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"O Dry Bones..."

Text: Ezekiel 37:1–14
1The 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. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." 4Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I 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."

7So 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. 8I 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. 9Then 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." 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

11Then 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.' 12Therefore 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. 13And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I 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."

The Rev. Susumu Ando—April 10, 2011

This morning's Old Testament Lesson is from Ezekiel. This book was written during the Babylonian Exile. Let me explain the historical background about it. In 597 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon captured Jerusalem, and took many of the leading citizens of that city as hostages to Babylon, including the priest Ezekiel. In 593 B.C., Ezekiel received his call as a prophet of the Lord and prophesied until 571 B.C. During that period, the captives heard about the final fall of Jerusalem.

The last king of Judah, Zedekiah, was captured by the cruel king Nebuchadnezzar, and his sons were put to death in front of him. Then his eyes were put out and he was taken to Babylon. The Babylonian soldiers broke down the walls around Jerusalem, and plundered all valuable things from Jerusalem with those who remained in the city except for the poorest people. They also set fire to the Temple, the king's house and all the houses of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was completely destroyed. This tragic end of the kingdom of Judah happened in 586 B.C.

Now, could you imagine how those captives felt in a foreign land? Today's Scripture says, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely." (Ezekiel 37:11 NRSV)

I can imagine that some Japanese fishermen feel the same way now. Their houses were destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami last month. Some of them lost their loved ones as well. Then, they cannot catch fish because fish are contaminated by hightened levels of radioactivity in the water. How could they start a new life again? They must be in despair at a shelter every night. "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely."

We have never experienced that kind of natural disaster. But some of us may be in despair in a valley: the marriage is dead; the sickness is relentless; the job is pointless; the grief is deep; the nights are long. We respond much like those dry bones, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely."

But, in the middle of the valley Ezekiel was called to prophesy. The Lord said to him, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord." (Ezekiel 37:4 ESV) So, Ezekiel prophesied as he had been commanded. Suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. There were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them (v.7). Human beings without breath are not living beings yet.

Here are today's key verses. "Then He said to me, 'Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, 'Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life.''' So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army." (Ezekiel 37:9–10 NASB) In Hebrews the word for breath, the word for wind, and also the word for Spirit is one word, ruach.

So, the breath brought back to life those slain like the breath of life caused Adam to be a living being in the Creation. But, there is a big difference between the story of Adam and the valley of dry bones. Creation and redemption are not the same. Do you know that? Adam was formed of the dust of the ground. The dust had no pre-history. Creation involves the coming into being of what never was. But redemption involves the restoration to life of what once was alive and then was dead. Therefore, the valley of dry bones is the story of God's redemption for the hopeless captives in Babylon. The Lord said to them in today's text, "I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it." (Ezekiel 37:14 ESV) True hope is authenticated by true life.

My sisters and brothers, do you have true hope? Or are you spiritually dead now and hopeless? If so, "O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord, and believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ." Why? Because His life, death, and resurrection is the story of God's redemption. Actually, Jesus Himself is the Redeemer. After He was resurrected from the dead, Jesus appeared to the depressed disciples on the first evening of Easter. He said to them, "'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" (John 20:21–22 NRSV) When you believe in Jesus, you will receive the Holy Spirit. When you receive the Holy Spirit, you will live in a true life which God has planed for you. In your true life, you will never lose hope no matter how devastating your current situation is.

My friends, sometimes life's tsunami suddenly surges toward us and cripples our lives. We are like dry bones emotionally, spiritually, and physically. "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely." But the Lord will never give us up until our last breath, calling us, "O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord." Listen to Jesus. Believe in Him. Believe in God's redemptive power through Him. You can stand on your feet and live in a true life.

Let us pray.

O gracious God, thank You for bringing us to Your holy ground this morning to hear Your word. Some of us are in despair and losing hope. Once again, breathe on us Your breath. Fill us with life anew, that we may love what You do love and do what You would do. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.