March 29, 2020 [Lent 5]  Ezekiel 37:1-14  J.D.Roekle

 

The hand of the Lord was upon me. He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley, which was full of bones. 2He had me pass through them and go all over among them. There were very many on the valley floor, and they were very dry.

3He said to me, “Son of man, can these dry bones live?” I answered, “Lord God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’ ”

5This is what the Lord God says to these bones.

I am about to make breath enter you so that you will live. 6I will attach tendons to you. I will put flesh back on you. I will cover you with skin and put breath in you, and you will live. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

7So I prophesied as I had been commanded, and as I was prophesying there was a noise, a rattling, as the bones came together, one bone connecting to another. 8As I watched, tendons were attached to them, then flesh grew over them, and skin covered them. But there was no breath in them.

9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the wind. Prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind that this is what the Lord God says. From the four winds, come, O wind, and breathe into these slain so that they may live.”

10So I prophesied as he commanded me. Breath entered them, and they came back to life. They stood on their feet, a very, very large army.

11Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They are saying, ‘Our bones are dried up. Our hope is lost. We have been completely cut off.’ 12Therefore, prophesy and say to them that this is what the Lord God says. My people, I am going to open your graves and raise you up from your graves and bring you back to the soil of Israel. 13Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live. I will settle you on your own land, and you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.”

 

Can These Bones Live?

Dear Friends in Christ,

          Just over a decade ago I was on a tour in Egypt that took us to a place called St. Catharine’s Monastery.  The Greek orthodox monastery was built in the middle of the Sinai desert, at the foot of Mount Sinai.  The walled monastery was built around the traditional site of the burning bush that Moses encountered.  There is a bush that continues to grow today that some say is part of bush that Moses saw.  But the thing that stands out most in my mind about that monastery is a room full of bones.  We were able to peer into the room through glass to catch a glimpse of the site.  The bones of the monks who have served there over the centuries are stored there.  One bin is full of skulls.  Another bin is full of the other bones of their bodies.  A jarring sight to be sure! 

          I can’t help but think of that place when I read once again about what Ezekiel saw.  What a sight this must have been for Ezekiel.  A valley of bones.  And not just a few bones, but the valley was full of bones.  And apparently, they had been there for some time, because they were very dry.

          These bones were meant to be a picture.  The Lord told Ezekiel what these bones were all about: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.”  It is important to understand that the house of Israel had been carried off into captivity.  The northern 10 tribes of Israel were carried off by the Assyrians, and the southern two tribes of Israel, known as Judah, were later carried off by the Babylonians.  Ezekiel was a part of this second group who now lived in Babylon. 

          It was Ezekiel’s job to console this group.  But they appeared to be somewhat inconsolable.  The Lord quoted them as saying: “‘Our bones are dried up. Our hope is lost. We have been completely cut off.’”  Their hopes were dashed.  They were not able to return to their home land.  They were no longer able to live life as ‘normal.’  They weren’t able to visit the temple which would have been the hub of activity for those living in Judah. 

          Does that sound at least a little familiar?  My own routine this past week has changed substantially.  I’m spending much of my time at home in my office.  I even had three video meetings for the first time ever.  I’ve really only gone out the house to take a walk, to go the store briefly, or to come down to church.  I haven’t seen too many people other than family members.  What is your routine like?  For some of you, it may not have changed all that much.  For others, you may feel like you have been exiled to your homes.  You may feel cut off from your world.  Cut off from everything that is familiar to you.    

Do you long for more normal times?  Are you feeling sad that you can’t come to this place to worship your Lord?  Do you feel cut off from your friends? Are you starting to feel as if things will never actually get back to normal? Are you reflecting what the dry bones – the house of Israel – said: “Our hope is lost”

There was a time that you didn’t have any hope.  When you were essentially nothing but dead dry bones.  The Apostle Paul reminds us that we were dead. Dead in our trespasses and sins.  Your sins made you dead before God.  Your ears did not hear God’s voice.  Your voice could not speak or sing God’s praises.  Your feet could not walk in God’s path.  Your hands were not able to do anything good for him or your neighbor. 

Can these bones live?  It certainly doesn’t appear that they could.  Because you were dead in your sins, you couldn’t make yourself alive.  And no one else could do that either. 

No one, that is, except for the Holy Spirit.  He breathed in you the breath of life.  That happened through the Gospel as he brought you to faith.  He gave you ears to hear what God in Jesus Christ your Savior has done for you.  He gave you a heart to love the one who saved you by his perfect life and innocent death.  He gave you the voice to declare the praises of the one who brought you to life.  He gives you feet and hands to walk in his ways and to serve him all your days.

          So, as we go through these strange and difficult times, we may hope things get back to normal.  We hope we get through this time without getting sick ourselves.  We hope that we won’t pass anything on to others.  We hope we can get back to church soon. 

          I can’t stand here and assure you of any of those things.  I don’t know when or if things will really get back to the way we are used to.  I don’t know if you or I will get sick or if will accidently pass something on to someone else.  I don’t know at this point when we’ll be able to resume meeting together in this building. 

But what I can assure you of is the grace of God.  God continues to love you.  God will continue to do what is best for you.  Remember to put your hope in him. The hymnwriter reminds us of why our hope belongs in God:   

My hope is built on nothing less  Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

I dare to make no other claim  But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;  All other ground is sinking sand. 

          If things are getting you down, go to the one source that can truly pick you up.  Go to the Good News of the Jesus Christ.  Listen to the Word of God again and again.  If you have to spend more time at home these days, fill the void of loneliness with a reading of God’s Word. 

          One simple way of doing that is by using the devotion that is at the end of the service folder for today.  My family did that this past week, using the suggested readings and reading the catechism together.  I pray that you did too.  If you didn’t, you can do it this week.  Or you can use other various resources in order to hear once again about the hope that we have alone in Christ Jesus.  The hope that has made us alive!  The hope that keeps us alive! 

          Dear Christian friends, I also want you to remember that you are a vast army.  Even though many of us are now homebound, it doesn’t mean we can’t stay connected.  Communicate with each other and encourage each other about the hope that we have.   Together you and I can ward off the enemies that want us to return to the grave of unbelief.  Together we march to encourage each other in the faith.  And it is all to God’s credit and his glory!  Amen.