Sunday, April 6, 2014

“In the Valley of Dry Bones” (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

It has been said that we all have a closet with skeletons.  This phrase is not a compliment as it refers to those situations, choices, and things that we just assume that no one else knew about.  They are not always “bad” and often are more embarrassing than anything . . . but, we would prefer that no one know about them.  This closet full of skeletons is where we place those things that make us anxious, nervous, embarrassed, sad, regretful, and even mad.  We shove them in there . . . ignore them . . . deny them . . . and hope that the door never gets open.  All the while those bones lie there as a reminder . . . not so much about death, but about despair . . . despair in life . . . our lives.

So it is that we all have our own “valleys of dry bones” in life, though we refer to them as a “closet full of skeletons”.  Thus it should come as no surprise that despite the depressing and gruesome image of the prophet Ezekiel’s encounter with God in our reading this morning that we find hope.  We are right there with Ezekiel . . . hanging onto every word spoken by God . . . hanging onto every movement of God’s breath as it brings forth promise and hope in the valley of despair.

Ezekiel is called upon by God to bring hope to the people as they are in exile in the land of Babylon.  Exile brought on by their own rebellion against God and God’s will.  Exile brought on by their defiance against a powerful enemy.  It is a sort of perfect storm that culminates with the people of God being invaded, conquered, and made captives in a strange and foreign land.  This is no slapping of the hand and sending the people back . . . this is an out behind the barn whipping and being grounded from life as they knew it.  It was a sad, depressing time as the people longed for what they knew and once had . . . they wanted to go home.  They were filled with despair at the prospect that it was not going to happen too quickly . . . maybe not even in their lifetimes.  They were sitting in their own valley of dry bones.  The covenant has been broken with both the people and God dealing with unspeakable loss.  The people proclaim: “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”

There is no denying that the people of God got themselves into this situation.  They wandered away from God . . . maybe at first by a lack of focus, but then later by just ignoring God and God’s will completely.  Despite the great blessings of God upon them, they chose to wander away and forget . . . to forget that their blessing came from the fact that they were in an intimate relationship with God . . . a relationship based on wanting to do whatever it took to be lovingly committed to one another . . . to please one another.  The people chose to please themselves and ignored the will of God.  In doing so they brought this demise upon themselves by separating themselves from God.  Now the time has come to deal with the bones.

It should be noted that this encounter between Ezekiel and God is not a quickie miracle that God is going to enact upon the people.  No, it is far from that.  It is a demonstration of something that is to come later, but in the meantime it stands as the model for Ezekiel to use to deliver the message: with God there is hope . . . with God there is life . . . with God all things are possible; but, it has to be with God.  These bones do not represent the death of a nation or even God’s people . . . these bones represent the despair of the people from being cut off from God and their homeland . . . these bones are the bones of their lost love and commitment to God . . . of being in relationship with God and one another.  These are the skeletons in the closet that must be exposed and dealt with before “life” can be restored.  But, there is hope.  Hope in the presence of God . . . a presence that is as close as the breath the people breathe.

Though this is a helpful and hopeful message delivered by God to Ezekiel about the future of the people . . . the people are going to remain in exile.  They are still going to have to deal with the whole mess that they have created . . . the loss of loved ones . . . the loss of their homes . . . the loss of their nation . . . the loss of a familiar way of life.  They are going to remain in exile and while mourning they will be challenged to find a new way back to that relationship with God.  But, God will be with them . . . that is the reassurance of the encounter between Ezekiel and God . . . God is going to be with them.  Because God is present, they can breathe . . . and stand ready for the future, looking forward in hope.

I would imagine that some folks think of the season of Lent as a death march through the valley of dry bones.  I would think that they feel this way because it is in the season of Lent that we are challenged to look at our lives . . . to throw open the closet of skeletons . . . and, to deal with that which separates us from God.  To deal with that which screws up our intimacy with God.  To deal with that which makes us want to ignore God . . . to rebel against God and God’s ways in our lives.  Remember, none of us really wants to open up that closet full of skeletons . . . there is a reason we threw them in there in the first place.  But, that is what the season of Lent challenges us to face . . . the valley of dry bones.

I am not even going to attempt to name the various skeletons . . . the dry bones . . . any of us have in our closets or valleys.  Those barriers that separate us from God and one another are as vast and divergent as the human race.  What is a barrier for one of us may not be a barrier for another; but, the fact is, we all have barriers separating us from God and one another.  The issue of the matter is whether or not we are going to sit in our despair or are we going to breathe deeply, hike up our pants, and deal with finding a way to get ourselves back to God and one another . . . to rekindle that intimacy . . . that love.

There is hope in this valley of dry bones . . . God’s presence is there.  God’s presence is everywhere like the air that we breathe.  That is the promise of God to each and every one of us . . . God will never abandon us . . . in in our darkest and driest times in life.  God will be with us.  That knowledge alone has to serve as our hope . . . we will make it because God is with us.  But, we have to be willing to acknowledge the bones . . . the skeletons . . . in our lives and to deal with them through God’s presence.

The question: Can these bones live?

Of course they can.  Just as Ezekiel discovers in his encounter with God in the valley of dry bones, those bones can live.  Those bones can live because of God’s presence . . . with God, all things are possible.  So, breathe . . . breathe deeply of God’s presence and learn to live.  Amen.

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