Here is my sermon in blog format. Let’s see how this works. Thanks, Jerrell Jobe for the idea. He just suggested I try writing my sermon as if I were writing a blog post so that it would be easier for me to preach it without reading it and so it will sound more like me. Does that make sense? Thank you, also to PS (a.k.a. purple) for her sermon that I so enjoyed reading. I took some of her ideas and integrated them into my sermon. Also, thanks to St. Inuksuk for the bone idea. Lastly, thanks to Gino and 10b travelling on Flickr for use of their photos. Well, I will preach it tomorrow, so I will let you know if the knew format helps with the preaching. It was fun to write this way.
Today I want to talk to you about God life-giving breath. But first I have talk to you about dry bones. Ezekiel has a vision that is recorded in Ezekiel 37. Verses 1-6 say:
“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.'”
The Lord took Ezekiel to a valley of bones. Some commentators believe that this was the same valley that Ezekiel was commissioned at in chapter 3. That would make this vision seem very real to Ezekiel. Maybe God wanted him to know what an important real message this was.
The Lord led him around the valley. Ezekiel could have just glanced around and saw what he needed to see: a valley of dry bones, but God wanted him to feel full weight of the vision of bones. Ezekiel saw that there were many (probably thousands) of bones. Which meant that there were many people represented by the bones, perhaps an entire nation. He also saw that the bones were very dry. There was nothing left on them. These bones were dead. They were without hope.
Most of us here have eaten ham. It is Pastor Chris and I’s favorite meat. He makes the world’s best double glazed honey ham. When we get done eating our ham, there is still meat on the bone, the bone is a dark color and there is still marrow and fat attached. These bones were clean and dry. These were more like a ham bone after you’ve given it to your dog and he has picked it clean, after it is has been bleached white with age and exposure.
The word “dry,” in the Old Testament, referred to raisins (dried out, shriveled), hungry people (dry, empty stomachs), chaff (the dry outer hull of wheat) and trees (especially in the desert climate they are in need of life-giving water).
The Lord asked Ezekiel a question. Can these bones live? Ezekiel answers well. He could have said no, but that wouldn’t have given God credit for all He can do. Ezekiel was probably thinking, “Well, they are pretty dead. It’s not likely.” But he realized that God was powerful enough that He probably could do it. So, he answers, “O Lord God, you know.” It was a safe answer, but it also shows that he knew God was powerful.
The Lord then tells him to prophesy to the bones. Now that is a strange thing to do. Ezekiel probably thought, “God, why are you making me do this? You could do it. What do you need me for?” That’s what I would have thought. Who wants to talk to dry bones? I’d be afraid someone was hiding behind some rocks watching and they would start laughing. But Ezekiel is obedient and prophesied saying:
“Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”
Ezekiel did what he was told. I wonder what he thought would happen. It’s easy to be cynical and not expect anything. Especially since Ezekiel had prophesied many times before for God and he had always had to speak words of death, destruction and exile. Sometimes, as a pastor, I wonder if what I preach will stir anyone to action. I expect that while he did what God asked of him, Ezekiel felt the same way and didn’t really expect anything to happen. They were dry bones after all. You can’t get any worse audience than that! I think that might be worse than having no audience at all.
But, he says, “suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.” They were being resurrected! What an amazing moment that must have been! I know that when I see something happening in our church, like being asked to start a Sunday evening Bible study, I get excited. This rattling noise was like the sound of battle or an earthquake or of God’s impressive glory. The same word is used in chapter 3 when God lifts Ezekiel up and takes him where he is to prophesy. Ezekiel knew that the sound he heard was God behind him. Though he hadn’t seen it, he had heard God’s glory. So then, he looks at the bones and sees that they have muscle and flesh and skin. But, he notes that there is still no breath in them.
So God tells Ezekiel to prophesy again. Ezekiel prophesies saying,
“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.”
“Breath,” in Hebrew is the same word that is also used for spirit and wind. The way God tells him to say it emphasizes the determined will of God to “cause (the breath/Spirit/life) to enter their bodies. Isn’t that powerful? They needed God’s Spirit, his life-giving breath.
And what happens? The once dry bones are now alive and breathing. Verse ten says that they “stood on their feet, a vast multitude.” Wow. In Hebrew, the verse uses the equivalent of two verys in other words, a very, very large group. An exceedingly large multitude of people.
So, what did this vision mean? Well, God tells us very clearly what it means. Sometimes, he’s not so clear as this instance. In verses 11-14, God says:
“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.'”
At the time of Ezekiel, the Israelites were far from their home, having been taken captive by Babylon. They were suffering physically as well as spiritually. This was all brought on by their own sin and God was working to bring them back to Him through these trials. But they wondered what had happened to God. They felt alone and didn’t know who they were. The Israelites felt hopeless. They felt like dried up bones, dead.
Ezekiel is to prophesy once again, but to his own people. This message was to give them hope and bring them back to God. Here God is promising them that he will resurrect them; bring them back to life and their home. He is foretelling his action so that they will now it was His doing when it happens. Through their political and physical restoration, He will restore them spiritually. He will breathe His life back into them. And this will start by breathing hope into them with the message Ezekiel will prophesy.
Not too many of the Israelites listened to him until some years later when Cyrus the Great of Babylon allowed displaced people to return home in 538 B.C.
Now that we understand the message and the meaning of the message for the Israelites, what is the meaning to us? There are all kinds of things that cause us to feel spiritually dried up. What have you let come between you and God? What fears and anxieties keep you from living the resurrected life? In John 11:25, Jesus, just before breathing life back into Lazarus, tells Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.” God can breathe new life into you today.
So let go of whatever is keeping you from living the resurrected life. Maybe it’s concern over your finances or who the next president will be. Maybe you have medical issues or a relationship that isn’t healthy like it should be. Maybe you fear the violence in the world or are addicted to something that keeps you from God. Maybe you feel alone, you wonder if there really is a God. You wonder if God does actually care about you. Whatever is making you feel dry and dead, give it to God. He will breathe new life into you. He will bring restoration to your soul. He loves you deeply, more than we can even comprehend. He only longs to bring you back to a healthy life in Him. All you need to do is accept the gift of life he offers and give your problems and questions to Him. Don’t let your problems drag you into the grave any longer.