March 29, 2020
Finding New Life in the Midst of Dry Bones
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I am always fascinated by God’s timing. I picked this Ezekiel passage two months ago to help with the planning a preparation of worship. Little did I know that it would be the theme scripture for the pastor’s conference in the Dominican Republic during the end of February. This was a time for the pastors to search the dry bones in their own personal lives as well as in their congregations. It was a time for them to think about new life in the midst of burnt out concerning their ministry. Where could they find hope?
Then, I went to the conference in Urbana, Illinois for my work with the Presbytery. It was supported by the Synod but we focused a lot on our work as commissioners serving on the Commission on Ministry and the Commission for the Preparation for Ministry. The one works with current churches and their pastors concerning the health of their congregations. The other one works with the seminary students who are preparing to be ordained to do ministry in the Presbyterian Church. We talked a lot about the work that needs to happen to sustain the health of our pastors and our seminary students including ourselves. Our conversation was centered on the book, “Flourishing in Ministry: How to Cultivate Clergy Well Being” written by Matt Bloom. Where do we find hope?
Both of these times spent in discussion and reflection were very fruitful. But, I had no idea that the dry bones that I would be talking about today would be in a whole different category.
Who knew that in a two to three week period of time that we would be on lock down? Who knew that our valley of dry bones would come with words like “social distancing” or “Covid-19”. Who knew that our wilderness journey would be limited to our homes, the grocery store and/or an essential job that benefits the people going through this dark valley? Who knew it?
I heard a commentator on the radio the other day say he didn’t think this could ever happen to us in the United States. With our technology and sophisticated health care system, he believed we were immune to a pandemic.
Yet, we are there with the prophet Ezekiel walking through a desolate wilderness and all you can see around you are dry bones. Where do we find the hope for new life?
God comes to Ezekiel with a vision for the people who are in exile. They have been sent away to Babylon for worshiping false gods. This time away was long. There was not a timeline, which signaled the end of this. It was a long time of living in a foreign land separated from all that gave them hope and comfort. It was longer than the Israelites forty years of wilderness wondering after they had been released from the bonds of slavery in Egypt.
It is no wonder that their souls have died and they have become like a valley of dry bones. God asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” Today we hear a promise that only God can give. (Feasting on the Word – Year A, Volume 2; James A. Wallace; Westminster Johnknox Press; 2010; p. 125)
Ezekiel is told to prophesy to the bones. He was a prophet and that is what came natural to him. He spoke the word of the Lord. Suddenly, the bones begin to come together. Sinew appears to hold them together. Then skin covers them for protection.
Where is the breath? It doesn’t come right away. It is missing. God’s answer, “I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.” God calls the breath from all corners of the earth to come and breathe upon us. This breath comes from God’s Spirit, the word use for this breath in Hebrew is ruah. The same word used in Genesis when life was given to humans during creation.
I want you to take a deep breath and let it out. Breathe in and out. Breathe in and out.
Think about the breath that give us life. That first breath of a baby when it is born. I know my mom has trouble with her respiratory system and there is time when it is difficult for her to breathe. She says that I do not know what it is like to not be able to breathe. Think about the breath that God gives to us to live. Along with that breath or oxygen that enters our lungs is the Spirit of God that moves and flows inside of us.
I find it fascinating that we are in the midst of spring. The earth is waking up from its long winter dormancy. The bare-naked trees which might look like dry dead things are getting new little baby buds on them. We are two weeks away from Easter. Whether we have it together in our church sanctuary or we gather in our homes and connect through the internet, Easter will come. The dead bones of Christ that the men took down from the cross on Good Friday and laid them in the cold dark tomb, do not have the last say. This pandemic, coronavirus, Conid-19, whatever you want to call it, will not have the last say.
It is normal to not want to linger in the valley of dry bones. We want the new life. We want the daffodils, forsythia, tulips, lilacs, magnolia, dogwood and redbud blooming. But, it doesn’t all come at once. It doesn’t come fast and there may be a freeze that kills the blooms. But, spring will come. New life will occur.
For many of us, we find ourselves walking around the valley of bones in the desolation, isolation, bone tired space of where we are now and the coronavirus numbers rise on the evening news? What can we learn from this? What are the lessons that we are learning from the dry bones?
- Perhaps, it is spending more time with the people who live in our homes.
- Perhaps, it is connecting with others by phone calls and cards and making sure that we check in on others.
- Perhaps, it is finding a new gratitude for the people who are still working – in the grocery stores, in the hospitals, in the government, in the restaurants, in the police and fire departments, all who are helping others in need.
- Perhaps, it is giving us a better sense of what those people who are in isolation all the time are experiencing on a day to day basis.
- Perhaps, it will make us realize the impact our lives have on the environment as we have heard that there is less pollution being created by our staying home.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe God has done this to teach us a lesson which I have read on the internet. I don’t believe God is punishing us. I believe that God weeps with the pain and suffering and sacrifice that is going on in our world from Conid-19. I do believe that there are things in our life that we go through where we can learn especially in those times that we spend in the barren wilderness or the valley of the dry bones.
We will get through this. We hear it all the time on the television and on signs…we all have to do our part. We all have to find hope and new life in the midst of the dry bones.
This next week I want to invite you especially if you are sitting at home to send me pictures of where you see hope and where you see new life. Next week, I want to put them together, set them to music and show them next week on Palm Sunday during worship.
James Wallace goes onto ask us some important questions as we travel this last part of our Lenten journey. (Feasting on the Word – Year A, Volume 2; James A. Wallace; Westminster Johnknox Press; 2010; p. 125)
- Do we believe in the God of life who created all that is?
- Do we believe in Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord, who died and rose for us that we might have abundant life?
- Do we believe in the Spirit of God, the divine breath that brings new life wherever it blows?
- Mortal, can these bones live?
Praise be to God, they most certainly can! Amen!