Lent 5: Return to Life

by susan on April 7, 2014

bones liveHere is the message that was shared during yesterday’s worship gathering.  An audio recording can be found here.

Return to Life
Ezekiel 37:1-14

Writer Anne Lamott says, “When God is going to do something wonderful, He or She begins with a hardship; when God is going to do something amazing, He or She starts with an impossibility.” (Plan B, 33)

She came to this conclusion when faced with her own impossible situation. It had to do with her son, Sam. Sam was 7 years old when we decided he wanted to search for his father. While Anne had made the offer years ago, she cringed at the thought and wept when it became clear she must follow through.

She had gotten pregnant with Sam when she was dating his father, John. John already had two grown children and did not want another. She was keeping this baby, so eventually they went their separate ways.

Now, she felt afraid and hopeless that Sam would never find his father or that, even worse, he would.

She had no idea where to begin looking for him. The search proved very frustrating until one day a Wendell Berry line popped into Anne’s head from out of nowhere:

 ‘It gets darker and darker, and then Jesus is born’. That line came back to me (she wrote) from out of nowhere, and I decided to practice radical hope, hope in the face of not having a clue. I decided that God was not off doing the dishes while Sam sought help: God heard his prayers, and was working on it. (39)

Within a week, they had an address and Sam wrote a letter to his dad. His letter began,

‘Hi, Dad, it’s me, Sam, and I am a good boy.’ He said he wanted to know him and to be friends. He put the letter in a small red box, with his favorite action figurines and some candy, and we took it to the post office. Within a week, Sam heard from his father, who said he couldn’t wait to meet him. (40)

Year later she reflected,

Things are not perfect, because life is not TV and we are real people with scarred, worried hearts. But its amazing a lot of the time. Where there was darkness, silence, and blame, there’s now a family…Can you imagine how impossible a dream this was for Sam? (41)

If God does work through impossibilities, look around. Impossibilities abound.
Moving past mudslides and plane crashes? Impossible.
Experiencing peace in a diverse and divided community? Impossible.
Rebuilding after job loss or financial devastation? Impossible.
Domestic violence, cancer diagnosis, sleepless nights, broken relationships.
Impossibilities abound.

How do we live in the face of these closed doors and brick walls?

After last week’s encounter with thirsty Israelites longing for water in the desert, I was really hoping for a more uplifting encounter today. Then, I turn to find that we are in Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones….really??

Before we jump into Ezekiel, it may help us to see where we have been so far.
We began our Lenten journey back at the story of creation, where Adam and Eve mistrusted their Creator. God then began to work through matriarchs and patriarchs, mothers and forefathers of our faith. Then, last week, we heard about how Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and slavery there and toward the promised land.

Israel was ruled by Judges for a while, then by kings. Then the nation of Israel was divided, with Israel in the north and Judah in the south and according to the prophets, they strayed from their covenant with God.

Israel had already been captured by the Assyrians and then in 597 BCE, the armies of Babylon captured the city Jerusalem and deported the Judean king and many Judean leaders to Babylon. Ezekiel was among them. Ten years later, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and its temple and deported a second wave of Judean leaders.

The journey to Babylonia was a 500 mile journey that was more like 900 miles using their likely route.

Talk about an impossible situations! The Israelites had finally settled into their promised land. They had established themselves as a powerful nation with Jerusalem as their center and kingship as their authority. And, now, that had all come to an abrupt end.

For deportees forced to live in Babylon, the future seemed empty and meaningless, Time was being wasted. And, where was God in all of this?

Jerusalem, its temple, its people and the kingship which traced back to King David were key symbols of their faith. Without these, they could not see a way forward. They could not see God. From where they sat, their God had been defeated by a stronger god from Babylon.

It is in the midst of this crisis that Ezekiel is called as a prophet to speak on behalf of God. I can only imagine what an exciting it must have been to receive THAT calling.

To people who had declared “Our bones have dried up”, Ezekiel shares that he has been given a vision: I was led by the Lord into a valley with a bunch of dried up bones in it. They were dried up, meaning they were good and dead. There was no life left in these human beings. The chance of being resuscitated was zero. Then the Lord asked me “Mortal, can these bones live?” In other words, do you believe that something or someone who was completely dead and gone can come back to life?

I love Ezekiel’s response here: “Lord, you know.” It’s like, do I really need to answer that question? Only you know, Lord or maybe only you know they can’t live, Lord.

Then, the Lord instructs Ezekiel to speak life into these dead bones.

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. (Ez. 37:4-6)

Something started to happen.
First a rattle.
Then, bones and connective tissue coming together.
Then, skin to cover them.
New creatures were taking shape from what was lying there in the dust and dirt.

Only one thing was missing.

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. (v.9-10)

The Hebrew word for “breath”, “breathe” or “spirit” (ruah) occurs 9 times in this passage. In each use, God’s breath is what finally brings life. Just like God breathed life into the first human being, God’s breath, God’s spirit is what finally brings life. Without it, existence is just flesh and blood.

But with God’s spirit, there is life–and what Jesus later called fullness of life. And there is no place on earth and no when in time that can keep God’s Spirit away from God’s people.

According to the prophet Ezekiel’s vision, this will happen.
God has not abandoned them. God is making a way.
God will do the impossible.
God will, God is bringing dead things back to life.

The questions for these deported Judeans were:
Will they receive the gift of God’s breath?
Will they allow the God who created them, who guided their ancestors through the desert, who has been there on all their life’s journey to fill them now with new life?

Ezekiel’s vison started with the question can these bones live?
We face similar questions:
Can this broken heart live?
Can this bankrupt household live?
Can this dead relationship be brought back to life?
Can what is dead be resurrected?

According to the word of the Lord, new life was as close as the very breath God gives to us.

Take minute to imagine something with me.
If you are comfortable doing so, close your eyes.
Pay attention to your breathing – feel the breath going in and out.
God is giving life and breath to us in this very moment.

In that same way, God wants to breathe new life into the very situations that seem impossible.
What might that look like?
What might change?
What might change around you?

Take a minute to imagine this neighborhood and the world around you. God wants to breathe new life into the very situations that seem impossible.
What would it look like if God breathed new life into it?
Where might God be calling us to be part of that new life?

May we each have the courage to respond to the gift of God’s breath that is pouring new life into us at this very moment.

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