Sermon on Ezekiel 37:1-14
4th Sunday after Pentecost | June 17, 2018
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! Amen.
The lesson for our meditation is recorded in the Old Testament prophecy of Ezekiel 37:1-14.
Dear brothers and sisters, living children of our heavenly Father. Hollywood and other icons of popular culture seem to have a rather sick fascination with the undead: Interview with a Vampire, Dawn of the Dead, I Am Legend. There’s a glut of movies and books about zombies, vampires, mummies; necromancers and foolish teenagers casting forbidden rites from mouldy old books or scrolls in order to raise the dead, and so on... But in our lesson for today the dead really do rise, not as shambling, soulless corpses but as living beings, living for the Lord! We are those living beings, once dead in despair and sin, but made alive by the power of God working in us. In the Lord, the dead are brought to life.
Now, how much do you think the dead can do? I think you’d agree with me if I said “nothing.” They’re dead! Now, I’ve used this illustration before, but it is apt, so please bear with me, for the sake of those who haven't heard it. A student working for a mortician once had to go to the hospital and pick up the body of a very large man. Struggling to move him onto the gurney, he grunted “would you skootch over just a bit and help me out?” Do you think the dead man did as he was asked? Of course not, because he was dead! There are some who think they can help God out a little, or even handle their salvation on their own. But Paul tells us that those who do not believe are dead in their sins – literally dead. They cannot decide to believe – they can’t do anything. They are unable to help, just as the dead man in the hospital was unable to “skootch over.”
And not only are the dead unable to do anything, they don’t want to, either. We are enemies of God by nature, Paul tells us. Our sinful nature wants no part of God or the life and forgiveness he offers. It would much rather go on sinning and be left to go its merry way. It doesn’t know that it’s dead – and it doesn’t care.
So the dead have no volition, and no desire to be saved. Also, the dead have no hope – they know only despair, because they have no trust in God and his promises. Look at Israel’s despair in our lesson. They had been exiled with no hope of return. 'Our bones have dried up and our hope is lost, we have been cut off.' The spiritual condition of Israel was so poor that even those who remained believers felt that there was as little hope of restoration as there was a chance for a valley full of dry, scattered bones to be covered with flesh and blood and to live again.
And they’re not alone in their despair. We, too, are exiles, living in a world that hates us and everything for which we stand. The world wants nothing to do with us or our crucified God, and it mocks, ridicules, tortures and kills us for our faith – a good reason to despair, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it just be easier to give in and give up – why should you continue to do your work diligently and honestly, or use your gifts faithfully, or raise your children in the faith? Why continue to believe and do all these things if they just increase your misery and make your life harder? “Just shut up about Jesus and die like the rest of us, already!”
But the Lord doesn’t want us or his exiled people to live in despair, or to lose their faith and be truly dead, so he gives us and them this prophecy, this promise: we will live!
And this promise comes from the only one who can make such a promise – for the dead can only be made alive by the power of God. He asks Ezekiel if this valley of bones can be made alive – the prophet responds: “only you know, Lord.” Only he who made all things, who made man of the dust of the earth, can give life to the dead.
And the Lord testifies to that himself, he says: “I will open your tombs and I will bring you up from your tombs, my people, and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.” That’s a promise he fulfilled – he brought the remnants of his people back from exile.
He says, “I will cause breath to enter you, and you will live.” Though he made his people live again, in a figurative sense, when he restored them to their land, he also promises to give them real life. You know the biblical stories that tell how Christ restored Lazarus to life and brought back Jairus’ daughter, but the real life we’re talking about here is that life God gives us through the redeeming work of his Son and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit:
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, made it possible for us to live again by his death and resurrection. We deserve death for our sins, and we're, in fact, already dead because of them, but when God the Son died the payment for sins was made and need not be paid again. Physical death is not the end for us but the beginning of eternal life in heaven. What a cure for despair! When we grasp that hope of eternal life then despair cannot touch us.
And we cling to that hope because we have faith. God commands Ezekiel: "Prophesy unto these bones and say 'Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!'" It is by the power of the Holy Spirit working through His Word that those bones in the valley were made alive, and by which we, too, receive the breath of life, faith in the promises of God. The Word makes us come to life.
Ezekiel prophesies 'Come from the four winds, come, o breath, and blow into these who have been slain, and they will live.' We are dead in sin, slain by sin, enemies of God, unable to act to save ourselves, but the Spirit makes us live by his own action – he does it for us. Like the paramedic or passerby administering CPR, the Holy Spirit breathes the breath of life into us - and comes to live in us - through the power of His Word.
And because of what he does for us he can say “you will know that I am the Lord.” How do we know that he is the Lord? It’s not only by the demonstration of his power in giving life to dry bones, but by the demonstration of his faithfulness in fulfilling his promises: saving us from our sins, forgiving us, and giving us the faith that grasps forgiveness. That’s the Lord’s ID: it’s impossible for the Lord to suffer identity theft, for only he can do all these things. Only he can give life.
And we who were once dead and now know the Lord, may live for him who gave us life!
God said, “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.” What does this mean for the Israelites? He gave the Israelites back their life, making them a “great army.” He restored them to their land, as he promised, and so those who were believers would continue to trust in his promise to save the world through a descendant of Abraham. They would continue to be the core of God’s Church, which would eventually include believers from all over the world.
“I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.” What does this mean for all believers? For Ezekiel, it meant he lived according to the Lord’s will, whether he understood it or not. And it means the same for us: we do the Lord’s will, and the knowledge that the lives we lead are according to God’s will takes away feelings of boredom, drudgery, and especially despair.
Because when we’re doing our work honestly and diligently, we’re not just earning a paycheck – we’re serving God by supporting our families as he expects us to do. And we’re not just studying – we’re using our minds to the best of our abilities because God expects us to be good and faithful managers of our gifts. And we’re not just raising our kids – we’re shaping the souls of God’s own children by letting them learn of Jesus by the things we say and do. That’s living – a life of faithful service to him who took us dead dry piles of bones and gave us life!
In the Lord, the dead are brought to life! God reminds us that “I, the Lord have spoken and done it.” This life, this faith, this promise of eternal glory in heaven: we have all these things because he has given them to us! And so we have no reason or room for despair, because Christ died so we could live, and the Spirit lives in us, we are alive now, and we eagerly await that Last Day, when all the dead who have died in faith will be called to eternal life with our Lord in heaven.
The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.