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And You Shall Live

Krystal Leedy

May 24, 2015
Ezekiel 37:1-14

 

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on 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 had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and 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, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.’

Krystal LeedyWhen a person speaks in his own voice, the whole world listens and responds. Standing in a valley, even the bones of dead carcasses listen and respond. Lifeless bodies are brought to life; resurrection springs forth from desert sands. And we are amazed. We are amazed when someone opens their mouth to speak life-giving words, like the words of Ezekiel. As Ezekiel opened his mouth to speak the words he was given, the bones rattled and were placed together like something out of a horror movie. The new zombie-like creatures formed from the earth, from these bones that were not freshly dead, but had been sitting, dry for a while. And they sat there, quietly wasting away until there was nothing left but the quiet reminder that something once lived there. And Ezekiel stands before these bones, and I wish I could say that he speaks a great, inspirational speech full of a beautiful poetry of words and flowery metaphors, that he weaves together a lofty prophecy and speaks in words barely understood without an artistic ear. But I can’t. Because he gives a straightforward plan: The neck bone’s connected to the shoulder bone. Come on, you were all thinking it. No, but seriously, he just gives instructions: I’m going to put tendons on you and I will cover you will skin, and you will live. Simple, straightforward instructions. This is right up there with how to build an ark or how to build a temple. Simple, straightforward instructions: just like God is prone to give. Okay, maybe not so much. I’m not even sure why God needed Ezekiel anyway. I mean, let’s be honest, Ezekiel was pretty much standing there, looking at this miracle taking place, and just saying, “Here’s what’s about to happen, bones.” Ezekiel really does nothing throughout this passage except speak, and he didn’t even write the speech.

Like any pastor, I keep listening for that right word to say, I keep listening for the word of the Lord in my own life, but instead of bones coming to life somehow I end up with my foot in my mouth and a bunch of really confused looks. There is a valley in our courtyard. It is filled with dry bones. It is filled with hollowed out people and used syringes. It is filled with wrappers that used to hold hamburgers and waste from people’s bodies. Week after week, day after day, I walk around these folks, maybe wave a bit, and come into my office and think about them. I think about them in the rain. I think about how I have a group of college students coming to church to eat lunch that need hospitality too. I think about how they trash this place I call my sanctuary. I think about how their words hurt and about how I don’t even think I could speak their language if I wanted to. And I don’t know what to say. And I’m afraid. And I beg God for those same simple, straightforward instructions. I beg God for the right words to say and no speech is written on my lips. Just me staring into the valley and wondering what to do. I’m glad Ezekiel got that word directly from God, but I guess it doesn’t come to everyone. These folks in our courtyard are not all drug addicts and they are not evil. They are human beings that got hardened by the life on a street, which I probably would not survive. They are the Other. They are different from me. They look exhausted and tired. They look worn and weary. And I know that Ezekiel was not placed in the middle of a valley of dry bones just to look at them, comment, and walk away. We were also not placed in a busy urban area just to look at them and walk away. We were placed amongst high rise student apartments and in a place of increased crime and in a dirty and sometimes stinky environment. We were placed in walking distance of restaurants and a massive university. We were placed amongst other churches that share some of these same University Church concerns as well. Our location matters. We were placed here, in a valley of dry bones, not as a group of privileged commentators, but as a group of prophetic voices that realize that this metaphor about dry bones is about more than just those people out there, but that we too are just as dry and weary. We groan and creak as we walk to committee meetings and try not to look at the moderator of session when he or she calls for commissioners to the next presbytery meeting. We call church boring… or we say absolutely nothing at all. We get caught up in tiny little squabbles to make life more interesting, and what we need to see is that the valley is bigger than this room. The valley is bigger than this place, but we are not immune to becoming just as hardened and acting like we are the dying church that every single Pew Report says that we are. But I’m not ready to resign to the scorching sun just yet, and I don’t think you are either.

As Ezekiel took his place amongst the scorched bones that had no marrow left in them, he did not speak his own words. The word of the Lord was the only thing that brought the bones together, that caused muscle to build, that put skin back where it belonged. Only the word of the Lord was about to re-create what was lost. And was in the listening to that word that the body re-membered. But a body that is without breath is not living. The body needs a heartbeat. The body needs breath. So the word of the Lord must be spoken again, this time to the breath. The same breath that hovered over the deep right before creation. That same breath that the risen Christ would breathe on those that he sent out into the world. The same breath that would move through a gathering place on Pentecost. For without the movement of the Holy Spirit, we are not fully human and we certainly as church are not the body of Christ. But just before he left this world, Christ promised us that we would not be abandoned, and that the Spirit would do many things through us. It is through this breath that we live. It is through this breath that we move. It is through this breath that we have our being.

I know many of you did not come today to hear a “it’s time to roll up your sleeves” kind of a sermon, especially not if you have just graduated from the grueling education process. You’re probably like, I just spent two or four or five years of my life studying, and my church is now telling me that I’m not doing enough. Now I have to go pick up trash in the courtyard. Hear me say: You are doing enough. Your studying and hard work in whatever profession you choose will help the community which you are a part of. If you are a graduate who is staying in Austin, then breathe with us. Not because we want your name on our roll or more elbow grease, but because when we gather together and we read Scripture together, we don’t declare it “The Bible,” or “that big book over there” we call it something else. We call it the word of the Lord, and that’s exactly what gives us breath. Here at UPC, we say constantly that this is the place where we breathe. We breathe in the Holy Spirit through our worship and study and fellowship, and we breathe out in service and our work in this community. And when a person speaks in her own authentic voice, the whole world listens and responds.

Because no matter what the words are, the fact remains that we are going to hear the word of the Lord better if we are together. And when we become tired and weary, when we become hollowed out people who are overscheduled, busy, and cranky, we gather together and we listen. That’s what the people of God have done for centuries, and we believe that we will not remain dry bones and we will not let dry bones sit in this valley. But just like Ezekiel, we come to this place, notice something amiss, and listen for the word of the Lord. Because otherwise, how will we know what to say? So even though I personally don’t know how to respond to the ones who sit in the courtyard, I do know that I gather with folks who can help bring new ideas to the table, who can address these problems instead of ignore them. And I know that in each discernment process, the Holy Spirit will constantly be our guide as she has done since the beginning of time. So, as always I invite you to breathe with us, but I also invite you to listen closely. Because if we’re quiet before we speak, we may just hear that heartbeat once again.

In the name of the Father who created us, the Son who saved us, and the Spirit in whom we are caught up, Amen.