Life and Death

Year A, Lent 5

Ezekiel 37:1-14    

Psalm 130  

Romans 8:6-11

John 11:1-45

As I write this blog within the current political climate and landscape of my country, the USA, I find the imagery of Ezekiel 37 almost brings me to tears. I have always found it moving and inspiring. We need the resurrection power of God’s Spirit in the best of times. Now in the not-so-best of times there is a great poignancy in the image of dry bones brought to life by prophecy and the breath of God’s Spirit. I can think of innumerable issues – from healthcare for all to combating global warming to the preservation of the arts to feeding the hungry of the world – that are being threatened with desiccation and death in the US. Oh, that we might prophesy and say to these “dry bones”, hear the word of the LORD … I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. … I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves” (Ezekiel 37:4b-5, 12).

The people’s longing for salvation from death, for the new life of resurrection, continues in the psalm, the epistle and gospel texts. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD. … my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning” (Psalm 130: 1, 60). “… to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace … If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you (Romans 8: 6, 11). The yearning culminates in John 11 in the grieving family and friends of Lazarus. “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21-22,32).

Listening to the universal longing for life in all these texts inspires me with food for thought and change in my personal life. As a storyteller I have worked with images for many years. I quickly digest and transform the images of scripture into working ideas and metaphors for my spiritual nourishment. Sometimes this work is comforting and inspiring. Sometimes it is very challenging as I ask hard questions. Yet the process is second nature to me. Yet I must ask how do I encounter and then translate for others the resurrection power of our texts this week to sustain us all in times that seem so death-dealing? It is an urgent proposition.

As a pastor I know that the process of hearing image in scripture is not second nature to all people. Some people are fed by facts and data. Some my philosophical pursuit. Some by call to action. And the Bible is ancient literature. It’s context and language can be very strange. As the many paradigms of personality theory, such as Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram, inform us, people perceive the world, their inner and outer lives in a variety of ways and with varying degrees of sensory, emotional and intellectual perception. How do we from our own intuitive or data based perspective make the imagery and meaning of scripture come to life for our parishioners? How do we make it available for use in people’s lives for strength and power and comfort? These are the $64,000 dollar preaching questions I ask every time I preach. I get clues from the “sifting” power of my mind.

“SIFT” is a process described by Dan Siegel, MD in his presentation, “Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human.” I was listening to his lecture in a series from SoundsTrue.com on the latest work in neuroscience. To make a an intricate presentation very succinct, he described the research that leads us to understand the mind as being more than, bigger than, the physical brain. The mind encompasses and is found in the body, the spirit and the heart to put it very simply. We can understand how our minds work with this acronym, SIFT – senses, imagery, feelings, thought. Our minds “sift” to make meaning of the world and in our interior lives.

This process of SIFT is how we encounter story – through our senses, images, emotions, and intellectual pondering for meaning. You can enter a story through any of these doors but it is important to explore them all to get the fullest experience of the story. As adults we often skip to the meaning and leave out the rich information in the sense imagery invoked by the story, in emotions and metaphorical images, as well as in intellectual and cognitive meaning. Through using all of these processes to ponder scripture we are more likely to expand the understanding of the text beyond our first perceptions, whether they are intuitive or data/context based.

No matter which text you choose to preach on this week and they are all so fruitful, I encourage you to SIFT carefully. Ask yourself what a valley of dry bones smells like or sounds like. Does it fill you with fear or awe or despair? When have you waited for the morning, longing for the sun to reappear? What was happening in your body and in your heart? What did you see or hear or taste or smell? Was your body tense or relaxed? If the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us and gives life to our mortal bodies through that Spirit how does that feel in our bodies as well as in our souls or in our intellect? Remember when you were in deep mourning. What did you taste or smell? Did you feel wrapped in so much grief as in a restricting blanket that you felt you might suffocate? Did you feel heavy and unable to move? Were you numb and disassociated from you body? Can you remember hearing the sound of a loved one’s voice that you have not heard in a very long time? Maybe thought you would never hear again? Their laughter? Using all the powers of SIFT to listen to the Spirit as you prepare to preach or teach, as well as the consideration of where your congregation will most likely encounter a text, you will be led to inspire new life in our death-dealing times. 

Stories

Once again, the stories of our lectionary texts are more than enough for telling this week. Sometimes however, we as preachers and educations, need sustenance for the journey. We do not always have to share all our homework. We might just need a story for our own nourishment. No matter why you are searching for story in relation to the texts this week here are three really good sources.

  • Skeleton Woman – I first read this powerful story of new life coming into old bones in Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s book, Women Who Run With the Wolves. It is a story from the native people of the Pacific Northwest in the US. A fisherman on a routine fishing trip hooks the skeleton of a long-dead woman from the bottom of the bay. He is terrified and tries to escape it, but unbeknownst to him it is so tangled in his line which is tangled in his clothes that he takes the soggy, seaweed ridden, barnacled old thing home with him. He cannot escape. The story tells us how he makes friends with the skeleton, cares for it. And how his care encourages the growth of new life and new love. Writer, Susan Naives, has re-written a contemporary version of the story set in the seaside town in The Netherlands where she lives
  • “Romany Lazarus”This is a retelling of the story in John 11 from the folk tradition of the Gypsies or the Romany people who are known as “travelers” around the world. It adds an insightful and at times even humorous touch to the scripture story. This version is told in and audible recording by Robert Bela Wilhelm, a master storyteller, storytelling teacher and preaching coach. You can also find the story in his iBook, In the City of Spice and Gold; 52 Stories for Year A”. You can find in through iTunes in the iBooks section.
  • Finally, if you are looking for a Children’s Time story to consider the offering of Storypath.com. It is a constant source of creativity and inspiration from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA, USA. The books recommended for Year A, Lent 5 are particularly good. 

Blessings on your Lenten story journey,

Jane Anne

©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2017 and beyond. Commentary and photos may be reprinted with permission only. Please find and tell the stories!

 


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