Sunday’s Sermon: Following the Bones

Okay … full disclosure. This is the sermon from Pentecost Sunday a few weeks ago. I’m a little bit behind, and between conferences and a very sick kiddo (who is now feeling mostly better), I missed a few Sundays in there as well. Hopefully, though, we’re now back on track. Okay, Pentecost ………..

  • Story of mission trip to Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota
    • Split between 2 missions – children’s day school and work on homes (painting, etc.)
      • Playing with kids = inspiring … but exhausting!
      • Painting and fixing up homes in sunshine and heat = fulfilling … but exhausting!
    • On mission trips, exhaustion is a daily thing but grows stronger as the week progresses → You work really hard all day long and return at the end of the day to rest and relax in your nice comfy sleeping bag … on a nice comfy tile floors. Ahhhhhh! So refreshing. By the last day or two, it’s a miracle everyone is able to get out of bed at all in the morning.
    • Mission work certainly not the only place we encounter exhaustion
      • A million small ways in our day to day lives
      • Situations of high emotion/high stress (spring/fall – farmers)
      • Events that require a lot of planning ahead of time and activity
      • I don’t know … raising twins!
    • But in any of these times of great exhaustion, there’s often something else at work – something more, something deeper – something that not only overrides our exhaustion but leaves us renewed: the work of the Holy Spirit in us and through us.
      • Mission e.g. – While they may be the walking definition of bone-weary, those on a mission trip are always more than ready to dive back into whatever needs to be done and get their hands dirty.
      • And our Scriptural stories this morning speak to this depletion and restoration. They’re stories that remind us that God is our renewal, even – and especially – when we least expect it.
  • Look at OT passage first
    • The vision that the prophet Ezekiel experiences is certainly one in which we naturally expect anything but renewal.
      • Txt: The hand of the Lord … set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.[1] → pretty clear, pretty cut and dry (no put intended) … these bones have had it
        • A couple elements point this out for us
          • 1st: God leads Ezekiel “all around” the bones → God doesn’t just let Ezekiel stand impassively at the valley’s edge. God walks Ezekiel all through the valley. God makes Ezekiel hike among the piles, step around the bones, making sure that Ezekiel takes in every femur and collar bone, every finger joint and knee cap and skull, ensuring that Ezekiel not only sees a vague mass of white but a truly vast multitude of individual bones.
          • 2nd: Heb. places heavy emphasis on the fact that these bones are lifeless and dry → pesky little word that keeps popping up: hinneh (TAKE NOTICE! PAY ATTENTION! LOOK!) appears before the phrase “lying in the valley” and before the phrase “they were very dry”
            • LOOK! Those bones are just lying in the valley – obviously aren’t going anywhere
            • LOOK! Those bones are very dry – obviously beyond any and all hope
          • Finally, in his own reaction to God, even Ezekiel adds emphasis to the unlikelihood of this whole situation: God said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”[2] → Can you hear a little bewilderment, a little exasperation, a little question in Ezekiel’s voice? – “Can these bones live?” “God only knows!”
      • And yet in the face of this improbability – this absurdity! – God comes back with a truly unexpected renewal → commands Ezekiel to tell the bones that God will reassemble and restore the fullness of their bodies, and poof!:I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin covered them.[3]
        • Holy Moses! Suddenly, Ezekiel find himself smack in the middle of a Biblical ghost story! Just a moment ago, he was looking down on a valley full of disconnected bones. Now, spread out before him is this host of bodies that God has just re-formed … but there’s still a problem → There was no breath in them.[4]
          • You see, even with new flesh, new sinew, and new skin, these bodies assembled before Ezekiel are not alive. I think we can probably take a stab at what Ezekiel’s thinking: These bodies may look like they’re alive, but they’re not. And they’re never going to be because what was dead can’t be given new breath – a new life, a new soul – … can it?
            • Ahh … be careful what you wish for! Then [God] said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.[5]
        • Scholar highlights the power of this: In recounting his vision, Ezekiel challenges his fellow exiles and generations of his readers to view their circumstances not through their own, limited vision, but through God’s eyes. Can these bones live? Of course not. But look at them through God’s eyes, and watch bones rushing to their appropriate partners. Watch as ligaments bind them together, flesh blankets them, and skin seals them tightly. Watch as God’s spirit, which heals hopelessness, infuses them, so that they rise up … Look through God’s eyes, and watch them come up, receive God’s spirit, and return home.[6]
        • Wow. Renewal at a time in which anything but renewal was expected. These were desiccated bones that had been relegated to the grave, and yet, God resurrected them, freed them, and gave them powerful reassurance: I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.[7]
  • Kinda sounds like the story of Pentecost, doesn’t it? I don’t think the disciples – or any of those who had gathered with them – had any idea what to expect. Think about it:
    • Jesus had been brutally killed … but days later, he’d come back to life again … and then after just a short while, he left again – not died, left – just shhhmp right up into heaven
      • Luke: Then [Jesus] led [the disciples] out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.[8]
    • I’m sorry … what?! After all that, I don’t know if I’d even be expecting anything, but whatever the disciples might have been expecting after their final encounter with Christ, I’d be willing to bet that what happened to them that Pentecost morning wasn’t it.
      • Text: And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.[9]Come on … nobody would expect that! It sounds like the kind of crazy scenario that only Hollywood screenwriters could dream up.
    • Like dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley, early church must surely have been in need of renewal
      • Text: At this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered[10]
        • Gr. “bewildered” has both positive connotations (amazed, excited) and negative connotations (stirred up, troubled) → see how emotionally taxing this is
      • That sounds like heck of an emotional rollercoaster, and emotional rollercoasters are always exhausting. Think of …
        • Time of immense stress or grief
        • Time when you’ve thrown your whole self into something for an extended period of time
          • Project or activity, organization or event
        • E.g.s
          • Teachers – end of the school week/year → students, too!
          • Planning something big like Peace Camp [or Country Store]
          • The way I feel after worship on Sunday morning
    • But in the midst of all those questions and emotions and confusion, on that Pentecost morning, God provided renewal in a powerful, unmistakable way. → remember end of our NT passage: Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.[11]
  • Everything about this story from Acts speaks to one thing: the amazing work of the Holy Spirit, work that is done not only to those early Christians but through them.
    • I know we don’t often think or talk about the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, but we also see the subtle footprint of the Holy Spirit’s work in Ezekiel: The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord … Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.[12]
      • In Hebrew, the word for “breath” and the word for “wind” and the word for “spirit” are all one and the same. In the story of creation, God breathed new life and Spirit into Adam. In this story from Ezekiel, God breathed new life and Spirit into the valley of dry bones. And in the story of Pentecost from Acts, God breathed new life and Spirit into the very heart of the early church. It is this same Spirit – the Holy Spirit – who has been working for millennia, and it is this same Holy Spirit – noisy and flashy and wholly (and holy!) refreshing – who continues to work in our lives today.
        • Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel has observed that Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones bears no date because every generation needs to hear in its own time that these bones can live again.[13]
          • Scholar: Like the exiles of old, we too can at times feel as good (rather, as bad) as dead. We are null and void inside. But if we look through God’s eyes, we can see broader realities, bases for hope. God can sustain us and fill our barren experiences with lively hope. Is it possible? Absolutely not, disbelievers [declare]. But look with God’s vision and watch it happen![14]
          • Look with God’s vision and watch even the most unlikely and unexpected renewal wash over you like a mighty, Spirit-filled wind. Amen.

 

[1] Ezek 37:1-2.

[2] Ezek 37:3.

[3] Ezek 37:7-8a.

[4] Ezek 37:8b.

[5] Ezek 37:9-10.

[6] Katheryn Pfisterer Darr. “The Book of Ezekiel: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 6. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), 1503-1504.

[7] Ezek 37:14.

[8] Lk 24:50-52.

[9] Acts 2:2-4.

[10] Acts 2:6.

[11] Acts 2:46-47.

[12] Ezek 37:1, 9.

[13] Elie Wiesel. “Ezekiel” in Congregation: Contemporary Writers Read the Jewish Bible, ed. David Rosenberg. (San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987), 186.

[14] Darr, 1504.

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