Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, April 2, 2017
“Dem” Bones - April 2, 2017 - Fifth Sunday in Lent - Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14
For many people, death is something that is to be feared. Another thing that is often feared by some is the book of Revelation. Whenever I am asked questions concerning the book of Revelation I like to remind people that for us Christians, the book of Revelation is a wonderful book of Gospel, giving us a glimpse of what heaven is like. For the unChristian and for those who do not understand the book it is often a book of terror. For the unbeliever in general, death is certainly something to be feared, but for us Christians, death is merely a being born out of this world into heaven. More often than not, I believe it is not that we, as Christians, fear death in general, rather we are more afraid of the way in which we might die. Anyway, our three lessons for this morning give us a glimpse of the power of God as we see Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead in the Gospel lesson, showing Jesus is God with power over life and death. Paul reminds us that by faith in Jesus we do not need to fear death, because, although we may suffer physical death, although we may pass on from this world, because of Jesus and faith in Him we never need to be afraid of eternal spiritual death, that price has been paid in full. And our text, our Old Testament lesson is the account of Ezekiel and the dry bones and God’s power to bring even dry bones back to life. Yes, our God is a powerful God with power even over death and the grave.
I do not want to get gory this morning, but this text reminds me somewhat of the story of Frankenstein. Although I have never read the book I have heard the story and I have seen one version of the story as well as the Mel Brooks parody in Young Frankenstein. Anyway, the gist of this story is the reanimation of human tissue, that is the bringing of dead tissue back to life. In our text for this morning, Ezekiel is shown a valley filled with bones, and to make sure we understand that these are dead and dead we are told they are dry bones, bones that have been there for a while and he is asked, “can these bones live?” Keeping this story in its proper context I will remind you that he was asked this question by God Himself.
Our text is the experience of Ezekiel (v. 1-10) and its interpretation (v. 11-14). In the next few minutes I want to try to describe Ezekiel’s experience to you. I want to say that I use the term experience rather than say that this was a vision because Ezekiel does not call it a vision. He says that “the hand of the Lord was upon [him], and he brought [him] out by the Spirit of the Lord.” The Lord showed him a valley full of bones. He was carried back and forth among these bones in order to be shown the great number of bones there were in the valley. And about these bones he says that they were very dry, again, these bones had been here for a very long time. They were the bones of a great army of people who had died a long time ago, their outer bodies had already decayed and all that was left was these dry, bleached, dead bones.
After being shown these bones the Lord asks Ezekiel, “can these bones live?” Ezekiel’s answer shows much wisdom. Never answer a question you cannot answer. And remember, when you are in a conversation with God, definitely never answer a question you know you cannot answer. Ezekiel answers by turning the question back to the Lord, “O Yahweh God, you alone know.” Ezekiel knows that only God can know the answer and the answer is that only God can do what He wants to do, when and where He please. He knows that with God all things are possible.
God knows the answer. God can do anything. God tells Ezekiel to prophecy. He is to prophecy to the bones. The first thing he is to tell the bones is to come back together and they are to do this not because Ezekiel said so, but because the Lord says so. “Hear the word of the Lord!” he says. So, we see Ezekiel speak and we see his words come to be. His words do not do what they say because they are his words, but his words do what they say because they are the Lord’s Words. Here we see, as in all of Holy Scripture, the power of the very Words of the Lord. The Lord’s Word is such that it does what it says. When God speaks, it happens. When Ezekiel speaks the Word of the Lord, the bones come together, tendons and flesh appear on the bones, and skin covers them.
So, now Ezekiel is looking at a valley of lifeless bodies. I have never watched or been drawn to watch horror movies, but this experience sounds like it would look pretty horrifying if you ask me. Perhaps this scene might be akin to a modern day zombie movie. But Ezekiel is not yet done. Next, the Lord tells him to “prophecy to the breath.” The breath is the spirit, the wind. The breath is the spirit of God. In Genesis, at the creation of the world we are told that God formed the man out of the dust of the ground, out of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being. This is the same breath. This is the breath of life. This is the life giving breath of God. And, again, not because Ezekiel said so, but because he was speaking the Word of the Lord, this happened. The breath, the spirit of the Lord entered the bodies and they came to life and stood up on their feet. And what Ezekiel saw was a vast army of people, living people. Where there was previously dry bones, now there were living people. Ezekiel witnessed the reanimation of human tissue. And that is where Ezekiel’s experience ends, more or less. What happened to the people we are not told. The next thing we are told is an explanation of this experience.
God tells Ezekiel what this experience means (v. 11-14). He says that the bones are the lost children of Israel. They are lost because they are dead in their sin and unbelief. They have strayed from their faith in the Lord and now they are literally dead in their trespasses, sin, and unbelief. Left on their own, theirs is a condition of hopelessness.
But with the Lord there is hope. There is good news. The good news is that the Lord will call them back to faith. The calling back to faith of the children of Israel is the Lord’s promise of true restoration. True restoration came about through Jesus. Jesus came to earth, true God in human flesh and blood. Jesus was born perfect. He came as the embodiment of Israel. What the whole nation of Israel could not do, keep the Laws and word of God, Jesus did perfectly. Jesus came to pay the penalty for the sins of Israel in order to restore them to a right relationship with the Lord.
The true restoration of Israel is this, that the Lord also calls all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, to faith in Himself. The true Israel is all who believe in Jesus as their Savior. The final restoration for all believers is heaven. The Lord will open the graves of all people and will bring all those who are His, by His grace, through faith in Jesus, to their home, heaven, with Him. The Lord will bring all believers into His Kingdom.
How might we tell this story today? We might start with taking a look at the world in which we live and especially at the lives that we live. We are reminded that we are all by nature sinful and unclean, deserving of death, eternal spiritual death. We daily show our nature through our words and our actions. Turn on the television, watch the news, read a news paper, listen to the radio. The things that are happening in our world, drug abuse, child abuse, rape, abortion, murder, violence of all kinds, these are not the things of a people who are in a close relationship with the Lord. Even in our own churches and congregations we are people who come and look like we are trying to be a part of God’s kingdom, and I would say, we actually want to try to be good Christians, yet we too find ourselves daily sinning against one another and the Lord, in word and in action. We compete against one another, we struggle for what we perceive to be positions of power, we nit-pick and gossip against one another, we tear each other down, and for what reason? Mostly because we are simply falling into the temptation of the devil. Yes, the church is full of hypocrites, those people who have faith in Jesus and yet, on a daily basis live otherwise. We all stand guilty!
In Catechetical Helps, a type of workbook for the catechism, we are reminded that we do not keep the commandments simply by not doing something we should not be doing. We break the commandments, more often by not doing something we should be doing. The statements of the third commandment stick out in reminding us that we do not keep the third commandment just by going to church. We keep the third commandment “by going to church, listening, believing, and doing; by praying and reading the Bible daily; by supporting the work of the church; and by sharing the Gospel with others.” The children of Israel became a valley of dry bones because they gave up their relationship with the Lord. Are we to become a valley of dry bones because we too are slowly giving up our relationship with the Lord?
Thanks be to God that He does not leave us without hope. In His infinite grace and mercy God continually calls us to faith through His Means of Grace, His Word and Sacrament. From the time of our birth, until the time of our death, the Lord continues to put before us, His Word and Sacraments. Through these means He would call us to faith, strengthen us in faith, and keep us in faith until He comes again.
Thanks be to God that He sent His Son to give His life for ours. Jesus did not come just to save the children of Israel. He did not come to show us the way to save ourselves. He came to live for us, that is to be perfect for us because we cannot be perfect. He came to obey all of God’s Laws and commands perfectly for us as well because we cannot, because we are imperfect. He came to take our sins upon Himself. He came to give His life as a ransom for us all. He came to give His life for ours. He came to bring us back into a right relationship with the Father in heaven, to restore us.
Thanks be to God that He came to give us heaven. Heaven is not something we will have or something that is a future possibility. Heaven is a present reality. It is ours now. We may have to wait to move in, but we are on the member list.
Ezekiel’s experience brings us the sobering thought that, but by the grace of God, there go I. Ezekiel’s experience reminds us of God’s grace in bringing us back into a right relationship with Himself through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and then God through Ezekiel calls us to and works in us the ability to live in a right relationship with Himself. And to that we say, to God be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.