Pentecost – B LSB #’s 497, 490, 924
Text – Ezekiel 37:1
The hand of the Lord was upon me, & He brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord & set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.
IT WAS FULL OF BONES
One of my former electrical customers was a veterinarian. Working in the attic one day, pulling wires for a new x-ray machine, I came across a box full of bones. It was pretty obvious they were not from an animal, but a human being.
Sort of made me wonder what kind of sideline business the veterinarian was involved in. But I didn’t ask lest I end up in a similar sort of box. That’s my one story about finding the literal “skeleton in the closet.” Have you ever come across a skeleton in someone’s closet? You know, the sort of occasion when you asked the wrong question at the wrong time.
I did that during my vicarage. I asked an innocent question about one of our worship practices. My supervisor’s reaction made it very clear that I should never ever go there again, unless I wanted to be the next skeleton in his closet.
In the OT lesson, God has an entire valley full of bones that He wants Ezekiel to see. They are very dry, lifeless, even disconnected bones. This vision represents the nation of Israel as found in exile in the pagan country of Babylon. The spiritual nature of God’s chosen people was that dead, beyond dead even – just a valley full of very dry bones.
“Can these bones live?” the Lord asks Ezekiel. We might say the Lord is asking that same question of us today. Can St. Matthew Lutheran Church live? As I look across those of you gathered here, a case could be made that it’s nothing more than a bunch of old bones lying in a valley, getting bleached by the sun.
And apart from the congregation, in our own personal lives, each of us struggles with
issues – weaknesses, frustrations, temptations, & sin. Any of those can make that personal area of our lives appear as hopeless as a valley full of dry old bones. And the greatest danger is not even from the sin itself, but from our refusal to face the fact that we have a problem.
So, we go back to Ezekiel’s valley: “The hand of the Lord was upon me, & He brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord & set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And He led me around among them, & behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, & behold, they were very dry.” (Ezekiel 37:1-2 ESV)
What comes to mind when you hear those words? Probably not a picture of lush, green vegetation, or a scene of abundant life. To our way of looking at things that text paints a very bleak picture, one of foreboding & danger & certainly death. Since the wages of sin is death, it’s natural to see only suffering & condemnation in that valley full of bones.
So it is with our problems & struggles. It’s easy to see only the condemnation, only the failures & the pain caused by sin. At those times people commonly ask God, “Why? What did I do to deserve such misery?” The OT records many such complaints from the people of Israel, even though they had been disobeying the Lord for centuries.
Finally, their faith in God dies. The mightiest nation on earth, led by Nebuchadnezzar, is sent to destroy Jerusalem while taking God’s people into exile & slavery. It’s like Egypt all over again. They will never escape on their own, & it was their God who sent them here. Things could not have looked more hopeless, & the valley full of dry bones illustrates it well.
What is it in your life today of which the valley of bones reminds you? Is it your church? Might it be your health or a broken friendship? Could it be your husband or wife? Maybe it’s an addiction, or an illness? Any of those can feel like an entire valley full of dry old bones, bleaching in the blazing sun. The whole house of Israel said, “Our bones are dried up & our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.” (Ezekiel 37:11b ESV) But God comes to you in His Word today & the One who crucified His own Son out of love for you asks this, “Can these bones live?”
You have failed your Creator time & time again, yet He comes to you & asks, “Can these bones live?” And it’s not because He has a cruel sense of humor. You see, when God looks at that valley full of bones, He does not see death as you & I do. Yahweh sees life!
The Lord God said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy over these bones, & say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. …I will cause breath to enter you, & you shall live… I will open your graves & raise you from your graves… Then you shall know that I am the Lord...’” (Ezekiel 37:4-5, 12, 14 ESV) But to be brought up from the grave – first you must die!
We must die to our sinful nature, to know that the One who raises us is the Lord. It is He who raises us out of our pride & refusal to change, because dry old bones cannot choose to live. The picture of God breathing life into these dry bones should bring to mind how God first formed man of the dust of the ground & breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.
But we struggle with believing that God will give us life now, don’t we? Sure, most of you probably accept that one day you will be raised from the dead. But isn’t that day far off in the future, as you picture it? Will you live this afternoon, & this evening like God has just breathed into your nostrils the breath of life? PAUSE
In chapter 36 of Ezekiel God is reprimanding & disciplining Israel for its sin, for its failure to obey. In chapter 37 God then promises to restore them through breathing life into their dry bones, & still Israel refuses to believe. Here & now, what do you believe? Can the dry bones of your daily world live already today, & not just after the final resurrection?
Is there hope for the struggles of your life that seem to have no end? Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me & drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37b-38 ESV) Jesus is speaking in the present tense, but those streams of living water are not what the world views as ‘the good life.’ That’s why God disciplines us, to train us not to think as the world thinks. The world wants a life of ease & pleasure. Psalm 23 gives a very different view, with another valley illustration:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil...” (23:4 ESV) Those words make a popular reading at funerals, but they are not only speaking of the last few weeks or days before our death. They speak also of every day of life on this earth.
In this life we are always in the valley full of bones – the valley of the shadow of death. We die a death every time we sin. It’s the nature of a sinful world. It cannot be otherwise. That’s why God will destroy this heaven & earth at the last day. They are corrupt & broken & must be eliminated so they do not infect the new creation to come.
Likewise, your hopes of being worth anything in this life must become as dead & devoid of hope as a valley full of very dry bones. I said earlier, “The greatest danger is not even from the sin itself, but from our refusal to face the fact that we have a problem.” Through Baptism, God gives the ability to see our lives for what they truly are:
“The hand of the Lord was upon me, & He brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord & set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And He led me around among them, & behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, & behold, they were very dry.” (Ezekiel 37:1-2 ESV)
Once we realize just how dead we are, in our sin, when God puts breath in us, when we come to life again, then we will know that the One who raises us is the Lord. For where there is death, there is finally also, the hope of true life – life given to us by God. And when our God given faith speaks, we shall answer, “Yes, even these bones can live!” Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet