a sermon on Ezekiel 37:1-14 for Pentecost Sunday
preached on May 27, 2012, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
What do you do with dry bones? There seems to be so little purpose in them – while living bones are an integral part of our human bodies, giving shape and form to our being and holding us up so that we are more than just a pile of muscle and skin on the ground, dry bones are no good to anyone. They just sit there, waiting for their end to come, decaying into nothingness, taking what that which was once very much alive and making it very clearly and very permanently dead. Dry bones are good for nothing.
So when Ezekiel found himself in a valley of dry bones, there was not much more to do than to listen to what God was up to. There weren’t just a few bones there, there were bones all around – and the bones weren’t just dry, they were very dry. But God was up to something with these bones. “Mortal, can these bones live?” God asked Ezekiel. Ezekiel couldn’t have been inspired by this question. Of course these bones couldn’t live! These were just pieces of deadness, dry bones in a dry valley decaying into nothingness, just waiting for the day when they would simply disappear. After all, dry bones are good for nothing.
Sometimes I feel like I’m surrounded by dry bones – the now-lifeless pieces of things that once felt very much alive, the remnant of a past that seems so far away, the scattered and disconnected pieces of life that just don’t seem to fit together when you need them to actually make sense for once. I feel like we’ve been there together, too, wandering around that valley of dry bones – trying to sort out how even the best pieces of who we are as a community of faith sometimes just don’t fit together as well as we’d like, longing for some new life to emerge in our midst and set aside the worn-out ways of the past and the deep frustrations of the present, wondering where God is in the midst of this dark valley and all these dry bones. Sure, the building blocks of life may be out here in this valley, but it sure seems like something is missing, and there is no clear way to find it. You see, dry bones are good for nothing.
But God asked Ezekiel, “Mortal, can these bones live?” and Ezekiel couldn’t say no to God, right? So he suppressed his snarky attitude and questioning spirit and responded to God’s question with the best possible human answer in a moment like this: “O Lord God, you know.” Yes, God did know. God was up to something with these bones. So God instructed Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones, to call out to them so that they would live:
O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord: 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.
Well, maybe dry bones are good for something?
What Ezekiel saw proved that God was right. When he offered God’s words to the bones, there was a great rattling sound, the noise of death emerging into something new, a cacophony of sound in that dry, desolate, once-silent valley as “the bones came together, bone to its bone.” But the wonder of the moment didn’t stop there. Suddenly the bones were more than bones – they took on tendons and ligaments and muscles and flesh and skin. Yet something was missing. These bodies were standing still, not moving, not breathing, not fully alive, waiting for something more to happen. The bones may have become something more – the dry bones were good for something! – but something was still missing.
I’m in the midst of one of those strange moments in life where everything seems to be coming together just like those dry bones out in the valley. After what seems like years of waiting and planning and preparing, my dry bones seem to be coming together. This week, I’m moving into a new apartment. Within the next month, hopefully, I’ll be moving into a new office. In just five weeks, I’ll be leaving on a two-month sabbatical. And dry bones seem to be coming together in our church life, too. Over a year of work in preparing to sell the manse will hopefully come to an end sometime in July. My sabbatical time, our new office, and my new housing arrangement are the fruits of much common labor over the past year. And after many years of wondering about the presence of children in our life together, we will be talking with our parents in a couple weeks about how to expand our programs with them because there is something happening here. It feels like so many things are coming together, like something new and different might be happening – but because we’re still on this side of it, because the breath of the Spirit is still blowing life into them, there’s still something missing. Even our dry bones are good for something – but God is up to something more.
God had one more word for Ezekiel to prophesy in the valley of dry bones:
Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.
The breath came upon them as God instructed, and there was new life in the whole multitude of the dry bones of the valley. They began to live and walk and breathe and move because God gave them new life. They took inspiration from the wind of the Spirit, just as the early church was energized and empowered by their experiences on the day of Pentecost. Those dry bones were good for something after all.
So on this day of Pentecost, when we remember the wonderful wind of the Holy Spirit blowing among the disciples and the pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, when we think of all the times and places and ways that the Spirit has shaped and formed and led and moved and even drug our church and our world into being more like what God intends for us, and when we celebrate the continued renewal of the Spirit among us now, on this day of Pentecost we can hope and pray that our dry bones will be good for something, too, by the power of that same Holy Spirit.
The work we are doing, the plans we have made, even the plans God still has for us will come into being as the Spirit breathes on us. Just as Ezekiel saw the bones coming together in that valley, so the bones of our lives and our world will come together as we trust God to lead us in these days. Just as the breath of God blew new life into those lifeless bodies in the valley of dry bones, God can and will blow new life into us. And just as Jesus Christ rose to new life on that resurrection morning, so we too can be made new by the power of God working in us and through us and even in spite of us.
So on this Pentecost day, we remember and we pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit once again, to fully bring the pieces together and to make new life real and whole and complete as the Spirit breathes life upon us once again to make us the good and faithful people God intends for us to be. The dry bones that were good for nothing will be good for something by the power of the Holy Spirit. May it be so for us and our church and our world.
Thanks be to God. Amen.