Sunday, March 09, 2008

Ezekiel 37:1-14, Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 8, 2008

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over 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. And 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.” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, 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, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:1-14, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Life if full of tragic events. Hard events that seem to come at you without warning. Events that leave you feeling alone, gasping for breath, and wondering what happened. Events that drain away hope, and leave your future desolate, like standing in a great desert, with nothing but miles of dry sand and dry bones in every direction. And there’s nowhere to go but through it… the hot dry wind only pushes the sand around and the sun even dries the sweat off of your forehead.

You’ve been there. Dragging your way through the hot sand, breathless… facing emergency surgery; watching a neighbor suffer with cancer, gathered together to wait for word about and accident; standing in the waiting room while your whole reason for living is in surgery; struggling with financial decisions that don’t seem to have any solution; watching helplessly as the crops dry up under the hot South Dakota summer sun; gazing at another empty Saturday night main street; fretting over empty pews in church. It’s enough to get you to ask the question “Why?” Screaming out to God, who feels like he is a thousand miles away… unwilling and unable to help… uncaring… while your hopes and dreams for the future dry up and blow away like sand.

But it isn’t only life events, like disease and accidents that leave us panting for breath and wondering where God is. We’ve driven ourselves out in the desert, too, pushing God’s life giving breath away. We do this every time we let sin rule our lives, inviting it to live with us, drying out our faith and our desire to be with God in His house. When we pretend that our priorities for the church are God’s priorities. We let our selfishness destroy our relationships with each other; letting anger destroy a longstanding friendship; thinking of personal gain instead of helping others; thinking first of the survival of the congregation instead of how God would have us serve the community. Sin and time away from God’s Word make it feel natural to be alone in the desert. The long trip back seems impossible. The desert is too hot and dry to cross. It’s easier to sit down and be alone, separated from God and His refreshment.

the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.

Ezekiel writes this about his vision.

“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.

Just like those bones God’s people, Israel, were like bones dried up and lying in a desert valley. They were breathless and dry, without hope and alone. From the time Joshua led them over the Jordan river to the time that Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the beautiful irreplaceable temple of Solomon they were warned about the results of unfaithfulness. They were told the land they lived in was a gift from God, and would remain theirs as long as they remained faithful, as long as they trusted in Him alone, as long as they remembered that the land was really his. But for hundreds of years they ignored the warnings of prophet after prophet. When Jerusalem was laid waste by the enemy, when the temple was destroyed, when the best and the brightest of the survivors were hauled off into imprisonment and slavery in lands far from home; Israel was left sitting alone, unable to breath.

‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’

Can bones like these, dry and lifeless, ever live again? Can flesh come upon them and blood once again course through their veins? Can dried out ribs ever inhale moist oxygen rich air and breathe again?

“O Lord God, you know.” And only you!

“Speak my word to them and they will live,” promises God. “Breath will come to breathless dry bones and they will breathe again. In spite of their unfaithfulness, in spite of there aloneness, my breath, my Spirit, will fill them again with breath and life.”

In a few short days we’ll celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord. During the Easter season we’ll hear again and again about breath and life returning to Jesus lifeless breathless body. We’ll rejoice that God breathed life into Jesus and He lived again. Death can not hold God in the grave. On the third day He broke out of death, alive and full of the breath of life.

So when God says that dry, lifeless, breathless bones can live again we know it is true. When He tells Ezekiel that the dry bones of Israel will take on flesh and breath we know it is true. When He promises that when we are dry and breathless, apart from Him, we too can live again we believe it is true. That is, after all the work of God, through the Holy Spirit. He is the Breath and Spirit sent by Jesus at Pentecost to raise the house of Israel from its grave of despair. It is that Spirit that breaths life into His church to make it alive in the power of Jesus’ own resurrection.

The work of God in the Holy Spirit isn’t anything new. The Spirit’s work has always been bringing life. Like a potter God formed Adam out of the dry, breathless, dust of the earth. He carefully formed him, bone to bone, tendon, flesh and skin. And then the Spirit of God gave him the breath of life, it was ‘puffed’ into his lifeless body. Adam then breathed and lived.

Ezekiel was talking about this work of the Holy Spirit. He was also talking about the restoration of the Promised Land to God’s people. They would return to the land, but the glory of David’s kingdom as they knew it was gone forever. They would never again be a free nation. They would always be under the control of others, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. God’s promise was fulfilled anyway. There would be a new better king than David. There would be a new Israel. The new kingdom wouldn’t be based on bloodlines but on the blood that ran from the veins of Jesus’ pierced body. The new kingdom, the new Israel would be created by the Holy Spirit through faith in God’s promises in Jesus Christ.

It isn’t just a nice metephore to call the Spirit of God, the Breath of Life, or to call Him the wind. The biblical words that describe Him are the same words for wind and breath. When Ezekiel heard the wind come and fill lifeless bodies with breath, and the disciples heard the wind come at Pentecost, they all knew the Spirit of God, the one that hovered over the waters at the creation, was at work again creating life, bringing breath and life to breathless human beings.

For the children of Israel in exile in Babylon far from their homeland, separated from their homes their families and their land, without any hope of returning, without any hope of being a people again, they asked, “Can these breathless, dry bones live?” God’s answer is, “Yes!” I will breathe new life into you. You will once again be my people and I will be your God. You will no longer be dead, breathless, dry bones lying about in a valley of death, but a people of hope and life.

And for you and me, God’s people today, standing together in the quiet dark of the hospital room, wondering if the next hours bring life or death, when we stand at the open grave peering in facing the very real prospect of our own death, when we see our relationships crumbling like dust, and our worship dry and lifeless, we ask, “Can these bones live? Can God bring life and breath to me? Can God breathe breath into my relationships and my church? God answers “Yes!” to you too. Yes, because you were brought from your grave of sin through the death of Jesus. Yes, because new life was breathed into your dry dead bones and flesh. The Holy Spirit breathed faith into you and refreshed you through the water of Holy Baptism.

There will still be times when we gasp for breath, when the struggle with sin will dry you out and leave you thirsty. There will be times when you wonder if God is a thousand miles away. There will still be events in your life that will leave you breathless. Automobile accidents, family struggles, dissolving friendships, loss of a job, failing church attendance, shrinking communities… When these times come remember the Breath of God. Remember the Breath of God in a valley of dry bones that brought life to lifeless bones and flesh. That same breath has already brought new life to you. That life comes from the promises of God in Jesus Christ. The promise of forgiveness and new life, signed and sealed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ and yours though the gift of faith. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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