5th Sunday in Lent
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Ezekiel 37:11-14 Sermon
March 12, 2005
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
124 "Creator Spirit By Whose Aid"
288 "My Lord I Hear Thee Pleading"
572 "Children of the Heavenly Father"
195 "On Our Way Rejoicing"
NEW LIFE FOR DRY BONES
TEXT: Then [the Lord] said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it, says the Lord.”
Sally stood on the edge of the bridge looking out over the expanse of the water beneath her. She was a 21 year old university student, attractive and intelligent.
But the events of the past couple of weeks had just become too much for her. She had a fight with her parents, and they had parted ways with some very harsh words. And then, she failed one of her exams. And if that wasn’t enough, she was let go from her part-time job, and without it, she didn’t have enough money for next week’s rent. But then, to top everything off, her fiancé, the man she was to marry that summer, wrote her a letter and told her that he was leaving to marry somebody else, and that he didn’t love her anymore.
Her whole world had just completely crumbled around her. Tears were streaming from her face as she stood there, recounting everything that had happened. “I just can’t take it anymore!” she yelled. “God, if you are out there, why aren’t you around when I need you? Answer me God!” ….But all that responded to her cry was the sound of a train whistle off in the distance.
As Sally stood there, going over everything in her mind, she felt so lifeless, so empty, so hollow. “I feel just like an old bag of bones,” she thought. She could see no hope for her future; it all looked so painful. It wasn’t worth going on anymore. There was nothing in her horizon. God obviously wasn’t there, or just didn’t care. He didn’t answer her cry. Nobody else wanted her either.
And so, with one final cry, she climbed on top of the bridge rail, and then paused a moment, staring at the water below her. And then she closed her eyes, pushed off the bridge with her feet, and plunged into the water beneath her, into what would be her watery grave.
A sad story of course. But I think that we’ve all had those same feelings that Sally had at one time or another. You know what I mean—feeling lifeless, hollow, empty, just like nothing more than an old bag of bones. It happens. Events and situations in our lives give us these feelings from time to time.
But then we see where people, in the wake of problems, become rather short-sighted. And some, who have no sight of hope, choose to end their lives. Such feelings are quite integral to most of the suicides that occur. People feel like nothing more than a pile of dried-up bones with no self worth.
Our text for today is the final four verses from the rather dramatic episode of Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones. And so, based upon our text for today, let’s discover how there is “New Life for Dry Bones.”
Let’s look at the events which surround our text for today. This event took place while the Israelites were in exile. So here was this entire nation of people, who were driven out of their homeland, and they were wandering about in the wilderness of Babylon. They felt they didn’t have any hope or future. Why go on? The cry they sent up before the Lord reflects the same feeling that Sally had before jumping off the bridge. Verse 11 of our text says, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”
So for the people of Israel, just the same as Sally, things seemed pretty hopeless. What is left?
The scene that the Lord sets before Ezekiel is a valley full of dry bones. This isn’t just the dried up skeleton of the odd cow or sheep or coyote that we might find in the more arid regions of our country. No, these were the bones of people, and they filled an entire valley. They had been there for years. There wasn’t a scrap of flesh or a sinew on any of them. They were baked and dry from years in the sun. And they were all jumbled together in this one valley—bones from thousands of different people, all mixed together and very dry.
Now, let’s take this one step further. Can we picture our bones as being among that pile that Ezekiel was looking at? Sure, we’re sitting here as living breathing people, with skin and hair and muscles, and everything else. But our bones make up our skeletal structure. We all have them. How much would it take to reduce us to nothing more than just a pile of old dry bones? How thick is that thread which suspends us between life and death?
Being in amongst a pile of old bones isn’t much of a future, is it? But sad to say, that’s the future that many have to look forward to. You live this life on the earth, you die, and there you are--just another addition to the ever growing pile of dried out old bones.
Many people of course don’t like to think about death and dying. But yet it’s there, always in front of us, and with every tick of the clock, its coming one step closer. And then that thread between life and death which is suspended only by just a heartbeat, or by just a breath, is worn through; and then as far as our earthly life is concerned, we die. And the thought of being relegated into the realm of just so many dry bones isn’t much of a future.
Perhaps the concept of a valley full of dry bones might be a little difficult for us to grasp, so let’s take this account of Ezekiel’s and put it in a little different setting.
Most of you, who have driven down O Street in Lincoln’s mid-town area, have driven past Wyuka, that very large cemetery there (jokingly referred to as “the dead center of Lincoln”).
Now imagine this. God has taken Ezekiel to Wyuka cemetery, and he’s leading him back and forth among the graves and the mausoleums and the crypts holding the urns of ashes of those cremated.
And then they stand together at the top of the hill. God, with one hand on Ezekiel’s shoulder and making a sweeping gesture with the other, asks him: “So what do you reckon; do you think these bones and ashes can live?”
And Ezekiel, not knowing really what to think, except that God was in charge and would know the answer, kind of gives him a sideways glance and says, “suppose you tell me.”
So God says, “Let me tell you what I want you to do. I want you to prophesy to them…you know, tell them the Word of the Lord. Talk to them and tell them what I tell you.”
“Naaahh…really? Now let me get this straight…just talk to them with the words you tell me and they’ll live?” Of course this sounds strange to Ezekiel. How can this cemetery full of dead people and ashes hear him, let alone respond to him?
But the Lord says, “Yeah, and these are the words I want you to speak. Tell these corpses and ashes this is what the Lord says: “I will make breath enter you and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you and you will come to life. That way, you’ll know that I am the Lord.”
“Well, okay, after all, you are God.” And so Ezekiel does what God asked him to do. And the sight which followed was unbelievable. Bones came together, ashes reassembled into bodies, and there appeared tendons, muscles, and skin.
But they still weren’t breathing. So the Lord tells Ezekiel to talk to the wind to breathe breath into the bodies. He does this, and now picture that everyone who lay dead in Wyuka Cemetery was now alive and well, and walking around.
Perhaps this is a picture we can better identify with. What happened out in the valley of dry bones was no less vivid than what I just described to you here.
All of the symbolism of dead bodies and cemeteries and dry bones is leading up to one thing; and that is the power of the Word of the Lord. The whole purpose of this little scenario with Ezekiel was God giving a word of hope to a hopeless people—people who felt empty and void and discouraged and depressed; people who felt like nothing more than an old bag of dry bones.
Yes, the Word of the Lord spoke to these children of Israel by showing Ezekiel a valley of dry bones, and then doing the impossible; he makes them into viable living human beings once again. God points this up to him when he says in verse 12, “O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them. I will bring you back to the land of Israel.”
And you know what? The Lord made good on that promise, as he has all his other promises; for he did what seemed to be the impossible. He kept the Israelites safe, and delivered them back once again to their homeland. And that was a feat no less great than resurrecting a valley of dry bones. And how did he do it? It was simply by the power of his Word, and that’s it!
The Word of the Lord and its power—that very same Word appears to us in the words of the Ten Commandments. That Word tells us that we have broken those commandments; that we have sinned against God. That Word tells us that the soul that sins is the one that shall die. And that Word tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And God tells us that we have to be perfect in order to see his eternal paradise. That Word is what’s known as God’s law, and it hits each and every one of us. According to God’s law, all we should have to look forward to is being placed in a heap of dry bones. We stand condemned, surely and soundly.
But remember the emphasis here is on new life for dry bones. And that new life only comes through the power of the Word of the Lord. Remember, it was the power of the Word that assembled those dry bones and made them live; and it is the power of that same Word that will give us life too, so that we can look forward to something much greater than a heap of dry bones.
For now, this Word of the Lord speaks to us in a much different way. In verses 13 and 14 of our text we read: “Then you, my people will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them; I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land.”
And in the same light, we find Jesus speaking some very comforting words to Mary and Martha at the death of their brother Lazarus in John 11, 25-26: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
That’s one powerful word, isn’t it? On the one hand, the Word condemns us because of our sin and promises us eternal death; but on the other hand, that Word promises us forgiveness and eternal life! And of course we need both. For when we become aware of our sinful state, then we can come to God, trusting in Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and asking him to forgive us for Jesus’ sake.
Eternal life and forgiveness has absolutely nothing to do with how well we did on this earth, or what our accomplishments have been. The only thing that will make a difference is that we confess Christ as our Lord and Saviour, and that all of our sins have been forgiven through him. Yes, Christ is the Word made flesh; and its through that Word we are saved.
Well, Sally woke up. She was confused…and then she remembered jumping from the bridge. Had it been a dream? She felt like she’d been hit by a truck…was she in hell for what she did? Then she realized that there were tubes and wires sticking out all over her. And as her eyes cleared a little, she realized that she was in the hospital. She looked around at all the gadgets and wires—and then she spotted her mother and father, their eyes and faces red and puffy from crying. “Oh you’re awake!” her mother exclaimed, and she hugged her.
And then two men came into the room and said, “Praise the Lord, she’s going to make it!”
Sally asked, “What happened…where am I?”
The two men explained that they had been doing some night fishing in a boat near the bridge where Sally had jumped. They heard her cry out to God, and looked just in time to see her jump. They jumped in and pulled her from the water. It had been about 10 minutes before they could start CPR on her. One man went to call 911 while the other continued his efforts with the CPR. Sally looked as if she wasn’t going to make it for a long time; but for the three weeks that she was unconscious, these two men went every day to the hospital, and prayed fervently for her recovery. These two men saved Sally’s life…or did they? Might this be a lesson in the power of the word of prayer?
Sally’s pastor came by for a visit. She told him how she felt—empty and void, like an old bag of bones. Where was God when she needed him? Why wasn’t he ever around when she was in trouble? The pastor reminded her that God was indeed there, and he acted in a most miraculous way when she was really in trouble—through two fishermen.
And then it became abundantly clear to her exactly what had happened. When she went off to the university, she sort of put God on the “back burner.” She realized that it was not God that had left her, but it was she that had left God. She had not been to church, or opened her Bible, or folded her hands in prayer since she left home. And the further she got away from God, the more empty and depressed she became, and the more she felt like just an old bag of bones. Sally had expected God to come in a zap, like a bolt of lightning, to be suddenly standing right there in front of her, to somehow make things happen her way.
But that’s not the way God works. He works through means. He works through the waters of Holy Baptism, whereby with just a small amount of water and the Word, we go all the way to Calvary with Jesus, and we’re buried and resurrected with him. He marks us as one of his own, and its something we can remember and appreciate every day of our lives. He also comes to us through the Sacrament of the Altar, whereby he seals to us the forgiveness of our sins.
Most importantly though, he comes to us through his Word—that very powerful word. It’s so important for each and every one of us to be continually fed from that Word, as Scripture states, “Seek the Lord while he may be found.”
We can’t expect God to come and zap us like Sally was expecting. Rather he touches our hearts with the power of the Holy Spirit. As God says in our text for today, “I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live.”
That Spirit of God brings us to the gospel, and the forgiveness that Jesus Christ has won for us. And as we continue to be fed by the Word of God, we’ll find that the Holy Spirit will remove the hollowness and emptiness, and will give life to our dry bones.