Whose Sons Are Living in the Ground

Part 5 of the series “Lent and Easter with U2
A sermon in The Other Six Days series
Rev. J. Cody Nielsen
Kay Spiritual Life Center
April 10, 2011—Fifth Sunday in Lent
Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:17-45

Ezekiel 37:1–14 • 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. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 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.”

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. 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. 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.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

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.’ 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. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 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 LORD.

John 11:17–45 • When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 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.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

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.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 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. 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.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 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.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 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.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 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.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Peace on Earth by U2

Heaven on Earth/ We need it now
I’m sick of all of this/ Hanging around

Sick of sorrow/ I’m sick of the pain
I’m sick of hearing/ Again and again
That there’s gonna be Peace on Earth

Where I grew up/ There weren’t many trees
Where there was we’d tear them down/ And use them on our enemies

They say that what you mock/ Will surely overtake you
And you become a monster/ So the monster will not break you

And it’s already gone too far/ You said that if you go in hard
You won’t get hurt

Jesus can you take the time/ To throw a drowning man a line
Peace on Earth
Tell the ones who hear no sound/ Whose sons are living in the ground
Peace on Earth
No who’s or why’s/ No one cries like a mother cries
For peace on Earth
She never got to say goodbye/ To see the color in his eyes
Now he’s in the dirt
Peace on Earth

They’re reading names out/ Over the radio
All the folks the rest of us/ Won’t get to know
Sean and Julia/ Gareth, Anne, and Breeda
Their lives are bigger than/ Any big idea

Jesus can you take the time/ To throw a drowning man a line
Peace on Earth
To tell the ones who hear no sound/ Whose sons are living in the ground
Peace on Earth
Jesus in the song you wrote/ The words are sticking in my throat
Peace on Earth
Hear it every Christmas time/ But hope and history won’t rhyme
So what’s it worth

This peace on Earth
Peace on Earth
Peace on Earth
Peace on Earth


Let’s begin at the beginning of this journey… It might have, but probably did not start with that Palagians in the time of the Greeks, when these native people’s were oppressed and systematically eliminated as the Hellenistic culture expanded, one island at a time.  Later the Romans would conquer dozens of indigenous cultures lost to history, conquering areas of the map which had been simply outlined with now translated words like Barbarian and heathens, foreigners.  As time would have it, there came following the Romans the expansion throughout Europe, and there were multiple atrocities…. As expansion began to move across the globe the   at times into Africa where peoples like the San and Taureg’s now remain oppressed.  Pygmy’s and Berger cultures were pushed to small colonies and were oppressed century after century.  In Central and South America there was expansion that overtook the lands of the Aztecs, the pueblos… in far north America is was the Inuit populations who were pushed over time farther and farther north…

Oh we can’t forget Asia, where in Japan Ainu populations were forced onto reservations as expansion saw it’s day.  Throughout the middle east, dozens of Indigenous peoples were pushed as oil expansion occurred throughout the regions…

In Australia, the aborigine populations were oppressed for centuries as British expansionism led to water needs, land rights battles, and creation of a society that could thrive in the area… Only in the 1960s did major changes begin to happen in that region.

In the fallout from the Soviet union, Kurds, Slavs, and Checks remain as one of many who are oppressed… and there are others….


Luckily, we avoided all of this conflict in America.  Except in 1607 when after Native Americans helped us symbolically begin a tradition we now know as Thanksgiving, our diseases killed all those Native American, then the Iroqois were attacked by the French in 1609,  in 1615 the deputy governor of Virginia helped kill a group of 20-40 Chickahominy Indians, 1637 saw the Pequod Indians as the first slaves of Massachusetts, which later escalated into the first Pequod war after 600 Indians were killed in a siege, in the 1700s there were the Yamasee, the Cherokee, Caughnawaga Mohawk and Abenaki attacks, the Shawnee, Otawaa, Arikala, Blackfoot,

Thousands of Native Americans in the 1800s were marched across the country in what has been famously called the trail of tears.  Still later, The Battle of Wounded Knee saw a significant moment in the loss of land for many and a great change in the landscape.  This was about the last time Native Americans held any ground on the discussion of rights.  The 20th century saw more of the same, where Native Americans have been pushed to small reservations like Pine Ridge, South Dakota and Tama, Iowa.  Places like Ghostranch, NM and Parts of Oklahoma…. And all the while we the victors, we sang of our successes, of our overcoming of the obstacles, and how we made it, victorious…. from SEA TO SHINING SEA….   And all the while God was asking us, do you really think THIS is the kingdom of God?


Is this the kingdom of God?… What is the message we have given the world, have given native Americans, have taken on as a so-called Christian country when we have a group of people who are included in the spoils of society, and then a group of people who are oppressed by that same society.  This isn’t just about society, this isn’t just about the rights of people’s native to a land….  this is about the kingdom of God…. Rob Bell in his book Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the fate of every human being who ever lived says that in the kingdom that is to come, only Love and hope can survive…. Other things, like greed, hatred, oppression, racism, violence, injustice of any kind, it can’t survive…because that’s not what the kingdom of God is about…So is this the kingdom of God?

Tonight’s passages remind us as that the purpose of any Lenten Journey is to find the  new life and resurrection and restoration of the kingdom of God.  We are not witness to a Lenten Journey that is self-serving, but rather serves all through the inbreaking of a new day and a kingdom of God in our midst… we are called to bear our crosses, to walk the journey to death and beyond, and to come into contact with a kingdom’s  presence which is surely in our midst…

Jesus has just left Judea, having cured the blind man.  He is essentially driven from town, threatened….But he returns, begged by a woman whose brother has died to come and bring new life to him.  She essentially says that had Jesus been there, her brother would not have died.  And her pain and grief is heavy, as her family has been broken by death… This story is very real in the lives of Native Americans,  who have been time and time again been sent to the finality of death because of actions of people claiming rights to land, people claiming the present realities of a world that they needed for their cities, their civilization, their prosperity.  It has been the Native Americans and their families who can be represented by the family of Lazarus in this passage, having lost children… having lost families…and having lost livelihoods because of those who have oppressed them.  The mother of Lazarus begs…. pleads for Jesus to give a new future to her family…. And Jesus, standing in the midst of this painful situation, begins to ask…. Is this the kingdom of God?

Jesus might have considered our other passage then… the story of Ezekiel…. who as priest and prophet has seen many painful things along his journey.  Many of his people are dead, the Israelites have been in exile, and little hope exists.  Ezekiel’s image is of a valley of dry bones.  And you might be able to imagine the piles of bones, drying, rotting, and being slowly eroded by the winds and the rain.  It is a place with little hope, and with memories and death and defeat.  It might be memories of oppression by the Romans, stories of defeat by countries and people who claim power, maybe memories of land that have been lost to broken treaties, maybe it’s sparks questions of basic human rights…. maybe one imagines Places, holy places, like parts of the black hills now taken over by an American society who planted our sacred leaders’ images upon a sacred mountain in the black hills. And the words of the song writer begin to come into understanding…

Heaven on Earth, we need it now
I’m sick of all of this hanging around
Sick of sorrow, sick of the pain
I’m sick of hearing again and again
That there’s gonna be peace on Earth

Jesus could have stayed this course, leaving Judea behind. Jesus return though, and standing there, could have left the situation alone, begin cautious to avoid further local trouble… But to walk away, to allow people to remain dead, to not bring about a new story, that’s NOT THE KINGDOM OF GOD that Jesus is representing….



The kingdom of God that Jesus IS representing is greater than the bitterness and sorrow that comes from this past…. As we look deeper as Ezekiel, we begin to see how with every generation God gives life but also restores life.  The Israelites, struggling in exile in Babylon found little hope, but God would remain with them, would redeem them and would bring about resurrection in their midst… God would take death and overcome it with life once again.  And when Ezekiel looked out upon the valley, he began to see that kingdom of God was a kingdom of Hope

And with that hope, Jesus stands before the tomb of Lazarus, and when Martha responds “I know for sure your brother will rise again on the last day…”  Jesus says NO…. “I am the resurrection and the life…”  The day is here… it is present… I will do a new thing that will show you the kingdom in your midst….Jesus take a kingdom that is built around hope… And also shows the kingdom of God as a kingdom of present reality….

And we’ve all heard this.  The kingdom of God is hope.  The kingdom of God is present… it’s breaking in even now… And Native Americans have watched their hope fade… their present reality look quite different from the kingdom that we speak to…

And thus… we return one final time to the songwriters words….

Jesus this song you wrote
The words are sticking in my throat
Peace on Earth
Hear it every Christmas time
But hope and history won’t rhyme
So what’s it worth?
This peace on Earth

This is how U2 ends the song…. What is it worth, this peace on earth… And I think he’s right.  If it’s just a Christmas wish, but hope and history never rhyme, then what is it worth, this peace on earth.  But God bring about one final piece…. our participation as a whole community.

Ezekiel was called by God, “Prophesy to these bones…. Prophesy and they will do as you command because of my my covenant with you.”  Jesus’ statement to Mary and Martha and the others was not, “watch me do this thing.”  Jesus’ words are “Unbind him, let him go.” Participate, work with me…I will bring about hope…and I will show you the present reality…. and you participate in making in a reality for everyone… Prophecy and unbind…. And we begin to see the kingdom of God as a kingdom of participation and a kingdom of community….


This is the call by God to bring out the resurrection in our present reality.   It is a kingdom of HOPE, a Kingdom of Present REALITY, and a Kingdom of COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION…. We are not left as individuals, capable of participating in the kingdom of God on our own, but rather as one community, equally welcomed and a part….  We are not left to despair… but to carry hope… and we are not called to wait for some future in breaking, but to recognize how TODAY, RIGHT NOW we are called to bring it about…. changing the oppression of native Americans and indigenous peoples around the world, unbinding them, prophesying to seek justice and bring about a kingdom where all are included, not just those who are privileged to be on the side with the most military force… And to bring about the kingdom where love wins out and violence, hatred, greed, racism, and oppression are removed from the picture.

I think MLK saw the kingdom of God.  I think Gandhi did as well.  I think Dorothy Day saw it.  And I think we see it.  This is where the journey of Lent now sends onward toward… toward a cross, toward a new day, the day of resurrection, when all things will be made new and the kingdom of God will be on earth as it is in heaven….and that kingdom will  be itself from sea to shining sea.  That kingdom will include everyone, not forcing them into small reservations or shirking responsibility to basic human rights and medical care… Let us realize God’s manifest destiny, to bring about a world that unbinds those who are marginalized, isolated, oppressed.  We are meant to be a community that collectively removes the grave-cloth of self- doubt, of fear, anxiety, loss, and grief… We can unbind…

Let us go.  Let us go with haste… We have stood at the entrance to the tomb, present witness to suffering and pain of Native Americans, all those who are oppressed, of all indigenous peoples in the world.  And we hear Jesus, the call of God, and we know the kingdom is present, has hope, and calls US unbind those who God delivers…. and to prophecy of it’s presence…  It’s THAT kingdom that we are called to … because in that kingdom, there will truly be peace on earth…


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