Breathe On Me
Ezekiel 37: 1-10, April 6th, 2014
By Pastor Tim Woodard
Around 593 B.C., The Prophet Ezekiel was taken captive with thousands of other Israelites and taken to exile in Babylon. And in the midst of hardship and tragedy Ezekiel is ‘called’ to be the one who must speak to the people of a broken nation. And let me tell you he did not have any good news to share with them. It is with this as our back drop that we find Ezekiel in today’s scripture. And now we find God dropping Ezekiel “right in the middle of a valley where there was nothing but old dried skeletons.” What a harsh; what a depressing and awful image! What a nightmare this would be!
It is not just in old biblical times that leaders are called upon to represent the oppressed. Nor is it just back in ancient times when religious leaders needed to step up and speak out in hopes of waking up a people whose faith has grown thin through the difficult times they live in. Throughout the ages we have all shared in this human reaction to life with all its ups and downs. Thankfully, there have always been at least one or two voices crying out to us, pushing us to once again take responsibility for our place in the world order, to once again carry the cross of discipleship.
Thankfully, there are many who believe that this passage is also a message of hope. “Just as God caused these dry bones that Ezekiel finds in that valley… to live, our God can (also) make our churches live, and become ‘even more’ relevant in our society and in the local communities that they and we serve!” /Author Unknown/ But before we can do this we need to go back into that valley of dry bones with Ezekiel. It is there that we shall find the hope we need. It is there in this biblical accounting that we shall find what it is that God offers to us. Hope does not come from ignoring or denying the truth; hope comes from embracing the truth and working through it until one comes out the other side. When you encounter God’s presence and mercy in the midst of death and hardship then you shall come face to face with the new hope, the new life that we modern Christians speak of as we approach our understanding of the Easter Event! But for now, we must go back to the time before Christ into that valley with the prophet Ezekiel!
We find our prophet in the middle of a valley full of bones, dry dusty bones. The Lord said to the prophet “Prophesy to these bones” and then the Lord clarifies what he is to say. “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord… I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live… And you shall know that I am the Lord.” I can only imagine the feeling that old Ezekiel had that day. Being told to stand in front of the people of Israel, stand in front of those whom one has been called to serve and say: “Everything is going to be OK folks, just remain calm and God shall breathe new life into you.” Yup, just what a pastor wants to be told by God to say: in the midst a difficult time or in the midst of a tragedy.
I can empathize with the church leaders, in communities such as this one, numerous churches across the state of Florida actually, that had to stand up in front of their congregation, just as their peers had to do, and announce a financial short fall. “Everything is going to be OK folks, just remain calm and God shall breathe new life into us again. But for now,” they probably said, “we are going to need to cut back on our staff and cut the Pastor’s salary. All of you, all of us will need to step up and do more volunteer work, if we expect to keep our church open; we will need to organize more fund raisers; be more frugal; spend less; give more.” Harsh memories for many I am sure. A valley of dry bones to be sure!
Go stand in one of the cities or towns of Japan devastated by that horrific Tsunami, a place where the full accounting of the dead is still being compiled and tell them that God is with them and shall breathe new life into them once again. Or better yet, go back to Hiroshima the largest island of Japan. “It is best known as the first city in history to be targeted by a nuclear weapon when the United States Army Air Forces dropped an atomic bomb on it at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, near the end of World War II.” /Wikipedia/ If you want to experience the fear and trepidation that prophets like Ezekiel faced go tell those that remember that day, tell them that God still loves them, just hang in there! Or perhaps you can go and stand at the doors of our local food bank and tell those that wait for a simple bag of groceries, tell them what the love of God feels like. Look into their eyes as you hand them a bag of food items, a jar of peanut butter, some pasta and sauce; perhaps a few cans of vegetables; a package of canned tuna or two. Go ahead and talk to any of the volunteers that work at our local hospital, ask them what they have seen when they volunteer in the surgical or the Critical care waiting rooms. Try to put yourself in the hearts and minds of those families that they encounter every day.
Right here in our own church, months of planning and meetings, real work, has been forced to be set aside; sharing a pastor with our sister church is no longer an option. Our sister church has voted to give up on moving forward with this plan. A vision that your former pastor helped you create has now been shattered! Your leaders are now challenged to stand before you and declare that “We shall come up with a new plan to move our church into the future; we shall continue to be the church that we are called to be!”
Just a valley of dry bones and perhaps a bag of dried up old pine needles.
Yet, the story… the accounting from Ezekiel… continues. Ezekiel tells us: 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… 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.” Now we are getting to the good stuff! Oh yes, I am sure we all are ready to speak out to our God and say: “Breathe on me!” “Breathe on our devastated communities with this breath of new life!”
And the Master Craftsman picked up that bag of dried up old pine needles, processed them and began to weave; one needle at a time, one row at a time; patiently and painstakingly the Craftsman labored on… then something new began to emerge!”
Let there be new families, brought together with empty homes, bringing new life into our neighborhoods! Breathe on the business community and bring in new capital and investors so they too can begin to expand and bring in new employees, putting the unemployed back to work! Breathe on our seasonal visitors and winter vacationers so they will stay longer – helping elongate our seasonal economy! Breathe on this your church! Let new ideas spring forth, let new plans emerge, let new hope and visions fill the minds and hearts of the people!
And thus says Ezekiel: “I prophesied as (the Lord) commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.” Can’t you just hear the Evangelistic Preacher on channel 21 saying: “Oh Yes, Lord: Breathe on me; breathe on all of us here gather this day!” Can’t you just see the look of hope building from within the heart of Ezekiel as he speaks to the people and tells them what God has instructed him to say unto them? He has clearly been in the presence of our God! Ezekiel has felt the hand of God touch his heart! The remnants of a defeated nation cling to his every word hopeful that he has brought them good news! Deep within their own hearts they savor every word this old prophet spoke unto them, praying that they would live long enough to feel the ‘breathe of God’ breathing new life into their own darkened souls.
Yes indeed! This church shall live! Yes, we shall continue to represent the hand of God in this community! “Do not fear! All shall be well! All manner of thing shall be well!” /Julian of Norwich/ There is still a sense of purpose in this place; there is still a diverse community of faithful and devoted members of this faith community that want this church to live! The Spirit of God is amongst us! God is with us!
Let those with voice speak out to those around them reassuring them of God’s breath that is coming into their lives this very hour! Let us get up and walk out of that valley of dry bones, walking hand and hand with those that have been lifted up. Let us display our newly weaved baskets, as they shall carry the new nourishment, the new life of a revitalized ministry! A new time is upon us! Let our hearts be opened to the words of the prophet and let us believe – believe that the Lord our God shall breathe new life into us – his people; Let all of God’s people that live to the north, south, east and west of us, feel the breathe of God as the winds of new hope arrive at their door steps!
The Lord of Ezekiel lives today and the breath of God swirls within our very midst – touching the hearts and souls of all who are willing to receive the new hope – that is offered this very day!