Sermon: Live! (Where is God in our spiritually dry moments?)
Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1-14
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date: April 2, 2017, Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A
This morning’s scripture is one of the classical Biblical texts that conjures up vivid scenes in its writing. The prophet Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, is given vivid stories and word pictures that convey God’s words to the people scattered in exile. Exile from the Promised Land occurred when the people of Israel wanted an earthly king like all the other nations in lieu of God being their King; the problem was that once the kings got in place, the nation of Israel began to hit the skids because of corrupt leadership that split the nation into the northern nation of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah. Once the nation was split, they were easy pickings for Persian and Egyptian armies. The Hebrews were scattered and most were taken as exile slaves in what it today’s Iraq.
Ezekiel writes to a people who have lost hope. They have been overrun and swallowed up into a culture that is not their own, a culture that does not share its same values, ways of life, or understanding of living and worshipping the Divine. As a distinct people of God with their own nation, they were dead. We pick up in our colorful Story with words of hope and promise from God; indeed, some believe these are the first allusions to resurrection life in the Hebrew scriptures. As you listen, listen for the three parts of the Story: The prophecy; the reshaping of the people; and the Spirit being breathed upon them giving new life and identity. Listen to the Word of the Lord.
37.1The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” 7So 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. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.9Then he 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.” 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 11Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I 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.
You know what time of year it is? It is the time of year when people are starting to feel tired. Spring breaks are over and teachers, professors, and students are grinding it out to get through the end of the school year. Youth sports is at a fever pitch as the cheer teams, cross country and track teams, baseball, volleyball, softball and lacrosse teams are trying to wind up the season. Parents are exhausted from hauling carpools from one part of the county or state to the other. College football teams are winding up Spring training before they leave for the summer. Snowbirds are packing up their things and are preparing to head back north for reasons unbeknownst to me. The Church year is winding down and teachers and volunteers are pooped. But Easter is coming and so we must press on forward. These activities are not bad things in and of themselves but can they can leave us feeling tired. These are the everyday things that can cause us to become tired. Add to these activities those items you and I cannot control and we begin to feel like a valley of dry bones in our souls.
Last weekend two Stetson students felt so burdened and emotionally dry and spent they took their own lives.
A four-year-old child died in his bed making a parent’s worst nightmare become true.
A sister saint of this church died during her operation.
Marriages are under strain and the phantom of infidelity overshadows relationships.
Diagnoses of life-changing or life-threatening medical conditions intrude into easygoing, carefree routines and our lives are brought up short as though we have been hit in the gut. These are things that have just happened this week in our community.
My soul’s bones feel parched. Bleached. Dried out.
Can you relate?
Ezekiel’s vision is a comfort for those of us who are languishing in a spiritual, emotional, physical, or social desert. They are comforting words to those of us who are struggling to get through the day at a time of year the heat of life begins to sap our strength away. The comfort is that God will not only hold us together and reconstitute our broken frames but God breathes the same Creative breath and Spirit into us that God breathed at Creation. God’s breath brings life to our parched and dried out lives.
But how? I want to know how God does this when everything feels so dry. And as I was standing in the valley of the dry bones of my soul this week, I began to see how God pulls it off. I can tell you how it happened for me but the reality is that you must experience it and figure it out for yourself. You see, God will reveal and deliver the living, recreating breath when the moments of your life seem to be the driest and darkest; the dry bones will live when we relax, sit still and then receive the love of God through the Spirit. Let’s break that down a bit.
God reveals himself to us not just when things are bad but God fully discloses himself when bad things have turned even worse. Ezekiel didn’t see corpses in his vision but he saw a condition that was beyond that of death: He saw the blanched bones of a nation bleached white in the scorching heat. There were no bodies but bone remnants that had already been picked over by the birds and rotted by weather. In other words, the very hope of the nation of Israel was one step away from being dried up and blown away into total non-existence. And this is the environment God uses to reveal himself and recreate life from apparent total despair.
Beloved, the words of comfort for our soul’s dry bones is that when all not only seems dead and gone but our very broken soul’s existence feels it is about to be blown away in the dust, that is the environment God shows his divine power most clearly. It is when we know there is nothing left to do, no one left to count on that we begin to resign ourselves to the inevitability that we cannot do it on our own; it’s then and only then we have we made the necessary room for the dynamic power of God to show up. It’s only when there is no more left to us that we create room and space for God to be God. When everything in life seems to go our way, we are more prone to miss the Presence of the Holy in our lives because of the lack of problems and hardship. God is surely there in those bright, good times but we are too busy with the bright good times to notice. It’s only when the valley is empty, where the wind is hot, and the soul is like a dried, bleached bone left in the sun that we are brought to a place of reliance on the re-creative breath of the Spirit.
It’s in the valley of the dry bones of our spirit and soul that the environment is set for us to receive the extravagant love of God. It is for the love of his covenant people Israel that God wants to restore their spirit and bring them back to life. It is for the love of his people that God goes to the most barren, dry, hot, parched places and breathes new life into them. His breath is life! He tells them to, “Live!”, and that command initiates from the Lord’s love of the people.
Today, we have a tangible example of how God restores our souls. The Table set before us was given under the direst condition: The very death of the Son of God. It was only when the earthly Jesus totally surrendered all to God that he could say to you and me, “This is my body and my blood which is for you.” It’s only in Jesus’ darkest hour, in humanity’s most tragic moment, that the Love of God could be seen and experienced so dramatically and brightly.
Is your soul bone dry? Are there moments when you wonder if God is even around or even cares? If so, those are the moments you are to pay attention. Those are the moments God will use to re-form us, reshape us, re-ligament us and re-create us. God will do it in the shared expression of love those placed in our lives who will demonstrate it to us.
The Table reminds us God is most clearly present and visible when life seems to be at its worst and most desperate; it demands that we remember that God is most clearly present in sacrificial love. When there is darkness, look for the light of Love and there my beloved, you will see dry bones live.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
© 2017 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.