Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sermon on Ezekiel 37:1-14: Breathe.

Reading:  Ezekiel 37:1-14
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. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.

He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?”

I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I 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.”

So 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. I 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.

Then 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.”

I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.


Children’s Message
So we’re going to try two things today.  We’re going to breathe -- I’m going to read the story again, and we will breathe together every time I say “breath.”  We’re gonna add some music.  I did not bring bones, I am sorry -- I brought rocks.  *shaking sound of rocks in a plastic cup*  Every time I say “bones,” we’re gonna rattle.  *rattling sound*  Take one and pass it around -- don’t take them out, keep them in their containers, they are dangerous rocks.  Yes, you get to keep them when we’re done.  Two more behind you.  Are we ready?  Rocks silent.  Here we go.

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 *rattling*. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.

He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” *rattling* 

I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, *rattling* and say to them: O dry bones *rattling*, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones *rattling* : I will cause breath to enter you, * deep breath in and out * and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you * deep breath in and out *, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So 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 *so much rattling*. I 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 * deep breath in and out * .

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath * deep breath in and out * , prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath * deep breath in and out * : Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath * deep breath in and out * , and breathe * deep breath in and out *  upon these slain, that they may live.”

I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them * deep breath in and out * , and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones *rattling* are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up *rattling* , and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore 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. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I 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 the word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

You may now open your rocks.  (I bite into my rock, hard.)  It’s a jelly rock!  They’re jelly rocks.  Can I have a couple volunteers to share more rocks with the adults?  Julia, Grace, Audrey, you take charge.  And the rest of you may go back to your seats.

Message
So this is the story of Ezekiel.  And if you place the story of Ezekiel in the long span that is the story of the people of God (drawing arc with both arms), the chosen people, we’re right about here (right hand), right, in the New Testament and onward.  Right about here (left hand far out) is creation.  Right about here (left hand up to the left) is Passover, when Moses leads the people out of slavery in Egypt through the Red Sea on dry land, and leads them into the promised land where they learn what it means to be God’s people and right about here (hand slightly moves) is where they start forgetting.  And right about here is where they are taken into captivity in Babylon, because they’ve forgotten what it is to be God’s people.  And this is where Ezekiel is preaching.

So when the LORD God leads Ezekiel into a valley full of dry bones, it’s not unlike saying to someone who’s just told you a really painful story, “Oh.  That sucks.”  God is recognizing what the people have done.  God says “This valley of dry bones is the people of Israel” and Ezekiel goes “Yeah I know, I’m aware!  We have been taken from our beautiful land, some of us have been beaten or killed, we are all living in bondage in a country that’s not our own and forced to worship gods that aren’t our own.  You don’t need to tell me that we’re dry bones.  We already know.”

And so God says, “Mortal, can these bones live?”  Ezekiel says, “Oh Lord, you know,” which is sort of an answer that says “Well I’m pretty sure no, because I know things about science and life, but since you asked now I’m not really sure.”  “Oh Lord, you know.”

And then God puts the bones back together.  And puts sinews, muscles, flesh on them and skin and finally breath.  Breath.

But what really snagged me about the story this week is that God says, “Look, you are these bones.  You feel like you’ve been taken apart and all hope is lost.  But I will rebuild you.  I will put your bones back together and cover them with muscles and skin and put breath in you and I will make you strong again, and then you will know that I am the Lord.”

It’s not, “when you know that I am the Lord, then I will put your bones back together, and your muscles, and your breath, and your strength.”

Not “when you have learned to be perfect” or “when you have the most beautifully crafted sanctuary” or “when every inch of your life is coated in holiness” or “when you’ve given up just enough.”  Instead it is “when I put your bones back together, then you will know that I am the Lord.”

In some ways this is aggravating, because I kind of like a system where I can rack up enough points, but God throws it out.  The points don’t matter.  The work is for our neighbor but not for ourselves.  It is not for earning up enough gold coins that we can buy our way back into assembled bones and muscles and breath and strength.  God wants to do that, no matter who we are or where we are or what we are.

And this is the message of Pentecost, the story we celebrate today, if back in that arc we’re way over here (drawing biblical arc again, shaking right hand).  The disciples are all gathered in Jerusalem; Jesus has risen from the dead, and the disciples are all hanging out together to pray.  They stay in one room.  And God goes, “This is not what -- seriously?-- go!”  And sends flames.  And teaches them all to speak in different languages and sends them out to share the message of Jesus with everyone in Jerusalem.  God says, “I don’t care that you’ve been hiding in this room, I don’t care that one of you is Peter dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks, I don’t care that you’ve made mistakes.  Some of you are fishermen and you’re stinky, some of you are tax collectors and you’ve ripped other people off; I don’t care.  There’s something more to this.  You don’t have to hide in a room and wait until you’re perfect.  Just go.  Just go.”

And the word for Spirit, the Holy Spirit that descends on them, is the same word as for breath.  “Just go, and breathe, and be filled with the Spirit.”

And this is the story we tell about baptism.  Emerson doesn’t come today to the font of baptism because he’s racked up enough points.  He’s not claimed by God because he’s good enough.  He’s claimed by God because he’s loved.  He’s claimed by God because God is so desperate at any point in our lives, when we’re a baby or a child or a youth or a young adult or in middle age or retired or anywhere in between, a parent or not a parent or divorced or remarried or never married or anything else in the long stream of our lives -- God is so desperate to rebuild us up from our bones that God will claim us at the moment we’re born and say “You’re mine.  You’re mine.  Without anything that you have to rack up, nothing that you have to do.  You will know that I am God when I build you back up.”

So people, wherever we are today -- whether you feel like you are bone, piled in a heap; or you are just barely reassembled; or covered in muscles and skin but not quite breathing; or if you feel that strength:  breathe today.  Let us have that place for the Spirit of God to breathe in us, as it breathes on Emerson, as it breathed at Pentecost and sent the disciples out, as it breathed on those dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision.

Let us breathe.  Breathe in, hold it, and out.

Amen.

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