5th Sunday in Lent

5th Sunday in Lent

April 2, 2017

Ezekiel 37:1-14

“There is Always Hope”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today is the First Lesson for today from the prophet Ezekiel as was previously read.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

In 1991 the Buffalo Bills made it to the Super Bowl, but they lost that game when their kicker missed a field goal with 3 seconds left. The next year, 1992, the Buffalo Bills were back in the big game…and they lost…again. In 1993 the Bills were primed and ready to make a third run at a Super Bowl appearance. And that is when the events of January 3, 1993 unfolded. If Buffalo were to make it back to the Super Bowl in ‘93, they would have to beat the Houston Oilers and quarterback Warren Moon in the playoffs.

The start of the Bill’s quest for their straight 3rd Super Bowl was less than impressive. Warren Moon and the Houston offense scored 4 touchdowns before halftime and added an interception return for a touchdown with 13 minutes left in the third quarter to make the score Houston – 35, Buffalo – 3. Buffalo players and fans seemed to have their confidence in a 3rd straight Super Bowl appearance dashed – they were 32 points behind! Talk about a hopeless feeling!

What they felt is not totally uncommon. Many outward circumstances and happenings in our lives and in our world leave us with little or no hope. When devastating storms wipe out people and property, it also takes a chunk of our hope. When shooters and terrorists hurt and kill innocents, it takes with it a piece of our innocence and hope. When there are doubts about the economy and doubts about our country’s future, it destroys a bit of our hope. When our health or our relationships begin to fail, a little of our hope dies along with it. Should it be that way? This is America, after all; the land of freedom and opportunity and hope, and yet so many people are finding only sorrow and shattered dreams instead of the American dream.

The Israelites of the Old Testament knew something about sorrow. Ezekiel was a prophet to Israel during their darkest hours; times of little or no hope. He lived among them and preached to them prior to and after the Babylonian conquest of Israel. He saw the temple destroyed. He saw the people getting hauled off into exile. They were a people living in a foreign land with no home to return to. They definitely lacked any kind of hope, much like we lack hope today in our twisted, corrupted, bullet-ridden, death-filled, sin-stained world. But there is always hope.

With a 3rd quarter score of score 35-10, the Buffalo Bills recovered an onside kick and scored a touchdown just 4 plays later. That made a small dent in the Houston lead as the score became 35-17. Then the Buffalo defense held, got the ball back for the Bill’s offense, which then drove 59 yards for another touchdown. The score was now Houston – 35, Buffalo – 24. Then Buffalo intercepted a Warren Moon pass and drove deep into Houston territory again and scored a touchdown. In just under 7 minutes, the Buffalo Bills had reduced the Houston Oiler’s lead to 35-31. Buffalo had some renewed hope, but this game was not over…far from it.

In verse 11, God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone.” Many people today feel that way today. They feel twisted by uncertainty and overwhelmed by fear and the tension of life is far too great to withstand on our own. To release that tension and fear, though, people will make terrible life choices: porn, alcohol, pills, or maybe some drastic lifestyle changes. But then when things don’t get better, they continue to lose hope and the cycle repeats itself over and over. That is not what God intends for you or anyone! Instead, Ezekiel saw what God intends. He can take dry bones and make them live again. He can give hope where there was no hope. Just when it appears that there is no hope, God intervenes and He provides hope even in the most hopeless moments.

With the score Houston – 35, Buffalo – 31 the Houston Oilers regained control of the game. They marched downfield in the 4th quarter and set up for a 31 yard field goal. Then, and I am not making this up, it started to rain. The field goal attempt was botched in the rain and Buffalo got the ball back. They marched 74 yards into the wind and rain and scored another touchdown. With the game almost over, Buffalo’s hope was restored! They held a 38-35 lead late in the 4th quarter. But Houston had the ball back and they had Warren Moon. Moon drove the Oilers 63 yards in 12 plays to set up a game-tying field goal with just seconds left. The winner of this fantastic game would take a step towards the Super Bowl and the loser’s season would be over. As it began to get dark in Buffalo, the ball went back to Houston kicker Al Del Greco whose kick…

When God intervenes, there is ALWAYS hope in Christ. Hope truly does not depend on our outward circumstances. Hope is not in a bottle, joint, slot machine, lottery ticket, or even in a field goal. Real hope depends on God’s plan for saving the world.

God provides the hope we need. By Jesus going to the cross of Calvary for us, he takes our fear and our concern and our sin and our tension and He allows it to nail Him to the cross. This was a part of God’s saving plan for the world. By the death and resurrection of Christ He brought us back from our exile in sin and hopelessness. As a result, a faith-filled life is a life also filled with hope. We have hope in knowing that our salvation and forgiveness is sure. Our victory over sin and death and hell has been won for us by Christ Jesus, and that victory and the hope it brings is ours by our faith in Him. To renew our faith and hope, the Spirit has been given to breathe new life and hope into our “dry bones” just as it breathed into the dry bones in the valley with Ezekiel.

Al Del Greco’s kicked sailed through the goal posts to tie the game between Buffalo and Houston at 38-38 with no time left. The game went into overtime and Houston won the coin toss. The Oilers ran just 3 plays and turned the ball over on an interception. Buffalo never looked back. At one point they had been behind 35-3, but Buffalo Bills kicker Steve Christie kicked a 32 yard field goal 3:06 into overtime to cap off what remains today as the greatest comeback in NFL playoff history, a 41-38 win for the Buffalo Bills. I guess it’s true…there is always hope.

The cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, however, was the greatest comeback ever and it was achieved for you, and YOU are the winner as a result. Instead of defeat you have victory over sin. Instead of fear you have God’s love and grace to sustain you every day. Instead of uncertainty, you have HOPE…a living hope that only God can bring.  There is always hope…just ask the Buffalo Bills. But then again… the Bills did make it all the way to the Super Bowl again for the third straight season. And they lost…again. You can take that for what it’s worth I guess.

Amen.