Bones,              Ezekiel 37:1-14,                April 10, 2011

An anthropologist sees bones and looks for a cause of death. God looks at bones and offers us an opportunity for life.
Currently in its sixth season, Bones is a top-30 TV show. It differentiates itself fromCSI shows with its emphasis on forensic anthropology and archaeology. Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan teams with FBI agent Seeley Booth to turn skeletal remains into narratives explaining cause of death.

Bones is a logical empiricist, meaning she thinks there’s a rational answer to everything in life. Although she might not have a clue about slang, metaphors or movie quotes, Bones gets bones.

However, the valley of bones in today’s text might stump even Bones. Imagine this potential opening scene.

God takes Ezekiel on a visionary journey to a valley filled with dry bones. After surveying the whole scene, it’s clear there’s absolutely no life.
This is a picture of Israel in exile (vv. 11-12). From the moment the Israelites first stood on the edge of the Jordan River, they’d been warned of the results of living unfaithfully in the promised land. But they forgot God. They chose cheap replicas. They ignored God’s demand to extend justice to all people.

In this case, God’s wrath was apparent. Babylon scorched the earth, sacked Jerusalem and kidnapped the best and brightest from among them. All that’s left is a pile of dusty bones.

To the Hebrew mind, which operated from a strong sense of bodily resurrection, no image was more spiritually horrifying than thousands of unburied bodies, abandoned on the battlefield to be stripped of their flesh by vultures and hyenas, until only scattered bones remained, to be bleached white by the sun.

It’s a vision of people who aren’t merely dead but so completely dead that, to the Hebrew mind, no hope of resurrection remains.

Yet — and this is the miracle of the passage — even that is no impediment to the Holy Spirit of God! For into that bleak valley, sun-bleached and perfectly still, comes a sudden wind. It is the ruach, the wind of the Lord, the Spirit of life itself.
But at the moment, the land was lifeless. Dry. A nation given life at Mount Sinai now lay dead in a valley.

We may hear Christians today speak in terms reminiscent of this scene.

• I feel spiritually dried up.
• I haven’t heard anything from God in years.
• My prayers feel as though they never leave the room.
• I’d believe in God if he’d show up for me … just this once.

These situations feel hopeless. No God and no end in sight. Though these cries of the heart come from people who feel spiritually dead, they are actually signs of life.

A healthy view of God and the Christian life has room for such outcries. Real change comes through brutal honesty and vulnerability before God. The Psalms and Lamentations model as much, and great saints before us have endured dark nights of the soul. Maybe you have.

The return to hope comes first through embracing our spiritual despair; our pain. Ezekiel was shown total death before he was shown new life. Have you come to the end of your rope?

What are the dead-ends in your life? What in your life, are you convinced is dead and hopelessly beyond life? Where are the bone yards around us, be it our own hearts, families, churches or communities?
And what does Ezekiel inspire us to believe?
In the place of death, Ezekiel knows that only God can bring life (v. 3). Israel cannot deliver itself out of Babylon. These bones need a supernatural answer.
So God commands Ezekiel to speak to the dead (v. 4). Ezekiel is to offer Israel the promise of new life. Hope again. Restoration. The eventual return to their land and divine blessing. This was God’s work of re-creating Israel (vv. 5-6).

And suddenly the dead begin rattling back together. First, signs of life appear — tendons and flesh. Corpses begin to look alive again (vv. 7-8).

Easter is still two weeks away. But this text asks the question of this season: Can life come into death? Biblical scholar Iain Duguid notes the connection between the valley, the tomb and our lives today:
“For Ezekiel, what happened to the bones first happened to him. So it is with us: What God does for the Christian, he has first of all done for Jesus.”

God was willing to overlook generations of Israel’s dry and decaying spiritual life. He would give them undeserved blessing again. And so it is with us.

Life into death. God’s mission wasn’t just forgiveness through his Son’s death. It was new life through Jesus’ resurrection.

Life into death. For Christians today, death isn’t the final verdict. Believers can always have hope. No situation is beyond God’s reach. The current is not the final.

Life into death. But at the point of renewed hope for life, full life isn’t yet there.

Anyone who has decided to diet and work out more knows there’s a huge difference between believing you can change … and changing.

True hope must be authenticated by true life.

In Ezekiel’s prophecy for Israel, there was a reforming that then needed a refilling. The land’s restoration was to be accompanied by the people’s change of heart (36:26).

Ezekiel had to still “prophesy to the breath” (v. 9).

There is a beautiful wordplay is at work here. The Hebrew word here is a multilayered word that we see all over the Old Testament. It can mean breath, wind, the spirit of a person or the spirit of God. This scene poetically captures all four:
• v. 1 — God’s spirit carries Ezekiel to his vision.
• v. 5 — God will cause breath to enter the skeletons.
• v. 9 — Ezekiel is to prophesy to the breath/wind/spirit of God.
• v. 9 — Then the four winds will come and put breath into the bodies.
• v. 10 — The breath/wind/human spirit came into them, and they lived.
• v. 14 — God will put his spirit in them, and they will live.

We have new life because God’s spirit breathes it into our spirit. And in the vision of Ezekiel, the winds themselves carried this breath from God. It evokes the picture of God breathing spirit into the dust that became Adam at Creation.

Ezekiel was to prophesy to the Spirit of God, the breath- giver. The word for prophesy carries the idea of causing to bubble up like a spring. It was understood to mean pouring forth words abundantly like gushing water.
Clearly, God wanted Ezekiel to pour himself out before God.

To find new life in the bone yards of our world, we must do the same: pour forth words to the spirit of God and beg God to act. God alone meets hope with new life. God alone sends his breath and work into the dryness of our boneyards.

It’s Tommy Boy theology. In that movie, Tommy tries to sail. He gets into a boat, shoves into the water and raises his sail. But nothing happens. He can’t fill his own sails and make the wind blow.

The work of faith is to do everything Tommy does. Get into the boat, get into the water and raise the sails — whatever that looks like in our situations of death.

But only God brings the wind.

To prophesy to that wind is to pray for renewal. Beg God. Cry for mercy. Pray as though we have hope and faith. God wants to bring life into death!

The vision of the valley of bones is frightful. It is fitting during this season of Lent. It is a vision of our death and the grave. We want to turn and look away, but there are dry bones all around us. Skeletons in our closet. Bones in our basement. Everywhere we turn, there are more dry bones. Marriages fail. Relationships are broken. Violence and death saturate the nightly news and our entertainment.

We feel it in our bones. Anger and aggression and anxiety eat away at us. They dry us out. Our lives become a valley of dry, dusty bones baked under the heat of God's Law.

There is a dryness deep down in our bones. A dryness that won't go away. A thirst that cannot be quenched. Some try sipping from false streams, the polluted rivers of power, possessions, sex, drugs, alcohol, music, religion, hobbies. Nothing we reach for, nothing within our grasp, can touch this eternal thirst. Who will preach to our bones? Who will breathe life into them?

Can these dry, dead, lifeless bones of ours rise to life? We must know. We must be sure. The answer is "yes, these bones will live." In Jesus who died and rose, these bones can live. They live by his Word and his Spirit.
Jesus' words are Spirit, and they are life. If God's Word and Spirit can raise a valley of dry, dead bones, imagine what he can do with, with our congregation, with each one of us! May the peace of the Lord be with you. Amen.

  June 2021  
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