Pentecost (June 4, 2006)
1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know."
4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.' " 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.' " 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.' 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.' "
Sex scandals, decline, apathy, cancer, pain, death, hopelessness – the prophet Ezekiel could have been writing to us just as easily as the people Israel in Babylonian captivity. Perhaps our spiritual, emotional, and financial slavery is just as profound, just as desperate. Perhaps the rescue of God is just as necessary. Getting our arms around such a tough and confusing book is not simple. It’s tough and confusing because it was written a few thousand years ago. It’s tough and confusing because everything that happened there happened overseas in a land we still don’t understand - a place where all the wars and desperation of the Bible have not seemed to stop. We much become them to hear God’s voice speaking to us today. It’s been 1400 years since Father Abraham. 800 years since Moses and the Red Sea. 400 years since King David became the great warrior king of the Jewish nation.
400 years later they are not doing so well. The Jews have drifted very far from the faith of their grandparents. Very far from the faith of Abraham, Moses, and David. Their kings have been lousy. Their armies have done even worse. And the faith of the people is thin. They didn’t even know to turn to God for help. Imagine being massacred without offering any prayers. That is true exile. Trapped. Prisoners. Pretty much slaves to the great armies of Babylon. Quite a humbling experience for God’s chosen people. The thing is, they never really acted very chosen. How many chances do you give a chosen people to wise up? That’s what the rest of the Old Testament is all about - chances. God’s voice continues to reinforce His plan, “I’m sending a savior from your family, your race of people. The Messiah’s coming. But people stop building towers to heaven! Stop the Sodom and Gomorrah sex scandals. Stop complaining about the manna in the desert. Listen to Moses. Stop seeking out witches for advice. Stop worshiping other gods.” Stop, stop, stop, until the chances were out. In Ezekiel 37, the picture is clear – the chances are gone. Ezekiel 37:1-2 - The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.
Ezekiel was sent by God to warn people. These bones must have broken his heart. Every set representing people who would not listen. Not to Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, not even to himself. The chosen people of God got so far away from God. They were vulnerable, to temptation, to false gods, and to the devil himself. Remember this nation won battles they were supposed to lose. They were always the underdog. If not for great fires, gusts of wind, oceans dividing themselves, and gold boxes, they would never have won a battle. They are a living miracle. But without God, without the miracles, they are nothing but dry bones. Not just dead bodies, dry bones. That’s the picture Ezekiel sees. The people he wanted to warn were destroyed. No vaccination can cure this disease. Why did the Spirit of God walk him back and forth through the bones? Whose faces did he see? Which ones made him cry?
Who would you see? I would see my grandfather Bill Mueller. When I lost him I lost my encourager. My cheerleader. Cancer gave him dry bones. I would see my grandfather George Becker - a professor, a pastor. I miss him because he was a pastoral mentor for me and sometimes I could use a little advice. A brain hemorrhage gave him dry bones. I lost an Aunt to cancer just 2 years ago Good Friday. For me, Good Friday continues to carry the torment of death and pain. She was barely 50, too young. These are the kinds of events that bring on questions between God and myself. God, how could this happen? She’s too young, too good, too necessary. We need people like Lois here. She makes the world more beautiful. Her faith and love makes it wonderful. When Ezekiel looked into the dry bones he might have seen the faces of people I miss so dearly. Who would you see?
Verse 3. God asked Ezekiel, "Hey, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know." Right he is. God’s in control here. Verse 4. Then God said, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD ! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.'"
This is how God chooses to answer the question. Can these bones live? Even stronger point, he’s going to make Ezekiel say the word. You prophesy. Do what I say and see what happens. I can’t help but think about mission work. What could be more hopeless than sending a bunch of spoiled teenage youth to inner-city Houston, or worse, Mexico? How about sending accountants and computer techies and stay-at-home moms to Mexico? Or Guatemala? Or Russia? They don’t know Spanish! They are going to share God’s Word? What good does talking to people do? Hopeless just like the dry bones, right? Who would preach in a cemetery?
Verse 7. So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin 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 it, 'This is what the LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.' So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet-a vast army.
Ezekiel’s not looking at dry bones anymore. The key is the word RUACH. A Hebrew word meaning breath or spirit. It pops up a full 10 times in these 14 verses. Here’s the key – yeah you may have no experience, yeah you might not know Spanish, yeah you might be totally scared of that country, those people, and their culture. But when we prophesy, when we speak, when we share, when we love, God’s promising to add His RUACH. His spirit. His power. Ezekiel is looking at a miracle. When God’s RUACH is involved miracles happen.
Which kind of gave me an idea: How about if I went to Georgetown Texas and saw Grandpa Becker, or to Arlington in DC and saw Grandpa Mueller? Found a nice bench in the cemetery, climbed aboard and talked to the headstones. Good afternoon. You’re probably wondering why I’ve called all of you here today… well, something is going to change. This is not the end. Don’t take my word for it, just listen to God’s RUACH. He’s talking too. You see, it might not happen today, but I know that your bones will come together, and tendons will reform, and ligaments. We won’t just stop there because it would be a little gory. So the RUACH will throw in some skin to cover you. Then that Spirit will enter your nostrils and you will rise.
From Ezekiel’s perspective the temple is gone, the people are slaves, the kings are dead. From our perspective Satan sure seems to have control. Cancer’s in control. Car accidents are in control. The funeral business is doing well, which is bad for us. In a valley with dry bones, in a world filled with pain, there is little sense of hope. Verse 11. God said, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They think their bones are dried up and their hope is gone, cut off.' Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the LORD says: I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. You will know that I am the LORD, I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.
This is where I want to take us home. Who did you see in the valley? Grandpa Mueller, Grandpa Becker, Lois. Our God is the God of resurrection. Ezekiel said this stuff 600 years before Jesus died on the cross. How right he was! Can these bones live? The ultimate big question – God, can these bones live? This is one way the Bible describes it. The grave is not the end. It can’t even hold you. God himself will dig you out, open the coffin, and put some meat on your bones. I continue to ask God questions. Why does death seem so strong, so painful? I think his answer is interesting. Death is so strong because sin is that ugly. Perhaps we’ve underestimated the power of sin. When you look at the damage of cancer, and divorce, and abuse, and neglect, and isolation, we start to understand. Perhaps God doesn’t hate sin because He’s a legalistic accountant with a book of debits and credits. Perhaps He hates sin because it damages life and beauty. Perhaps He knew that the apple in the garden forced a change in the way nature works. Sin destroys life.
But God’s answer is consistently the same. Look at our text from Acts 2 where Pentecost is consumed with the Spirit of God taking over this world. And in the Gospel lesson where Jesus tells the 12 that the Spirit of Truth is on His way. What is God saying to us today? In Acts 2, the Spirit testifies that we are not abandoned to the grave. The grave is not strong enough, the ground can’t hold you. The cross forgives because the blood of Christ was poured out, and Easter Sunday matters because resurrection destroys death - even cancer death, car accident death, and especially dry bone death. That’s the Pentecost message of the disciples – “Jesus saves!”
The first picture Ezekiel saw was not reality. Sin can make bones dry and dead but it can’t keep them there. The funerals you’ve been to were not reality, because they can’t overpower the cross. Who do you see when you look at that valley? Who do you see being put back together with ligaments and skin? Supernatural plastic surgery! That is the incredible grace of God given to us through faith in Jesus Christ. That same resurrection promise is also for you, for those you love, and those you miss. God’s RUACH, His Spirit, is the difference. Let’s Pray – Heavenly Father, breathe into the valley of dry bones, breathe and let us feel your resurrection breath. In the name of Christ the crucified and risen, Amen.
The Rev. Jim Mueller, Pastor