Sunday 10th April 2011
Reading: Ezekiel 37 v 1-14
The 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.
Can these bones live?
A timely question for churches in our world today.
Can these bones live?
I was introduced by a friend this week, to a man I had never met before. On being told that I was a Church of Scotland minister, he said: “Oh, what about the church, then, it’s in decline, isn’t it?”
He was surprised by my answer: “Only in some places”.
Unfortunately we didn’t get time to pursue the conversation but I get tired of folk, many of them in leadership in the church, even here, who already have the church dead and buried.
It’s no wonder that folk pick up on that gloom and doom and are already preparing for the funeral.
THE CHURCH OF THE LIVING GOD IS NOT DEAD.
THIS PART OF THE CHURCH, HERE IN CASTLEHILL IS NOT DEAD.
"I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.”
THUS SAYS THE LORD.
Because God never gives up and encourages us to do likewise.
And in this season of Lent, when we look forward to emerging from the wilderness to celebrate the resurrection, we have every reason to be hopeful.
Even, from the darkness of death, we are redeemed by hope.
God didn’t give up on the people of Israel, even after they’d strayed so far that they were captured and exiled.
Even when the people thought they were already dead and buried.
God didn’t give up on them.
Ezekiel’s ministry could be considered a ministry of two halves:
At the beginning of Ezekiel’s ministry God called him to call the people of Israel to change their ways so that they would not be captured by their enemies and forced into exile.
But the people would not listen.
So Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed.
Ezekiel’s preaching fell on deaf ears.
In the second half of Ezekiel’s ministry, God called Ezekiel to reassure the people, now in exile, that God was still their God and still with them.
In a vision Ezekiel saw a field of dried, strewn out bones. This is how the Jews saw themselves.
They were in captivity, and their land was gone.
They had lost all hope.
But God gave Ezekiel a vision, an incredible vision.
Those bones that had been lying in this valley for so long they’ve dried up are commanded to life.
And it’s not a case of God simply performing a miracle.
Instead, God tells Ezekiel to prophesy and tell these bones to come together, for flesh to form and muscles to develop.
God worked through the prophet.
For though God is perfectly capable of changing things, we know only too well, that that’s not the way God works.
God, who created us in love, waits for our response in love.
God trusts us.
And more, God relies on us – to make things different.
God wants to involve us in the work of resurrection.
After the bones have bodies, they are still not living.
So, once again, God works through the prophet.
God tells Ezekiel to command the wind–God’s Spirit–to come and breathe life into the bodies.
So, through a prophet’s word. God’s Spirit comes and breathes life into the bodies that have been formed from the dry bones.
Then God asks Ezekiel to spell it out to the people - to tell the exiles that just as God can raise a living army from these dry bones, so God will restore the people of Israel to their land.
They will once again be a nation, in their own land.
They will, once again, know hope.
Because, in spite of all their turning away, still they are loved by God who IS love.
That was such a hard thing for the people of Israel to hear.
In the depths of despair, it’s hard to hear good news.
When you’ve already written off the future, it’s hard to emerge from the darkness.
And that’s why Ezekiel was given such a powerful vision to share.
Because that vision needed to get beyond the hopelessness in which the people he spoke to were living.
That vision was required to breathe new life and new hope in to a lifeless and hopeless people.
If God can breathe life and hope back into a captured and exiled people, we, the people of God today have cause for hope.
That is why I refuted my new friend’s claim that the church was in decline.
That is why I believe that we, the people of God today, however flawed, yet will live.
Because God is not finished with us.
God is still working – from the inside out.
Working on our hearts.
Restoring our faith.
Restoring our hope.
Breathing new life into us.
I found these words on the Church of Scotland website – I found them – of all places – in the history section of the website:
In a millennium and a half, the Church (of Scotland) has been at different times a tiny, radical outside force, a revolutionary movement, a strand of government and a partner in civil society.
It has been supportive and critical, protective and destructive.
Today the Church of Scotland lives in the creative tension of serving a nation, offering the ordinances of religion and also providing a prophetic Gospel voice through parish ministry and national engagement of many kinds.
“A prophetic Gospel voice”
Is that how we see ourselves today?
Or have we, as critics would claim, been left behind in that valley of dry bones?
Are we still nursing old hurts that have never quite healed up?
Or lamenting past traditions that have fallen out of use?
Or cherishing former leaders whose word and style was different?
Or are we just cussed enough to want to wallow in the valley of the dry bones?
Even if we are guilty of all these things, we will be annoyed to be reminded that God never gives up on us.
God still considers us worth redeeming.
God still waits.
Waits to breathe life and hope into us.
So that we, in turn can breathe new life into a world that needs to hear that prophetic gospel.
A world that needs healing from hurt.
A world that needs help to move on.
A world that needs encouragement to once more experience love and hope.
Even and especially in the face of despair.
Where else can healing be found?
Where else encouragement?
Where else hope and love?
But from the people of God, whom God has never given up on.
So can we too, be raised up by that ancient vision?
Can we be filled with life and with hope?
Can we still be that prophetic gospel voice kindling hope in our world today?
If we will allow it, God breathes new life into us.
God never gives up on us.
God calls us to be prophetic voices, bringing good news.
There IS life in the church – believe it – and live it.
Can these bones live?
on whether there is the will
the will to bring together
can’t be bothered spirits
and transform them
with a whoosh of life
a whoosh that is infectious
that starts off as a wee rumble
but gathers pace and momentum
disrupting all in its wake
even in the dryness
there IS potential
sometimes visible only
to the God of life
the God who revives tired spirits
and lifts up weary souls
and brings revival
when all seems lost.
I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.”
THUS SAYS THE LORD.
Thanks be to God.