God was at work.
Ezekiel was about to be taught.
Plopped in the middle of an arid valley . . . dry bones spread out as far as the eye could see . . . the conversation began with a simple question to the prophet: “Son of man, can these bones live?”
Isn’t that the question on everyone’s mind?
The recent information that was shared from the Pew Research Center should not have come as a shock to those of us sitting in the actual pews . . . research shows that Christianity is losing ground in our society. The research indicates that our society—as a whole—is becoming more secular. Research indicates that the fastest growing religious group in society is not the conservative Christian movement . . . not some fancy fangled new age group . . . or even those other religions out there like the Muslims. No, the fastest growing religious group in society is those who have become known as the “Nones”.
The “Nones” are those who respond—“none of the above”—when asked about their religious affiliation or preference. The “Nones” include those who consider themselves to be “spiritual but not religious”. This shift has been well documented inside and outside of the church for years, and the Pew Center’s research just confirms that the gap is widening. The response of a lot of religious leaders who were overlooking the valley of dry bones that once was the church was, “Tell us something that we don’t know.”
And, they want to know, “Can these bones live?”
It has been a tough year in the lives of many of you sitting in the pews this morning. There have been major changes in your personal lives that have changed the way that you go about your daily lives. There have been drastic changes in the lives of your family that have rippled across your lives. There have been days when it seemed as if the darkness of the night would never end . . . days when it was a struggle to get up and do it again. Days that felt as if you were standing in the midst of the dry bones . . . wondering and praying . . . “Can these bones live?”
Isn’t that what everyone wants to know?
Ezekiel was a prophet in exile. Living in Babylon he was called upon by God to deliver the Lord’s word to the people. As part of the Judean side of the family, he was taken in captivity to Babylon after an unsuccessful rebellion. There he was called upon by God to prophesy about the eventful fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple; to tell of God’s judgment against those who held God’s people—Judah and Israel—in captivity; and, to give them hope . . . that there would be a brighter future. This was not an easy job when one considers the ravaging destruction that Babylon put upon the people of God . . . wiped them out and left nothing standing . . . took away their land, their temple, and their identity . . . leaving nothing behind but a symbolic valley of dry bones. To this scenario God calls Ezekiel to bring a message of hope. As he is looking out over the waste that was once a proud nation . . . that once believed themselves to be the “chosen ones”, the “children of God” . . . he wondered whether or not there would ever be life in those dry bones.
Thus it was that God threw the question back at Ezekiel: “Son of man, can these bones live?”
Ezekiel did not know: “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
Not quite the answer God was hoping for. What follows next is a demonstration of God as the Spirit moves to bring those dry bones to life. God breathes upon them. As the children’s song goes . . . the toe bone connects to the foot bone, foot bone connects to the leg bone, and on up until life is totally restored. In this vision Ezekiel sees the power of God through the Spirit to bring life to what seems dried and wasted . . . he sees that through the Spirit the people of God will find life . . . he sees that there is hope in new beginnings. God knows . . . God knows new life.
And, so it would come to be . . . at least for a while until the people of God screwed up again; but, that is another story for another time. The fact is the Spirit of God brings new life even out of the driest of bones.
Now flash back to the story we have been hearing over the past few weeks about that time shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus had led a revival of the Jewish faith. It was a revival that changed the world and brought hope to an oppressed people . . . that brought a promise of new day. It was a revival that brought hope to all those who followed him. With his arrest, trial, and eventual crucifixion that was all changed in the wink of an eye. The followers of Jesus were at a loss as to what would happen next. Their dynamic and charismatic leader was gone. All the momentum they had built was gone. They were a scattered group . . . hiding . . . hiding for their lives. The devastation was total . . . the valley was scattered with dry bones in all the directions that they looked.
How were these dry bones ever going to live?
Well, we know the Easter story . . . Jesus lives. Easter is filled with the stories of the living Jesus coming to the disciples while they are in hiding . . . teaching and showing them that there was hope . . . that there still was a way. Over and over again he tells them that the time is coming when God will breathe on them and that breath will bring to them new beginnings . . . new life. The Spirit will be upon them. And, then he was gone.
Bewildered, the disciples were still wondering: “Can these bones live?”
While together on the Feast of Pentecost God breathe upon them . . . the Spirit moved among them. “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest upon each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:1-3, NIV) Others in Jerusalem for the celebration heard the ruckus and came running . . . Jews from every nation . . . a large crowd gathered. They looked . . . they listened . . . and, they understood. They understood because they too had the breath of God in them; they, too, had the Spirit. It was new life in dry bones.
With Ezekiel, God showed the power of the Spirit . . . the power of God’s breath . . . and its ability to bring new life even to a pile of dry bones. God showed Ezekiel that with the Spirit there was new life . . . that there was hope.
Jesus’ followers—his disciples—learn too of the power of God’s breath . . . of the Spirit. Out of the darkness of hopelessness a spark kindles a fire of promise and hope. It pulls the bones together. It gives them life. Though the people come from all walks of life . . . come from different nations . . . speak different languages . . . live differently . . . the Spirit brings them together. They understand one another. There is hope. There is new life.
On this Day of Pentecost there is always hope for new life. As we look around the world we live in, it is true that we wonder if “these bones can live?” As we pause and consider our own lives with their struggles, we have to admit that there are moments when we wonder if “these bones can live?” We wonder . . . and, we know. We know that God knows.
And, what is it that God knows?
God knows that there can be new life.
God knows that through God’s breath even dry bones can live again.
God knows that through the breath of God . . . through the Spirit . . . new life is born.
God knows new beginnings . . . new life. God’s breath is upon us all. There is hope in new beginnings . . . where shall the Spirit lead us? Amen.