So, this morning we’ve heard the reading from Ezekiel: the Valley of Bones, and we’ve also heard the story of the raising of Lazarus. Given that they were long readings, my sermon this morning is going to be adequately short, because I know we don’t want a repeat of last week’s service where we kept you here for an extra half hour!
I am going to have a quick look at the Valley of Bones, which we are presented with in Ezekiel. Now, when you read Ezekiel, you don’t so much read it, as you do see it, it’s filled with imagery, like the song: «Ezekiel saw the wheel, way up in the middle of the air»? You know – that’s where the UFO people get their Biblical foundation for UFO’: the wheel in Ezekiel is said to be a UFO.
That aside, God was always telling Ezekiel to do really bizarre things, and the valley of the bones is one of those cases.
So, many sermons have been written the Valley of the Bones, using it to talk about Church revival, vision, purpose and passion ; and many more sermons regarding broken dreams, promises, relationships and reviving those broken parts of our lives! But this morning, I don’t want to illustrate or tell you which one to apply it to. I only want to give you some very basic lessons in how to apply it:
- First and foremost: It all starts with God, not us.
«The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.»
While I realise that the analogy is often made about our lives or our Church being a valley full of dry bones, there are special moments when God takes us to have a look at this and wants us to see if as such. And there’s a moment for God to act upon it, and if we try to do this in our own time and by our own strength, it’s very unlikely to work.
There’s an importance to listening and being open to the timing and vision that God has, not our own desperation of wanting to make things change. Are you open to God’s time and being where God wants you to be?
- Secondly: God gives Ezekiel a promise to believe in:
«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: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews upon 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.«
Have you had a promise from God in your life that you haven’t seen happen yet? Has God given you a vision of what God plans to do, that you’ve been waiting to see come into fruition and maybe you are tired of waiting? This is not a culture and a world where we understand «wait» very well. We want it, and we want it now, no matter what piece of our life it is. For us to be able to hang onto a promise of God in the tough times takes trust, or faith if you prefer. There are many promises and declarations throughout the Bible that we don’t even have to wait for new ones.
- Thirdly, there’s opening our mouths and declaring what we’ve been promised – the same way there is obedience in doing:
«So I prophesied as I had been commanded…»
It’s no good to just keep silent: how many of you have seen the studies with water or plants and the experiments with the power of words? What are you saying in your life?
- Then, we start to see results, but sometimes it’s not a full result, and there’s still more to be done – we can’t stop half way through.
«… and as I prophesied, suddenly 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, but there was no breath in them.»
So, I had this promise from God, and I started declaring it as I believed I was supposed to, and God raised an army from a valley of dried bones, but there’s no life in it… Maybe the jobs not done yet!
- So, Ezekiel looks back to God, and God gives him new instructions:
«Then He said to me, «Prophesy…»
Do it again, but differently this time!
We live in a society where we are used to quick results, where satisfaction is immediate – where the internet should be at least 6 GB otherwise we have to wait more than 1 second for the browser to open and that’s just too long! But many times, in life, finding your passion or your vision – re-finding your passion when you’ve lost your way, when you’re burnt out and lackluster, takes much longer than just a moment! Often, there are many steps in the process.
- And remember to breathe!
«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.» I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.»
Most of you know, that the Hebrew word «rauch» refers to the «breath», but also refers to «wind» and is another word for «spirit». This one word has all these beautiful meanings that are all one and the same: It was the ruach of God that hovered over the waters at creation. It was the ruach of God that came into Adam and gave that clay life. It was the ruach of God that blew like a mighty wind at Pentecost. And it’s the ruach of God that Ezekiel asks to come and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.
When you breathe, remember you are breathing in the breath of God, his life-giving breath. The breeze that comes through these church windows: that’s the Spirit of God reaching out to touch you. That as you take a breath and you see wind, or you sense the Spirit within you, it’s all the same thing. How different our lives might be if we were conscious of breathing God in and out when we were outside.
For existence to become life, we need the breath of life – the Spirit to fill us. It’s not enough for us to have bones, or to build a skeleton from those bones. It’s not enough to cover those bones with sinew and muscles and skin! We need the breath of God that animates us, that causes us to truly live, and not just to be connected bones.
If we are not a Spirit-filled church, it’s not enough to have a clear vision, purpose and passion. We can have a structured leadership and a great organization, we can have ministries and teams that are all pulling together and working perfectly – but without the breath of God, we still won’t be able to get anything done.
I want to leave you with this final thought regarding the breath of life (it’s from a sermon by Barbara Brown Taylor):
«If you have studied earth science, then you know that our gorgeous blue-green planet is wrapped in a protective veil that we call the atmosphere, which separates the air we breathe from the cold vacuum of outer space. Beneath this veil is all the air that ever was. No cosmic planet-cleaning company comes along every hundred years or so to suck out all the old air and pump in some new. The same ancient air just keeps recirculating. Which means that every time any of us breathes, we breathe stardust left over from the creation of the earth. We breathe brontosaurus breath and pterodactyl breath. We breathe air that has circulated through the rain forests of Kenya, and air that has turned yellow with sulphur over Mexico City. We breathe the same air that Plato breathed, and Mozart and Michelangelo, not to mention Hitler [or Stalin or Mao]. Every time we breathe, we take in what was once some baby’s first breath, or some dying person’s last. We take it in, we use it to live, and when we breathe out it carries some of us with it into the next person or tree or blue-tailed skink who uses it to live.»