago, that you have almost forgotten about it? Something that you lost hope for? Maybe it’s your faith, itself. Perhaps you have given up seeking God, because you feel your prayers have not been answered. Perhaps you have been discouraged by your job, your marriage, your family relationships: so many barriers, so many roadblocks, so little change. We look at the world around us, and see that there is so much suffering: hunger, homelessness, violence, greed and selfishness. People can’t change: or can they? Are we all doomed to keep going over the same problems, the same territory, with no possibility of a second chance, a start-over?

Do we feel like Jesus, and cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Of course, Jesus felt like this: on the cross, it was a lonely moment in a lifetime spent close to God. Those moments are sometimes called “dark nights of the soul,” and they happen to all of us. Sometimes those nights are short, sometimes they are long, but they are part of our journey. These nights also come to an end, and are
followed by a morning of resurrection. One thing is for certain: the dark night of the soul always feels too long. So it is important to remember those resurrection mornings we have from time to time. All of a sudden, someone we care about says something that makes us know there is a possibility for change – an apology, or even just a kind word. Or, something happens at work – a policy shifts, the budget gets adjusted, and we can see some hope; or it becomes clear that it is time to leave and try something else. When we have been sick for a long time, and finally, the cough goes away.

Resurrection mornings can seem scarce when someone is terminally ill, or facing a condition that will not improve. What does hope look like then? Can it be those moments when our loved one feels safe and comfortable, even though they no longer recognize us? When their pain is controlled, and they can enjoy a sunny day, or wonder at the beauty of the hummingbirds in the bush outside?

What does hope look like when we have to face death? The Easter story tells us that as Jesus was present to his disciples after death, we live on after physical death in a spiritual reality; we go on to experience unity with God, fully healed, fully at home, fully at peace, as I like to say, “beside still waters in green pastures. . .”

When we go through hard times, and feel forsaken about God, sometimes we can get depressed, or just want to sit home in quiet. But I don’t think that’s the best antidote for feeling forsaken. For me, the best thing to do, and sometimes we have to push ourselves to do it, it is BE hope for someone else.

Think of someone you know who might be feeling forsaken: and do something to let them know they are not forgotten; pick up the phone, send a card, pray, make a visit. This could be someone among your friends and family, or someone across the city or across world who you don’t know personally, but whose suffering you can address through a donation: a gift to the Alameda Food Bank, a baby quilt for the hospital; a visit to a convalescent home. We can reduce suffering in the world, and when we do, I believe our own suffering becomes a little easier to bear. When we are suffering, and choose to do something for others, we are making a sacrifice.
Jesus’ own suffering and death was a lesson for all of us: to love others so much to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of one’s life. To get to resurrection, we have to experience death. This journey took Jesus through a dark night, but led to a bright morning of new life. When we are seeking the hope of new life, follow the path Jesus showed us: sacrifice. There is a resurrection morning awaiting you.
–Rev. Naomi