The 5th Sunday in Lent
In the Name of Jesus Christ, who is our Lord of Life! Grace, mercy, and peace be with you. Amen.
We have heard some really powerful scriptures this morning, haven’t we? They are scriptures about death – and of God’s ability to bring the dead back to life. Not just physically, but spiritually as well. For my sermon this morning, I would like to especially focus upon our first reading from Ezekiel and his vision of the valley of dry bones.
Ezekiel was a priest and a prophet who had been taken into exile by the Babylonians when they had conquered the land of Judah in 597 B.C. And as the years passed by, Ezekiel and his fellow exiles became more and more discouraged and depressed. They learned that the holy city of Jerusalem had been decimated and the temple lay in ruins. And they came to more and more understand that they would probably never ever see their homeland again.
Psalm 137 tells us about the despair that Ezekiel and the rest of the exiles were experiencing. “By the rivers of Babylon – there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion… For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? (Ps. 137:1, 3-4)
But then one day Ezekiel was visited by the spirit of the LORD and was taken to a valley full of dry bones. These bones obviously represented the Jewish exiles in Babylon, whose hope was completely dead.
The LORD asked Ezekiel, “Mortal, can these bones live?” And Ezekiel can only answer, “O Lord GOD, you know.”(Ezk. 37:3) Ezekiel’s response was not a statement of faith, but of weak resignation. “Only you know, God – whatever you say.” Ezekiel, like most of his fellow exiles, had hardly any faith left.
Perhaps many of us also have our own “valley of dry bones” – both as individuals and as groups. We have circumstances, relationships, communities and groups that are torn asunder and are falling apart. We have families that are shattered by betrayal and anger and abuse and addiction. We have churches that are hurting and fighting over theology and ministry decisions and other issues. Right now we have a country and a state that is divided by partisan politics and by a stubborn refusal to even hear the other side, let alonebeing willing to work together for the common good.
We may wonder, “Will things ever get better?” Or as God says in today’s reading; “Mortal, can these bones live?” And we, like Ezekiel, can only answer, “O Lord GOD, you know – only you know.”
But God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones – to those whose hope is dead – saying, “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.”
We know what happened next. The bones indeed came together – as described in the old African-American spiritual “Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones.” “Toe bone connected foot bone, Foot bone connected leg bone, Leg bone connected knee bone. Don’t you hear the word of the Lord?” (And so on until up to the neck and head bones.) And then there were sinews on the bones, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them.
But, there was no breath in them. There was no breath in them! To me, that is the key phrase in today’s reading. The Hebrew word for “breath” is “ruah” – which also means “wind”, but perhaps most importantly, it also means “spirit”. Even though the bones had come together, and sinews and flesh had covered them, there was no “spirit” in them! They were walking dead people – who may have had the appearance of being alive, but were not really.
It was like Martha in today’s gospel when, after Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again answers by saying “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” (Jn. 11:24) She may have given Jesus the right “answer”, but it was not a statement of hopeful faith. It was rather a statement of weak resignation, just like Ezekiel had given when he said “O Lord GOD, you know.”
And aren’t we often like that as well?! When we go through “dry bone” times, we will often try to take comfort from various religious platitudes – but still not quite believing them in the depths of our souls. We often go through the motions of our Christian faith without really experiencing its power. We are like Martha; we are like Ezekiel and his fellow beaten-down exiles; yes, we are like the flesh-covered bones without the breath – without the ruah-spirit of life.
That is why God told Ezekiel to prophesy a second time for the ruah to come and breath upon the flesh-covered bones so that they could live. And Ezekiel did so, and the ruah came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
When we are feeling like dry bones, or like walking dead people – we cannot “make” ourselves feel hopeful and alive. We cannot “try” to have more faith. But like Ezekiel we can cry out for God’s Spirit to breathe upon us. Like Martha and Mary, we can cry out to Jesus – “Give us hope, Lord – even though we don’t have it! Give us faith, Lord – even when we can’t believe! Give us mercy, Lord – even though our sins overwhelm us! Give us life, Lord – and fill us with your power and peace, and joy!”
And in reply Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Yes, through Jesus God gives hope to the hopeless. Through Jesus God comes to us even in the midst of our deepest valleys of despair and gives us new life. I have certainly experienced this personally in my life, and I know that many of you have as well.
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones – hear the word of the Lord! You are going to live again – and so will we! Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord! Amen!
Pastor George Karres
418 W. Main St.
Sidney, MT 59270