5 Lent Proper A5                             
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Ezekiel 37:11-14 Sermon                                               
April 10, 2011

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
154 "Alas!  And Did My Saviour Bleed"
592 "I Know Of A Sleep In Jesus' Name"
531 "Come Ye Disconsolate"
376 "Rock Of Ages, Cleft For Me"


TEXT (VS 3-6):  "3And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." 4Then he said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon 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.

             We have had some very grim reminders of death recently, especially when we consider the earthquake and the resulting tsunami that happened in Japan.

            This past Tuesday evening, my mother and I had supper with Dennis Metzger from Church World Service, the agency my father worked for.  Dennis used to come about once a year or so to visit my parents, even after dad retired.  And when dad passed away, Dennis has still continued to come.

            As you might be aware, Church World Service is the agency that operates the CROP program, and we have a very successful CROP walk here in Seward that raises money for world relief efforts. 

            The one thing I always say to him is, "Okay, so fill me in on what's going on."  And with that, he will talk about the various places throughout the world where they are working.

            This time I asked him about Japan.  What is Church World Service doing to help the victims of this mass devastation?  What's going on there?

            First of all, you have to realize that Church World Service does the bulk of their work amongst the third world and primitive cultures.  So for them to do work in Japan is sort of out of their focus.  Japan is a very developed and progressive country.  In fact, Japan is the technological leader in earthquake preparedness.  But even so, the addition of the tsunami was just too much for them.

            I'm sure you were as horrified as I was, watching those aerial photographs of homes and farms and fields and buildings being swept away by this huge wall of water. 

            The death toll was well over 18,000 the last of March, and the number continues to grow.  Many tens of thousands are still missing.  And about half a million people are living in various shelters.  One police officer reported: "It is very distressing as we recover more bodies day after day."  We can only just imagine how distressing all of this is to the Japanese people.  Damage reports are currently running at about $300 billion, and that is conservative.

            Dennis talked about the many "unregistered shelters" that are operating, especially in the northeast part of the country.  People have taken refuge in just about any place they can--schools, office buildings, garages, and the like.  That's all well and good, but since they're unregistered, nobody knows that they're there.

            So Church World Service has teamed up with agencies in Japan to find these shelters, and provide them with food and water.  That's what's most needed.  Amidst the death and destruction in Japan, somebody handing a person something as simple as a bottle of water means life and hope for them.  Somebody knows their need, and somebody cares.  It's people helping people; and like Jesus said in Matthew chapter 10 verse 42:  "And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward."

            Today, I have chosen to use the theme, "Our Involvement in the Lord's Work."  I believe that this has a definite two-pronged application.  It has both a physical and a spiritual meaning.  And through the prophet Ezekiel, our Lord is giving us hope in all of life's situations.  That's something every Christian needs to remember as we live our lives in this world today.

            I've always thought that the scene Ezekiel sees is very fascinating and dramatic.  Picture that huge valley full of human bones, bleached and parched by many years of being exposed to the dry desert sun.  Even the explanation Ezekiel gives in verse 2 gives special emphasis to their condition: "...and behold, they were very dry."  

            Dry bones are pretty lifeless things.  Everybody knows that.  In fact, if you've ever been to a pet food store and have seen these big beef femur bones they sell for dogs to chew on, you know how lifeless that huge bin of those bones looks.  Or maybe you've looked at the pig's ears or the hooves that they sell, and thought the same thing.  Dismembered and dried out parts of any once living creature looks to be a pretty hopeless situation.

            Ezekiel must have thought something like that himself.  So the Lord dialogues with him verse 3:  "And he said to me, 'Son of man, can these bones live?' And I answered, 'O Lord GOD, you know.'"

            Ezekiel was very hesitant to express any doubt in answering the Lord's question.  Regardless of what the situation looked like to him, he was well aware of the Lord's capability that surpassed all human logic.  So he basically avoids answering the question by turning it right back to the Lord.  It's like he's saying, "Suppose you tell me!"

            Now listen to what the Lord tells him in verses 4-6: 4Then he said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon 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."

            There's one thing that really stands out here.  The Lord doesn't say to Ezekiel, "Okay my friend, just take a seat over there on that rock, and watch me work."  On the contrary, he tells Ezekiel, "Here's what I want you to do."  Ezekiel is very instrumental in carrying out the work the Lord has given him to do.  There is going to be real human involvement here.  "You do it Ezekiel!  This is a job for you!"  The Lord's work is no spectator sport. 

            Now Ezekiel wasn't a person with a high degree of education.  He never went to seminary, he had no speech pathologist to help him, he had no pulpit, or books, or anything else to help him in his task.  It was just he and the Lord, and that's it.  And there was work to be done!

            So Ezekiel does as he is commanded.  The scene in verses 7 and 8 must have been an awesome sight!  "7So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them."

            Where bones had been, now Ezekiel sees actual human beings with sinews (or tendons if you prefer), and muscles, and skin.  But there was something missing, something very important.  Verses 8-10 describe this:  "But there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, 'Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.' 10So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army."

            The scene is now complete.  Where there were once just dry bones, now we see a whole army, almost more than could be counted.  They were now living, breathing, viable human beings.  This happened because God worked through one of his people.

            Like I said in the beginning, this is a two-pronged lesson.  We can attend to the physical welfare and needs of people, but if the spiritual welfare is ignored, then there is no real life, or any hope at all. 

            This is emphasized by what the Lord tells Ezekiel about prophesying to the wind.  The Hebrew word here is "ruach," which literally means "wind."  However, when it is coupled with God, then we have the "wind of God," which is the term the Hebrew Bible uses for God the Holy Spirit.  In John chapter 6, verse 63, Jesus puts this all into perspective for us:  "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." 

            The words the Lord gives to Ezekiel are words of hope for his people.  He promises to raise people from their graves, and give them the Spirit of life.  In raising the dead and giving life to dry bones, the people would know that the one true God loved them and wanted them to know their future would be secure, sure, and certain.

            Let's briefly go to the Epistle for today, from Romans chapter 8.  Listen to what Paul records in verses 1-2: "1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death."

            Did you catch that fourth word?  The word is "now."  There is therefore NOW no condemnation!  That doesn't mean something that is going to happen in the far distant future.  It is right here, and right now!

            So how did it happen?  It happened through that Spirit of God that is at work within you NOW.  God the Holy Spirit came into your life through Word and Sacrament and did something amazing.  By working faith in your heart and in my heart, we have become one of God's holy family.  We have been set free from the law that condemned us.  We have been set free from sin and death.

            That is the kind of confidence we have, because we have it right here and right now.  That's something we can rejoice about, and something that will keep us looking forward to the day when we will enter God's eternal kingdom.

            We were lost and condemned creatures, and our hope had been cut off.  Our sin separated us from God.  But that's not what God wanted.  So he gave us his Son, Jesus Christ, and then gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit so we would come to faith in him and have new life. 

            In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.  This would be a miracle that would top his healing of the man born blind.  There was a real sense of urgency about him going to Bethany.  "Lord, hurry!  Your friend is sick and is going to die!"  But Jesus waited--not because he didn't care, but because he had a good reason.  "Lord, if you had been here my brother wouldn't have died!"  And that's most likely true.

            However, by Jesus acting the way he did, he brought the miracle of life in the midst of death into very sharp focus.  Lazarus was dead four days, and his body had started to decompose.  Maybe it wasn't as dramatic as the scene Ezekiel saw, but it certainly was every bit as miraculous.  Jesus has the power to raise the dead and give life where death once held captive.  And that's the message we as God's people have to proclaim.

            The hymn we sang before the sermon is one that we don't use too often.  It is generally a funeral hymn.  But did you notice how the first three verses began?  I know, I know, and I know!  Verse 5 says, "He calls out aloud, 'Ye dead come forth!'  In glory we rise to meet him."  We know that just as the grave could not hold Lazarus, it won't hold us either.  God has given new life to our dry bones.

            I used the story about the disaster in Japan to introduce my message this morning.  We can't even begin to comprehend the enormous death toll.  But people are making a difference there.  God didn't tell us to just sit on our backsides and pray for them and let it be at that.  As important as prayer is, we also have to get up off our backsides and do something, even if it is just reaching for our wallet.

            Right now, in our city, we have many dry bones.  There are people out there who are dead in their sins and will remain so if we don't do anything.  We have to be involved in our Lord's work.  It's not a spectator sport.

            You might say, "Oh pastor, I can't do this or that."  We're great at making excuses.  So why don't we just be ourselves and allow the Lord to work through us?  He will, you know.  We can't dam up the river of grace in our lives.  We want the Holy Spirit to work through us, and not in spite of us.  Jesus has given us the words of life that will give new life to dry bones.

            We don't know how the Lord will use us to do his work, but we have to be willing participants.  The Lord didn't tell Ezekiel to go sit on a rock and watch him work.  He used him to accomplish what he wanted. 

            And so with all honesty and sincerity, we pray that the Lord will use us as his instruments to bring the Gospel to a world full of dry bones.