DRY BONES

Part 1 ~ Ezekiel 37:1-3

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. He led me round them; and behold, there were very many upon the valley; and lo, they were very dry. And He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord God, you know."
~
A valley of dry bones. Ezekiel is not usually the book that people go home and read at night. Some of you may never have dipped into the book of Ezekiel at all. When you read Ezekiel, you don't so much read Ezekiel as you do see Ezekiel, because it's filled with images. Remember that old song, "Ezekiel saw the wheel, way up in the middle of the air"? That comes out of Ezekiel. The UFO people get their Biblical foundation for UFO's out of Ezekiel. They say that wheel was a UFO. God is always telling Ezekiel to do really bizarre things, and to act out and show people what God is planning to do. One of those things is the upcoming siege of Jerusalem by Babylon. Ezekiel gets to go to the middle of town and set up a little Lego Land of Jerusalem, build little siege ramps and battering rams all around it, and then he's supposed to lie down on his left side in front of this for over a year. In the middle of town! And once he finishes that he's supposed to turn over and do it again on his right side. If you want proof that God can use delusional psychotics in all kinds of ways, Ezekiel is really it.

In Ezekiel we have images. The other main potent image that we get out of Ezekiel is this valley of dry bones. I can imagine what Spielberg would do with this thing. God takes him to this desert valley and it's an archeologist's dream -- it's just full of old picked-over dry bones. Taking our cues from the rest of Ezekiel, this is not a text about science or the history of what Ezekiel did. This is a metaphor. God is trying to show people, in an image that will live on and on in our minds, what God wants to do for God's people. And what God lays out is a valley of dry bones.

If you think about that as a metaphor, I'll bet most of you, if you've lived long enough, have had in your life a period where you felt simply like a pile of dried-out bones in a desert. No life there, just a pile of dried-out bones. It's a common experience. Sometimes we compare it to the experience of Israel in the wilderness. We have those wilderness, desert, dry-bones times in our lives.

At that time, we ask the same question that's asked in the text -- "Can these bones live?" Does it make any sense? We're just this heap of dried-out bones. Can you do anything with us, God? Can these bones live? Ezekiel doesn't know, but Ezekiel knows that God knows, and returns the question. God asks Ezekiel, "All right, mortal, can these bones live?" God, you're the one who knows.

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Part 2 ~ Ezekiel 37:4-6

Again 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: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews upon 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."
~
This is a passage of promise. God tells Ezekiel what to do next -- to prophesy to the bones and to say, "I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live." There'll be sinews, muscle, and flesh. Things will come together and the breath of God will fill you, and you will live. Often when we're in the valley of dry bones, and I know it's been true for the dry bones times in my life, the only thing we've got to hang onto in that desert valley is a promise -- the promise that God has said, "I will put my breath into you. I will put flesh and sinews on you, and you will live." Israel had hung onto the promise for a long time. In the coming exile they would have to hang onto it for 70 years. When they were slaves in Egypt they had to hang onto it for 400 years. When God made the promise to Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son in their old age, they had to wait 25 years until that son actually appeared. All through scripture we see that when God promises, God is faithful to the promise. But part of our work is patience. Part of what we do is to wait and to trust.

This is not a culture and a world where we understand "wait" very well. We want it, and we want it now, no matter what piece of our life it is. Often we shake our fingers at God for not having answered our prayer, for not taking care of us, because it is not brought to us the instant that we pray for it. Reading through all of scripture gives us a different perspective, as we see Israel wait and wait, but still hang onto the promise. Israel does not abandon the thought that God is faithful, even if the promise is not fulfilled right away. Even if the promise is not fulfilled in their particular lifetime, it's hung onto as a promise for the community. "Yes, I will breathe life into you, and you will live."

For us to be able to hang onto a promise of God in the tough times takes trust. Part of what we do in our Christian walk is learning how to build trust in God. That's not something that's done automatically. We've talked before about how our relationship with God is very much like our relationship with other human beings. When we first meet somebody we don't trust them with everything we have right away. We have incremental levels of trust as we deepen in a relationship with somebody. We might first just trust that a person will show up for dinner at the time that we invited them. Or we might trust that they will do a certain thing that we have asked them to do. As those little trusts are fulfilled then we feel comfortable in offering a greater level of trust. We build on that until we get to a level of intimacy with some people where we feel we can, in fact, trust them with our entire lives.

It's the same process with God. It's not surprising, if your relationship with God is very new or very young or isn't all that developed, that maybe you don't trust God all that much. That's really understandable because you haven't had the experience to build a deeper level of trust on. What I want to encourage you to do, at whatever point in your life you are, is to begin building that trust with the God who made you and the God who loves you, the God who wants to know you better. The only reason you might have to do that is your trust in other people who say that's a good idea, just as we meet individuals because somebody says, "You really ought to get to know so-and-so," or "yes, you can ask them to do that because I know from my experience that they'll follow through and they'll do it." Often the way we've come to develop a relationship with God and to trust that that's a good thing to do is because the people around us, maybe family, maybe friends, somebody you look to and know isn't a complete fool, does this themselves and they say, "This works for me. God, in fact, has not let me down. I trust God with my life and it makes my life a whole lot better."

I say that to you as being true of my life. It hasn't prevented me from having times of being in that valley of dry bones, when I said, "God, hello! Remember me down here? We're just dry bones. Are you looking?" But God has never ever let me down. I've had to wait for the breath sometimes, but the promise in me has always been fulfilled. If you're new to this then I offer that to you. Maybe you can hang onto that -- to start developing that trust, to start talking with God, to explore what the Bible might have to say, to learn how to have a relationship with this God of spirit who can indeed breathe breath into dry bones. It's a promise. It's one that I invite you to hang onto.

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Part 3 ~ Ezekiel 37:7-10

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.
~
I want you to think about breath. I'm going to read from a sermon by Barbara Brown Taylor, who is one of the leading women preachers in this country, from a Pentecost sermon that she wrote. She talked about breath. She says, "If you have studied earth science, then you know that our gorgeous blue-green planet is wrapped in a protective veil that we call the atmosphere, which separates the air we breathe from the cold vacuum of outer space. Beneath this veil is all the air that ever was. No cosmic planet-cleaning company comes along every hundred years or so to suck out all the old air and pump in some new. The same ancient air just keeps recirculating. Which means that every time any of us breathes, we breathe stardust left over from the creation of the earth. We breathe brontosaurus breath and pterodactyl breath. We breathe air that has circulated through the rain forests of Kenya, and air that has turned yellow with sulphur over Mexico City. We breathe the same air that Plato breathed, and Mozart and Michelangelo, not to mention Hitler and Lizzie Borden. Every time we breathe, we take in what was once some baby's first breath, or some dying person's last. We take it in, we use it to live, and when we breathe out it carries some of us with it into the next person or tree or blue-tailed skink who uses it to live."

I thought that was a really neat perspective on breath, a way that ties us all together as not just individuals who breathe meteorology, but as a connected bunch of people on this interconnected planet. The ancient Hebrews understood that things were all mixed up and connected together much better than we do. One of my favorite Hebrew words, which we talked about some at the women's retreat, is ruach. It means "wind." It also means "breath" and it also means "spirit." The same word has all of that stuff in it. It was the ruach of God that hovered over the waters at creation. It was the ruach of God that blew like a mighty wind at Pentecost. It was the ruach of God that came into Adam and gave that clay life. And it's the ruach of God that Ezekiel asks to come and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. Notice these bones haven't just naturally died. They've been slain. It's a war scene.

For us, wind and breath and spirit are meteorology and biology and theology. But I want to encourage you to think about it all together. To think about that, when you breathe, you are breathing in the breath of God, the breath that's given life across the ages on this earth. That when you go outside and you feel the wind come across you, that's the Spirit of God reaching out to cool you, to touch you. That as you take a breath and you see wind, or you sense the Spirit within you, it's all the same thing. How different our lives might be if we were conscious of breathing God in and out when we were outside. I know it's made me feel differently even about storms, as I see the great wind blow by, to remember "Oh yes, this is a reminder of the mighty blowing Spirit of God." It's a different way of thinking, and it helps us realize that life is not just connected bones and sinews and flesh. For existence to become life, we need the breath. We need the breath of God that animates us, that causes us to truly live, and not just to be connected bones.

Be connected to one another. Realize that as we breathe in God's breath, we breathe in the breath of one another, of trees and of animals, of all the people who have lived. And in the words we say and the things we do we leave a legacy for those who are yet to come. We invite God to "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." And you know what? They stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

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Part 4 ~ Ezekiel 37:11-14

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."
~
Throughout scripture, when God creates life and gives life, God doesn't just leave people out there living. If you remember the first thing that happens after God breathes the breath of life into Adam, God picks Adam up and gives him a home and places him in a garden. Likewise here. They're standing on their feet, a vast multitude. Ok, what now? And God says, "I will bring you to your own soil." To the vast multitude also, God will give them a home. This is something in society that we're not really good at. We eventually let people out of some institutions and they're out there to fend for themselves. Maybe they have a home to go to, maybe they don't. God is not only the one who breathes life into us, but God is the one who gives us a home.

For some of us that's the traditional way that we think of home, when we think warmly of family and the old homestead. For some that doesn't work. Maybe the old homestead's gone, maybe home is just some place that you're really anxious to leave and not come back to because it hasn't been a good place. Home may mean different things at different times. One of the main callings, I think, of the church as a gathered body is to be our true home, and to be a home for all those who haven't got a nice place to call home. To be the family -- the loving family -- the family that accepts you for who you are and where you are at the moment, warts and all. I heard somebody say once that home is the place that, when you have to go there they have to take you. That's truly what home should be. It's not a reality for a lot of people.

But the church should be able to be that home. We should be the place where people can come, whether they're dry bones, whether the flesh and sinews are coming on them but somehow there isn't breath yet, or whether they're full of the breath of God and full of life. This should be the home place for all of them, no matter who they are, no matter how they are, to be a home away from home until our final resting place with God, a home most glorious. We often read at funeral services, "In our Father's house are many rooms." I don't think that applies to just after death. It certainly does apply there as we pass from life to better life. But I think it also applies here and now. "In my Father's house are many rooms." St. John's is one of those rooms, St. Thomas is another room, St. Mary's is another room. All of the houses of God are the rooms of God, the rooms that are supposed to be rooms in God's house where anyone can come at whatever place they are and receive the unconditional love of God.

It's a place where we can come, as in all homes, where ideally we learn to be better people. We learn how to grow up, we learn to be responsible adults in a home, and we should be doing that here too. It's not that everybody comes in as they are and there's no encouragement to be better. If we're a real home we're helping people to grow and we're helping people to know the Father who welcomes us home, the Mother who surrounds us with her arms, to know and to trust the Parent of the home. God doesn't just raise us up and fill us with life, but provides us a home. It's our job to make it be a home.

Be filled with God's Spirit. Breathe in this week the Spirit of God, and bring it back as we sit here and breathe in and breathe out and share that breath with each other, now breathing breath that's gone through the lungs of everyone else in the room. We've become organically part of one another, which is what we try to symbolize when we have communion and we all take and eat from the one loaf and we drink from the one cup. That says it's all of us, together -- it's all of us being one body. Sometimes we're helping a piece of the body that's maybe on crutches. Sometimes we're rejoicing with a part of the body that's been made well. But it's all one body -- the body of Christ that breathes with the breath of God. And this is the home where, at least for now, we've been brought.

Welcome home. Be home for one another.

Amen.

(c) 2000, Anne Robertson


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