October 19, 2014 - Ezekiel 37.1-14

“The Walking Dead”

Ezekiel 37.1-14

October 19, 2014

 

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.

 

This is a very cool scripture.  It’s the story of Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones.  These bones that have been dead for so long they are completely dry: devoid of sinew and flesh.  They are long dead.  And the miraculous happens.  They get up and start to walk.  Thousands of people are brought back from the dead, flesh covering their once dry bones as the breath of God blows into them and raises them from their graves.  Wow.

 

It reminds me of the TV show that I watch and the new season that began last Sunday night: The Walking Dead.  Oh, it’s a monster show.  Zombies, or walkers as they are called, now roam the land and those left living have to fight for their lives.  It’s a really good show if you like that kind of thing.  Not for kids, though.

 

But it makes me wonder, this scripture and The Walking Dead both make me wonder I in fact there are not dead people walking around with us.  Oh, I don’t mean monsters.  But people who are spiritually dead, people with no life in them, no purpose for living, no joy, no love, no family, no friends, no purpose, no goals, no one who cares for them.  Oh, in fact, I think this world – our world – is filled with people who are actually dead.

 

I spent the last 12 days with a fever, having nothing to do except read the news and watch sports and news.  I got tired of that really quick because all the news, well, it was like “the spirit of the LORD set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.”  Everywhere I looked there were bones and they were very dry. In Liberia, Ivory Coast, Syria, Afghanistan, Israel, Iraq and other places, where bombs explode and guns pop: the bones are very dry.  Hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunami, oil spills and tornados rip apart the earth and her people: the bones are very dry.  In our own country Detroit and Cleveland rust before our eyes, where the rich get insanely rich and the poor have a harder time making ends meet, where Republicans and Democrats cannot manage civil discourse: the bones are very dry.  And in our families, where death claims our loved ones, addiction claims our children and siblings, abuse claims our innocence: the bones are very dry.   It doesn’t matter which direction we look—toward the environment or politics or the economy or world affairs or our personal lives—there are dry bones all around. 

 

Perhaps it’s my mood.  I was sick and had no idea why I was running a high fever.  The flu test was negative, and my lungs were clear so it wasn’t pneumonia or bronchitis, so I guess it was all in my head – literally.  I still miss my mom, whose been dead for 5 and a half years.  My Dad has congestive heart failure, and at 85, isn’t even buying green bananas anymore.  And I know it is trivial, but my football team is weak and clueless and can’t do anything right.  Some Christians hold up signs at football games with John 3.16 on them. Since I root for the Falcons, I have to hold up one with Luke 23.34 on it. (“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”)

 

Perhaps it’s my age.  My joints hurt, my metabolism no longer sails through desserts and fried chicken, I can’t drink coffee past 6 p.m., I’m ready for bed by 10:30, my skin wrinkles and sags, I am now buying FIBER, and my Guidestone representative tells me I can never retire. I get these “mystery pains” that come from out of NOWHERE.   I remember how things were done in the “good old days” and prefer them. Like reading from books and talking to people face-to-face.  As they say, this growing old is not for sissies.

 

Or perhaps it is that the world is going to hell in a hand basket like they say. I can buy that.  Joblessness, violent weather, suicide bombers, the demise of old ways and venerated institutions—seems to me like it’s all going to hell in a hand basket. Whatever it is that’s going on, the LORD has set me down in the middle of a valley full of bones, and those bones are very dry. Ezekiel and I are in the same place.

 

And so the LORD is addressing me as well, I suppose: “Mortal, can these bones live?”  My despairing self replies, “Reckon not.” My feisty self replies, “How the heck would I know?” which I think is pretty much what Ezekiel is saying only more enigmatically and politely.  My hopeful self says, “I have so many questions, Lord. Do exiles have a future? Do people shut out have any hope of restoration? Will the earth live on?  Will wars ever cease?  Will I ever see my Momma again? Tell me! Tell me the story again.  Remind me, so that I can trust that dry bones might live.” 

 

And so with you I watch God and Ezekiel play the scene in the valley again. God tells Ezekiel what is going to happen.  God will cause these dry bones to live again. God will cause these dry bones to live again. God will do this, that and the other thing but the end result is that those bones shall live again and these bones will know that it is God who has given them life.

 

But as audacious and resolute as it is, this scene is really scary.  Not the rattling bones and wind tunnels. Not even God’s voice, commanding the elements.  No.  The scary part is Ezekiel and what Ezekiel is supposed to do.  Because if he and I are standing in this valley of death together, what God tells Ezekiel to do is what God is telling me to do.  “Prophesy!  Prophesy to these bones!  Prophesy!”  Holy Moses, what does that mean?

 

If you look the word “prophesy” up in Webster’s Dictionary, you’re told the word means “to utter as if by divine inspiration, or to predict with assurance on the basis of mystic knowledge; to foretell”.  Yes, that’s what the word has come to mean for us today.  Crassly put, for most people to prophesy means to predict the future and be annoyingly certain about it.

 

Yet God says, “Prophesy.”  Three times, in case I missed it. “Prophesy! Prophesy! Prophesy!” Now, to be fair to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, there is another definition it gives of the word “prophesy” and it is this: “to give religious instruction”.  Which when you think about it, shouldn’t be such a hard assignment for someone who has been to four different seminaries.  But honestly, a lot of seminary was boring, and can hardly be described as breathing new life.  I had an Old Testament that once fell asleep in his OWN lecture.  Not even kidding.

 

Yet I am commanded to do something. Maybe what I’m supposed to do is remember that the Bible recounts how God’s promises, time and time again, have come true.  That God has shown us that God is honorable, faithful, and utterly reliable. Maybe what I’m supposed to do is notice that God has restored people to the land of the living before. Maybe what I’m supposed to do is notice that these past promises have been fulfilled because God stands outside the “real world” as we like to call it, this world which studies war, which rewards greed, which excludes the powerless, which intends that dry bones shall never live again.

 

This world would have us all walking around like the walkers from The Walking Dead.  In this story of the Zombie apocalypse, the living people are actually already infected with the virus that will turn them when the die into the lifeless shells that roam aimless through the world.  Rick, the leader of the living group, has to break this news to his group “We ARE the walking dead.”

 

You know people who are lifeless, who feel like a bunch of dry bones.  Jerry Cantrell wrote a song called Them Bones:

I believe them bones are me…
I feel so alone, gonna end up a
Big ole pile of them bones.[1]

 

Our sister church and missions partner, Tipi Wakan, is trying to spread the gospel to the people of the Standing Rock Reservation, where the leading cause of death for people under 25 is suicide.  If ever there was a valley of dry bones, we are in it.

 

This world would rather us be dry bones - dead people with no life, no joy, no love, and no purpose, nothing that invigorates us.  But here’s the thing: Just because we sit here in church, and are part of the church does NOT mean that we are immune to having our life taken from us.  I don’t mean physically dying.  I mean losing our reason for living, losing our passion for following Jesus.  How many dead churches do you know?  How many dead Christians do you know?  Are you one of them?

Fred Craddock says it this way: “In light of the Gospel, the one unforgivable sin is to be dead.” He goes on to tell the story of a minister who, becoming terribly frustrated at a church with its lethargy said in the service, “Why don’t we all form a circle, hold hands, and attempt to communicate with the living.”

 

The Question Hasn’t changed.  “Can these bones live?” There is no life apart from the Spirit of God. Life begins with God’s breath in Genesis. When humanity turns away from God, life departs. Physical, intellectual, social and emotional life may continue for a time – but the real substance of life as God designed it for us, is spiritual life — that life which is the image of God in us. Without this spiritual life, we are the zombie-like creatures in Ezekiel 37, which have bones, and flesh, but no spirit.

Christianity should not be a hobby – but a transformational encounter with the Living God, that effects and permeates every part of our lives.

And as we do that – that’s where we find true joy, true, happiness, true peace.

Robert Capon suggests, “We are in a war between dullness and astonishment.” The most critical issue facing Christians is not abortion, pornography, the disintegration of the family, moral absolutes, MTV, drugs, racism, human sexuality, or school prayer. The critical issue today is dullness. We have lost our astonishment. Christianity is no longer life changing it is life enhancing.

 

Michael Yaconelli said in Dangerous Wonder, The Adventure of Childlike Faith, “I’m ready for a Christianity that “ruins” my life, and that captures my heart. I want to be filled with astonishment. Yes, I want to be “dangerous” to a dull and boring religion.” I want to risk resurrection now.

 

In every ending, there is a beginning. In every ebbing, there is a flowing. For every valley of dry bones, there is the hope of life and resurrection. Can these bones live? God knows. Are there dry places in your life? Are there empty places in your past? Is your present life a rut? Is your future something you are willing to surrender? Are we willing to risk the Mandan we know to find the undiscovered country of Mandan we don’t know? The one that lives and moves and has its being in the heart of mind of God by looking to the welfare of our neighbors’ hearts and minds?

 

Do you believe that God can raise the dead?  I know God can.  If you feel dead, hear me:  God is ready to breathe on you and make you live.

 

[1] Jerry Cantrell, Them Bones, from the Alice in Chains album, Dirt.

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