"Amazing Love" (And Can It Be That I Should Gain)

Dry Bones and Living Spirit

West Side Moravian Church
June 11, 2000

A Seeing Faith

God does not ask us for blind faith – although, if this is the best that you can do, blind faith is far better than no faith at all. What God wants for us is a faith that sees things as they really are, a faith that sees that, as things really are, God is in charge and love wins the day.

Thus, Christians should have no fear of the play of ideas, no fear of scientific theories, of art, or of political philosophy. For any of these may help us to see the world as it really is. Where there is no understanding, blind faith is the only faith possible. But where there is more understanding there is the possibility of a faith that sees.

A Point in History

In the adult class this spring we read the beginning chapters of the prophet Jeremiah. In these chapters, Jeremiah foretells how God's anger was about to come against the people, destruction would come from the North, and the God's people would be sent away as refugees. All of which came true; and then what were things like?

Worst of all, the fulfilment of the prophecies of Jeremiah and the other prophets meant that it was God who had instigated this destruction. Therefore, what hope was possible? Who can hope against God? This is how things really were!

This is how things were when Ezekiel received his vision.

Ezekiel's Vision

Eyes Open

The beginning of faith is open eyes. God does not ask us for blind faith – unless that is the best that we can do. God did not ask Ezekiel for anything like blind faith; God told him to go to and fro among the bones in the valley and to find out exactly the condition those bones were in. Because Ezekiel saw that the bones actually wre dry, we see that God is powerful enough to put life back into old, dry bones. If we have our eyes open, we can see this.

God is powerful enough to put life back into defeated exiles. God is powerful enough to bring good out of disaster and misfortune. God is powerful enough to risk creating people who, over and over, miss the way. If we have our eyes open, we can see this. First, we have to see that we do miss the way, that disaster has struck, that Israel was thoroughly defeated, that the bones are dry.

Deference to God

The growth of faith is deference to the greatness of God. God asked Ezekiel, "Man, can these bones live?" And Ezekiel answered, "Sovereign Lord, you know." God and Ezekiel had a relationship which emphasized God's being greater than Ezekiel. This is why God calls Ezekiel "Mortal Man" and Ezekiel calls God "Sovereign Lord". It was good relationship, but it was their relationship and not mine. My relationship with God is based more on friendship with Jesus Christ. Still, I'm glad for the example of God and Ezekiel because if you approach your faith with open eyes, and see things as they really are, you know that Ezekiel is right about the greatness of God.

In any case, God asks Ezekiel, ""Man, can these bones live?" And Ezekiel answers, "Sovereign Lord, you know." I would probably have said no, especially if it wasn't God asking. The bones are dry and scattered about; they obviously can't live again. Or maybe I would have been a little flippant and said, sure, they could live again, not really thinking that they would. Ezekiel, however, defers to God and does not answer.

Watch and See

Ezekiel defers to God, and God shows him the answer. Ezekiel waits and watches, but he is not just a passive observer. God says, "Say to these bones, Hear the word of the Lord." God tells him to prophesy and so Ezekiel prophesies. Ezekiel thus becomes a participant in the work that God does. It's a limited task; Ezekiel does not create life but just repeats the word that God has given him.

Ezekiel is a participant in God's work, but it is clearly God's work that he saw in the valley. What is it that God did when Ezekiel said God's word to the bones? Three things.

First, God pulls the bones together.

"Man, these bones are the whole people of Israel," God said. And God pulls them together. How often do we have the experience that our community is dispersed and divided? Different people go their own ways and have their own interests. Sometimes – faith begins with open eyes – our community has been divided against itself. People who should be joined together sometimes divide each other, leaving everyone confused, depressed, and out of relationship.

But God draws the whole people together. Order and purpose and right relationships come from God. Like those bones, we are drawn together by the power of God when God's word is spoken in our midst.

Second, God adds strength to the bones.

Old, dry bones aren't good for anything. I don't care how well organized they are. You can make a perfect skeleton and it still can't do anything. It certainly isn't alive. But God continues with the next step: sinews and muscles. That is, there is not only the relationship of good order, but also the relationship of being able to work together. Joints can flex, fingers can grip, toes can dig into the ground only when they are tied together with the muscles. Only then is there strength in the body.

Now I'd like you to take a look at the ceiling. Lean right back (if you don't have a neck problem) and look at the ceiling beams. We worship in a beautiful building, don't we? Those arched beams hold open a wonderful space in which we worship God. Don't they look a little like ribs, seen from the inside? You are sitting in the chest cavity of Ezekiel's bones. (I was going to say that you are sitting at the heart, but I think some of you are sitting more where the liver goes.)

I'm glad that we have those arches, but they don't do the work of the church. I wouldn't want to have to worship in a tent without tentpoles or a church without church boards and district presidents, but they only have the strength to do God's work when God adds the muscles of the community which gathers here – the muscles, the nerve, the heart, and, yes, the liver.

Third, God clothes the bones in skin.

When the skin covers the flesh, the body is seen for what it really is: One thing, a human body and no longer a collection of parts. Old bones growing flesh seems a rather gruesome and ugly thing; I'm more than happy that God gave this vision to Ezekiel rather than to me. But here God changed the vision. Ezekiel no longer saw bones and tendons and blood vessels; all is covered over. The skin was God's statement about what those dry bones really were: They were human beings, and nothing less.

We, too, are covered with God's judgement about who we really are. Clothed in our "true skin", the church can be seen for what it truly is. Our ugliness is no longer ugliness; it is part of God's people. Clothed in our "true skins", we can be seen for what we truly are. We are God's people, agents of love and power, "kings and priests to God". Or we can be. And this is clear when we are seen clothed in God's judgement of who we are.

The Coming of the Spirit

Those bones were not yet alive. Life is not found in the bones, no, not even as changed by the actions of God. So God told Ezekiel to turn and prophesy to the wind. The wind, breath, spirit: It is one word. Ezekiel speaks God's word to the wind, to the spirit. It comes from outside of the bones, from outside of the valley, and it breathes into the bodies, and they breathe, and they come alive.

Together, the bones and the wind make life. Together, the community and the Spirit.

Our Own Bones

What is your experience? Your life, your church? Open your eyes; see things as they really are. Have you felt loss? Seen broken friendships and disconnected strangers? Do you feel the Spirit moving among your brothers and sisters here? Have any of us worshipped the idols of success and power, turned away disloyally from family, congregation, or God? Have any of us stood up to do the work that God asked us to do? Yes, all of of those things.

God calls us with the example of Ezekiel.

  1. See things as they really are.
  2. Defer to the power of God.
  3. Watch for what God will do.
  4. Breathe in the Spirit that God sends.
  5. Stand up and live.

Take a breath. Inhale – take a deep breath. Is the Spirit breathing here? Look around you. (It's OK to turn your head.) Look at the people beside you. Turn around; look at the people behind you. …

Can these bones live? Praise God, they do! Stand up, then, and join in the praise of God.

(Page 95.)

"Hail This Joyful Day's Return"