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.
Pastor Marc's sermon on the Fifth Sunday in Lent (March 29, 2020) on Ezekiel 37:1-14. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
One of the things I’m not doing much of - right now - is driving. My car, on most days, just sits in the driveway. I occasionally turn it on to go to the grocery store or to church. And on sunny days, I move it to the street so that my kids have more space to play with chalk. Since I’m trying to love my neighbors as best as I can, I’m spending most of my time with my feet on the ground rather than on the gas pedal. Now I know not all of us can stay at home like I can. Some of you are doing amazing work as nurses, doctors, and first responders - and others are keeping us fed by staffing grocery stores and making sure all our online shopping orders arrive at our doors. Your lives are really busy and stressful right now - and I pray you can find moments to rest - because you are truly making a difference in the world and I’m so grateful for everything that you do. I, on the other hand, get to stay at home. Yet that doesn’t feel like the privilege it actually is. Because as my car sits in the driveway with its wheels going nowhere - the rest of the world seems to spin much faster than it should. Even in those moments when we find ourselves feeling really bored, the anxiety that’s in our part of the world is very heavy. More and more of our friends and neighbors have officially been diagnosed with the coronavirus. And many of us are worried about our finances because we either lost our job, had to lay off workers, and we have no idea what the stock market is going to do next. No longer are the news reports that made us anxious last week only about other people. Those reports are now about us too. I don’t drive right now because I know I shouldn’t be going anywhere. But I also don’t even feel like getting into the car because there are these other forces around us that seem to be driving the next part of our story.
Today’s reading from the book of Ezekiel was originally spoken to a community full of anxiety and fear because they were living far from home. Ezekiel was a prophet who was maybe 30 years old when the armies of the Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem, forcing the people who lived there to leave and rebuild their lives hundreds of miles away along the banks of the Euphrates river in modern day Iraq. Ezekiel, who had begun his ministry pointing out the many ways the people of Jerusalem failed to love God and their neighbors, was now living in a land not of his choosing. He and the rest of the Jewish community were in a new place where their old way of life no longer worked. They needed to build new shelters, new routines, and change their expectations of what daily life could be like since they were now living in a future that they didn’t expect. For some, this new adventure was difficult but not impossible - because they had wealth and other privileges that helped them maintain, to some degree, the lifestyle they were used to. But for others, this new reality undercut their sense of security, purpose, and hope. As we hear in today’s passage, the community cried out saying, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” For these survivors of war, violence, and forced migration - these dried bones were both metaphorical and very real. They thought they knew how their world worked. They thought they knew God. But then something came - an external force - that shook the very foundations of what they knew and it left them feeling vulnerable, scared, and afraid.
And it’s at that moment when God gave Ezekiel a vision rooted in the very words the community was already saying. God placed Ezekiel in a valley full of dry bones. Those bones represented everything the community was feeling and experiencing. All their fear; all their worry; and all their not knowing about what would come next - everything that was draining their life - was there, in that valley. And once Ezekiel acknowledged all that was lifeless around him, God gave him new words to speak. These words were not words that Ezekiel came up with. Rather - God gave him an external word - one that broke through all the things that were taking their life away. Yet this word did not undo what the community and Ezekiel were experiencing. Things weren’t going to go back to the way things were because life doesn’t work that way. The lives we live are real - and we are shaped by every experience that we have including those moments that leave us feeling undone. Yet God’s promise to you is that your undoing will not be what defines you. Instead, God gives to us a new word - rooted in our baptism and in our faith and renewed daily by God’s grace. And it’s this external gift from God that will be what ultimately shapes us and forms us to live that new life that, in God’s eyes, truly defines us.
So on this fifth Sunday of Lent, your bones might feel pretty dry. You might be worn out, empty, and just plain tired - tired of being anxious, tired of being at home, tired of not living the life you wanted, and tired of having something else shape the life that you live. All those feelings are normal; all those feelings are valid. Yet I hope that in your dry bone moments when your patience is thin, and you are feeling overwhelmed by the noise of a busy house or by the oppressing silence of being alone - in those moments, I invite you to lean into what God has already given you. This Lent, we’ve been spending time remembering and learning how to share that moment when Jesus was real to us. That is a holy gift meant to sustain you during your dry bone days. So let’s continue to add to the story we’re going to share - a story that began with “Once upon a time there was…” “And every day…” you lived your life a certain way. “Until one day…” Jesus was there. “And because of that…” the life you lived was now shifted in subtle and not so subtle ways. Yet you noticed that as you lived, something new was animating your life. At first, you weren’t sure if anything really changed but then you realized this new thing mattered because your dry bones were no longer the only thing that defined you. Instead, you discovered how Jesus enters into our world; into our anxiety; and into our suffering. Because God knows that we need an external word to cut through the troubles of today and to remind us that it’s God’s love that is driving us and our world. So I invite you to remember your story; remember your baptism; remember your faith - and trust that it’s hope, not anxiety; peace, not unknowing; and love, not fear, that holds your life. Let’s now add to the faith story we’re learning to share. And as you pay attention to the breath of God that still gives you life - finish this sentence: “Until finally…”
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