Sermon - Brad Brookins
11-19-17 Imagine what God can do with the living…
Ezekiel 37. 1-14
Ezekiel 37: 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.
Imagine, for a moment, that it is November of 1781. Just a month ago the war for independence, the long battle you have given your heart and your sons to, is over—only it is the British who were victorious. Imagine that all the men we know as the “Founding Fathers” have been rounded up. Those who weren’t executed on the spot have been loaded on a ship and sent back in England to languish in a dungeon.
Those leaders, along with the governors and legislators of all 13 colonies, and a good number of the doctors, lawyers and teachers, will stand trial for treason. Most of them will never see freedom again.
And let’s imagine that on his way out of the colonies, General Cornwallis decided to scorch the earth behind him. Washington, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and every other major city in the 13 colonies, that now will never be states, have been burned to the ground. Likewise for every farm and farm building he passed by—little more than ashes remain.
All the sermons you’ve heard about America being the new promised land, all the talk about this city set on a hill, this beacon of freedom to the world—all that is gone, too. There is nothing left to the dream.
It’s probably impossible for us to put ourselves in that position—to really imagine what it would feel like, how deep the wound would be, how much it would hurt. But if we could picture that alternative history and the resulting misery, we would have some idea what the Jewish captives in Babylon were feeling when they received Ezekiel’s message.
Like much of the Hebrew Bible—our “Old Testament”, the book of Ezekiel was written during the time of Israel’s exile. It was a time every bit as devastating for them as the story I just made up would be for us. Their beloved city and temple were burned to the ground, thousands of their people had died and many of those who remained would never see freedom again.
They sang this song:
“Our bones are dried up,
our hope is lost.
We are cut off completely.”
The dream was dead, the promises of God had failed, the future was completely shut off.
Can you imagine how hard it is to keep hope alive—to keep trust alive, when every thing you have believed, hoped for and trusted in has failed; when even your God has proven to be unreliable?
Maybe you can. Because maybe you’ve been in one of those dark places—where your life has come undone and your future has evaporated with the morning mist.
If you have been, or if you are in such a place, Ezekiel is speaking to you.
Ezekiel is “carried by the Spirit”—which is to say, this is a vision.
Everything in this story happens in Ezekiel’s head. He is set down on a vast plain that is covered with dry, dusty bones—the refuse of a long ago battle. God says to him, “These bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” God acknowledges the hopelessness they feel.
Then comes this really wacky question: “Mortal, can these bones live?”
I would have been dumbfounded by the question. Of course not, I would say. Why even ask?
Ezekiel is more circumspect. “O Lord God” he says, “only you know”.
And of course, God does know. “Prophesy to these bones”, God says, “and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord”.
Many of us are gardeners. Come next spring we will again be digging in the ground, gently laying seeds in furrows and covering them with dirt. We do this knowing the seed will die, but trusting that in its dying it will be transformed into a new and more fruitful life. Even those of us without green thumbs have confidence in this.
But that isn’t what Ezekiel is called to do. This is no everyday gardening project. These bones are not viable seeds. You think growing a tomato is hard? Imagine re-assembling a valley full of dry, old bones!
He does as he is told.
“So I prophesied as I had been commanded” Ezekiel writes, “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 (the Lord God) said… ‘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 (the spirit) came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.”
The promise of God to Israel, languishing in captivity and feeling for all the world like a hopeless jumble of dry bones, was that they would live again. They would go home again. Though Jerusalem is gone, the temple is gone and their whole homeland now belongs to another, Ezekiel delivers a promise: that this will not to be the end of the story.
Because the God of Israel is not daunted by death. Because the God of Israel is the Creator. In the dusty piles of dried out, dis-jointed bones God sees the stuff of life. And that’s what this story is about.
In unlikely settings and hopeless situations, God is at work re-assembling what is broken and dried up and useless; bringing life where before there was only death.
We are never abandoned in our hopelessness. That’s the promise in this strange story.
“Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” The word for “breath” in this passage is the same word used in Genesis 2, where God shapes the dust of the earth into a human form and breathes into it the Divine Breath—the Divine Spirit; “And the human (becomes) a living being” (Genesis 2.7).
The story is the same to. What is dead and useless to us is alive with potential in the creative hands and through the enlivening Spirit of God.
The captive exiles believed they were as good as dead; that for them there would be no future. “But you are clearly mistaken”, Ezekiel is telling them. “Look, I have seen what God can do with a valley full of dry bones. If God can raise the dead, imagine what God can do with the living!”
You see, this story is not, after all, really about raising the dead. This story is about resurrecting the living; giving hope to the living—to you and me. This story is about the ever present and enlivening Spirit of God—always at work smack in the middle of whatever difficulty we are walking through; whatever “cup full of shadow” we have been given to drink.
This story is about breathing.
Breathing in God’s Spirit.
Coming to life, in a way we may not have known before.
Breathing our way into the new life, or the renewed life, or the changed life—pick whatever metaphor works for you. The point is, we are being re-assembled; revived and raised to life—daily, weekly, as often as we need it.
As often as we breathe.
This is what Ezekiel has for us. Take this one home with you:
If God can enliven a valley full of dry bones, imagine what God can do with us. Amen.
11-19-17 Text and Questions
1. Try to recall your first reaction to the first time you read this passage. Be prepared to give an honest account.
2. In verse 1 Ezekiel says he was “brought out by the spirit”. This is Biblical code language for a vision experience. What is a “vision”? What does it look like, feel like, sound like? How would the prophet know he or she was having a vision? How would they know the vision was from God? How can you know the vision is from God?
3. Is Ezekiel’s vision “true”? What does it mean for a vision to be true?
4. Discuss the similarities and differences between Genesis 2.7 (“then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”) and Ezekiel 37. 9 & 10. (Remember, in Hebrew “breath”, “wind” and “spirit” are all the same word—“ruach”.
5. What bone is the shin bone connected to?
6. V. 11: They say,
“Our bones are dried up
our hope is lost;
we are cut off completely.”
What emotions, fears, thoughts are being expressed in these three lines? When have you felt similarly dried up?
7. Notice that in the vision section (vs 1-10) the bones are dried up and laying on the surface of the ground. But in the promise section (vs 12-14) God says “ I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves”. Why do you think Ezekiel changes the metaphor? Is the change significant? Why or why not?
8. In vs 14 God says, “ I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live” This is spoken to living people. What does it mean to tell living people they will live?
9. Can these bones live?
1 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 round 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 Lord.’