Sunday, May 19th, 2024

God’s Spirit Breathes Life

Grace, mercy and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Let us pray. Lord, send forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen. It’s not usually a good thing to be at a dead end. Now maybe you like the privacy if you live at the end of a dead-end street. But no one wants to be stuck in a dead-end job, or a dead-end relationship. More often than not, when you call something dead end, it’s not a compliment. It conveys hopelessness, discouragement. The Prophet Ezekiel describes just such a scene for us this morning, a scene of discouragement, hopelessness. But instead of dead end, he gives us dry bones. “The hand of the Lord was upon me,” says the Prophet, “and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.” And then the Lord said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, these bones are the whole House of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off.’” Israel was at a dead end. They were exiles in Babylon. The promised land had been ravaged. Their temple was destroyed. Their families had been scattered, when they were captives in a strange place. And Israel looked out at their circumstances and Israel looked out at their situation, and they regarded it as God’s hand of judgment, a political defeat, a military defeat that was irrevocable. They saw it as proof that God had abandoned them. They saw it as evidence that God’s promises to Abraham would not be fulfilled, that the God who once dwelled among them as Immanuel in their temple, was now gone for good. No longer God with us, but now a distant God, and that Israel, who at one time was the chosen offspring of the Lord, now they were abandoned to live as orphans. They saw themselves as the valley of bones. Bones with no ambition. Have you ever tried to discover the purpose of a pile of bones, asked it what its goals are, what dreams it aspires to? Bones can’t carry out any kind of plans. Bones don’t have a future. Bones only have a past, and it was a past that ended in death. There is no zeal. There’s no fire. There’s no emotion, there’s no heart, there’s no driving force in a pile of bones. Ezekiel could have set down a leprechaun’s pot of gold and walked away, and those bones couldn’t have cared less. He could have been choking. He needed someone to give him the Heimlich. A pile of bones isn’t going to notice. They’re not aware of their situation. They have no sense of what’s going on around them. They’re oblivious. Because they’re lifeless. So Ezekiel stood there and looked at this depressing sight. And as he looked on, God began to speak to him. And the Lord asked him, can these bones live? I wonder if Ezekiel rolled his eyes, confused by the question. Maybe he shuddered at the pile of death in front of him. I wonder if he was remembering that, as a priest, he was prohibited from coming into contact with these bones or any human death. Or I wonder if he was remembering that according to God’s holy ceremonial law, bodies that were left unburied, piles of bones were done so as a sign that they had fallen under God’s curse. These people are not only dead, they’re cursed, totally without hope. And here God calls Ezekiel to go stand in the middle of the cemetery and prophecy to the bones, to climb up on a tombstone, with neck bones and thigh bones and wishbones as far as the eye can see. That’s what he does. He says to Ezekiel, prophecy over these bones. You can almost picture Ezekiel taking a deep breath, and then pausing. What exactly does one say to a pile of bones? I can’t hear you anyway. There’s no inspirational speech you could give that would bring them back to life. But God did not tell Ezekiel to prophecy his own words. God tells Ezekiel exactly what to say. “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” You see, these bones didn’t need a lecture. They needed life. They didn’t need advice. They didn’t just need encouragement. They needed breath. They don’t need Ezekiel’s words. They need the word of the Lord. That’s what we need too. For we live in a valley of dry bones. We live in a world marked by death. There are all the small deaths we experience: poverty, hunger, there’s illness, political divisions, racial tensions, the hurtful rhetoric that’s spewed on the news and on social media, protesters on the duck pond. Politicians, the political media would tell us that if we could just get the right person elected, if we can just implement the right policies, everything will get better. The advertisers tell us that if we just buy the right product, that at least we’ll feel better about ourselves, be better equipped to make it through the day. But none of those words speak life into dry bones.  Not only use our world marked by death, each and every one of us, individually, is a valley of dry bones. There are the secret sins that we cling to behind closed doors, there’s the hate that we harbor in our hearts for certain people in the world around us, just the way that we make excuses for our own sins while holding others to an impossible standard. It’s the halfhearted repentance that we fall back on when the guilt gets to be too much. All of it is the fruit of the sinful flesh. All of it is our own personal valley of dry bones, and there is no human way to overcome it. There’s no human word, there’s no politician’s speech, there’s no celebrities advice that can bring life into dead hearts. But it wasn’t Ezekiel’s words that brought life into that valley. What those bones needed was the word of God, and that’s what they got. And that’s what we have too. So don’t be fooled by the dead bones or the dead ends of your life. Don’t trust your eyes or your ears when they tempt you to despair. Don’t believe the world when it tells you that all hope is lost, that your sin is too great to be forgiven, but that death and taxes really are all there is. For when you are without power, when you are weak, when you’ve run out of options, when you’re dead, there is still the breath of God. When the breath of God speaks, brittle bones band together and breathe the breath of life. God’s spirit still rattles old bones. God’s Spirit still breathes life into that which was dead. Ezekiel tells us, “So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.”  What once looked hopeless was turned on its head by the mercy and by the power of Almighty God. Yes, the Jerusalem temple may have been destroyed, but the Lord would establish a new temple, a greater temple, built on the foundation of prophets and apostles, Christ Jesus himself the cornerstone. And yes, the Israelites may have been in exile in Babylon, but God would bring them home. And then, through the miracle of Pentecost, he would send his word into all nations, into all languages, gathering for himself a people of every tribe and race. No, God did not forget his promises to Abraham. And he does not forget his promises to you. He is faithful. He will see it done by the working of his Word. That’s what’s happening here this morning. That’s what happens every time our Lord comes to us through his Word and sacraments. He brings life out of death. He brings hope out of despair. We who were dead in our trespasses and sins are made alive, together with Christ Jesus and raised up with Him. Our Lord’s message of hope for those dry bones, is his message of hope for you. Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And 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.” The world is always tempting us to despair. Our sinful flesh is always tempting us back to that valley of bones. It wants to steal our joy, our zeal for life, our ambition to live as the people of God. The world wants us to throw in the towel, to resign ourselves, to live out our days as nothing more than a pile of bones. The devil whispers into our ear that that valley is exactly where we belong. But our Lord breathes life. The new creation that is yours through the Word of the Lord is not so easily deceived. The new creation is strengthened through the gifts of this altar. You are God’s child. So come, Holy Ghost,

“Let trials turn us not aside.

Lord, by Your pow’r prepare each heart,

And to our weakness strength impart

That bravely here we may contend,

Through life and death, to You, our Lord, ascend.”


May God grant it, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.