Making it Through the Desert Times

Ezekiel 37:1-14 and John 11:1-45 Lectionary texts for April 10, 2011

Most of us hear the vivid Scripture readings of the Valley of Dry Bones and the raising of Lazarus from death through the filter of Jesus’ resurrection. We cannot forget that we already know that our Lord has been resurrected. We know that life conquers death.

Even though we know how these stories of death end, we grow in faith and hope as we are willing to stand with the prophet Ezekiel and mourn with Mary and Martha in the depth of sorrow.

Ezekiel is placed in the midst of a valley of dry bones — a place of death and hopelessness. However, God has not abandoned this place. God is there with Ezekiel. God guides Ezekiel to call upon the breath of the Lord that the dry bones may be raised to life.

As we remember how God commands dry bones to live, we can begin to explore the dry places in our own lives into which God calls life.

Is your heart dry or hard? Is it difficult for you to reach out in love and forgiveness? Do you long to live to the fullest, connecting thoughts and feelings with actions? How do you long for the life-giving breath of God, the healing hand of the Lord?

In John 11, when word reaches Jesus that Lazarus is gravely ill, Jesus does not immediately go to Bethany to heal him. Mary and Martha feel the absence of Jesus in the moment of despair.

Along with Mary and Martha, I’ve known how God’s presence seems far away as fear or impending loss gripped at my heart. Have you known similar moments when every fiber of your being has cried, “I need you, Lord! Where are you?” Or in the aftermath, have you wept, thinking, “If you had been here, Lord … .”

We who are baptized into Christ are not promised that there will not be desert times, that there will not be times of death and despair or spiritual struggle. We have not been promised that we will not face death.

But dry bones come to life. And Lazarus was raised from the death we all face. God will not forsake us or leave us dry or dead. Our Lord’s promise, forged through the cross and the empty tomb, is a hope that joins head to heart to hands, a certain hope that death cannot destroy.

  • How do these stories of promise that bring life out of death give you comfort and hope in your journey of faith?
  • Where do you feel dry or dead in your spiritual life? How is Christ bringing you to life?

Cross-posted at


Tuesday, June 8

Tuesday, the second day of our pilgrimage experience was spent at the St Thomas Philadelphia Campus, north and west of Sheffield’s city center.   7 years ago, Mike Breen, then the vicar of the St Thomas Crookes parish, felt God calling the people of Crookes to care about the city of Sheffield in a more determined way.   Mining had been shut down during the Margaret Thatcher administration, and Sheffield, which had once been the source of 25% of the world’s cutlery, now faced double digit unemployment as steel mills and cutlery factories were shuttered forever.  Sheffield was changing for the worse before their very eyes, and 80% of the people of Crookes parish decided that God was calling them to love this aching place.

So these people began worshipping in a night club, closer to the city center.  Then, when the Health Department shut them down, they found another location in an exercise club.  Finally, they purchased an abandoned factory and retrofitted it for use as a worship and teaching center.

At the same time, members of this new congregation, St Thomas Philadelphia and the mother congregation, St Thomas Crookes believed that God was calling them to do ministry in neighborhoods, especially with mums and children.  Some of these members left more affluent neighborhoods to move into the troubled areas.  There they started playgroups and bible studies, among other things.

Today the Philadelphia parish has outreach oriented to neighborhoods and to various activities people enjoy and/care about.  There are people clustered in groups around outdoor activities, simpler lifestyles, young families with children, care for aging members, and the like. Clusters meet once a month to do a ministry or enjoy an event together.   Cluster members regularly invite their friends (especially those who may be living life without a connection to God.)  They know that their friends will have a great time, and meet people who share a common interest.  They know that this is a way for their friends to realize that Christians aren’t boring or legalistic.  In time, if these friends show interest, cluster members will invite them to worship or some other event at the St Thomas campus.

These clusters are made up of smaller “cells” which generally meet weekly for Bible study and prayer.  Sometimes they meet in people’s homes, sometimes at a coffee shop or a pub!  When they meet in a public place, they are committed to praying as a group for the proprietors of that place, those who serve the coffee or beer.

In many powerful ways, these people “love” the city of Sheffield and its people – because they know that God loves this city and wants it and its people to prosper.

Church Doctor Ministries meeting at the Ball Pub - a sports pub in Crookes.

More later – days 3 and 4 will be at Crookes Parish.

Because internet access is not as widely available here, I will always be a bit behind.  But keep watching; I’ll catch up!

May you live in God’s amazing grace+