Scripture Lesson: Ezekiel 37:1-14
A pile of dry bones. That’s about as absolute as you can get. Dead. No life. Over and done. Final. That’s the scene we are given in Ezekiel.
These bones indicate the death not only of individual people but of a society. Of the people of Israel. Of the Temple and worship in Jerusalem. Of the monarchy. It’s all over. Brought down by super power politics in a military defeat. The result of ethnic nationalism and idolatry manifested in violent crime and oppressive economics. Kind of sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The people of Israel, those that are still alive, anyway, have been driven from their homes, their land, and scattered. It is the end of the world as they knew it.
A pile of dry bones. The story makes sure to get the message across by telling us that the bones were “very dry.” No life. No hope. No future.
In the story the prophet is asked by God, “Can these bones live?” We can imagine Ezekiel thinking, “What kind of a question is that? Of course a pile of dry bones scattered out here in the wilderness cannot live.” Then trying to think of a diplomatic way to parlay the question. Ah, toss it back to God. “Can these bones live?” “You know.” Whew. Dodged that one!
The next thing we know, the prophet is instructed to prophesy over the bones. Again, can’t you hear the little voice in the prophet’s head: “Why are you doing this? This is ridiculous. This is absurd. Talking to dead, dry bones all in heap in the middle of nowhere.” But the prophet follows instructions. And – “. . . suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. . . and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them.”
We are told of the bodies but they are not animated. There is no breath in them. So, reminiscent of Genesis, in this re-creation story, we are told of the breath entering the bodies: “Thus says the Sovereign God: ‘Come from the four winds, O Breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live’ . . . and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.”
Ezekiel and the people of Israel who are left get the message. Don’t limit God. Don’t presume to think that you know the power of God. God is more powerful than the Empire that annihilated Israel. God is more powerful than fear. God is more powerful than death. God is more powerful than all the evil we can imagine.
And the story tells us, in graphic terms, that God is free. What the people have or have not done does not control God. However Israel got to the point of defeat and exile, God is going to do what God is going to do. God is completely free. No limitations. No constraints.
Like the people of Israel in the story from Ezekiel, we too, face death on many fronts. We face the death of our bodies, the end of our span on Earth. We face the death of loved ones. On top of that we are confronted with the death of our familiar lifestyle and assumptions. Our society is stressed to breaking. We live in a culture of violence. We see the inequities of our economic arrangements. We see the erosion of the commonly held values of honesty, decency, and civility. People around the globe, including within the United States, are forced to flee violence, famine, and changing environmental conditions facing the end of their world as they knew it. There is the looming collapse of the natural world as we know it. It may not be in our lifetime, but our grandchildren or great grand children will face a very different reality.
But Ezekiel tells us that in the mysterious power and freedom of God, there is the possibility of new life. Whatever the circumstances. There is a power in the universe, call it God, call it love, call it Oneness, call it Life, that is stronger than anything we can dish up.
This Lenten season, as we think about migrating closer to God, to our center, to the heart of the universe, we must remember that we are talking about mystery, freedom, and power that we do not control; that cannot be domesticated to suit our cultural proclivities, our sensibilities, and our assumptions.
God is not restricted and limited to what is in the Bible or to what the church has said about God.
We are reminded of a bigger God – a God not just of the US. Not just of capitalism. Not just of Christianity. Those are strong influences that shape our identity. But in God, those are small considerations. Our tradition shows us a God always powerful and free to do something new that is life giving and life affirming. Newness, beyond our imagination is possible. Not limited by our small sights.
To move closer to God, don’t hang on. Let go.
God, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow – yes! Powerful and free! Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.