Dem Bones

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The mystery of faith and hope of the resurrection is that some day that will happen and we will see it and feel it happen.  The dead will be raised and God will breathe new life and new breath into them and into each of us.


Penecost Sunday, Year B

Ezekiel 37.1-14; Romans 8.22-27; John 15.26-27. 16.4b-15

Pastor Renee Splichal Larson

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Growing up here in North Dakota I have spent a lot of time walking around the hills of the rolling plains.  Occasionally, I have come across artifacts made by people long ago.  Sometimes I have found skeletons of various animals.  I have been to the Dinosaur museum in Dickson, which displays all kinds of dinosaur bones excavated right here in North Dakota and Montana.  When I see bones of creatures who were once living and breathing, I cannot help but wonder about their stories.  I cannot help but picture them alive, walking the earth.  I cannot help but think of the story of creation in the book of Genesis in which God breathed into the nostrils the breath of life to all living things.

Moving, breathing, and living is a stark contrast to a valley of dry bones.  The prophet Ezekiel in our reading today stands among many bones in a valley.  These are not just any bones.  They are human bones.  There are many and they have been there a long long time.  There was no one there left alive to tell their story.  There was no one left to bury them.

In this mass grave setting, God leads Ezekiel around all the bones and asks him a question: “Mortal, can these bones live?”  Now not being scientists or anything, 100% of people could smartly answer the question with a confident, “No.  No they cannot live.”  But Ezekiel, leaving room for hope and mystery, answers God, “O Lord God, you know.” 

A year and a half ago I stood at the edge of a mass grave in Haiti.  A grave in which I could have been lying in myself after the earthquake.  It is a grave full of unidentified people; people with a story to tell that no one has heard.  Standing on the edge of so much death, so many bones, I wondered: “Can these bones live?”  In my anger I say, “No!  They cannot…they are dead.”  And in my helplessness and hope, I say, “O Lord God, you know.” 

What I wouldn’t give to witness at that mass grave in Haiti what Ezekiel witnessed in his vision: bone connecting to bone; muscles being placed and covered again in skin; bodies being made whole.  And then once again, witnessing the breath of life breathed back into those whose lives had been lost so suddenly. 

The mystery of faith and hope of the resurrection is that some day that will happen and we will see it and feel it happen.  The dead will be raised and God will breathe new life and new breath into them and into each of us.

The people in the book of Ezekiel had lost all hope.  They were taken from their homes by the world super power at the time, the Persians, and had been captive so long that they began to think God had forgotten them.  They say, ““Our bones are dried up and our hope is lost; we have been cut off completely (Ezek. 37.11).”

There are all kinds of things in this life that can make us feel hopeless, that can make our bones feel dried up and our insides empty.  You know what makes you feel dead before your breath is even taken from your body for good in this life.  What might some of these things be?  The death of a loved one, perhaps?  The scare of a disease?  Worry?  Broken relationships?  The power of addiction?  Being taken advantage of?  Not being able to help someone we love?

God knows that this world is full of things that suck the life right out of us sometimes.  And the loving and trustworthy God we have asks all of us in the midst of hopelessness: “Mortals, can these bones live?”  And our response of faith is, “O Lord God, you know.”

We have a God who addresses the difficulties we face and gives us a companion called the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the very breath of God, the wind that moves throughout the world, and the creative power of God to bring new life in the most devastating situations.  In the Hebrew Scriptures, or better know to us as the Old Testament in the Bible, the name for God is Yahweh.  Say it with me, “Yahweh.” 

Put your hand in front of your mouth and blow.  Now say Yahweh again with the emphasis on the vowels.  We say, “Yahweh,” this morning together with the breath God has given you and me. 

There is a reason God’s name is Yahweh.  It is to remind us that God moves in us and around us.  That God gave us this breath.  We continue to breathe in and breathe out, never getting rid of the breath nor keeping it out of our bodies.  We have to breathe to live.  

I love the scene in our reading from Ezekiel when God commands Ezekiel to speak to the lifeless bodies, “Thus says the Lord God, Come from the four winds, O Breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live…and the breath came into them, and they lived (Ezek. 37.9-10).” The people only live after the breath is put into them.   

This Sunday morning we celebrate what we call the Birthday of the Church, or perhaps better known as Pentecost.  It is a day in which we celebrate, remember, and look for the working of the Spirit of God, both in our own lives and in our collective life together in community.  The Spirit of God is what continues to give life to all of us in this world.  The Spirit draws us into community and still speaks of the hope that we have even if when we feel empty inside and when we face great difficulty.      

Paul talks about this hope and longing for the resurrection when he writes his letter to the faith community in Rome.  “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains,” he says, “…not only the creation, but we ourselves…groan inwardly while we wait…for the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8.22-23).”  We know that things are not quite right in the world and we ache for pain and suffering to end.

So Paul continues, “Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Rom. 8.24-25).”  Have we seen the dead raised yet?  Have we witnessed the end of all war?  We haven’t, but we trust in God that God will do it.

In the mean time we are given the Spirit of God to help us. We most certainly will have moments, days, or weeks in which we simply cannot pray, days in which we feel all dried up and hallow inside.  It is precisely in these days in which the “Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words (Rom. 8.26).” 

Have any of you laid in bed and tried to pray but could think of nothing?  Or that there was a situation in your life in which it was just too overwhelming and you had no idea what to do?  I know I have.  Sometimes this has been my prayer:………………………………..(breath).  This is a good prayer!  And God hears it.

If we do not feel the Spirit now or for some reason cannot answer God’s question with, “O Lord God, you know,” to “Mortal, can these bones live?” we will know the real answer when God raises us up from our graves and makes us new.  This is a weekend, being Memorial Day weekend, in which we think a lot about and remember those who have died.  We hear the echo of the words of promise in Ezekiel:  “I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people (Ezek. 37.12).”  We long for the day in which God will breathe new life back into their precious bodies. 

At the end of Ezekiel, God’s breath and voice comes to those who had previously said, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is lost.”  God says:  “You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, O my people.  I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live (Ezek 37.13-14).”  What a promise from a God who loves God’s people, who loves you and me.  Hear this promise today for you.

In case you might doubt the presence, the very Spirit of God in and through you, or in case you have lost hope right now, I have something to share with you from a dear friend of mine who stepped foot in this chapel space last month.  She was visiting me and wanted to see where we worship together.  Later in the evening after our visit, she wrote a poem of her experience in this place.  Here is what she wrote about Hope Chapel and us together as Heart River Lutheran:

God spoke to me today, Heart River,

God nudged me, said

The gospel is proclaimed here,

then showed me

blue river Easter banners

created by the communion of saints,

a simple standing pulpit with a

red leather-bound World Atlas.      

God tapped my shoulder, said,

Resurrection is reflected here,

then pointed to

golden Easter crosses at the table,

in which I saw your faces reflected in community–

keeping suicide watch,

preparing eggs for a real breakfast,

welcoming 130 to fill every nook and cranny

for the risen Christ,

singing,

praying,

laughing,

sending,

opening to new mission,

affirming, “Okay, Pastor”

to Spirit-filled mystery.

God poked me, said,

I’m up to something here,

then opened a closet of quilts

sewn and mailed by so great a cloud of witnesses,

proclaimed band-aids wrapped around

knuckles ready to pray.

God tickled me, said,

Isn’t this fun!

 

God still speaks, Heart River

God still speaks, Renee.

God speaks through you all,

Speaks in a way that moves me to tears

In this sacred and state space.

 -written by Rev. Corrine Denis

 

May the Holy Spirit of God keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.