7 Questions God Has For You: Can These Bones Live?
Rev. Michael Bailey
August 14, 2016
Ezekiel 37:1-14: 37 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 around 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[a] 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[b] 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:[c] Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath,[d] 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.”
It’s great to see you folks again. I’ve been out for two weeks which I believe is the longest period of time I’ve not preached in the sanctuary since I’ve been here. Last week, I preached in our contemporary services and the week before that, Lauralee and I were in the San Francisco Bay area to visit our identical twin boy grandsons for the first time. There, I was able to be the co-celebrant for their baptism. It was a blissful event for us! And, I must say, I have a new level of respect and admiration for those who are raising twins! There’s always a need to be met. By the time we left, when the boys were side by side, I could tell them apart…most of the time. I must say that I’m thankful the “christening” portion of the sacrament of baptism has the clergy asking the question, “What name is given this child?” I had been worrying that I might baptize Flynn as Aidan and Aidan as Flynn. God would know the difference, but I certainly didn’t want the be the cause of some sort of spiritual identity crises!
I trust that Michael and Kelly will teach the grand stories of the Bible to those little guys. I grew up hearing the stories of the scripture and that may be why I responded to God’s call into ministry. I fell in love with the stories. They had it all for me: adventure, travel, battle, romance, ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and extraordinary people transforming ordinary circumstances. I adored all of the stories: the flood and the giant ark with all of the animals entering two by two (In understand a full sized replica is now a tourist attraction somewhere on the Kentucky/Ohio border – that’s an only-in-America thing, isn’t it?); the mighty strongman of the Bible, Sampson, who because he killed a lion with his bare hands made me picture him as Johnny Weismuller playing Tarzan (after I read Sampson’s story I wouldn’t let my parents get me a haircut for 2 months); Jonah and the whale tale; David defeating all the odds in taking on Goliath; Daniel in the lion’s den; Joseph’s multicolored coat; Moses and all he did. In the New Testament, I love all Jesus did but especially his sea tales – calming the sea, walking on water, helping the “boys” in their fishing; and what youngster couldn’t love the adventures of Paul – traveling everywhere, causing riots, escaping a city in a basket, having a jail door opened by an earthquake, being shipwrecked so often and once “lost at sea” for a few days. The stories of the Bible had it all for me – love, adventure, action! And, I must admit, horror. Our passage today was kind of a horror movie to my young mind. There were bones and skeletons were frightening then. Their was the description of sinew and flesh surrounding the bones. Insides of humans were scary to me. And then these people came alive again, almost like the original Zombie movie in my little mind. This story scared me some.
Goodness, even the title of the narrative in my Bible gave me pause to think, it read: Valley of the Dry Bones. That’s a place titled to keep me out of! It affected me like watching a B grade horror movie when some person in the movie says, “Well, I’ll just go down into the basement and get a jar of peach preserves!” You know something bad is going to happen. Why, nothing good could happen in a place called the “valley of dry bones”…or could it…let’s see.
Ezekiel had been a prophet first in Israel. We know little about him other than his wife died and left him a widower at 34. His prophesy in his homeland was full of doom and gloom for his nations future. He spoke of a power that would crush their homeland and destroy the Holy City, Jerusalem – and it happened. Babylonia came in and destroyed the nation. Then, they began forced deportations of the citizens, often the leading ones. Ezekiel got caught up in the second wave of deportations. And here’s something unique among Hebrew prophets, he continued to prophesy in a foreign land. However, the tenor of his prophecies changed. Whereas, in Israel, he was prophesying about his nation’s demise, while in Babylonia he began to speak a word of hope about its restoration and this is the context of our passage today.
The story begins with the hand of the Lord bringing Ezekiel to the middle of the macabre valley filled with dry bones; dry likely because they were warriors slaughtered in a low place, let without burial to the sun and the desecration of vultures.
There, God ask Ezekiel the final question of our “Questions God Has” series: “Can these bones live?” Now, we know from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19:26, “that with God all things are possible” and it seems by his answer, Ezekiel knows this as well. He wisely says, “O Lord God, you know.” In other words Ezekiel is recognizing, God’s power and sovereignty saying in essence, “Lord, it’s purely up to your desire.”
And then God orders Ezekiel to do a strange sounding thing: preach, proclaim and prophesy to dead, dry bones, saying, “Hear the word of the Lord,” and “you shall live and you shall know the Lord your God.” Ezekiel obeys and proclaims as ordered.
Then, complete with sound effects of rattling bones, the bones come together, then sinews attaches to the bones and flesh covers the sinew. Now, the valley is littered with lifeless bodies (see why this frightened me as a child!). God then orders Ezekiel to preach to the four winds for breath, ruach is the Hebrew word, the breath of God, the Holy Spirit. And the Bible says it “breathed upon” and they came to life.
Now certainly Ezekiel’s prophecy was directly related to the restoration of his little nation that was like dry bones but it can also be an apt image for our lives, individually and corporately.
For one thing this passage reminds us of God’s loving power and presence with us even in our frightening “valley-of-dry-bones” days – and we all have those times.
How we need to be reminded of this! Some popular portrayals of Christianity, especially the so-called prosperity theology maintains that God is especially with and in their terminology “blessing” those who are healthy and wealthy. There message is that God is favorably with those in great health, living on “easy street” or the “Park Avenues” of life. Conversely, when where in a valley of dry bones period; relationally, spiritually, physically, emotionally, economically, their message would imply that God isn’t especially with us as evidenced by dire life circumstances. This story conveys and reminds us of the truth show even more fully in Jesus: God is with us in our dry bones valley days, maybe more than ever; Jesus reveals Jesus’s favor toward the poor, the broken in spirit, relationship and body and so does this story. Dry bones valley days and God’s presence and love in those times off us a word of hope and life when we’re in such a state.
This passage also reminds us of the renewing, restoring power of hearing the Word and receiving his life giving Spirit.
Without the word; without the Spirit, in that valley, the lifeless dry bones remained, lifeless dry bones. But when the Word came and the winds of the Spirit blew, the deadest of the dead received life. The same is true for us.
For our living in Christ this passage aims us toward the necessity of practicing the spiritual disciplines because they are God’s provision to receive the Word and Spirit. Think of how this happens: regular attendance to public and private worship, searching the Scripture, prayer, meditation, communion, generosity, serving the poor, Christian conferencing in small groups and fasting.
Finally, this passage speaks a truth and word of hope for the church, both universal and local.
Lauralee and I almost totally “cut the cable” long ago. Our young adult children think we need all of the latest gadgets, many of which we can’t figure out, but we’ve come to appreciate one in particular, our streaming device. With it we can watch TV shows we don’t have with our minimalist cable, at times we wish to see them. Often, we watch these home restoration shows where folks buy these old houses and bring in experts to restore them. The pattern is, a budget is set and then broken when some horrid secret problem is revealed (and I think, better you than me!). But frequently, in the beginning of the show, when they’ve taken down old paneling and taken up old flooring, the restoration experts will say, “This place has good bones,” meaning they can build and restore and renew the structure. Well I believe the church universal, the United Methodist Church, and Christ Church has good bones! Never forget the church universal is the Bride and Body of Christ – you can’t get much better than that! And our tradition has some good bones: a passion for evangelism, personal holiness wed with social justice and outreach; a connection that is organized and everywhere; a heritage of class meeting, significant small groups practicing accountability, love and support; unencumbered worship to fit local needs – we have these good bones in our tradition and in Christ Church. And with God’s proclaimed Word and the breath of the Spirit, new life is coming, I’m certain of it – I’m not exactly sure how it will look, but I am certain.
A few years ago the Spirit began nibbling and gnawing at me about the theological and missional work of a woman teaching at Perkins School of Theology of Southern Methodist University – Elaine Heath. Elaine believes a new reformation is starting and is doing so in large part because of young adults willing to totally live out their faith. She’s started a foundation and it has started several missional communities in highly challenged, impoverished areas. They take houses or old churches and the young people, establish Christian rules they’ll live by, and then live with their poor neighbors, sharing Jesus in word and deed. Last week, I was delighted to have Elaine stop by Christ Church and visit a while. She said large congregations like ours are a part of the new reformation by being the anchor for such Christian houses in distressed communities. What if Christ Church had a missions outpost like this in our city’s worst areas? Before she visited, I wanted to catch up some on her work (I’m only 1/3 through with one of her books) so I turned to the internet and watched her preach to a group of rather dour Scotts in Glasgow. She talked about hell. She asked them what statement was made about the church after Jesus declared, “upon this rock I will build my church?” The answer of course is that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church.” Then, she gave me a new insight. Since the word “against” is in the sentence, I’d always put hell on the offensive and church in a defensive mode, “God’s almighty fortress”; a place where we can “hole up and be safe.” But she taught, the church is on the offensive! We are not to “hole up” but be out attack all the hellish gates that lock people into horrible lives; poverty, sin, hunger, addiction, brokenness, you name it – we’re to be God’s gate crashers – setting people free in the name of Jesus. Maybe that’s our future; advancing; planting a missional outpost of on fire young adults and others, setting people free in the name of Jesus.
Can these bones live? With the Word of God and the breath of the Spirit – yes, Lord, yes!
- Share where in your life or in our world you have felt like you’re standing in the middle of a valley of dry bones.
- Share where you have seen God bring life out of some sort of death, either in your life or the life someone else.
- Ezekiel is told to prophesy in order for the bones to live. Share your thoughts on our role as the church in bringing life out of death.