SERMON FOR APRIL 6, 2014

SERMON FOR APRIL 6, 2014

LENT 5, YEAR A

Nativity, Bloomfield Township

 

READINGS:     Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalm 130

Romans 8:6-11

John 11:1-45

 

MAY THE WORDS OF OUR SACRED WRITINGS BE A LAMP UNTO OUR FEET, AND LEAD US ONTO PATHS OF JUSTICE, LOVE, AND MERCY.   AMEN.

 

Do you remember that famous African American poem and song based on today’s reading from Ezekiel?  It was written by James Weldon Johnson, an early civil rights activist of the 19th Century.  He used it not only to teach scripture but to help his Sunday School children learn basic anatomy  “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones…the foot bone is con-nected to the (pause) leg-bone…” and so on.  Google contains more than 80,000 references to this passage from Ezekiel, including drawings, paintings, and illustrations from as early as the third century.

Ezekial’s vision of the valley of dry bones is one of the most imaginative passages in all of Scripture. As we read these verses, we can’t help but envision a dry, sandy desert scene with bones and skulls lying in disarray as far as the eye can see.  Ezekiel stands in the midst of these dry bones listening to God speak.

Of course, Ezekiel’s vision is metaphorical. Nevertheless, our imagination can see and hear these bones suddenly reassemble themselves in a great clatter, bones that become strapped with sinew and flesh and skin, and, finally reanimated with a wind called forth from the four directions, ruach, the breath of God.

This vision was about the descendants of those Jews who had been marched against their will to Babylon and their eventual return to the land of Israel.  The dry bones represent the sense of hopelessness the exiles feel about ever returning to Israel.  God tells Ezekiel that the bones represent the whole house of Israel, and that they will, one day, return to the land of their ancestors.  In other words, Ezekiel is to tell this vision to the people to give them hope.  Hope.

This vision reminds every generation that God not only gives life but restores life…  that death or what appears to be death we experience in life will not have the last word.  We all go through lonely and parched periods on our life journeys.  It’s called the “dark night of the soul,” and is a human experience.  Most of us can point to periods of time when doubts, hopelessness, depression, fear, and anxiety were prominent in our daily lives.  Certainly hopelessness and despair were a communal experience for the exiled Jews at the time of Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones. God gave him this vision to bring hope to the people.  Hope.

I’d like to share a story, one where I’ve changed the names.  Linda-lu was born in a small scrabble town in Texas. Her mother died when she was eight.  She was abused by her father and her brother.  As soon as she graduated from high school, she met and married a member of a rock band. What she had hoped was liberation became exile of another kind.

They had a son.  Her husband was gone on the road most of the time.  For all intents and purposes, she was a single mom, working to support herself and her son.  Linda-lu continued to trust God.  Although there were times she lost heart, God would resuscitate her hope.

Linda-lu earned a degree in accounting while working so-called entry-level jobs and raising Stevie.  She divorced her husband who she and Stevie seldom saw.  Linda-lu got a job as an accountant and did well.  Her trust in God grew.

Linda-lu felt a call to ordination.  Stevie encouraged her in this.  Continuing to work, she earned a Masters in Divinity from a Texas seminary.  After ordination, she was called to a part-time position with a small American Baptist church.  Within a few years, membership quadrupled.  Linda-lu continued her job as an accountant as well as her position of pastor.  Linda-lu felt so alive, so on fire for God.

Then her heart was pierced when now-grown Stevie joined a cult that had a charismatic father figure.  This man taught that families were a danger to his young followers.  To be a member of this cult, the man demanded they had to cut off all contact with their families.  This was a very difficult emotional time for Linda-lu.  Talk about a period of dry bones!  Yet, despite moments of hopelessness and despair, she clung to a thread of hope and trust in God.

Linda-lu met Monique, a teacher in Michigan, through an online chat room.  As time went by, they met in person on several occasions both in Texas and Michigan.  Twenty years ago Linda-lu felt restoration, almost a form of resurrection, when she moved to Michigan.  She found a job as CFO of a mid-size corporation.  She and Monique bought a house.  They built a life together.  They faced her being diagnosed with kidney cancer, which was healed.

Then tragedy struck.  Although only in her early 40’s, Linda-lu had a stroke.  It left one side of her body with little feeling.  Nevertheless, with physical therapy and sheer determination, she was able to learn to ambulate wearing a brace and using a walker. However, she had to give up her high-stress job and go on social security disability.

Years later Monique was diagnosed with ovarian cancer followed by numerous abdominal complications from surgery and chemo.  Monique finally retired from teaching as she struggled with each complication.  Linda-lu and Monique have been there for each other through all these challenges.  Yes, there were times when she lost heart and felt hopeless, helpless, like she was nothing but a sack of dry bones.  Yet Linda-lu continues to trust and hope in God.

Last week Monique had a biopsy.  It doesn’t look good.  Linda-lu visits her every day in the hospital.  She continues to give her time as an associate pastor at a church both women find life giving, a church dedicated to contemporary worship and to outreach.

Last Tuesday she chaired a fund raiser at a local restaurant, an event to raise money for mosquito nets to fight malaria in a part of Africa.  There she stood in her brace and walker, exhausted but smiling at the success of the event.  She assured us she and Monique will get through this current challenge.  She continues to trust God and to hope.

Linda-lu’s story is one among millions.  Some of us sitting here today can relate to the dry bones of life’s ups and downs.  People in South American, Africa, the Middle East… so many have fallen into valleys of the dry bones of desolation literally and metaphorically.  From Darfur and the Congo and Zimbabwe to Myanmar and Pakistan and Iraq… from the gang slayings and drug wars in our cities… from the lost jobs and spent savings and foreclosed houses throughout our country… to all those places lacking food or drink or clothing or shelter or any respect for life and dignity.  Not only is there the physical toll people continue to pay, but also the spiritual death that poverty, natural disasters, and genocide exact from people to reduce them to a state of dry bones.

In the third verse of today’s reading, God asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?”  Can these bones live?  Ezekiel answered, “O Lord God, you know.”  God does know.  It is the God of Israel, the God who created the world and all that is in it, who brought a people to birth from the childless couple, Abraham and Sarah.  It is the God who freed their descendants from the living death of slavery in Egypt.  It is the God who entered into a covenant with them.  It is the God who raised up judges and kings and prophets, calling them to life again and again, while they continued to choose death.

It is this God who sent Jesus and raised him up that we might have life… this God who calls again and again, while so many have continued to choose death.  Two thousand years of dead bones through rules and regulations and persecution and greed and conspiracy and harm and oppression… all in the name of this God!

Today’s reading gives us hope… God’s promise to blow his breath among us… to strengthen us… to pick us up when we fall… to breathe new life into our dry bones.  This is the message we need to take to others, whose dry bones of lost hope need to hear the promise of this living God.

We are fast approaching Holy Week.  Can the bones of a crucified man live?  Yes, just as we live in him, with him, through him, and for him.  We live now in the power of that same Spirit given by Jesus and poured into our hearts.

We are only two weeks away from that moment on Easter when we renew our baptismal promises: Do you believe in the God of life who created all that is?  Do you believe in Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord, who died and rose that we might have abundant life?  Do you believe in the Spirit of God, the divine breath, ruach, that brings new life wherever it blows?

God said to Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?”  God says to us, “Can these bones live?”  Yes, Lord, most definitely yes.

 Amen.

The Rev. Diane E. Morgan

 

 

 

 

Resources used for this sermon:

 

Amos, Katherine E.  “Pastoral Perspective: Ezekiel 37:1-14.”  Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2, edited  by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY. 2010.

Cobb, Kelton.  “Theological Perspective: Ezekiel 37:1-14.”  Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2, edited  by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY. 2010.

 

Reid, Stephen Breck.  “Exegetical Perspective: Ezekiel 37:1-14.”  Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2, edited  by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY. 2010.

 

Wallace, James A. “Homiletical Perspective: Ezekiel 37:1-14.”  Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2, edited  by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY. 2010.

 

http://www.events-in-music.com/the-leg-bone-connected-to-the-knee-bone.html. Retrieved from the Internet, April 5, 2014.

 

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