Another Church Meeting, 8/2/1998
Yearning Toward God, 11/29/1998
Yearning With Joseph, 12/20/1998
Christmas Eve Sermon, 12/24/1998
Faith Is Risky, 2/28/1999
What Does God Want?, 2/27/2000
Condemned?, 3/12/2000
No Matter What, 2/18/2001
Faith's "Nevertheless", 2/25/2001
Forever a Gift, August 18, 2002
Relating to Other Religions, August 25, 2002
Beyond Our Ordinary Lives, September 1, 2002
Home Page

Ezekiel 37:1-10

In this morning's text the prophet Ezekiel describes an experience he had at a low point in his life.  Hope had evaporated.  There was no reason to believe his situation would improve.  I think this story gets to us because life has set us down in a valley of dry bones more often than we would like.  Life sometimes sets us down in a place so barren and so difficult that we're not sure if we will ever make our way out of it.  When I hear Ezekiel describe the valley of dry bones, I recognize the landscape; I've put in some time there.  So have many people I know: when someone much loved died; after a marriage or other relationship broke down; when depression set in like a heavy, wet, smothering blanket; after a failure, a stinging humiliation that seemed to tear flesh right off the bones; when an illness struck; when a terrible injustice impacted our life or community.

"Mortal, can these bones live?"  "O God, you know."  The valley of dry bones - I've been there.  But how did Ezekiel get there?  What landed him in the valley of despair?  What had sucked all the hope out of his life? 

It sounds a bit odd to say this, but maybe God did it.  God gave Ezekiel a gift of seeing the truth: the gift of moral clear-sightedness, the ability to see the nation as god saw it.  Ezekiel addressed national problems.  He couldn’t pretend that the nation was doing well in the sight of God.  He had been given moral 20/20 vision, and what he saw was horrifying.

The record of what Ezekiel saw and told the nation is contained in the first 24 chapters of his book - 24 chapters of warnings to and condemnations of his fellow Judeans.  The following eight chapters describe what was wrong with other nations.  And by the time we reach chapter 33, Ezekiel's worst predictions have come true.  The nation has been utterly vanquished in war, and the temple lies in ruins.

Although we live in a very different time and place from Ezekiel, we are also experiencing a crisis of hope.  For about three decades we in the United States have been bombarded with revelation after revelation of what is wrong with the country.  I don't know exactly when it began, but if I had to pick a time, I would point to the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

I was a student at Westport Road High School at the time.  I was in my English class when the news came over the loud speaker that he had been shot in Dallas.  Then followed the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy and the war in Vietnam.  The postwar burst of economic activity and a rising standard of living stalled in the early 1970s.  We discovered that we were poisoning our planet and extinguishing plant and animal species.  Historians began to reveal the flaws in our national heroes, from Thomas Jefferson to John Kennedy.  All, it seemed had sinned and fallen far short of the glory of God.

More and more frequently, our nation's commitment to equal opportunity for every individual is giving way to unbridgeable chasms between inner city and outer suburb.  We’ve lost faith in the government's ability to do anything.  The business community went into a frenzy in the 1980s, and cleverness in making deals became more highly regarded than cleverness in making goods and providing services.  The churches' influence over our society has weakened.  People who attended public schools in the 1950s and '60s are afraid to send their own children to those same public schools, and prefer to buy their children an education that is not available to lower-income fellow Americans.

Race relations remain conflicted.  We are polarizing into competing and increasingly hostile groups - liberal vs. conservative, black vs. white, pro-choice vs. pro-life, gay vs. straight.  Our families are coming apart.  The individual stories of broken marriages and wounded families are part of a larger national story. 

Ezekiel was set down in a valley of dry bones because Ezekiel had seen the unvarnished, awful truth about his country.  We too have seen painful truths and wonder about the future.  "Mortal, can these bones live?"  "O Lord God, you know."

How did Ezekiel get his hope back?  In these confusing times, how do we all get out hope back?  Is it possible for hope to rise up out of the dry bones of despair?  In Ezekiel's story, real God-given hope arose from the prophet's willingness to look squarely at the dry bones.  He couldn't run away, retreat into his private home, tune out the news, create a personal zone of comfort and post guards against unpleasant people and realities.  No, the Lord God didn't send Ezekiel to Club Med for some R & R until Ezekiel recovered.  The gentle hand of God came upon him, and the spirit set him down in the middle of the valley.  God led Ezekiel around the many bones.  The prophet saw all of them.  He wasn't spared.

God did not try to cheer him up: "Oh, Ezekiel, it's really not so bad."  I'm glad God didn't try that.  What is worse than being cheered up when we are not ready for it?  God gave Ezekiel a chance to say his piece.  "What do you think, Ezekiel?  Can these bones live?"  And then God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones.  God takes Ezekiel into partnership: the mortal man joins forces with the holy God.

"Prophesy to the bones."  Ezekiel was, after all, a prophet.  I suppose if he had been a teacher, God would have said, "Teach these bones."  Had he been a tailor, God might have said, "Take needle and thread and sew."  God told Ezekiel to do what he had been called to do.  Do it to the bones, for the bones, in the midst of the bones.  And God would cause the bones to respond, to take on sinews and flesh.  God would breathe breath into them, the breath that had been stolen away by the horrors of history.

So Ezekiel prophesied to the bones and they received sinew and flesh.  But they had no breath.  The bones took on the appearance of life, but there was no life in them.  Perhaps at that point Ezekiel wished to give up, get out of that awful valley, and run and hide in the mountains.  It had not worked.  He had done as God commanded, but the bones remained dead.  But God didn't let go of Ezekiel.  "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal.  Call on the four winds to breathe on the slain that they may live."  And Ezekiel did.  And the breath came to them and they stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Let's not get carried away: the nation was never getting back to what it was before.  Solomon's temple was gone.  From here on out, things would be different.  The same is true for us, as individuals and as a nation.  When we get to the other side of the valley of dry bones we will not be in the place we came from.  The idealized families portrayed on television shows like Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver will never again be the norm, if they ever were.  The world's economy will never again be dominated by the U.S. economy.  The '60s aren't coming back; the '70s and '80s are gone forever.

Yet it is our task to revitalize our nation's institutions.  We are called to revitalize economic life in ways that do not exploit the earth or its poorest citizens.  We've never done it that way before, but now we must.  We are called to ameliorate the extreme polarizations in our nation and world, so that the plight of Yugoslavia does not become our own fate.  We Americans know what it is for brothers and sisters to turn on each other.  We had our civil war.  We are called to revitalize marriage, family, church and education in ways never tried before.  Can it be done?  Or is it hopeless?

God promises nothing about the future except that it will be ours and God's together and that life can come out of dry bones.  Divine life can breathe into mortal beings, into clay, into people like you and me, no matter what happens.  No, matter what happens, God will take us by the hand, and the Spirit of God will lead us where we need to be.  We need not be afraid, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death or find ourselves in a valley of dry bones.

God can breathe life into death faced by people and nations.  The God who brought Ezekiel from despair to hope, who brought hope to a defeated nation and who raised Jesus from the dead is our God, too.  This God is more powerful than all the sin of humankind and all the forces of destruction at work in the universe.  May this God breathe life into our nation and world.  May this God be with us, keep us close and breathe life into us.

The Rev. Esther Hargis
February 18, 2001

© 2001, Esther Hargis

Back to Top