Zombies, Gulliver and Life-Giving Faith

Transcribed from the sermon preached April 6, 2014
The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor

Scripture Readings: Psalm 130:1-8, Romans 5:1-15, Ezekiel 37:1-14

This great story of dry bones coming to life from Ezekiel is a familiar passage to most of us.  Ezekiel writes from Babylon.  Earlier, King Jehoiakim of Israel had allied with Egypt and rebelled against Babylon.   Babylon defeated Egypt, and then in 597 BCE, Babylonian armies rolled into Jerusalem.   To save the temple and city, King Jehoiakim gave up and paid tribute and some of the ruling elite and artisans were taken as hostages, including a young Ezekiel.  A few years later, later, King Zedekiah, who had been put in place by Babylon, changed sides and revolted again.  After a two years siege of the city, Babylon broke through the walls and destroyed the city and temple, and took thousands more Israelites back to Babylon.  Not only were many people slaughtered, and many forcefully removed from their home and enslaved, but the symbols of their faith and culture had taken a devastating blow.  The Northern Kingdom Israel had been sacked a hundred and fifty years earlier, and those tribes would not be organized again.  Now, they must have wondered, was this the end for all the rest?  The telling piece of this passage is the lament in verse 11, where God talking to Ezekiel notes the people say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’

And if this is the end result of all that they thought their God had promised and blessed them with, did this also mean that God was dead, gone and buried too?

Ps 42:10 As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

Ps 79:11-12 [11] Let the groans of the prisoners come before thee;
according to thy great power preserve those doomed to die!
[12] Return sevenfold into the bosom of our neighbors
the taunts with which they have taunted thee, O Lord!

Isn’t Lent just the cheeriest of times?  Isn’t facing sin and death fun?  Speaking of fun and death, if you haven’t been watching the Walking Dead or playing zombie video games, you have certainly read that zombie related entertainment is booming. In case you live on another planet – zombies are dead persons in various states of decomposition that walk around with nothing to do but eat you. If you get bit, you become one. Why are zombies popular? My kids would say, because it is fun and isn’t it better to shoot and maim a dead person with no person with no personality than a live person? It is a modern version of Packman.  But I wonder what the zombie apocalypse says about our culture?

There are several ways to look at this: We might look at who lives and dies? Who are the leaders? But there is nothing a-typical here as zombie stories usually follow general Hollywood guidelines of what the public expects, with all the usual prejudices.

The answer to whom the mindless, soulless zombies represent in our culture can have various angles:  Dr. Kelly Baker, author of The Zombies Are Coming says since the zombies don’t speak for themselves they are a blank slate, and can represent many things. There is a boom in zombie commentary, too.  Everybody, it seems, is a sociologist when it comes to entertainment.  The popularity of the zombie apocalypse may reflect our sense that trouble is coming at us from any and every angle:  Fear of environmental collapse, disease and plague, chemicals in the ocean, tap water that catches fire, HIV and gluten, salmonella, Chinese food, something is going to get us. Or the Marxist take: Abusive priests and corrupt cops, bankers and capitalists who consume endlessly but are never satisfied: as someone said, “Mindless consumption of the unnecessary by the un-needy.” Or the Tea Party Take: Immigrant hordes flooding across the border, terrorists, urban poor, they come from within and without.  Conventional war and government protection is insufficient, so it comes down to us, me and my militia and our guns. And we will show no mercy to a mindless, soulless, enemy that wants nothing but to relentlessly pursue, overwhelm our defenses, eat us alive and turn us into one of them. Dehumanized, anything we do to our enemy is justified.

Or the psychological, spiritual take: the zombie craze may reflect that people are always worried about dying. We are afraid of losing identity and falling apart.

Ezekiel’s people have lost their identity and have fallen apart. Their flesh has been consumed, their soul and God have departed, and now they feel like they are nothing but dry bones.

Zombie world is void of humor and joy.  The people only have time for their problems, and they attack them seriously.  It is not about living, or what makes life worth living, but just striving. It is about keeping constant watch, spotting the evil and preventing death.

Last week I mentioned that despite conventional wisdom, the mega church may not always be the most spirit filled church, the church most alive with Christ.  I suggested that being Christ’s disciple may be more work, may demand more self-criticism and sacrifice than many people want. A lot of people don’t want to pick up their cross and follow Christ; they would rather have their comfort, privilege and patriotism affirmed.  A lot of people prefer a little charity to difficult work of solidarity with the marginalized and standing against injustice.

I do think that we have a lot of spiritless, zombie like behavior in the world: mindless consumption of the unnecessary by the un-needy, enemies that want nothing but to relentlessly pursue, overwhelm our defenses, and consume us, or make us one of them.  And as people concerned about equality, peace and justice, we best keep our watch.

But in Christian theology we have already been bit, by the devil and his way of death, his way of consumption without responsibility, his way of separation, dehumanization and greed, his way of stealing identity and breaking apart.  Christ is the antidote, the medicine, the flesh and blood that gives life rather than takes it, the self sacrifice that end sacrifice of others, the bread which once we eat of it,  we will no longer be hungry, and the wine that quenches our thirst once and for all. When we consume communion, we proclaim we no longer have to consume others to save our life, to prevent losing identity and falling apart. Rather than being justified by being from one particular nation or people, we are justified by faith.  And thus we choose faith, against all odds, and have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now if, like those exiled to Babylon or zombie land, we fear God is defeated or dead, it seems to me that we can take one of three responses. 1) We can become one of the godless, soulless people who eat other humans. 2) We can give up hope and faith and dry up.  Or 3) we can decide it is our job to do God’s work, to be God.  And that is serious work, and there is a lot to do.  There is not much time for joy or fun because enemies are coming at us from many directions, and people are depending on us.  God may have rested at the end of that first week, but there were only two people, and they were still good.  Nowadays, there is too much to do, too much trouble.  We have to study up, because we need all knowledge.  We have to speak up, because people need prophecy.  We need the knowledge and speech to know when and with whom to make alliances. We have to fortify our faith, because we have to move mountains.  There is no time for a break, no time for play, no time for joy.  You can be sure that zombies don’t take a Sabbath. Changing over or giving up are tragic choices, but it is still a pretty dismal affair attempting to be God, for God’s sake.

But Ezekiel and Paul assure us, God is not dead.  Paul says, since we are justified, or forgiven for past sins, by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Our past is taken care of.  God doesn’t bail out on us if we have a pre-existing condition.  And we have access to grace, which is the relief from fear of making a future mistake, the fear which immobilizes present living and action.  And, Paul says, we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  In this life or the next, past, present or future, into eternity, whether we are in Jerusalem or Babylon, zombie land or Berkeley, we are covered with God’s universal health care:  There is one medicine to take, God’s grace through Christ.

When some of we liberal types decide it is up to us to play God, if it turns out we are not powerful enough to save everyone, then we at least want them to know that we are suffering for them.  We want to moan and groan and be sad with them.  We have to feel horrible when horrible things are happening.  We will have time to be happy when we fix everything and everyone. We will fast and withhold things from ourselves, and show our contorted faces so everyone knows we are suffering.  Most of all we can show signs we are serious.  Thinking that we must play God is a sure path to burnout, a shortcut to the valley of dry bones.

But if we are justified by faith, and stand in grace, then we are free to learn and endure within difficulty. A bite from a zombie won’t steal our soul.  When the disciples and Jesus were about doing ministry, children were drawn to Jesus. The disciples, very serious, figured there wasn’t time for children, so they tried to shoo them away.  But Jesus said, “Let the children come.”  “To such as these belongs the Kingdom of heaven.”

At one of the other churches I served, one Sunday the kids were running down the halls before church. It was just about that time so a lady yelled out at them, “Ok, fun’s over, it’s time for Church.”  We can get so serious and focused on protecting the wall and making alliances to defend against the siege that we turn into dry bones or soulless zombies before they breach the wall. In our defense of God we lose the Spirit.

I just love having the kids bopping around.  Watching kids learn is so much fun.  They waddle and fall, but they are not like Gulliver, they don’t say to themselves, well, I fell yesterday, no use trying today.  Or I am wobbly, I can’t walk like others and I don’t want to be embarrassed, so I don’t want to try and walk while anyone is around to judge me.  It is inevitable as we age that our bones get more dry and brittle, but by God’s grace the Spirit of God within us can still be flexible and resilient.

Having been a parent of small children, I know that if your child starts making noise at church you feel like the whole world is watching and judging.  Now a distraction is a distraction, so people will be drawn to children being children, and there will be times when you need go to space for the special attention they need. But I can assure you that we are not against you, we are for you.  We are not just for you we are with you.  Sometimes a child will just be a bit whiny, or in the mood to listen to her own voice, or maybe they want eat a piece of gum they found under the pew, or they may want to play rolly polly down the aisle, or some other thing you don’t want them to do at this moment, and they have to suffer a bit, and you have to suffer a bit, and we have to suffer a bit, while you figure out some other way of distracting them, and they take another small step, learning they can survive without that gum. But there is no need to run away quick.  We all need to learn discipline, that while there is a time and a place for everything under heaven, the best time and place for a particular thing may not be right now.  But don’t smother your child. We are not Zombies who upon hearing your sound will come to eat you.  We may suffer with you and your child for a bit, but that is alright, because we rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.  The Holy Spirit is in your child, and the Holy Spirit gives new life.

The same goes for older kids and teenagers, especially teenagers, and adults too.  Zombies are all the same, dry bones are all the same, people have character; people are at different points in their lives, in their spiritual development, in their capacity and talents for this and that.  Someone can’t hear well and doesn’t realize how loud they are talking, someone else is sad today, someone else is sleepy, someone else has pants hanging down too low, someone else too high. Someone doesn’t understand personal space quite yet; another would sit in the back corner, up on the center beam, if usher provided a ladder.

More than one someone is suffering because my sermon has gone on too long, but suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character hope.  So we are going to fight the good fight, we won’t give simple answers to difficult questions, we won’t peddle cheap grace, we will resist power that would dispossess, destroy and consume others, but justified by faith, standing in grace, we will worship together, sing together, share the life giving body and blood of Christ together, dance, laugh and cry and play together, not always the same thing at the same time, but together none the less, full of life, rejoicing in hope, because we know that hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to each of us.