Rev. S. D. Spencer – Pastor Messiah Lutheran Church, Salem, OR
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon 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." So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live." So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then he said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.' Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD."
When I was growing up we spent a lot of time riding motorcycle in the desert area around Hemet California. One of our favorite rides was around the bone yard. It was an incredible hill that allowed us to jump our motorcycles 40 or 50 feet in the air. The bone yard was a place where the local ranchers dumped the carcasses of the diseased cattle they had put down. The place filled with various levels of decay and the smell of death. But mostly the area was filled with bones, dried out, dusty, long dead bones. There’s nothing less alive than bones.
In our text the hand of the Lord was upon on the prophet. Ezekiel is led by the Spirit to a valley full of dead, dry, dusty bones. That’s a lot of bones. Bones scattered all over the place, bones separated from their rightful owners. But who were these people? No one seems to know. It’s like an episode of NCIS. What happened in this valley? A natural disaster, maybe, but more likely a battle gone awry, a defeated army, left dead in the desert to dry up without so much as a decent burial. “For you are dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). The flesh is the first to go; the bones are the last, but eventually you are dust.
“Son of Man, can these bones live?” (Ezek. 37:5) That’s a question for us too on this Pentecost Sunday. This is the Sunday of the Holy Spirit. Seven weeks before this Jesus breathed on His apostles saying “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). So now Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to act upon His church. The Living Breath of God poured out upon His church. This is same Spirit who moved over the waters of the deep in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth. This is same Spirit whom God breathed into man in the beginning. David writes in the 104th Psalm “When you send your Spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104:30).
God asks, “Can these dead, dry bones live?” Everything in us says no. Even science says no. We can tell who they were, perhaps how they died, how old they were when they died, their general health. Bones are the diary of the body, telling the story of a life long after it ended. Think of fossils, or bones accidentally uncovered, or bones found where bones don’t belong. They tell silent, dusty stories. But can they live again? Only God knows as Ezekiel says: “O Lord, you know.”
Ezekiel receives a two part vision. The first part shows the power of the Word. “Preach to these bones.” These bones are Pastor Ezekiel’s congregation, only slightly more dead than some congregations on a Sunday morning, one might suppose. “Preach to these bones.” Seems kind of impractical, doesn’t it, preaching to dried up, dead bones. Ah, but don’t underestimate the power of the preached Word. The world would certainly mark Ezekiel as a fool, some lunatic, talking to a valley of bones. But when the Lord says “preach,” you preach, even if it’s to a bunch of dry, dusty bones.
There was a rattling noise, a bone against bone noise. These bones were coming back together, returning to their rightful owners. That’s what Ezekiel heard. What he saw was even more amazing. Tendons and flesh were appearing on the bones. That’s the creative power of God’s Word at work. Don’t underestimate it; don’t ignore it. Through the Word all things were made. By the Word all things are held together. The Word creates, it renews, it sanctifies, it makes alive. It rattles your dry, dead bones. Bodies long since dead are resurrected with new muscle and tendon and flesh and blood and skin. WOW! Wouldn’t you have loved to be peeking over the prophet’s shoulder and look down into that valley and see that? Well, maybe not?
Maybe it’s just too weird, something a too unsettling. Not exactly in our comfort zone, is it? It would be easier to say this was a dream, some hallucination or even an apparition, anything but real. Then we could safely tuck it away in the past with those “fairy tales and ghost stories.” We are far too sophisticated to think that dry dead bones can shake, rattle, and reassemble themselves and live, just because someone preaches to them.
The world could say the same of Jesus bodily resurrection. It’s terribly inconvenient and uncomfortable for the old Adam to believe that the grave of a dead man is empty. If He rose then what are we to believe? But many did believe on that first Pentecost. Dry bones were made alive. Three thousand believed, were baptized, receiving the Spirit and lived by the preached Word of Jesus.
We need to be shaken today, to come out of our comfortable little religious hideaways, our sweet little spiritualities, and our place of moral platitudes. We need to have our bones rattled by the Word that says, “You are no more alive than those dry and dusty bones, dead in sin - dead in iniquity - dead in transgression - dead in lust – dead in greed – dead in idolatry – dead in indifference and apathy.” Dead in putting your trust in self rather other than God! But those bones of yours can live, and will live. Not by your own efforts. But how can bones live? “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord (Zech 4:6) - the Spirit who works through the Word.
The second part of the Ezekiel’s vision underscores the union of the Word and the Spirit. There is flesh on the bones, but no breath. Without breath, they can’t live, just as when God made Adam out of the mud, but without the “breath of lIfe” Adam was just a dirt clod. “Prophesy (that is preach) to the breath, prophesy, O son of man. Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live."
In the creed we confess the Holy Spirit is, “the Lord and Giver of Life.” By the Spirit, Breathed of God, we breathe and we have life. The Spirit and the Word; the Word and the Spirit, they’re always together. The Holy Spirit is a preacher - calling, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying, stirring up the faith, forgiving sins, bearing fruit - all by the Word He causes to be preached.
When that little congregation was gathered together in the upper room at Pentecost, there was the sound of a rushing wind. The Breath of Jesus blowing over His church. And there were tongues like fire, separating and resting on all the disciples. John the Baptizer said to his flock: “I baptize with water but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11). Fire, such as in the pillar of fire that led Israel across the Red Sea to safety. Fire, such as at Mt. Sinai ablaze with the fire of the Torah, that very Word of God. Fire, a refiner’s fire, burning away the dross, that useless slag, purifying the silver, the gold, and your faith.
Wind and fire were the unique elements of that first Pentecost. They were like a celebration using fireworks and balloons. God was inaugurating the Last Days. The time of the end had come. Jesus had died on the cross for the redemption of the world. The world was now reconciled to God in Jesus. Jesus had risen from the dead, and for forty days was seen by over 500 eyewitnesses. Jesus had ascended to the right hand of the Father, disappearing into a heavenly cloud, out of sight yet ever present. - Present by Word and the Spirit.
Peter preached that day. He preached to thousands, where fifty days before he was afraid to even be known as one of Jesus’ disciples, and had denied Jesus three times, remember. The resurrection of Jesus and the Spirit will do that to you - turn cowards into courageous proclaimer’s of the good news. The disciples spoke in a variety of languages and dialects, and everyone who was in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost heard the preaching of Jesus in his or her own native tongue.
The lasting gift of Pentecost is not the rushing wind or tongues of fire or speaking in foreign languages. The lasting gift is the Spirit empowered Word of God. The Word preached out of the mouths of men with the very breath of Jesus. At the end of that Pentecost day, three thousand were baptized. Three thousand heard the Word and its faith creating, faith enlivening way. Three thousand were joined to Jesus in His death, His life, His glory. Three thousand were clothed with Christ in baptism. Three thousand became members of Christ body, continuing in the teaching of the apostles, in the breaking of the Bread, that is, Holy Communion, and in prayer. Three thousand saved in one day, all this done by the power of the Word and the Spirit.
You’ve had a personal Pentecost day too. Your personal Pentecost is your baptismal day, whenever and wherever that was done. There you were joined to Jesus by the Word and Spirit in the water. And in a real sense, every Sunday is Pentecost when you hear that your sins are forgiven in Jesus, that your death is answered for in Jesus, that your life is hidden in Jesus, and that His life - His own body and blood - are hidden in you.
Son of Man, can these dry, dead bones of ours live? Can our dry, dead bones live? And Jesus answers, "Oh yes they can." As sure as I am risen from the dead, those dry dead bones of your can live for I have put my breathe of Eternal Life in you. In Jesus name, amen and amen!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, AMEN!