Sermon and Liturgy for The Fifth Sunday in Lent - Year A
Ezekiel 37:1-14 and John 11:1-45
"Unbind Him and Let Him Go"

READING:  Ezekiel 37:1-14 and John 11:1-45
SERMON :  "Unbind Him and Let Him Go"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-le05se 478000
     The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
     for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
     found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
     SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                  (* = please stand)

* CALL TO WORSHIP: (based on Romans 8:1-17)
L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the
   things of the flesh, but those who live according to the
   Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
P  To set the mind on the flesh results in death, but to set the
   mind on the Spirit results in life and peace.
L  Those who are led by God's Spirit are God's children, the
   spirit dwells in them and gives life to their mortal bodies.
P  The Spirit that God gives does not make us slaves and cause
   us to fear.  Rather it allows us to call out to God, "Abba,
   Father", in the knowledge that we are heirs with Christ to
   all his blessings.
L  All this is the gift of God's love to us.  Blessed be his
   name, now and forevermore. 

* INTROIT: ""Holy, Holy, Holy" (VU 315 verse 1) 

Most holy and gracious God - send your Spirit upon us in power
this morning and show us once again those things that you have
prepared for those who love you.  Pour out upon us the
realization  of just how wonderful is the inheritance that we
receive from you - and how immediate your presence is - and how
able and willing you are to help us each day.  Give us eyes of
faith to see - and hearts that trust enough to praise you even
when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  We ask
it in Jesus' name.  Amen.

* HYMN:  "Praise To The Lord, The Almighty"              - VU 220


INTROIT For The Word of God (please stay seated):
  Open my ears, that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear;
  and while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.
  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.
  Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!  (VU 371 v.2 & refrain)

   (NRSV)  The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me
   out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle
   of a valley; it was full of bones. {2} He led me all around
   them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were
   very dry. {3} He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?"
   I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." {4} Then he said to me,
   "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear
   the word of the LORD. {5} Thus says the Lord GOD to these
   bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.
   {6} I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come
   upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and
   you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD." {7}
   So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied,
   suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came
   together, bone to its bone. {8} I looked, and there were
   sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had
   covered them; but there was no breath in them. {9} Then he
   said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and
   say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four
   winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may
   live." {10} I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath
   came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a
   vast multitude. {11} Then he said to me, "Mortal, these bones
   are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried
   up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.' {12}
   Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD:
   I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your
   graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of
   Israel. {13} And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I
   open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my
   people. {14} I will put my spirit within you, and you shall
   live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall
   know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act," says the

L  This is the Word of the Lord
P  Thanks be to God.

Object:   Uncooked Macaroni
Theme:    What looks bad can become good with God's help.
Source:   Self

Good Morning...  I want us to do two things today -- the first is
to hand out this paper and pencils - and ask everyone in the
congregation to trace around one of their hands on the paper   it
is to help create something very special for Easter Morning - the
morning of resurrection.  Can a couple of you help hand out the
paper and then - at the end of our time - to collect them back
together.  Will everyone not only do out their hand - but also
put your first name on the paper....

The second thing I want us to do is to talk about the scripture
reading we just heard.

Do you ever get hungry and want something really special to eat 
- some kind of treat or favourite food???  What kinds of treats
do you like????

I am really found of Macaroni and Cheese.  When I was your age it
was a real treat to have it - and even now I love it - especially
with some hotdogs cut up into it.  How many of you like this???

Today I brought some macaroni with me in this container.  Does
anyone want some???   (Open and offer it out) Oops - there seems
to be a problem.   What do you think the problem is????

It is not cooked.  What do you have to do it make it taste OK???

This dry macaroni is like the dry bones that Ezekiel saw in the
scripture reading we heard a few minutes ago - a story that you
will look at when you go to your Sunday School classes.  When
Ezekiel saw all the dry bones in the valley everything seemed
hopeless to him.  There was no life anywhere - kind of like there
is no taste to this macaroni right now.  

But God told Ezekiel to speak to the bones the words that he
would give them - and that they would live.  IT doesn't seem
possible does it.... dry old bones coming to life...  But they
did - when they heard God's word.

Look at this macaroni again -- it is dry and hard and not very
good at all.   It looks like nothing can help it - nothing good
can happen to it - but we know better don't we - we know that if
we take it - boil it for ten minutes - add some cheese and
hotdogs - and presto - we will have something very good indeed..

So it is when we face something that is very hard in our lives. 
Sometimes it is hard to think that anything good can happen --
that everything is like it was in the valley of dry bones.  But
just as we know that this macaroni can become very good - so the
hard things in our life can become a lot better.  As God brought
life to the valley of dry bones with the breath of his Holy
Spirit - so God can make the worst things better in our lives
too.  And he will - when we trust him for it.  That is what the
gospel of Jesus Christ is all about.  

   LET US PRAY:  "Loving God -- we thank you for your Spirit
   - which gives life to us all -- and for your Son Jesus --
   who died and who rose  again -- so that we may live
   forever.  Amen".

* HYMN:  "Now The Green Blade Rises"                     - VU 186

RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 130 (Voices United, page 853) and Sung


   (NRSV) (John 11:1-45 NRSV)  Now a certain man was ill,
   Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister
   Martha. {2} Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with
   perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus
   was ill. {3} So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, "Lord,
   he whom you love is ill." {4} But when Jesus heard it, he
   said, "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for
   God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through
   it." {5} Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her
   sister and Lazarus, {6} after having heard that Lazarus was
   ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. {7}
   Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea
   again." {8} The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were
   just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?"
   {9} Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight?
   Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they
   see the light of this world. {10} But those who walk at night
   stumble, because the light is not in them." {11} After saying
   this, he told them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep,
   but I am going there to awaken him." {12} The disciples said
   to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all
   right." {13} Jesus, however, had been speaking about his
   death, but they thought that he was referring merely to
   sleep. {14} Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead.
   {15} For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may
   believe. But let us go to him." {16} Thomas, who was called
   the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that
   we may die with him." {17} When Jesus arrived, he found that
   Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. {18} Now
   Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, {19} and
   many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them
   about their brother. {20} When Martha heard that Jesus was
   coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. {21}
   Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother
   would not have died. {22} But even now I know that God will
   give you whatever you ask of him." {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." {25} Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the
   life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will
   live, {26} and everyone who lives and believes in me will
   never die. Do you believe this?" {27} She said to him, "Yes,
   Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the
   one coming into the world." {28} When she had said this, she
   went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately,
   "The Teacher is here and is calling for you." {29} And when
   she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. {30} Now
   Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the
   place where Martha had met him. {31} The Jews who were with
   her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and
   go out. They followed her because they thought that she was
   going to the tomb to weep there. {32} 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."
   {33} When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with
   her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and
   deeply moved. {34} He said, "Where have you laid him?" They
   said to him, "Lord, come and see." {35} Jesus began to weep.
   {36} So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" {37} But some
   of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind
   man have kept this man from dying?" {38} Then Jesus, again
   greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a
   stone was lying against it. {39} Jesus said, "Take away the
   stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him,
   "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead
   four days." {40} Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that
   if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" {41} So
   they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said,
   "Father, I thank you for having heard me. {42} I knew that
   you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the
   crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent
   me." {43} When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice,
   "Lazarus, come out!" {44} The dead man came out, his hands
   and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in
   a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."
   {45} Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and
   had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

L  This is the gospel of our Risen Lord
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

* HYMN: "God, Give Us Life"                              - VU 704

SERMON: "Unbind Him and Let Him Go"

   "Gracious God - bless now the words of my lips and the
   meditations of our hearts.  Breath your Spirit into us and
   grant that we may hear and in hearing be led in the way
   you  want us to go.  Amen.

The fundamental fact of our faith is - 
Jesus is Lord of the Living and The Dead,
by him, the dead receive new life,
and through faith in him, the living never die.

       I am the resurrection and the life, they who
       believe in me, though they die, yet shall they
       live, and everyone who lives and believes in me
       shall never die. 

So - what do we say to this?
What do we say when things are going badly for us?
When people around us are plunged into despair and the world
around us is falling apart?

Do we say - as did Israel in the time of Exile:

       "our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, we are
       cut off completely.."

Do we give up hope as did Mary and Martha in the village of
Bethany?  Do we say with them: "Lord, if you had been here, our
brother would not have died"?  

Or do we await - in trust - the next loving and powerful act of
our God?

Its time for a confession.
The confession is this.
I limit my God almost every day.  Indeed I lock my God up - much
as Lazarus was bound and locked in the tomb.

Now I believe in God - I believe a lot in my God.

I believe that my God - in Jesus - forgives my sins 
- I've got no problem with that.
I believe too that my God will bring me into eternal life 
- no problem there either.
I even believe that my God does miracles 
- and that those miracles are not confined to THIS BOOK - But
that they still go on - that people are healed, people are saved,
people are made new - every day, no problem there either.

I believe too that God provides for me
that God watches over me,
that God guards my steps.
  still no problem.

But my friends - for all my belief and for all my beliefs - I
still limit my God, I still lock him up.

What I mean is this:  There are some places in my life where
often I do not let God enter unless someone else - some kindly
saint - hits me over the head with the fact that I am being
absolutely stupid.

For example - there are times when I do not let God enter into my

By this I do not mean that I don't give as much as I believe God
wants me to give.  What I mean is this - there are times when I
get anxious and worried about how I am going to be able to afford
to do this or that thing when I want to.

Lots of people have these times.  

But I'm not happy with what happens when I have them.  In fact,
I'm miserable.  I let myself get into funks - funks based nothing
more than my perception that there is nothing more that I can do
to help myself get the funds I need.  I growl a bit.  I am
distracted.  I'm a pain.

Completely out of this picture that I paint for myself is the
presence of God.

That is - until someone hits me over the head with the fact that
I have never really wanted before.  And that when I have wanted -
well - God has provided.  

I thank God for those reminders - because I get it - and for a
while I am much better.

That is just one example.
There are others -

I limit my God sometimes in how I deal with the church 
- particularly with the leaders of our church 
- those blankety blank people in Toronto 
who I am absolutely positive are destroying our faith.

I can sit for hours with my fellow clergy and mourn how the
United Church is going to you know where in a handbasket and
never once even think about what God is doing in and through our
church.  Instead, I despair, and those with me despair.

And this is dumb - because even if this church is going nowhere 
history shows that God's purposes are never defeated.  

Every United Church on the face of the map could disappear off
the face of the earth - and yet - the essence of what God wants
us to be about - will survive - and grow - and prosper .

Yes - it sure would be grand if the church's leaders did things
the way that I believe that things should be done - but is it
worth my anger and despair when they do not?
Especially when after what goes around has come around, 
we see once again that God is never defeated?  
That the righteous are rewarded?  That evil perishes?

Another example.  When people are critical of me I sometimes take
it really personally.  I start thinking that the world is coming
to an end - that I am going to be involved in conflict and
dispute and that it is going to drain the life out of me and of
others.  I fret and worry and forget for a while that the real
question is not what other folk are thinking about me - but what
God is thinking about me.  Am I following him?  Am I being
faithful?  And if I am   then what does it matter what others say
or do?

I limit God,
I lock God up.
I stick him in the tomb.
I travel to the valley of dry bones where Ezekiel went
and see, as Ezekiel saw,
as all of Israel saw,
only dry old bones.

How about you?

Do you ever despair?
Do you ever think that you have been forever cut off from the
land of blessing?
That your hope is gone?
That everything around you is rotten?
That your life might as well be over for all the difference it
would make?

If you don't have these thoughts and feelings -- well -- please
tell me what planet you come from because I, and lots of others
would like to visit with you there.

I limit God - I lock God out of some parts of my life - quite
regularly -  until that is - as I said before - some saint comes
along and hits me over the head and reminds me of just who it is
that I believe in, and what it is that he can do and does do.

We all need to be clunked on the head sometimes - hit like how
God hits the people of Israel over the head through Ezekiel,
telling them that as the valley of dry bones came to life by the
Spirit and Word of God so too the people will live once again,
and they will return to the promised land, and rebuild their
nation and their temple and know that God has not only spoken,
but that he has acted as well.

We all need to be clunked on the head sometimes,
Like how Jesus hits the people of Bethany over the head,
by showing them that not only could he heal the sick,
which they had no problem believing that he could do,
but that he could also raise the dead.

Think about it for a minute -
About how Mary and Martha - who had seen Jesus in action many
times, still limited him, still locked him out of certain areas
of their lives, even though they had said to him with the deepest

       "Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son
       of God, the one coming into the world"

What does these words mean if they do not mean that Jesus has
power over everything?

Yet when Jesus arrives at the tomb and commands that the stone be
taken away Martha protests because Lazarus has been dead for four
days and the stench will be awful.

She believes in Jesus - as do I - as do so many,
but she does not believe enough 
- she limits Him, she locks him up.

That is why Jesus prays as he does before raising Lazarus -

   "Father, I thank you for having heard me.  I know that you
   always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the
   crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you
   have sent me."

And with those words - he then cries out in a loud voice -
"Lazarus come forth."

And he does.  

The scripture then adds:: And many of the people there who had
come with Mary, and who saw what he did, believed in him...... 

Jesus is the lord of both the living and the dead,
He is the resurrection and the life
those who believe in him,
though they die, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in him will never die.

This is our faith,
The one that we need to be reminded of occasionally
reminded of if we are not to fall back into despair,
if we are not to dwell in anger and grief more than we ought,
if we are not to prove to be both a pain to ourselves and to
those around us.

Remember, my friends the conclusion, of the story of the raising
of Lazarus?  How he comes forth from the tomb, with his hands and
feet bound with strips of cloth and his face wrapped in a cloth;
and how Jesus tells the people - unbind him and let him go?

Well it is the same with us -
We have been raised to a new life with Christ
   raised to a new life by virtue of our faith in him.
We have a new chance to live life here on this planet as God
   wants us to live it,
but to do so well, to live in the freedom that God wants us to
have, we need to have the grave clothes that still bind us 
and the shrouds that still cover our faces - removed.

Or to use another image, the image that I have been holding
before you for the last few minutes - we need to unbind the power
of God in our lives - we need to let God come out of the tomb we
place in him - we need to unwrap the wonderful reality that he
has prepared for us.

Every time someone suggests that perhaps you are limiting God,
that you are locking God out of an area of your life,
think of him or her as being one who is simply obeying Jesus
as one who is trying to remove the things that bind the hands and
the feet of your souls,
and give thanks that God is not yet done with you,
but is calling you onward, from death - to life,
from the restrictions of the tomb in which you once dwelt, to the
light of a new day.

Praise be to God who forgives us our iniquities and redeems us
from all our sins.  Amen

----  Check out George Hartwell's Creative Closings - Lent 5 - Year A 
for a prayer meditation with which to conclude the sermon and/or 
lead into the prayer time below.

* HYMN:  "Spirit Divine, Attend Our Prayers"             - VU 385

Thank you Father, for this encouraging word, this reminder of the
mighty power of our Lord, he who is Master of life and of death. 
Thank you for your word to strengthen our faith,  for the record
of your love that helps us trust you and lean not to our own
feeble understanding.  Grant that we might always turn to you in
times of trouble and ask for that we need - and be patient and
expectant in seeking your answer.  Grant too that we may use the
times of ease that you give us  for perfecting our praise and
glorifying your name....  Lord hear our prayer...

Lord, you whose Spirit gave breath to the valley of dry bones -
you whose touch healed the lame and  whose word raised the dead -
- hear our prayers today for those who are afflicted by sorrow
and  illness, by injustice and by despair -- or by fear and
weakness -- breath into their hearts -- touch their bodies --
speak their names -- and bring new life to them....   We
especially pray today for:

   - intercessions and petitions from our sharing time

We praise you today O God -- we thank you -- we call upon you --
because of the surpassing goodness of knowing you through Christ
Jesus -- he who conquered death with his death and bestows life
through his life.  It is in his name that we pray, saying "OUR

- Today - we dedicate the cushions that we have received.

* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS:  As the Offering is presented all
stand for the Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow -
VU 541) and Prayer of Dedication

   Bless these gifts, O God.  Send your Spirit upon them and
   upon us that new life might arise out of old and your
   saving love and healing work be made evident to all.  We
   ask it in the name of Christ -- Amen

* HYMN:  "Breathe On Me, Breath of God"                  - VU 382

* COMMISSIONING (Unison):  In the power of the Holy Spirit we now
   go forth into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people
   of God, the body of Christ.
Go in peace
and may God keep you strong and full of joy 
till the day of resurrection 
when, with Christ, you inherit the fullness 
of all that God has prepared for those who love him.  Amen.

* CHORAL BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                    - VU 964

copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1999 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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