The Pentecost sermon begins at minute 24.
The foot bone’s connected to the leg bone,
The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone,
The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone,
The thigh bone’s connected to the back bone,
The back bone’s connected to the neck bone,
The neck bone’s connected to the head bone,
Oh, hear the word of the Lord!
I remember a cassette tape that we played in the car when our kids were little. But the vision of the dry bones that Ezekiel had was no children’s tale. It is a vision of complete and utter desolation.
Rolf Jacobson, a Professor of Hebrew Scripture at Luther Seminary, informs us that this vision dates to the period of Israel’s history known as the Babylonian Exile. In 597 BCE, the armies of Babylon deported the Judean king and many Judean leaders to Babylon (2 Kings 24:10-16). Ten years later, in 587/6 BCE, after Jerusalem had rebelled again, the Babylonians razed Jerusalem and its temple and deported a second wave of Judean leaders.
Among the first wave of the deported was the young Ezekiel, whom God later called in Babylon to the office of prophet. For those deportees forced to live in Babylon, the future seemed a black hole into which the people were destined to disappear.
This was as much a spiritual and existential crisis for the Jews as the Holocaust. Where is God?
In verse 11, we read that God said to the prophet: “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.”
Professor Jacobson teaches that the reference to “bones” here is an idiomatic way of referring to one’s deepest self, a way for the community to refer to its most essential self. Psalm 31:10 “My strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away” “My bones are shaking with terror” (6:2). “My bones burn like a furnace” (102:3).
So God’s call on Ezekiel is absurd…. Almost insulting.
Yet the power of God to redeem is greater than any impossibility. NOTHING is good or bad until God gets through with it! And, if Easter suggests anything it is that God brings life to dead things.
God asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel glances at the desolation and responds perhaps in a non-committal or even sarcastic way: “O Lord God, you know.”
And God says, “Prophesy! Speak the word of the Lord. Hear the word of the Lord.”
And the promise is made: “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.”
I want to dwell in the positive as much as possible – as probably all of you do as well. I certainly give thanks for all the blessings of this life, of which I have experienced many. Yes, “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it!”
This is Pentecost, the birthday of the Church – it’s all good news, right?
But I read the newspapers and listen to the deep horrors of life. I was with a mother of a 21-month-old child who was killed. I heard a story of a little girl in Cleveland who is too afraid to play outside because of stray gunfire. A young woman who is lost in the desperation of opioid addiction. Can these bones live?
This passage from Ezekiel invites us to be honest and go to the desolate places in your life and the desolate realities that are everywhere present in our nation and in the world.
God says: look at the desolation and isolation, feel the hopelessness, wonder if there really is a God – because if there is one, where the heck is she?
And the faith challenge is this: Can these bones live? Can your bones live? Does hope still dwell within?
Can the violence on our streets be calmed? Can Palestinian and Israeli live in peace?
Can the despair you are feeling in your life have any redemptive purpose?
Will I ever stop feeling as if my life is a dry mass of bones in the desert?
Mortal, can these bones live? You know, O God! You know, because I don’t. False hopes and glib promises don’t do it for me anymore.
But there is a church in the heart of a dying city. It is a dying church – used to be THE church to go to, but no longer. Big building, 20 members – no young people, no families – nobody joining. Dried up! The members who were left decided to a radical thing: let’s open it up to the homeless who dwelled on its steps, let’s be a place of refuge and safety. Millennials were drawn to the mission – and now, the dry bones are alive.
Here is the thing. God doesn’t wait to act until things are going great. God leads the prophet to the desolate place. It is in the midst of the desolation where God calls us.
It is precisely into death that God brings life and
out of chaos that God creates
and from the desert does God bring living water
and from sin Jesus saves.
It is in the cradle of barn that the Lord of life is born
It is on the cross of wood for criminals that freedom comes
It is the spirit poured out a rag tag bunch of losers – who changed the world
And God tells Ezekiel and the word comes to you and me as well: Prophesy.
New life doesn’t come unless you and I do our part. God is always inviting you and me to take up the mantle of our prophetic call. Let the gospel pour out of your words and actions.
Dr. King said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
BUT the moral arc doesn’t bend unless the Children of God act morally.
It won’t bend unless you and I prophesy, and bounce up and down on it!
It won’t bend alone and there are powers that are trying to bend it the other way!
At Pentecost, the Spirit was poured out on all flesh. And your sons and daughters shall prophesy… young and old, slave and free, Jew and Gentile, gay and straight, Black, White, Brown, and all the colors of the world – all flesh.
You and I are now prophets – yes, you and I are!
We, as Christians, are lulled, I think, into a passivity that is so unbiblical – we wait for God to do.
God has already done! God has told us to prophesy, breathe, speak, work, tell, witness, share, be beacons of hope.
Build up the community, become what you believe – don’t worry about the institution, build the kingdom.
Go to the places of desolation and be the prophets of hope – declare to the world that God is not done, that God is still breathing – if you are willing to breath.
That God is still speaking, if you are willing to speak.
God is still acting, if you are willing to act.
God is still creating if you are willing to create.
And so you and I need to breathe deeply and be ready to prophesy.
God promises, “I am going to bring you back to your own soil” – that is deep and rich, and the dry bones will live. You WILL have solid ground under your feet.
With God’s spirit, (wind, breath, ruah) all is possible. Without it, we are just dry bones in the desert.
Christ calls us to the fullness of life, to the fullness of power, to the fullness of the spirit that will bring life to dry places.
We welcome new members – breathe your life into our dry bones, and we will breathe onto you!
We share the feast – Jesus offering himself to us, come, eat, drink – be empowered, be filled, and then go live and do as if you mean it.
And if you are open and willing and ready – then you may begin to feel the sinews forming, and the muscles re-attaching, and the movement coming.
Go where the breath is, where the spirit is.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around!