“The Breath of God”
Ezekiel 37: 1-14
April 2nd 2017
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Open your hearts, your minds, as-well-as your ears, to today’s lesson from the Old Testament. Hear now the words of the Prophet Ezekiel, Chapter 37, verses 1 thru 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 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.
Let us now reflect with a willingness to place this prophesy in its proper place and perspective here in the Twenty-First Century in which we now live.
The grass in my yard is as good as dead. It has weeds and such, and the new grass I put down is doing poorly. This great, dry, breezy and beautifully mild weather has been terrible on my lawn! Sure, the summer rains will come and fix this problem, yet, that’s not the real problem! The real problem is when I or any one of us start whining and complaining about the small, less important things like grass! Grass, is just grass! Good-natured folks, like you and me, we ought not be upset that the paper in our printer got jammed! It’s just paper! Nor ought we get upset with each other over a bottle of spilt milk! For goodness sakes, we can always buy some more and it is not that big a deal to clean it up either! What is really upsetting is realizing that the preacher has chosen a passage about dead bones and dust to teach from today! If its bothering you, think how it has affected me! I have had to ponder over this passage all week! Now, together, we need to make sense of all this!
The real problem with this passage is: “The prophet Ezekiel could have been writing to us just as easily as to the captive Israelites in Babylon: scandals, decline, apathy, cancer, pain, death, hopelessness. Perhaps our spiritual, emotional, and financial slavery is just as profound, just as desperate. Perhaps the rescue of God is just as necessary. Getting our arms around such a tough and confusing book is not simple.” A pastor named Jim Mueller wrote these words over ten years ago, and they still apply to us! “It’s tough and confusing because ‘the passage’ was written a few thousand years ago; and because everything that happened there happened overseas in a land we still don’t understand!” /adapter…Jim Mueller/ And to that fact our ‘inability’ to help ease their unrest and stop their wars, testify to our lack of understanding! So, it appears we have our work cut out for ourselves this morning!
Ash Wednesday is behind us and Easter is still in the future. We are in the midst of this, our Lenten season. And yes, “We have come full circle since Ash Wednesday, when we were reminded that we were but dust, and now we know what the ‘Living Spirit’ of God can do with a pile of bones and dust, we can live and be part of ‘God’s’ vast multitude.” /Nan Stokes/ Well at least this one Preacher I just quoted believes. Can we? I mean can we put our arms around this? Can we truly believe that God will or can take a pile of dusty old bones and give us life? Was this just a metaphor that old Ezekiel was spinning for us? Story telling always has been the best methodology for teaching. Just because this prophet was held in very high esteem, during his time, does not exempt him from putting his thoughts into a metaphorical illustration to get his point across.
We do know that Ezekiel was speaking of a miracle event, which was the message he was putting forth for those struggling Israelites to grab hold of. He was trying to give them some hope and witness to his testimony that God would bring life back to their scattered remnant of people. Ezekiel wanted the people to know God would restore them and give their people meaning again. Considering their state, at the time of this writing, that was going to take nothing short of a miracle. One theologian asks a very probing question: “What in your community, your congregation, your home, has seemed as dead as the dry bones before us now?” /Janet H. Hunt/ What is it that we need God to intercede in and breathe new life into? Is it our constant concern over such things as finances and church growth? Or perhaps our concern that we are struggling to reach the Millennial generation and their offspring? Or maybe it is that age old concern for the homeless, the hungry and the naked that seem to reach out to us seeking help from all sides and places within our society. Many, if not most of us have or are or will be experiencing health issues, and we want to know God is with us in these times of need. Yes Lord! Breathe some new life and vitality into these old bones!
Perhaps we are feeling down, depressed even. Maybe we have been suffering some loses and/or some problems lately which have left us discourage and downtrodden. I know that feeling. I am almost certain it is a feeling everyone here has experienced at one point or another along the journey. Sometimes I want a boost of energy during the day and, like most of us, I turn to some caffeine or some sugar to get it. But, we all yearn for a longer-term fix then these mild stimulants. What we do not want to do is turn these moments into opportunities for more destructive habits or addictions to lead us away from seeking the healthier solutions. One is clearly being presented to us this morning through the words of the prophet. “We are Ezekiel’s dry bones, waiting for a fresh breath of the spirit to give us a new “start” so that we might become whole again.” /John C. Holbert, adapted/ Let us take this message as a point or a note, a communiqué of hope.
Let us invite the Spirit into our lives, the lives of: “we the people” and cast a vision for ourselves, reminding us of the Spirit at work in our community and within our very lives! “Hope is not lost. Though in the valley of despair or death, God will not leave us for dead but will give us new life and restore our hope.” Dr. Luke Powery, the dean of Duke University Chapel, offers this phrase to inspire and uplift us as we push through this metaphor of ashes and dry bones. To push another metaphor: It is only in the darkest hour of the night that we can begin to appreciate the coming of the dawn. Sometimes, we seem to need to go all the way down into that lowest valley before we can summons the courage, the willingness and the tenacity needed, to venture forward, thereby beginning the long hard climb up into the sunlight! It is in these moments that the very breath of God, the Living Spirit of God shall breathe new life into us once more!
Geoff McElroy posted this commentary on our passage in his ‘Desert Scribblings’. “Many of us have our own “valley of dry bones.” We have circumstances, relationships, communities and groups that are torn asunder and falling apart. We have families shattered by betrayal and anger and abuse and addiction. We have churches divided over theology or worship style or ministry goals. We have a country separated by partisan politics, by rhetoric, by the color of the state, and by our stubborn refusal to even hear the other side and to try and work together for a common good. Sometimes we’ll look around at these shattered relationships, these crushed dreams and hopes, and we’ll assume that’s the end of the story.” Oh yes! I am quite certain that we all can identify with the feelings being expressed by Ezekiel and the need for new hope abounds!
“OK pastor, we get the point, now move on toward the solution to our situations!” If you have not yet thought this, you ought! For a lesson without a solution is no better than a bag of dry bones or a ceremonial dish of last year’s burnt Palm ashes, awaiting that next opportunity to be smudged onto someone’s forehead – to remind that next humble worshipper of their human mortality! Let’s move toward that solution. Pastor Alan Brehm tells us how: “… congregations can thrive if they become a place where people can sense God’s renewing Spirit at work. Which happens by simply cultivating the Spirit’s presence through the practices that have characterized Christian discipleship throughout the centuries: prayer, study of scripture, service, fellowship and worship.” /Alan Brehm/ Thank you Pastor Alan, nonetheless, the realization of this does not make the application of these practices any easier. But, it is essential to have some direction and awareness as to where to turn… once we are ready to take some action.
My grass has been starving for water. The only answer is for it to receive some. Without rain, watering it by hand or through a sprinkler system are the only solutions. This is also true of all of life’s situations. To move forward one must be motivated to take action, inspired by something or someone. Action is often the key that unlocks the door, allowing the Spirit to come in! This is where the analogy surrounding the breath of God fits in. Equipped with the tools of an active God centered fellowship… there is hope. If we want our church to continue moving forward, we need to first become willing to ask God to help us understand what this means. Being a Christ-centered church has a lot of meanings! Are we talking about becoming stronger Spiritual, thereby growing to our full potential as Christ center people? Or are we talking about getting our pet project implemented and getting it done ‘our way’ rather than seeking new solutions and becoming more attuned to one another as a fellowship of faith. Big difference. Then the question becomes: are we standing in the darkness looking up into the sunlight… the Spirit filled brightness of God’s presence in our community, filled with hope and inspiration? Or are we still whining, moaning and grumbling over our demise, and not yet willing to come together and take a ‘helping hand’ from the breath of God all around us?
Helping our church to continue its movement forward, in the light of God, is only one analogy of how we can turn dust and death into new life. We each have personal lives, which is where you and I really want God’s help. Let’s be honest with each other, our individual lives and our circle of close family and friends is where our first priorities are. The grass in your yard is more important than the grass in mine. Your supply of milk, eggs and butter are what’s on your mind, not the plight of your neighbor’s cut in pay or loss of income. We are only human. It is our dry bones that we want God to restore. Our lesson is telling us this can happen for us, if we continue our journeys of faith and trust in God, while following in the pathway of a faith filled people. As such, we may want to consider having some compassion for our neighbor’s plight as well as our own. God will not desert us, God has not forgotten us. In the same manner let us not forget the needs of others around us. For those others, we may be the one(s) God is sending to them with new hope, just as Ezekiel was sent to the Israelites.