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March 9, 2008 Speaker: Pastor Braun Campbell

Topic: Biblical Verse: Ezekiel 37:1–37:14

Fifth Sunday during Lent
Ezekiel 37:1-14


For the past few television seasons, the Fox network has broadcast a show called Bones. (Since I've only seen a couple of episodes, I did a little digging to find our more about it.) Bones is, like many other series that are popular these days, a detective story, a crime-solving drama. In this show, though, the central character is a forensic anthropologist who works at the fictional Jeffersonian Institute in Washington, D.C. She and her scientific team assist law enforcement agencies like the FBI with cases where the usual crime scene investigation techniques cannot identify a body, where the clues necessary for solving the mystery can only be found in "reading" the victim's bones.

Bones can speak volumes about someone's history. In many ways, a person's life - and death, if a skeleton is being inspected by a forensic anthropologist - gets imprinted into their bones. Take, for example, a professional athlete, like a football player. Over the years, the demands of that vocation make their marks in his bones: some bruising here and there, worn-down knee joints, maybe even signs of a broken arm that mended. Some of us may wish our bones didn't have a story to tell. Like when you cracked your jaw after slipping on a patch of ice when you were five years old. Or, now that you're fifty years old, your bones are at risk of weakening from the osteoporosis that runs in your family. Bones tell tales.

What if you had a spiritual skeleton? What tales would those bones tell about your spiritual life? Would they be flawless, unmarred by a life of challenge or poor choices? Or would they show evidence of imperfection? They might bear the scars of breaks that occurred from acting recklessly, when you chased after something, jumping, reaching out to grab it - only to find yourself falling hard to the ground, because what you were running after was never really there at all. Those bones might betray the bruises that came from relationships that were battered by the effects of sin: angry words and selfish actions. Your spiritual bones might be frail, weakened and worn down by a life that you've tried to live as a "good person," struggling with a world that never seems to let up and which offers little in the way of hope.

When it comes down to it, none of us has that immaculate set of spiritual bones. Our bones are dry and lifeless because we cut ourselves off, like the people of Israel had in Ezekiel's day. We cut ourselves off when we run from God and His love, despising His gifts. We cut ourselves off when we think or act like we're more important than God and His design for life. We cut ourselves off when we complain, even in our hearts, about how long a church service runs; because we think that God has to fit into our schedule instead of the other way around! We cut ourselves off when we don't spend time in Bible study, like skipping out each week for brunch or because it's not part of your routine, or missing it because you want to sleep in that much more on a Sunday morning. Before I started thinking about going to the seminary, I myself had not realized how important it was to be in an ongoing study of Scripture with my congregation. Left to our own devices, our bones end up like those that the prophet Ezekiel saw: dead and dry, bleached and bare, scattered upon the ground.

But the story doesn't end with dry bones; not for Ezekiel, and not for us. Ezekiel prophesied the Word of the Lord to those bones, bones which were long dead, entirely devoid of life, and the Word bound them back together. Imagine the sound of that great clattering, like an earthquake shaking the valley, as bone came to matching bone. The bodies of those slain were made whole, as tendons connected the bones, and muscle and skin covered them - but they were still not alive. So God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy again, and the Word brought breath into those who were once dead, and they lived, an exceedingly great army.

The God who brought life to dry bones in Ezekiel's vision, the same God who raised Lazarus from the dead, is the God who speaks to us now. It is His Word that holds the power of life over death: God's Word brings life. You see, Ezekiel's vision isn't about the bones: it's about the loving God who would rescue His people from death.

God is at work among us to breathe life. In Hebrew, the word used for "breath" and "wind," x;Wr (ruach), is also used for "spirit." Just as the breath came into the bodies built from those once-dry bones as Ezekiel proclaimed God's Word, God the Holy Spirit breathes new life into us. He takes our spiritually dead and dry bones and binds them up. Where we have been cut off from God, even by our own thoughts and actions, He gathers us back to Himself - the Holy Spirit delivers forgiveness, breathing life into us. He has not forgotten us.

At the end of this same chapter in Ezekiel, we hear these words from God concerning His people: "They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children's children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore." God did not give new life to the fallen just to abandon them. He raised them and would dwell with them. "Dwelling" is a great verb: it refers to living in a place for a continued time. This is why during Lent we look forward to what happens on Good Friday. On the cross, God shows His love for us: Christ Jesus bears the burden for us so that we can dwell with God. Jesus is the new David who is the prince of the resurrected. We are no longer cut off; rather, we are gathered together around the cross. Here, in the worship service and in the study of God's word, the Holy Spirit comes to you.

After Holy Week, during the great fifty days of Easter, our congregation here at St. John's will be giving intentional focus to how we respond to God's gift of new life by His Spirit as His people. You may have seen the announcements about 50 Days Ablaze! in our church publications - if you haven't, you can check out our website, ask Church Council members, or take a look at the bulletin board in the narthex on the way into the sanctuary. We're holding the kickoff events for 50 Days Ablaze! this weekend, and you'd be welcome to attend. Make use of the opportunities that will be available to you during 50 Days Ablaze! The Lenten season, this journey through death to life, allows us the opportunity to change the routines which would lead us away from the cross and back into the valley of dry bones. Coming out of Lent and into Easter, do not despise the Lord's gifts. Give thanks for the opportunity to worship and pray before God, who has renewed us. Come together with your fellow Christians in the study of God's word, which has the power of life over death. Experience the new life that the Holy Spirit has given to you and to all who share our faith in Christ Jesus. Your bones no longer tell the tale of one who was dead.

Welcome to your new life, in Christ.