Scripture Ezekiel 37:4-14 “There Was a Sound …” (The Message)
1-2 God grabbed me. God’s Spirit took me up and set me down in the middle of an open plain strewn with bones. He led me around and among them—a lot of bones! There were bones all over the plain—dry bones, bleached by the sun. 3 He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Master God, only you know that.” 4 He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones: ‘Dry bones, listen to the Message of God!’”
5-6 God, the Master, told the dry bones, “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!” 7-8 I prophesied just as I’d been commanded. As I prophesied, there was a sound and, oh, rustling! The bones moved and came together, bone to bone. I kept watching. Sinews formed, then muscles on the bones, then skin stretched over them. But they had no breath in them. 9 He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man. Tell the breath, ‘God, the Master, says, Come from the four winds. Come, breath. Breathe on these slain bodies. Breathe life!’” 10 So I prophesied, just as he commanded me. The breath entered them and they came alive! They stood up on their feet, a huge army. 11 Then God said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Listen to what they’re saying: ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, there’s nothing left of us.’ 12-14 “Therefore, prophesy. Tell them, ‘God, the Master, says: I’ll dig up your graves and bring you out alive—O my people! Then I’ll take you straight to the land of Israel. When I dig up graves and bring you out as my people, you’ll realize that I am God. I’ll breathe my life into you and you’ll live. Then I’ll lead you straight back to your land and you’ll realize that I am God. I’ve said it and I’ll do it. God’s Decree.’”
Message “… of Rattling” Rev. James Renfrew
One night my wife and I went to the movies, one of those places that shows IMAX 3D films, and you have to wear those special glasses. I can’t remember what movie we went to see, but what I do remember that a few minutes into the movie we realized that we were in the wrong theater because this wasn’t the movie we had planned to see. Instead, it was the movie about the man who managed to string a cable between the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and then walked across it like a circus performer walking a tightrope over a hundred stories up in the air! Watching him cross from one tower to the other took my breath away. Each step he took could lead to triumph or disaster. I soon forgot about the movie we had come to see, and really got into this one. Out in the parking after the movie my breath finally came back to me!
It’s Pentecost Sunday, a good day to catch your breath. You are probably expecting to hear that story from Acts about the day that the Holy Spirit swept through a crowd of lost and grieving followers of Jesus. “What shall we do now that he’s gone? What can we do? It will never be the same. He’s gone and we have nowhere to go.”
Then a powerful wind began to blow, tongues of fire from heaven touched each person there, and people started speaking in unfamiliar languages. What did the strange words mean? It didn’t matter; because it meant that God always has the last word. Those who were there never forgot what they saw and heard, never forgot what happened to them. They all realized that what Jesus had begun could not be stopped. Where Jesus’ enemies put up walls and barriers to dead-end Jesus’ followers, their hopes and dreams, the Spirit of God blew right through, amazingly, incredibly, lifting them up and over the walls that had been built to defeat them. The Spirit of God is unstoppable! To show our adherence to this ancient day of unstoppable hope, maybe you are wearing red to represent the tongues of fire, ready to turn on fans to re-produce the wind, and practiced up on words from languages you barely know?
But that’s not the story for this celebration of Pentecost. I’ve switched stories on you! Sorry about that! Well, not sorry at all! So, yes, it’s like going to see a movie only to find that it’s not the movie you were expecting! Instead we have this story from Ezekiel about the valley of loose, disconnected, dead dry bones. An entire valley filled from end to end with a deep pile of dead dry bones, as far as the eye can see, not a single sign of life. It’s creepy, it’s scary, and it is terribly discouraging. Who could abide being in such a place? If you were there your body would be shaking with fear, and you would be doing everything you could to get away from there.
You may not know a lot about Ezekiel. He’s a prophet and there’s an entire book with his name in the Old Testament. Some prophets taught wisdom, some prophets confronted the institutions and structures of their day, some prophets offered miracles of healing, but Ezekiel had visions. He saw things, he heard things, he told about things that no one else had seen, heard or known. Ezekiel’s visions are meant to show you what you’ve been missing, but his style is not soft or gentle. By astounding you, even shocking you, to get your attention, to show where the true power in this world lies. One of my seminary professors put it this way, “Ezekiel is crazy!” But he said that not with derision, but with awed respect. When Ezekiel tells a fantastic story about his vision you’re never going to forget it.
So let’s see how it works. We’re looking out over that valley filled with dead dry bones. We take it all in, endless bones as far as the eye can see. And utter silence, because all hopes have been extinguished. There’s not a voice, a whisper, not a shred of hope, not even a breath of air. Have you been in a valley like that at some time in your life? Maybe you’re in a valley like that RIGHT NOW? You’re stuck. No lifeboat, no rescue squad, no sky hook, no lifeline, no 911, no cavalry to save the day, no helping hand, no obvious exit, a place you don’t want to be, but there’s nowhere to go, and no way to get there even if there was.
In that silence, Ezekiel hears a sound. It is a sound of rattling. The rest of us haven’t heard it, haven’t heard it at all. But Ezekiel wants us to listen carefully, listen in the utter silence, and see if we can hear it, too! God is not done here!
The more we listen, the more those dead dry bones begin to rattle, and it is a sign of life and hope for every single one of us. If those bones can start to move, maybe we are not as lost or defeated as we thought we were. Let me tell you, this is why I am a Christian participating in a Christian congregation, because it’s all about hearing, seeing and knowing that God is about to do something unexpected. And I don’t want to miss it!
The way Ezekiel unfolds the vision of the bone-filled valley is overlaid with his conversation with God. And it is God who asks the key question: “can these bones live”? Ezekiel expresses uncertainty, “I don’t know, God, only you know of such things”.
That question, of course, through the miraculous witness of scripture, is directed to Ezekiel, and also to YOU. God answers our doubts and hesitations by saying this: “Can these bones live? Just listen, just watch, and you will know what I can do!” Where I was shaking with horror at the idea of being stuck in a valley of dry bones, now I am shaking with a new–found idea, a belief, that God offers the same hope to someone like me! Yes, me, you, all of us: “your bones can live!” Hear the rattling? And not just in your ears somewhere off in the distance, but deep in your own bones, tired old bones snapping back into place. And now your ready to flex those joints once more. Wow!
I knew in advance a little bit of what Wendy’s story would be this morning. Maybe not as dramatic a setting as a field of dry bones, just some worries, some telephone calls, the voice of a friend, and the bones in her life beginning to rattle. Wow! Praise God!
I hope this story helps you hear the bones in your life rattling! Within the Vital Congregations Initiative there are seven marks of a vital congregation. One of them is “Spirit-Inspired Worship”. A congregation that is not vital, can only tell stories about when God used to be vital. A congregation that is vital has stories from the right now, like Wendy’s, stories that we have encouraged and trained ourselves to share. It’s what we do when we attend Sunday School, join a Bible Study, sing in the choir, learn to sew, assemble dignity bags, and pack backpacks. We find our voice, we find our story, and every time one of those stories is told and heard, we hear the bones rattling, the dry dead bones rattling, coming together, and with Spirit and life breathed into them, no longer dead, but very much alive. Wow! Praise God!
A valley of dry bones, dry, dead bones, as far as the eye can see. What kind of congregation shall we be, the church of what used to be, or the church that is always becoming something more? Alive in song, alive in prayer, alive in mission, alive in love, alive in joy.
I’m sorry if you were expecting that other story this morning, but the story from Ezekiel offers us a new way to flex our joints and dream big! It begins with rattling, but now we know the Spirit will turn this valley of dry bones into a playground for the children of God. Can these bones live? They are coming together, bone to bone, hope to hope, life to life. (Sustained rattling!)