(a sermon I preached on Ezekiel 37)
What a fabulous visceral image. Bones that rattle and pull together and then marrow and then tendons and then skin, and finally breath – wow.
The punch line to all of this is Then, Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken. Its part of a refrain that is put in lots of different ways throughout Jeremiah and Ezekiel – then you will know that I am the Lord, and you shall be my people and I will be your God
And when we say Know we mean not just know in your head, know in your heart, but also live out in your lives, in how we love our neighbours as ourselves, in how we love the Lord God.
So we see God’s big commitment to us to show His love, his commitment, to breathe His life into us. So your take home today could be the Reminder that God hasn’t given up on you, God hasn’t forgotten you, God doesn’t quit on you.
/*So here we are in the Year of the OT. We have spent quite a lot of time in the last two years in the OT. Firstly looking at children’s stories – Daniel and the Lions Den, and then looking at more complicated texts like the Shma prayer. I wonder if you think of this bit of Ezekiel as being close to the category of Children’s stories. It’s a really good story. And it is all about hope.
Ezekiel himself was born in Jerusalem, he grew up training to be a Priest, which to a large extent meant learning how to be a butcher, how to sacrifice animals, as well as how to lead God’s people in worship. But the Babylonians invaded. When they first invaded – 597 – that’s most likely when the likes of Daniel and Ezekiel were carried off into slavery and exile. Ten years later 586, that’s when Jerusalem falls and the temple is destroyed, and Jeremiah is very busy with his prophesying.
So Ezekiel has his 30th birthday in Exile. He has this amazing vision of God’s throne, and wheels within wheels, it’s a sort of Divine Wheel chair! And God calls Ezekiel to be a prophet. Its not an easy message – the people are wondering where is God in all this mess.
Everyone knows that the gods are quite territorial, so when the God of Israel got defeated on home turf by the gods of the Babylonians Marduk, Tammuz, then you can see how that could lead to a significant crisis of faith. The Road from Jerusalem north into Exile would have been strewn with rotting bodies and bones, but you can also see how those who survived, for many of them their faith would have been as dead and dry as a very dry bone.
Ezekiel preaches and acts out parables in fabulous pantomime style to show that in many ways this disaster has been brought on by years and years of drifting away from the LORD God – and that’s not just obvious through worship of false idols, forgetting to worship God, its also obvious through how social injustice has crept in so that its one rule for the rich and powerful and another rule for the rest of us. And disaster has come, and Ezekiel is asked to preach this home truth. Not easy to hear.
But then Ezekiel slowly begins to preach layer upon layer of hope. It started in Ch11 where God promises to give His people a heart of flesh, and then we came back to that last week when we looked at Ezekiel 36 and the wonderful promise is repeated: I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
And now this chapter 37 is saying the same thing but in quite a visual way.
The LORD shows Ezekiel this valley of dry bones and asks ‘Can they live?’. And the correct answer is “No of course not, its hopeless.” But Ezekiel doesn’t give the correct answer he says basically ‘God only knows!’. And that is the voice of faith. “Sovereign Lord you alone know”.
Maybe as you struggle with your own faith, and questions and doubt, there will be times when you feel that the correct answer is – ‘Its hopeless, of course nothing can come of this’ – but if you can try and turn it into a prayer and say ‘Oh Sovereign Lord, you alone know’.
Then comes the command to Prophesy, to speak to these bones. You might think that Ezekiel would say ‘Oh dear God you’re having me on, it is completely hopeless, why would I speak to dry bones’!
But he does speak. And the message that Ezekiel gives is that of Hope, that God hasn’t give up on you yet, that God will bring you together, breathe life into you, that there is Hope.
So now I want to ask Who speaks hope to you?
And – Where do you get your hope from?
How do you keep God’s breath in you?
How do you keep the faith, who is prophesying to you?
I hope that you might have different answers to that, a variety of people, worship, prayer, the bible, in times of quiet. Come and Receive Holy Communion and eat and drink in that hope.
and then come up to the Holy Spirit Chapel and let someone pray for the Holy Spirit to come on you, breathe God’s love and hope into you.
Have a pause later to think about who is prophesying to you. And give thanks to God for them.
And then have a pause and think about who you might be prophesying to? Who might you be speaking life to, speaking hope to, encouraging.
What I find encouraging here, is that Ezekiel prophesies but nothing much happens. Okay the bones come together, but its still dead. It only half worked.
You could think ‘Well I did what God asked, it sort of worked but then it didn’t, so I’ll stop.’
But God says ‘Keep going, keep prophesying, keep speaking life and hope and faith’. So call on God’s breath, God’s Holy Spirit, to come and fill these people.
That is a good prayer. When you’re praying for people, to pray for God’s Holy Spirit to come on them, so that God’s divine breath can enter them and give them life, life in all its fullness.
Take comfort that these bones are very dead, very dry. They are not earning the love of God, they’re not worthy of God’s life and breath. And there’s no guarantee that God isn’t wasting His breath – who knows what this new life will look like.
But the idea is that as we receive God’s unconditional love, His Grace, His unmerited favour, underserved goodness – as we receive this breath that this new life in us, like being born again, will lead us to live lives of joy and meaning, that bring blessing and life to others.
Go back to Ezekiel 36 and see how many times you count the word “I will” in them. There’s at least a dozen. And here in Ez 37, there’s 6 just at the end of this reading. God is layering up His promises that God has not finished with you or me, that we’re not forgotten, that God is breathing His Holy Spirit on us.
There will be moments this next week, when if you have eyes to see it you will catch glimpses of Angels Wings, of God at work in your life. It might be small, it might be huge, but it will be there. And when you do, take a note of it and give thanks to God, and let that moment breathe faith and hope and love into you. And share it, share a testimony, a word of encouragement, a moment where you had cause to give thanks to God for His goodness.
And think about who speaks hope and life to you, who prophecies to you?
And who are you speaking to, how can you speak hope and life to them?
You will have people on your prayer list, people you have been praying for for years, praying that God will come to them and breathe life into their souls and give to them the faith that will connect them to a living relationship with the God who loves them – you have, I have, been praying for some people for years.
Can these dry bones live? The obvious answer is No. But the answer of Ezekiel is ‘LORD, you alone know’. So then keep praying, keep speaking words of love and encouragement, of faith and hope in to their lives, praying that their bones may also be filled with God’s breath.
And as you do that, remember yourself, to keep breathing in God’s Holy Spirit yourself, keep connected to the source of life and hope and faith.
So that you can be filled with God’s love and so that you can prophesy that hope over others. Amen.
(Photo is of a dry valley near the Dead Sea (no bones))