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By: Rev. Ron Carlson
Superintendent, Riverview Park District
This is the fifth Sunday of Lent, if you are like me the Lenten journey has been at times a bit overwhelming. Work has been hectic. The weather is less than ideal, and you are ready for a change. This passage begins in a bad place too.
A retelling of Ezekiel 37:1-14
Here in a valley with no name, everywhere you look all you see are piles of bones. As God leads me through the bones, I am amazed at how dry they are. Everywhere I look I see doom and gloom, a total lack of hope and not even a glimpse of a chance or a promise of something new can be seen. There is a low-hanging fog shrouding the piles of bones making the valley damp, dark and cold, limiting my line of sight.
Then God speaks, no, God whispers in a tone that is barely audible, “Human one, can these bones live again?” I do not know what to say… there is an eerie silence as time seems to stop. There is a long uncomfortable pause, and then in an even lower, less audible voice, I slowly say, “Lord God, only you know.” After a short pause, a much clearer and louder voice fills the valley, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, Dry bones, hear the Lord’s word! The Lord God proclaims to these bones: I am about to put breath in you, and you will live again. I will put sinews on you, place flesh on you, and cover you with skin. When I put breath in you, and you come to life, you will know that I am the Lord.”
Not knowing what else to do, I begin to speak, or at least a whisper that grows louder as I speak “Dry bones, hear the Lord’s word! The Lord God proclaims to these bones: I am about to put breath in you, and you will live again. I will put sinews on you, place flesh on you, and cover you with skin. When I put breath in you, and you come to life, you will know that I am the Lord.”
The noise begins to swell as the dry bones shake and rattle and move about the valley floor. The bones came together, bone by bone, and then suddenly there were sinews on them. The flesh appeared, and then they were covered over with skin. While they looked better, they were without life. And again, a voice fills the valley, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, human one! Say to the breath, The Lord God proclaims: Come from the four winds, breath! Breathe into these dead bodies and let them live.”
After again doing as I was told, cautiously and tentatively but surely repeating what I was told, I see and I hear the wind circling the valley darting in and out of the bodies. As the breath entered them, they came to life and stood on their feet, an extraordinarily large company. Then as before, I hear, “Human one, these bones are the entire house of The United Methodist Church. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are finished.’ So now, prophesy and say to them, The Lord God proclaims: I’m opening your graves! I will raise you up from your graves, my people, and I will bring you to Israel’s fertile land. You will know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and raise you up from your graves, my people. I will put my breath in you, and you will live. I will plant you on your fertile land, and you will know that I am the Lord. I’ve spoken, and I will do it. This is what the Lord says.”
When I look at our United Methodist Church, I often feel like it is telling me, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are finished.’ It happens so often that it is almost a refrain. “Our biggest pledgers left or died. Our attendance is down. People got comfortable watching at home in their pajamas. Our building is falling apart. Other churches are leaving. People are trying to get us to do things we do not want to do.” All of those translate to ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are finished.’
But that is not the message Ezekiel, or I bring today. We are challenged to view these circumstances not through our eyes but through God’s eyes. When we look we see dry, old bones, and we know there is only death in them with no hope. But when God looks at that mess, God sees a cacophony of noises and action as bones come together and ligaments and flesh and skin surround them and then the wind or the Spirit of God blows on and in and through them and they rise up as a great army.
Elie Wiesel, author and Holocaust survivor, is quoted as saying, “There is no date on this vision because every generation needs to hear in its own time that these bones can live again.” It is much easier to see the bones and walk away. “Our church can't be saved. Our church needs too much work. I am tired. We are broke.” Any one of those is reason enough to give up. But today, let us walk with God through that Valley of the Shadow of Death.
In this season of lent let us listen for God’s small whisper, “Human one, can these bones live again?” Let us answer, “Lord God, only you know.” And then let us do what God says and get out of the way. Because when we do God will open those things that we see as graves, raise our people up and see that we are on fertile land. God will put breath in us, and we will live.
Prayer -Lord in this season of lent, as we reflect on your word, whisper to us. Challenge us to do and be better. Lift us up and give us strength. Remind us that you are God, and when we see things through our eyes we do not see possibilities so help us to see through your eyes. In Jesus' name, we pray, AMEN.