Sermon: Can you hear the rattling? Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1-14 Preacher: Rev. Michael Bodger Location: First Presbyterian, DeLand Date: May 20, 2018 Well good morning, good morning on this day, which we consider to be the birthday of the church, as we look back to events that happened some 50 days after Easter Sunday, some 2000 years ago. It’s a day we read about in the book of Acts, when the Holy Spirit fell upon those gathered in the Upper Room and then we read about them going outside into the marketplace and telling everyone about Jesus. It’s a celebration of the fulfillment of the promise that Jesus made to send the advocate, the Holy Spirit to be with us after he ascended into heaven. It’s also a recognition that the work of the church is only possible with and through God and can only be carried out under God’s direction. So Happy Birthday church, but what does that mean for us today? As we ponder that question, we will do so by taking a look at an Old Testament text. It’s one that might be familiar to you either inside the church or even outside the church. It’s a text from the prophet Ezekiel and it’s about the same elements, the same God, the same desire God has to be in relationship with us that we find in the Book of Acts. It’s about hope and the fulfillment of hope, that all comes from the same source, which is God. To put our text into perspective, the prophet Ezekiel has been prophesying to the people of Israel, but he is not in Jerusalem, but rather he is with the exiles in Babylonia. They have been in captivity for a very long time and seemingly all hope has been lost of returning to Jerusalem. The prophet Ezekiel has gone to great lengths to tell the story of how the people have reached the point that they find themselves at. There are some 47 chapters in Ezekiel and the first 24 reflect doom and gloom before the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC. Chapter 25-32 speaks to other nations about what will befall them and then from 33-39 we have oracles and prophecies of hope, before the book concludes with words about the restoration of the temple. Our text today comes from Chapter 37 and it comes from the section of hope, but it finds meaning only in the level of despair that the people found themselves experiencing. Listen then to what the Spirit is telling the church this day as we read from Ezekiel 37:1-14. It’s a pretty graphic vision that Ezekiel experiences and tells us about. It follows on the heels of what has just been spoken about in Chapter 36. There Ezekiel says, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says, ‘I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanliness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’” Our text today is how this will be made manifest. Dry bones and what’s more there are lots of them, the valley we are told is full of them. Dry bones – and we are at the extreme. They were very dry, there is no chance of marrow still being present, no life giving qualities are left at all! The people are right at the point of being beyond hope. Maybe many of those in Babylon already thought they were at that stage, life couldn’t get any worse. There was no humanly way forward that could or would resolve their exile in Babylonian captivity. We all face many, many situations and none of us can judge others on the situations that they face and say to them, “you haven’t reached the point of ‘dry bones.’ You haven’t reached the point of no return.” We pray that point is never reached, we pray that God steps in and shows God’s self in the midst of our circumstances, in the midst of other people’s circumstances and we try and do the best that we can, and although we pray sometimes the answer to our prayer does not turn out the way we would like, but rather God’s way, and we are left to wonder why? Ezekiel was led all around the valley. Look around you Ezekiel – look around you church – for we are all, each and everyone of us Ezekiel, both individually and corporately, and what do we see? Do we see the dry bones all around us, when we are simply trying to get on with our own lives, in managing the ups and downs of daily life, sometimes simply getting by is all we can do, even then, do we look around the valley or valleys that we are taken to? These are some of the dry bones I encountered this past week. The homeless, pregnant mum sat outside the post office with the sign that says, hungry and pregnant, please help. The homeless guy at the stop sign, carrying a board, which says War veteran, can you help, will take food and water. The person who called the church and is about to get evicted, but just needs a little to tide them over until the next paycheck arrives. The friend who has seemingly got it all together, yet you know does not. The wife whose husband has just died and whose world is falling apart, the family is torn and you just want everything to be okay. The mother on the anniversary of her son’s death who maybe just wants to close her eyes and remember what it was like before. The many who are waiting a diagnosis or are in treatment not wanting to fear the worst. Do we look around the valleys that we are led to, do we even glance in the mirror, and do we see the ‘dry bones?’ God asks Ezekiel - “Mortal, can these bones live?” And Ezekiel’s answer, without skipping a beat is “O Lord GOD, you know.” It is not clear in the text as to whether Ezekiel is essentially dancing around the implications of what such a question might lead to by saying – “What are you asking me for?” Don’t ask me God – that’s beyond my pay grade. Nope, lets just move on. Let’s not get involved with that. Or whether it is a reverential understanding that with God all things are possible, God – you know. It’s a dilemma about possibly having to get involved or sit back and watch what God can do. God, regardless of Ezekiel’s position, says, get involved anyway. God says to us, “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. Yes, life will return, can these bones live?” Yes, it is possible – but only with God. God says, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. God’s understanding, God’s way – not ours, not what we think should happen, but God’s ways which are not our ways, which are far beyond our comprehension, which have eternal implications and not just our narrow earthly vision – God says, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. It may not come all at once, it may not be an instant act – but it will be as a result of the living God and no less. God will cause all the elements in their time and eventually the breath and so as part of the process Ezekiel, you are to prophesy. To prophesy! It means to speak or sing by inspiration – under the influence of the divine Spirit. It evokes a sense of do something and make a difference in a particular circumstance and do so under the leading of the Holy Spirit. It means being open to what the Spirit is telling the church, you, me and us and acting upon it in this broken world of ‘dry bones.’ So Ezekiel ‘prophesied’ as he was commanded and the result was, 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. The process of renewal of hope was begun. Dry bones no longer. The homeless, pregnant mum received a meal and a kind, loving word instead of being ignored. The person who called the church was reached out to and gave thanks. The friend who has seemingly got it all together, got a friend who sat with her, someone to confide in. The wife whose husband has just died and whose world is falling apart received the love of her church family and in a moment of total chaos, got stability and calm. The mother on the anniversary of her son’s death who just wants to close her eyes, got a text to say your not alone, it hurts, the hole will never be filled, but we are here. The many who are waiting a diagnosis or are in treatment received a hug of comfort or a word of support. The homeless guy at the stop sign, well, the rattling didn’t come for him, I didn’t have a manna bag in the car, but maybe the person behind me did, just maybe. Prophesy church – Can you hear the rattling? If you can, then God is at work. It’s what Ezekiel was called to do, it’s what the church is called to do. It’s hearing the Spirit call and spontaneously inviting the homeless to our church picnic, because they hadn’t had a meal that day. It’s writing a card or letter to someone who is hurting. It’s going down to Nicaragua, Guatemala, Cuba, reaching out to Namibia and saying we care what you are doing and we are with you. It’s standing by and getting involved with the Neighborhood Center, Grace House, Family Renew, Habitat for Humanity, InterFaith Kitchen, Young Life, Good Samaritan Clinic, IDignity, Presbyterian Missions, our church school. It’s making manna bags and plastic bag mats so the homeless and those in need receive the message of hope that someone cares. Can you hear the rattling? It’s praying for one another, it’s simply phoning someone in your small group and saying, hello, how are you doing? It’s sitting down together and studying the bible. It’s calling the person who you normally see in church and haven’t seen for a couple of weeks and saying I missed you today, is everything okay? It’s making a meal for someone in a moment of crisis, because Making Meals Matter. It’s rallying round as a church family and having a rummage sale so that students within our church and those students who are reaching out for understanding, can go to camp this summer, knowing that people care for them. It’s about making our contribution towards our estimate of giving to the church, so that that these things can all take place – even if we can’t get involved directly or if we don’t have the means to give financially, it’s about offering our time or volunteering and what’s important is that we gather together as a church family, working out why the Spirit has brought us to this place and living into that calling once we figure it out. It’s about understanding that we all have a role to play. Whether it is great or small is not of interest to God, all God says is prophesy. Many people ask me what can we do – I have named but a few. We are already doing much, much has already been done and yet the Holy Spirit is not finished with us. The Holy Spirit sets us down in ever new places, in ever new valleys and tells us to look around. What new things can we be doing, what dry bones are there that we cast our eyes upon and the Spirit says – prophesy. Can you hear the rattling? Everything that I have just mentioned and there is so much more is akin to bone coming to bone, sinews appearing in someone’s life, flesh coming upon a situation, skin manifesting itself in and on a festering wound or a broken situation. They are all primers in other people’s lives to the witness of the living triune God at work. And when it is time, not our timing, but God’s timing, with all that has already been done, then our text tells us, 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. God is faithful and will act. The working of the Holy Spirit in other people’s lives, draws them to understand, that all that has been done unto them in being ministered to, has been done in the name of Jesus Christ, that they may then come to believe. It doesn’t matter if it’s an unbeliever or a believer whose faith is being challenged. There are those with dry bones all around us. Some aspect of life has torn them down or a crisis exists or there is chaos in their lives, they are like those in our text, They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ And God says NO. God says prophesy Ezekiel, God says prophesy church and when we do, we read what happens to the dry bones, Thus says the Lord GOD: ……..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.” We are sent by God made flesh and drawn by the Holy Spirit to prophesy and we do not know the result. The homeless, pregnant mum, the homeless guy at the stop sign, the person who calls the church for help, the friend in need, the wife whose husband has just died, the mother on the anniversary of her son’s death, those with medical issues – or the myriads of others we touch through our ministries and small groups and our individual responses to the calling of the Holy Spirit. What we do, is look around, look around the valleys that we are led to and see the ‘dry bones’ of a broken society that is all around us, desperately seeking, sometimes desperately seeking anything and we prophesy, and we point them towards a living God, who has come into our lives, and God says, A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.……..I will put my Spirit within you. Church, Happy Birthday, the good news is we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and whilst we still have breath, may we go and give the gift we have been given away and prophesy to the very ends of the earth and all of God’s people said, Amen Michael D. Bodger, M.Div. Pastor & Teaching Elder First Presbyterian Church 724 North Woodland Blvd. DeLand, Florida 32720 © 2018 Michael D. Bodger. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.