Scripture Passages: Genesis 32:22-30, Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:5-44
When we are all children, I believe that we as humans are placed without insecurities and fears. All a baby knows in the beginning is the loves of people around themselves, knowing not what separates him or herself from other people, but that there are simply "good" people out there and "bad" people. It isn't until the child is a bit older that the real sin of prejudice happens. At first, having compared themselves to other people, the child learns the falsehood that he or she is inferior. Some children recognize this inferiority and either ridicule or take advantage of the child (and yes, sadly adults too). As well, sometimes the inferiority comes from other people. In other words, a child might not see anything wrong with his or her skin color, gender, etc., only until someone else points it out. The fact is that God looks at all his children as beautiful, but we as humans often fail to recognize it in ourselves and in others. Sometimes, prejudices have led to full violence against another human being. It is hard to forget the way our forefathers massacred the Native Americans. It is hard to forget the way African-Americans were treated not too far long ago. It is hard to forget the violence done to the GLBT community. It is hard to forget the violence that has been done in the name of God. The crusades, the inquisition, the Salem witch trials and September 11 were all in the name of God, but defied what is the essence of who God is. It is hard to forget the violence that has been perpetrated against the poor, those with disabilities, etc. Prejudice also manifests itself in the violence others have taken against themselves. Many suffer from anorexia and bulimia, as a result of the lie that they are not beautiful in and of themselves. Others have cut themselves physically as well, or even graver still have committed suicide. Really, all of these are evidences of a culture of death. One, that instead of embracing the uniqueness that makes every human a human, instead lives itself out in pain.
It is against this backdrop that the passage from Ezekiel presents itself. It describes humanity as being a valley of dry bones, as being cut off. Ezekiel, himself, wondered how humanity was to have any hope. He asked, "How can these bones live?" It is then that the Lord told him to speak to those that were slain - the hurting, the oppressed - and breathe life into them. Out of a culture of death an army was raised to bring life. Many of us have felt that there is no place for us in God's kingdom, that we are somehow second-class citizens. There are many here that at one time or another have felt "cut-off" from society in the same way these people felt "cut-off". It is here that God promises them a place in his kingdom. Here is the word that God has spoken over the oppressed that is because God puts his spirit in us that we have a real freedom to live. The forgotten people, the abandoned people, are those who God speaks hope into. God rises up his army among them and they fight for him. It is out of injury, that God uses brokenness to heal.
I think we all have felt "cut-off" in one way or another, like we were somehow different in such a way that we didn't have a place in the society in which we lived. It is too hard fitting in as a child or an adult to recognize that being different is not wrong. I guess people will try to change themselves and only cause them the distress that comes from not being honest with themselves. Sometimes, some Christians have felt that perhaps, the reason God hasn't heard their prayers or why bad things happen to themselves, that God has rejected them.
In the first section of John's passage before Lazarus came back from the dead, Jesus opens up his mouth and says, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live a new life." Jesus became human and experienced the death in this world that we may live. The first time this passage really became real for me was the passage where Sidney Carton recites it in Charles Dickens' novel, A Tale of Two Cities. To refresh the minds of some, Sidney Carton was an alcoholic, who had wasted his life. There was one woman who he loved, a dear friend. Ironically, Sidney Carton and the woman's husband were almost identical in looks. It was during the French revolution. Her husband was a French aristocrat who had escaped to England, but for some reason or another had brought his wife back with him to France and Sidney Carton had come along with them as well. The Frenchman was arrested and scheduled to be executed by the Guillotine. In the last moment, Sidney Carton switched places with the Frenchman and instead took the Frenchman's place. With this background he proclaims the words of Jesus from this passage, proclaiming his belief in God as if with all the parts of his life that had been wasted that he could have his own redemption, but as well, proclaiming with one act that even though there were many opportunities in his own life for change, that with this one act he would do something in his life that would count.
These words from Jesus really speak to me. I almost see Jesus, touched by the reality of human pain and suffering, saying these words in contrast. I see Jesus, proclaiming hope to the hopeless situations and healing in places of brokenness. It is his life in us that creates wholeness out of the ugly places. U2's words describe it well, that this act of grace "Creates beauty out of ugly things…creates goodness out of everything". We may ask ourselves how can good be created out of evil. We may see the chaos in our lives and wonder how can life be breathed into that. In other words, "How come it is that when there so much pain in my past, that God can create something good in me?" We may put ourselves in the place of Martha who asked Jesus why he wasn't there when everything bad happened in our life. How come you didn't protect me? How come you didn't get me out of that mess? Why did you let this happen to me?
many people have experienced anger when the God that was supposed to heal,
allowed their son or daughter to die.
This I believe is normal and should be expressed. The fact is that we are human creatures, who at times cannot see the whole picture. Even though, our loved one may not literally come back from the dead, God's resurrection and life may come to us to breathe life in the place of loss. Others have experienced anger towards God, wondering why he didn't protect them when they were abused so harshly at the hands of someone who lashed out in violence against them. Anyone who has read Job realizes that perhaps we as humans may never understand why there is evil or why we have been hurt, but the miracle happens that when we as broken people experience our healing as being "soldiers" ministering to the hurts in others. We in effect minister to others through our own pain.
I look at the life of Jacob and many people can relate to the events of his life. His brother, Esau, was a real man's man. He would hunt and bring home large game. I guess I look at him as being one of the Arnold Schwarzeneggers of the Bible. The whole macho straight-guy image fit him to a "T". Jacob on the other hand was one of the sensitive "Momma's boys" who liked to be around the house and cook. I almost can sense Jacob's frustration with his own father, was that he wanted to be appreciated by his own father, but instead Esau was Jacob's favorite. Jacob experienced prejudice in his own right. The only way to overcome the prejudice he knew in his own life was to be sneaky, used a conniving way to get his hands on Esau's birthright, and not only that, was declared to be Isaac's heir through deception. However, it was not his father Isaac's choice to do so. Jacob was chosen only because Isaac was forced to do so. Immediately, Jacob was so afraid that Esau would kill him, he ran off to be with his uncle Laban. Jacob gained everything eventually that would be declared success in the eyes of what is the American dream. He had wealth, a family and was a self-sufficient man in the eyes of the world. When it was his time to return to home he had not only lost both of his parents, but also assumed that his brother would kill him. One can read into the text in Genesis, and see that he projected upon God the same feelings of rejection that he had felt from his own father. Often, our view of our Divine parent is shaped by that of our earthly parents. It describes that when he wrestled with the angel in this passage, he asked the angel to bless him. It is the cry that everyone has. I want to be loved. I want to be accepted. God will you take interest in me. It is at that point it was as if God said, "Everything's over and done with. I love you. You are my child. I have a place for you." The scripture say that Jacob was injured, as a sign of his own weakness, but also was declared as the one after God's own heart. Often God can use those who know their own weaknesses, and in so doing we as human creatures minister to others through our weakness.
There are times that I have felt like Jacob. Ever since I was a child, I have loved God and have had an interest in him. However, at some place I did not feel that God loved me. Part of that was not being accepted at times due to the fact of being a different person. Part of that was due to being educated in a High School run by Fundamentalists. Their view of the Bible was sadly warped, and took an attitude that somehow God was going to judge those who were not perfect in their eyes. It was so easy to feel that I didn't measure up what was God's grace and mercy. That I could never receive fully what was God's love, because of what others had said over me. Truthfully, through Bible school I wrestled with my own self like Jacob wrestled with the angel. It was as if the cry of my heart was "God love me, I feel unloved." After coming out of the Bible school and eventually finding my place here, even though I'll admit that I have not been completely healed of that, I'm on my way there. I guess, I have come to the acceptance that pain from the past will not completely go away, but what matters is what I do with the pain. A person can either be bitter and turn their eyes away from God, or use their own pain to reach out to others in need. It's almost by nature that healing comes when a person responds out from their own self to the God above and toward the people around them. God's own resurrection and life in us, puts together our own broken parts, but often keeps a memory of pain to know that we are human. Even Jesus retained the wounds in his hands and side after he came back from the dead. How much more so will God use our wounds and make us to be "wounded-healers" as well.
As well, I believe that we as a faith community are called to remove from the wounded the signs of oppression that hold others inwardly into bondage. First, John records the words of Jesus, "Lazarus, Come out!" Lazarus then came out of the tomb. The second words of Jesus were, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go." It is not enough to give people a new life in faith, for the remnants of death hold on to them. Often, those who were held in the chains of oppression still hold on to "their death clothes", or the chains that still bind them even though they are alive; even though they are "saved", as many Evangelicals say. The fact is that we cannot just give a person life, but we as a church must be a place, where those that were in the cycle of death, can as well overcome the chains that hold them in. It can be in the form of job training, or emotional counseling or by connecting the person to social agencies. This process does take gentleness and a discerning heart. Often this wisdom comes from the pain inside us. However, it is from this pain that life is breathed anew and every child of God finds his or her place of healing.
My church, The United Methodist Church of Parsippany, has as its mission statement, that "We are community of hope and healing…" I believe that we as a church are to be a place where people can experience healing. Healing is a process of resurrection and overcoming oppression in the forms of addiction, bitterness, emotional trauma etc. We are all on the same road together. We can fight the good fight as those who have overcome death in our own right and have lived new lives. It means not going down deep into self-centeredness, but reaching out to others. This is God's idea of a church. A group of people experiencing healing and hope together and throwing off the chains that hold us in. Then we too can live out what God has for us to do.
© 2003 D. Miess
|Main Menu||Back to Articles|