Sermon text: Ezekiel 37: 1-14
My buddy Andy has a mechanically oriented brain, so he really enjoys thinks like computers, 3D printers, and automobiles. Last summer he restored his old 1998 Jeep Cherokee with his pandemic free time. Every week he was completing another change to the vehicle, showing me all of the progress under the hood, under the chassis, and to the interior of this car that hadn’t been road worthy in years. The car came out looking great because he put a ton of energy and passion into it.
Now Andy is searching for another project, specifically he’s looking for a Jeep CJ Scrambler from the early 1980s. Every once and a while I’ll get a text message from him with a car he found on Craigslist; potential candidates for the job. But these things are all in rough shape. There’s a reason they’re only a few thousand dollars. They’re missing wheels or floorboards or seats or engines. Colors range from rusty yellow to green with spots of rust to just plain rust.
“Mortal, can these bones live?”
Okay, Andy doesn’t say those words. Instead, it’s along the lines of “What do you think? Is this rust bucket worth it?” I don’t have a mechanical bone in my body, so I feel like Ezekiel when I see these pictures. To me, all these cars look like very dry bones with no hope every running again.
“Mortal, can these bones live?” As Ezekiel gazes at the Valley of Dry Bones the obvious answer has to cross his mind. “Of course not. These bones are as devoid of life as their surroundings. Touch them and they will turn to dust.”
But Ezekiel follows God’s instructions, he preaches to the bones. He prophesies. He delivers the word of the Lord and the promise that they are not left for dead, but that God’s breath will enter into them, and they shall live. Before the prophet’s eyes there’s a mesmerizing scene of reverse decomposition as bones connect and as sinew and tendons and muscle and flesh cover them—but there is no breath, there is no life.
Ezekiel follows God’s instruction and continues to preach, and as he speaks the breath of God, the very breath that inflated Adam’s lungs and shaped creation enters into these creatures and they stand to life, to new life.
For Ezekiel, this is a vision of hope. In Babylon he frequently preaches to skeletons, to the Israelites in exile who feel as parched and lifeless as the Valley of Dry Bones. For 70 years they have lived in the land of the conquerors, removed from their homeland, striped of their wealth, deprived of any notion of rights, and mourning the loss of their temple and their native soil.
I cannot imagine living in that situation. I cannot imagine being defeated and cleaved from most everything I hold dear, to die as an alien in a foreign land, to be born a sojourner in a hostile territory, to be listless and languishing under the thumb of the oppressor. 70 years the Israelites lived in this humiliation, this desperation.
O Mortal, can these bones live?
As Ezekiel looks on the bones he looks on his own people. God is letting the prophet know that the suffering people will live. The Spirit of God will fill them. God is going to open their graves, fill them with breath, and bring them back to their land. “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.”
What are we without God’s Spirit? We are dry bones. We are lifeless flesh. We are dust. We are rust buckets.
My friend Andy can buy dream fixer-upper. It can have an engine, wheels, seats, it can even have a fresh coat of paint—give it all the components it needs. But without his passion and spirit to transform the fixer-upper into a useable toy the gap will remain between what it was made for and what it can manage.
As we celebrate the Festival of Pentecost we remember that on this day God gave new life to the fledging church by filling it with the Holy Spirit. God fills the church with the Spirit and the church lives. It thrives. It charges headlong into its mission of sharing the story of Jesus with the world. The church manages to do what it was made for.
Right now, we are the bones in the valley. Some of us are dry, some of us have sinew and tendons, a few of us may even have flesh, but we are in desperate need of the breath of God. We need God’s Spirit to breathe new life in us. I cannot imagine how the Israelites felt after 70 years of drudgery, but I know how we feel after 15 months of change and turmoil.
O Mortal, can these bones live?
Last week, at our annual meeting, we reminded ourselves that ministry has been going on alongside our suffering. The church remains in its mission. But we also acknowledge that it has been difficult and that we are ready to move forward, on to what’s next. This Pentecost, may the breath of God continue to inspire the church as we walk the road back to our spiritual and societal homes. May God fill us as we finish this pilgrimage.
However, as we get closer to home, as we get back to “normal,” may we have eyes to see the needs that still exist in both our church community and our neighborhood community. May we be aware that “normal” wasn’t so great for some people in the first place. The exiles returned home to Israel to find their homeland in shambles, the temple still destroyed, the people left behind suffering…it was not what they remembered. And the Spirit of God filled them and gave them new life. They reclaimed what was their and built it back up. The same shall be true with our story as well. Not everything will be as we remembered and it will take energy and passion to restore it.
It is my prayer and my hope that the Holy Spirit will refresh us and fill us, that our bones may live, that the church will breathe. Let us not stop with what we remembered, but let us listen to the Spirit’s guidance for how we can give new life to our neighbors and to each other. AMEN