Church Sermon for 29th March 2020
Sunday 29th March 2020
Text message: Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NIV) The valley of dry bones
37 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 to and fro 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[a] 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.”’
Sermon – ‘The bone man’
Growing up, my playground was a butcher’s shop, my family were butchers over in Dundonald and as a boy I was surrounded by flesh, sinew and bone. And when the bones were stripped - we had a big black bin in the corner of the workshop filled with discarded bones. They were useless to us – but once a week the bone man would come and take them all away. Away to make glue, gelatine or to dry them out and grind them down... for fertiliser.
Bones for us butchers where the end of the road. But for the bone man – they were his beginning. He saw potential – he saw future – in those bones.
God is the bone man. He takes us at the end of our road, he takes what we call write-offs and brings about something new.
Today things are difficult - all that has affirmed us, united us, and made us hale and hearty – now seems to be so dislocated. We do not know when the end of this will be and what that end will be - and we are downhearted because we are isolated.
Today we join Israel in the lament - "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely’.
The valley of dry bones is a message we need to hear.
In its context - Ezekiel is prophesising God’s Word to the Jewish people who are living in exile in the land of Babylon. They have given up hope of being restored again to their homeland - and their dreams lie in dust. In this sad and desperate place - Ezekiel is given a vision that God’s people are like a valley of dry bones. In his vision - he is taken out into a broad valley and shown mounds of desiccated and dismembered bones.
What use is a long dead army stripped to the bone? None, no use to anyone you say. Expect - to God’s almighty hands.
This isn’t so much a sermon with three points here - but a point with three sermons. For three times Ezekiel prophesised over the bones and three times God worked in his resurrection power.
The first sermon the bones begin to rattle, coming together bone to bone, skeletons first and then tendons, flesh, sinew and skin begin to dance around, weaving patterns that resemble human form, but they are dead.
Another sermon – breathe comes to fill these forms and the wind appears from north and south and east and west. The breath of God himself fills the cadavers - and an army - inhales.
But for what purpose? A third sermon – Ezekiel gains a wider vision – he looks and sees the whole house of Israel. He looks upon the valley through God’s eyes. Lifted up high - he prophesises hope to the disenchanted, life to the dead – a future once more for God’s people.
Today we feel dislocated as church, isolated - it’s so easy to feel feeling null and void, finished, passed over and only good for the bone bin?
But have faith - lift up your hearts, and hope – for God is the bone man, he will take our write off – and make it his beginning.
In recounting this vision, Ezekiel challenges his fellow exiles and us - to view our circumstances – not by our own limited vision, but through God’s eyes.
Can these bones live? Of course not, – you want to reply. But look again at the situation through God’s eyes and watch as bones rush to their appropriate partners. Toe bone connected to the foot bone, foot bone connected to the heel bone and so on and so forth. Watch as ligaments bind them together, flesh blankets them and skin seals tight.
Watch as God’s Spirit, which heals hopelessness, infuses them with living breath that they might rise up - a great army testifying to the awesome power of God.
Can corpses be brought forth from graves and become living beings again? Absurd!
But look again through God's eyes, and watch them come up, receive God's spirit, and return to their blessed home.
When we raise our vision to look beyond what our mundane eyes can see, we watch the impossible happen through God's eyes.
Last January and February I was serving as Padre to 45 Cdo Group Royal Marines, we were in California stationed in a Battle Camp in the high plains of the Mojave Desert.
We were some two hundred miles south from Death Valley. The landscape was barren, it was bitterly cold, and it was very dry. Occasionally you’d see a thorned bush stunted and twisted by the wind, find an empty desert tortoise shell or catch a spider scurrying over a rock for shelter, but otherwise it too was dead.
The wind wiped up huge swathes of dust, especially as hulking ospreys flew overhead – that strange mix of half helicopter and half aeroplane.
All around were military ranges - machine gun fire and heavy artillery thundering off the surrounding mountain ranges.
I wrote it off as a truly forsaken place – like a wasteland in some post-apocalyptic horror film.
And then, one day the heavens opened - and it rained, and it rained, and it rained. And the desert was transformed. And there was life, there was green grass, there were flowers. It was precious food to my soul.
Though the landscape of church may look desolate. Though we may be a dislocated community. This is not what God sees. He sees potential.
So, trust him in this, work with him in this and use this time to get ready.
Keep praying. Pray for our God to intervene in our current crisis. Pray for our God to work powerfully in and through our Church in Dreghorn and Springside. Putting flesh on our bones, reviving us as an army of his people.
Read - drink deep from his Word – get out your Bibles, pour over them and let God’s word pour over you and from you. Let God bring those words to life in you.
And get studying. I’ve just signed up for an online Bible Study course and I invite you to join me. Let’s learning together today so that we’re prepared for tomorrow.
The course is called ‘faith working through love’. It’s a free, short course at beginners’ level - that needs no prior learning. You’ll find it at ntwrightonline.org/courses. Sing up and email me to let me know – we’ll work through it together.
Through prayer, reading and study – we will be ready – for when God’s Spirit comes to breathe new life into his church again.
For our God is in the revival business. The Jewish people saw that God did not forsake them to Babylon. He overcame their exile and brought his people home.
Our God is in the resurrection business. He is the one who went to the cross and died there. And yet, that instrument of scandalous, disgraceful death becomes for us Christians a powerful symbol of hope, of life beyond death, of our healing and of our salvation.
Our God is like no other power. He is the one who is the power to resurrect, remake, reinvent, restore, renew... us - for our discarded bones are his future hope.
For our God is the bone man!
The Rev Jamie Milliken
Minister of Dreghorn and Springside Parish Church