March 29, 2020, What Are You Hungry For? New Life, by Pastor David Tatgenhorst
Ezekiel 37:1-14. Valley of dry bones
1 The LORD's power overcame me, and while I was in the LORD's spirit, he led me out and set me down in the middle of a certain valley. It was full of bones. 2 He led me through them all around, and I saw that there were a great many of them on the valley floor, and they were very dry. 3 He asked me, "Human one, can these bones live again?" I said, "LORD God, only you know." 4 He said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, Dry bones, hear the LORD's word! 5 The LORD God proclaims to these bones: I am about to put breath in you, and you will live again. 6 I will put sinews on you, place flesh on you, and cover you with skin. When I put breath in you, and you come to life, you will know that I am the LORD." 7 I prophesied just as I was commanded. There was a great noise as I was prophesying, then a great quaking, and the bones came together, bone by bone. 8 When I looked, suddenly there were sinews on them. The flesh appeared, and then they were covered over with skin. But there was still no breath in them. 9 He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, human one! Say to the breath, The LORD God proclaims: Come from the four winds, breath! Breathe into these dead bodies and let them live." 10 I prophesied just as he commanded me. When the breath entered them, they came to life and stood on their feet, an extraordinarily large company. 11 He said to me, "Human one, these bones are the entire house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely finished.' 12 So now, prophesy and say to them, The LORD God proclaims: I'm opening your graves! I will raise you up from your graves, my people, and I will bring you to Israel's fertile land. 13 You will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and raise you up from your graves, my people. 14 I will put my breath in you, and you will live. I will plant you on your fertile land, and you will know that I am the LORD. I've spoken, and I will do it. This is what the LORD says."
Romans 8:6-11 (CEB) The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace. So the attitude that comes from selfishness is hostile to God. It doesn’t submit to God’s Law, because it can’t. People who are self-centered aren’t able to please God. But you aren’t self-centered. Instead you are in the Spirit, if in fact God’s Spirit lives in you. If anyone doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ, they don’t belong to him. If Christ is in you, the Spirit is your life because of God’s righteousness, but the body is dead because of sin. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your human bodies also, through his Spirit that lives in you.
We take a moment in silence to breathe deeply and to reflect on how God is giving life to our mortal bodies even in the midst of our fears and worries about pandemics and a world full of sickness and death.
What Are You Hungry For? New Life
We didn’t have vaccinations for measles, mumps and chicken pox when I was little. It seemed like they were only starting to figure out things likes that. When I or one of my brothers got one of those diseases, my mother gathered all of into one room and we would play together until we all had the disease. I remember in particular the time we all spent with swollen glands in our throats as we suffered through the mumps together. (Have you all heard of mumps?) If I remember correctly, my cousin from western PA was visiting at the time and he hadn’t had the mumps, so they brought him in to join the infection party!
[Can you imagine how difficult it was to take care of 5 little miserable sick boys in one room? My mother was so desperate to distract us from our misery - and hers, she found some baby mice in our basement and she brought them up to us to show us and we watched them play. She never told us what happened to those baby mice…. (You might be glad we don’t have slides for my sermon today. The picture of baby mice might be a little distressing.)]
Anyway, I’m really glad we have figured out vaccinations for a lot of these diseases and I’m sorry we don’t have one for coronavirus yet. And it seems like a really good thing that we aren’t gathering people together in one room when we find someone who has it! Quite the opposite, right? The bishop has directed the churches in the Eastern PA Conference to plan to worship in Holy Week in ways that keep our people safe and well. It’s an easy decision at this point when the pandemic seems to be peaking at that time in our area, but it’s still painful and sad to have to do it. We will find ways to make it a truly wonderful time and then when we get to worship together again, boy what will be a real Alleluia time, won’t it?
Before we get to that great day, we have a bit of a hard road in front of us. The projections for the way this disease is going are pretty scary. All of us need to be very careful - washing our hands 20 times a day, not touching our faces, keeping 6 feet apart. You know the drill by this point.
I gotta tell you, I am re-writing my will. Cathy and I went to our beloved local Woodland cemetery we purchased a place for our cremains in a beautiful garden next to a planned orchard. We want to be prepared. We are not planning to die in this pandemic, but it makes you think, and none of us are promised tomorrow. I know God will be with me when my time comes and I’m ready.
It’s amazing how our Lenten journey has paralleled the broader community’s journey. Ezekiel’s story of his calling as a prophet, being faced in the middle of a valley of dry bones resonated for me this week, as we studied it in our Bible study, and as I thought about it all week. Ezekiel was a prophet 600 years before Jesus in a time when the leaders of Israel were taken into exile by the Babylonian empire. And while the leaders were in Babylon, another rebellion happened in Israel and the Babylonians went in and destroyed the temple, the center of the Jewish faith in Jerusalem.
The people mourned the loss of the temple. They were disconsolate at being in exile in Babylon. Ezekiel expressed their depression in this story of God placing him in the middle of a field of dry bones. The field represented the people of Israel, a people who felt like they were dead without their home and the center of their faith.
We may not be as devastated as the Hebrew people about not being able to worship in our sanctuary for these few weeks, but I know we miss being together and we look at the news reports and the daily death toll and it can feel like are being placed in the middle of the valley of dry bones. I know God will get us through this, but I don’t want to sugarcoat it. I talked to one of my doctor friends this week from HUP and he said they are expecting a tsunami of sick people in the next few weeks.
We are going to be changed by the experience of this year. Our people and our economy are going to hurt for a long time and we are going to have to learn to care for each other in a deeper way in order to get through it. We may feel as we go through this like we are part of the valley of dry bones, sucked dry by our fears, sucked dry by discouragement, sucked dry by hopelessness.
Or … or we may feel ourselves called like Ezekiel to speak to the bones, to speak to the dry bones around us and say, “Dry bones, hear GOD’s word! The LORD God proclaims to you bones: I am about to put breath in you, and you will live again.” You will find your way to life. The wind of the Spirit will breathe hope into your very bones. The breath of God will breathe energy and connect you one to another. And there will be a rattling, and there will be a coming together, and there will be renewal for God’s people.
We will find ways to fight pandemic in the future. We will find ways for our economy to thrive again. If we do it right, we will find a way for our economy to thrive for all people, not just for some. And no matter how difficult things may get, God will find ways to call prophets to speak to our dry bones, calling us to rise up on wings like eagles, assuring us that the Spirit of the Living Christ will never abandon us, whether we face contagion or pandemic or recession or depression.
Nothing will separate us from the love of God that is in the Living Christ. In the next few weeks, we travel with Jesus - the one who faces every fear with courage, the one who sticks with us through every illness, the one who faces death itself and conquers it with love.
Friends when I go to the cemetery and buy a place for my bones to rest, I don’t feel worried or afraid. I know in my bones the words of scripture are true, that the deepest most powerful meaning of the resurrection of Jesus is expressed in the repeated words of the Bible the “Love is stronger than death” (song of Songs).
God is the Great Breath, breathing life into us and through us into our community, even if we have to stay 6 feet apart. God is the Great wind who blows love into our dry bones and connects us to each other. God is the love which overcomes fear and breathes courage into our community to help us to face our end, whenever it comes, knowing that life and love are the same thing, that love has us, love is us, love alone will bring us through and make us whole beyond even death. ‘It is love alone that lasts.” (I Corinthians 13: 13). Don’t be afraid.
Responsive Song: 420 Breathe on Me, Breath of God