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First Scripture = Romans 8:1-11
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
We are still in our series looking at the questions God and Jesus ask in the Bible. Every one of those questions are for our benefit, not to give God and Jesus knowledge they somehow lacked before.
This week we are in the very strange book of Ezekiel. And we are in one of the most famous and strangest parts of Ezekiel – the valley of the dry bones.
I’m a notorious scrooge about holiday decorations, but I have always wanted to recreate the valley of the dry bones as my Halloween decorations. Biblical teaching PLUS scaring the socks off of everyone who comes near – two birds with one stone! Alas, my cheapskate nature has so far won out over this desire.
This vision happens during the time when Israel had been defeated, subjugated by Babylon, and its leaders taken away. God gives Ezekiel this vision to answer a fundamental question that was on the hearts and minds of this conquered, exiled people: is our situation hopeless? When God asks, “can these bones live,” he’s giving voice to that deeply felt question inside the people. Is our situation hopeless? Hear God’s response and try to picture this scene. If you have any really good mental pictures, let me know. Maybe I can add it to my Halloween shopping list.
Main Scripture = Ezekiel 37:1-14
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I 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.” 7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 11Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.
If you have been tracking the news in space in addition to the news on earth, you’ve been hearing a lot about the upcoming launch of astronauts from Cape Canaveral for the first time since the Space Shuttle program shut down almost ten years ago. I’ve got my fingers crossed that this demo mission goes well. If it goes well, it’s another step in NASA’s plans to get back to the moon and stick around this time. But the thing we really need in order to make this work? Of course we need a rocket and a spaceship, but we also need water. Lunar ice that can be harvested right there on the moon.
Interestingly, we’ve been studying another celestial body in our solar system for a while: Mars. And what have many of those missions spent their time and resources studying? Water on Mars.
There are also two upcoming missions to a different moon in our solar system: Europa. One of the moons of Jupiter. Scientists are really excited to get closer looks at Europa. Why? Because underneath its frozen crust is a presumably giant ocean of…you guessed it! Water!
And if our solar system is just too close to home for you, the Kepler and TESS missions have been studying planets outside of our solar system. Combining their observations, scientists hunt for the telltale signs of…you guessed it! Water! Last year two teams announced their discovery of water on the planet K2-18b. It’s a very catchy name. In the announcement, they said, “This is the only planet right now that we know outside the solar system that has the correct temperature to support water, that has an atmosphere and that has water in it.” K2-18b is the best candidate for habitability outside of our solar system because water, as they said, “is the foundation of biology as we know it.”
All of these missions demonstrate this essential point: water is life. No water? No life.
In our text today, Ezekiel makes a key observation. The valley was full of bones. Lots of bones. And they were dry. Very dry. Bone dry, you might say. No water? No life. Not even microbes doing their work of decomposition. Dry bones. Very dry. No water? No life. Ezekiel surveys a valley filled with a hoard of lifeless bones lying where they fell. Do you see why this would make a good Halloween setup? I’m onto something here.
As I mentioned before, and as God himself highlights in his dialogue with Ezekiel, the people of Israel felt this dry. They felt this defeated. They felt this dead. They felt as hopeless as a pile of very dry, lifeless bones.
Where do you feel dry? Where do you feel empty? Where do you feel hopeless? What parts of your life feel like death? If water is life, where does the water seem to be all drained out?
Hope With Action
God said to Ezekiel, “Mortal, can these bones live?” Ezekiel answered, “O Lord God, [only] you know.”
God asks you in your very dry places, “Can these places live?” “O Lord God, [only] you know.”
You know, dryness is interesting. It’s one of those things that is defined by what’s not there. You can’t add dryness to something. You make it dryer by taking moisture out of it. So saying these bones are very dry is saying there isn’t any water in them.
Many of us are hardwired to notice what’s missing. Many of us are pretty adept at noticing what’s wrong in our lives. Many of us are good at pointing out that these bones are dry.
That’s OK. That’s just step one.
Augustine, one of the early church fathers, said, “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”
So step one is noticing the problem – noticing what’s missing. Step two is noticing what could or will be with God. Step three is doing something about it. If you stop at step one and just notice the problem, it leads to hopelessness. If you stop at step two and notice what could or will be, that’s better. You have the beginning of hope. But for hope to take root and blossom, it also requires action as well.
Eugene Peterson said, “Hoping does not mean doing nothing. It is not fatalistic resignation. It means going about our assigned task, confident that God will provide the meaning and conclusions.”
In our text today, Ezekiel demonstrates all three steps for hope with action. He sees a valley filled with many very dry bones. He notices the problem. That’s step one. When God asks him, “can these bones live?” He sees what is possible through God. “O Lord God, you know.” That’s step two. Then God tells him to prophesy to the bones, to speak God’s truth! And Ezekiel does what God asks. That was his action. That’s step three.
Ezekiel has hope with action. He notices the problem. He proceeds to see what is possible through God even in the midst of this problem. And he commits to an action that God asks him to do to address the problem.
Death to Life Today
So where are the problems in your life right now? What feels dry? Really dry. Bone dry. Where do you feel like there is no water and no life left?
I want to cover three kinds of dryness that I have seen in people lately. Maybe one of these categories hits home for you. Maybe more than one!
First, some places in our lives become dry just because of an event. Something happened. Something you can’t control. It might be this virus. It might be a death in the family. It might be something breaking in your home that pushes you over the edge. Something just happens, and it sucks the life out of you.
Sometimes those events aren’t going to change until Jesus comes again. For example, my grandfather recently died, and his birthday is coming up. That’s a natural time for my mom, my aunt, my uncle, and my grandmother to feel dry and empty. They can’t wish that away. It’s not going anywhere. Maybe you have an event or an upcoming day that you can’t wish away.
In those cases, our actions and our prayers aren’t to overcome or change the problem. Instead, those are opportunities, like Ezekiel, to participate in some other kind of new life. In Ezekiel’s time, Israel had been defeated. In his vision, the valley was filled with the dry bones of the slain. That didn’t change. But God told him to prophecy and be a part of something new. God didn’t make the defeat go away. God brought about something new and different. If you have some dryness that’s not going anywhere short of Jesus coming again, don’t pray for God to make it go away. Instead, pray for God to bring new life to restore your strength.
Second, there might be dry places in our lives because of our own actions. We might have sucked the life out of our own lives! On a bit of a lighter note, has every habit you’ve picked up during the stay-at-home order been a healthy and positive influence on your life? If so, you’re ready to become a life coach. Or you’re delusional. It can be hard to tell.
But for the rest of us, is there anything you are doing or not doing that is making you feel dry and lifeless? My exercise routines haven’t exactly kept up like they used to, although my Fitbit tells me I’m taking way more steps! There’s at least one advantage of having two children around all the time!
Another thing that has been “off” for me during this disruption is my devotional time. Without a regular rhythm, I miss several days and suddenly realize I’m feeling more dry and empty. I have to remember to go back to my devotions or back to playing and singing praise music in my basement to refill my soul.
What have you been doing or not doing that makes you feel dry? Those places are opportunities to ask God for a different motivation, or a different way to fill that time, or a different plan altogether. Just remember, it’s really hard to “stop” doing something. When our grass is dry, I can’t “stop” the dryness. I have to “add” water. When we want to get rid of the dryness in our lives, it requires “adding” something life-giving. We have to pray for and bring new life to those places that are bone dry because of our own action or inaction.
Finally, sometimes we just feel dry. Sometimes we just feel dead. Sometimes we just feel defeated or hopeless or lost. If that’s just hitting you now, you might be having a delayed bout of grief from all of this disruption. It may not even be a particular situation, just a feeling of dryness.
Our younger son is an extreme extrovert, so this stay-at-home stuff has not been up his alley. He misses people! I bet many of you can relate! As the virus numbers in our county have declined, we’ve had to balance safety and doing some things that help our mental health or help Mr. Extrovert have a little people time. We’re picking our spots to have the biggest mental health impact for the least possible risk, but that’s not always easy. But all of us need to do that calculation – where’s the right balance between investing in our mental health without taking crazy risks right now?
If you’re just feeling dry, pray for God’s wisdom in finding ways to invest in your mental and emotional health without taking crazy risks. We all need to find ways to fill our cups or we’ll just run dry.
Sisters and brothers, there are places in many of our lives that feel dry. Very dry. Bone dry. And where there is no water, there is no life. You can’t take away the dryness. But God can pour living water into your life in new ways. “O mortal, can these bones live?” “O Lord God, you know.” You know. Amen.