New Life: Piecing it All Together

HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC
November 26, 2017

Ezekiel 37: 1-14 (CEB)
The Lord’s power overcame me, and while I was in the Lord’s spirit, he led me out and set me down in the middle of a certain valley. It was full of bones. 2He led me through them all around, and I saw that there were a great many of them on the valley floor, and they were very dry.

3He asked me, “Human one, can these bones live again?”

I said, “Lord God, only you know.”

4He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, Dry bones, hear the Lord’s word! 5The Lord God proclaims to these bones: I am about to put breath in you, and you will live again. 6I will put sinews on you, place flesh on you, and cover you with skin. When I put breath in you, and you come to life, you will know that I am the Lord.”

7I prophesied just as I was commanded. There was a great noise as I was prophesying, then a great quaking, and the bones came together, bone by bone. 8When I looked, suddenly there were sinews on them. The flesh appeared, and then they were covered over with skin. But there was still no breath in them.
9He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, human one! Say to the breath, The Lord God proclaims: Come from the four winds, breath! Breathe into these dead bodies and let them live.”

10I prophesied just as he commanded me. When the breath entered them, they came to life and stood on their feet, an extraordinarily large company.

11He said to me, “Human one, these bones are the entire house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely finished.’ 12So now, prophesy and say to them, The Lord God proclaims: I’m opening your graves! I will raise you up from your graves, my people, and I will bring you to Israel’s fertile land. 13You will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you up from your graves, my people. 14I will put my breath in you, and you will live. I will plant you on your fertile land, and you will know that I am the Lord. I’ve spoken, and I will do it. This is what the Lord says.”

Like Jeremiah, whose words we heard last week, Ezekiel prophesied among the Israelites during their time of exile in Babylon. Ezekiel was a priest in Jerusalem when Babylon conquered Israel. The first part of Ezekiel’s prophecies were delivered to the Israelites immediately following Babylon’s victory in what is sometimes called the “first exile.” However, where we pick up this morning, the grasp of Babylon’s claim over Israel has tightened. They have ransacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. They have exiled even more of the Israelites, forcing them to walk out of the Promised Land and into the enemy city of Babylon. The situation for the Israelites is horrendous (to say the least).

So here is Ezekiel, the priest of the people. Perhaps you all understand the burden of the faith leader in such times. I will tell you, it is tough, to offer comfort, and peace, and hope in the midst of such horror. Ezekiel is looking around him and all he sees is devastation. It’s like looking at death. The people are mentally and physically exhausted. They are spiritually dead. It is as if Ezekiel is standing in the midst of a barren desert at the bottom of a deep valley, and all around him, as far as the eye can see, are dry bones. They are dry because this death is complete, total. The extent is massive. The Lord leads Ezekiel through all these bones. I can almost imagine Ezekiel sort of kicking the bones as if looking for any sign of life. Instead, nothing. Just the hollow rattle of dry bones beneath his feet. It’s a terrible sight.

But then, God gives Ezekiel a new vision. Do you all remember those Magic Eye books and posters from the early 90s? These were those pictures that were just patterns of color on a page, but if you were able to look at it in just a certain way, a 3-D image would seemingly pop out from the picture—a whale, or a volcano, or a bicycle; just about anything you could imagine. These books and posters were all the rage when I was in Junior High, and we would frequently converse with one another about who could see the 3D image in the “Magic Eye” and who couldn’t. You see, to the untrained eye, all that was there was a jumble of color. But what you can actually see on those pages is magically changed by the way you look at them; with a “new vision,” there is so much more to the picture.

And that’s the way it works with God, too. God can transform our vision. God can help us see with God’s eyes, opening us to the promise of life, even where there is nothing but death! Ezekiel saw complete and total death, but God saw new life, new possibility. It makes me wonder, what are the valleys in our lives? Where are the piles of dry bones in our world that we need to see with a new vision, with God’s vision? Everyday, we see men, women, boys and girls—deteriorated physically, spiritually, and morally. We see despair, depression, hunger, and homelessness. We see children walking the streets, orphans and widows not being cared for. On the TV news or on the newspaper racks we see an endless war, daily bloodshed, extortion, and so much corruption that it may well cause us to look up to God and wonder, “Can these bones live?” There are some who have chosen to serve at the altar of the gods of wealth and power and have lost their souls. There are those who have been abused, neglected, forgotten, and are suffering all kinds of hardships—many of them are little less than breathing corpses. There are kids on dope. There are crack houses, sex trafficking, gang members, heroine fiends, broken homes, and people living with HIV/AIDS. There are folks whose lives have been written off by society as being disposable. All around our world today there are so many situations that seem absolutely hopeless. Perhaps, in your own lives or in your own homes you are currently experiencing a loss of hope. Perhaps in your neighborhood, you see folks moving without the spark of life in their eyes. It is as if we are living in a barren desert valley. Maybe even we ourselves feel like nothing more than a pile of dried-up bones.

Yet God is the God of life. Christ himself is proof of that! Ezekiel’s vision in the valley of dry bones is the first glimpse of a resurrection in the life to come. But this vision of God is a sign of promises that only God can make; promises that only God has the power to make real. And God gives Ezekiel a vision of how that will happen. God tells Ezekiel to begin prophesying, and as Ezekiel says the words of the Lord, the bones begin to rattle and shake as they are joined back together, then they are covered in sinew and flesh. And as Ezekiel continues to prophesy, the spirit of God, God’s very own breath, is breathed into these bodies, this is the Spirit of God that restores life. And as the bodies receive this breath, they live again! It is a sign and a promise from God that the Israelites will be restored, they too will live again. But the message extends far beyond that single moment with Ezekiel. This message is for us, for our world, too. If the Spirit of God comes, you can live!

One of the things that occurred to me as I mulled over this passage this week is that as God pieced together all those dry bones and breathed into them the breath of life, maybe they came together a little differently than they had before. Maybe there was some change, a transformation. As we think about the “dry bones” in our lives and our world, I don’t think we would want them to come together in the same way again, would we. We don’t want the crack addict who overdoses to always be the crack addict that overdoses. We don’t want the young woman trapped in sex trafficking to become the trafficker. We don’t want the abandoned orphan to be the next gang member. That’s not new life. These dry bones must be pieced together in a new way, transformed by the breath of God, the Spirit of God moving within them.

We could say the same of our institutions. We don’t want the dying Christian Church to disintegrate even further. But to experience new life, revitalization, we will need to be pieced together in a new way, there has to be transformation. That’s what happened when John Wesley came on the scene back in the 1700s. He helped revitalize the church. He stepped out of the stuffy old tradition of the Anglican Church and took God’s good news out onto the streets, to the commoners, the prisoners. He made God’s Words and God’s grace accessible to them. It was different from anything that had happened in the church before, at least for a good many centuries. As the old adage goes, “You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results.” The promise of new life requires transformation—a stripping away of the old so that we can be filled with the new, filled even with God’s own life-giving breath.

Far too often, we look backward when we should be looking forward. We think vitality, life, is only in “the way things were.” Whether that’s in the church, in our lives, or in our communities. We say things like, “This would all be better if things were just like they used to be.” But we have to keep in mind that, whether we like it or not, it is the “ways things used to be” that have brought us to the way things are. Our hope, our life, is in a future filled with God, God’s breath, God’s Spirit. And sometimes that means God puts all the broken pieces together in a new way so that we are changed, transformed, or given a new perspective. This is God molding us, shaping us, transforming us into a greater Christ-likeness. And God does this not only with individuals, but with the whole world. As God pieces the broken world together in a new way, we see glimpses of God’s Kingdom, and as God’s Spirit moves among us transforming each of us, we begin to experience new life in Christ.

I read a story recently about a woman diagnosed several years ago with multiple sclerosis. At first, she was depressed. She knew what was going to happen to her body. She knew that she would soon be losing the ability to control her body and her limbs. She knew what she was up against–and she began to lose hope. Then one morning she was reading the Gospel of John, and she read that Jesus came to give her life, and to give it to her abundantly. So she made up her mind that she was going to take Jesus at his word. She decided that she wasn’t going to let this disease defeat her, and cause her to be one of the living dead. God changed her outlook, her perspective. So she entered the New York City Marathon, and she walked it but she finished it. And the next year she did it again…And then the year after that she did it again…And how was she able to do this? She did this through the same power that caused the dry bones of the valley to come to life….she did this through the power of the living word of God!
No matter how hopeless and dead things may seem. God still breathes life—every single day. As Ezekiel walks through the valley of dry bones and sees God resurrecting those dead bones to new life, we are reminded that God not only gives life but restores life. In God, death never has the last word, even when all signs of life have been taken away. “Mortal, can these bones live?”
Let us join together in proclaiming with our words and with our lives, “Yes, Lord. Most definitely yes!”

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