The Dead Live
March 29, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
Have you ever felt like you were so exhausted that you were just “Done”?
Have you ever been a part of a club, or a church, that was so downtrodden and so beaten up that everyone was ready to give up and surrender to the inevitable?
Maybe even now, in the middle of this time of Corona virus “Social distancing” and “stay at home” orders, many of us are dealing with significant anxiety, isolation, frustration, and loneliness. I have heard many people both inside and outside our local congregation, express concern about how churches might survive during and after this crisis.
We feel as if a part of us has died.
And the danger is that these feelings can lead to a loss of hope.
And so, with that in mind, imagine what it must have been like to be an Israelite in captivity in Babylon. Their nation was devastated, their temple destroyed, and their people had been either brutally killed, or captured and dragged nearly two thousand miles, on foot, to be sold as slaves. In the middle of this darkness and despair, some of the remaining priests of Israel were trying to minister to the needs of the people but it was understandably hard. You can imagine them praying and asking God how they could possibly minister to the needs of the people when they were separated from everything that was familiar and when even the priests were losing hope. And it is in that moment, that God comes to Ezekiel in a vision with an important message both for the priests and for the people. And, as it happens, as we are all separated from one another, separated from our beautiful church building, and prevented from worshiping together, I think God’s message to Ezekiel may resonate with us in a special way today as well. Listen to what God said in Ezekiel 37:1-14.
37:1 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 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. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: 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. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
God spoke to Ezekiel at a time when the people of Israel were beaten down and had given up hope. And God’s message to his people was that he would open their graves, put their dry bones back together, breathe his own breath into them, bring them back to life and lead them home.
God’s promise was that he would bring life from death, that the dead would live, and that there was hope in the middle of their hopelessness.
God was never limited by the armies of Babylon, or by powerful governments, or thousands of miles of separation, or even by death itself. What we are experiencing is difficult, but it is not anything that is too difficult for God. While the promises that God made to Ezekiel were not specifically written for us, they still inspire us and fill us with hope for our future together.
Like the people of Israel, our exile is temporary. Normal life will return. Our church will meet in worship, together, again. Our trust is not in governments or in dollars. Our trust, and our hope, is in God. And we know that God has the power to return what has been taken from us so that we too will know that God has spoken.
Today we may feel like “dry bones” but our God is in the resurrection business.
As we often remind ourselves at this time of year, “It may be dark on Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”
There is no denying that these are difficult times, but God has not forgotten us.
I continue to encourage you to stay connected with one another by whatever means you have available. Use your video chat or pick up the telephone and talk to some of your friends. Be sure to check on those folks who might be isolated or vulnerable.
And, whatever you do, hold tight to your faith, remember that this, of all times, is the season of resurrection, and…
…hold on to hope.
Have a great week everybody!
Today’s Responsive Reading (from Psalm 130)
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
2 Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
6 I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
8 He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.
You can find the livestream of this message here: https://youtu.be/ybcPf-d2IOQ
A longer version with music can be found here: https://youtu.be/TDaEo5i_Rk8
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