|Sermon - April 29, 2012||| Print ||
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Ezekiel 37: 1-14
I would like to begin my sermon by officially offer my condolences to the fans of the Ottawa Senators for their loss last Thursday. Honestly, after losing the first game, coming back in overtime for the second one and being unable to score a single goal in the third game, I was one of those who believed that they were toasted. I said the series would end in 5 games. I think I forgot what one of the most famous philosophers of the 20th century said, “It ain't over till it's over”. Okay… This expression was not quipped by a famous philosopher, but by Yogi Berra, the catcher of the New York Yankees between 1946 and 1965 who also blessed us also with phrases like: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”, “You can observe a lot by watching”, and “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours”.
The temptation to give up is always around the corner. The endless peace talks in Israel/Palestine, the apparent inability of diplomats to stop the bloody conflict in Syria, or the hollow statements of politicians about human rights in China just highlights the brokenness of our system. The cuts in government staff and programs, the reduction of the safety net in the name of social responsibility, or the partisan rhetoric based on opposition between groups of interest only increases the cynicism among the population. The struggle of the Christian Church in the Western world, the divisions over theology and worship styles, or the sexual scandals of the last years makes many hopeless about our future as an institution. Sometimes we look around us and when we see all these shattered relationships, these crushed dreams and these broken hopes we are tempted to assume that we are reached the end of the road. We just want to say, “That’s it. We cannot take it anymore. It’s all over. It is time to move on.”
This sense of hopelessness was probably the state of mind of the Israelites during the time of Exile in Babylon. The “chosen people of God” had suffered the shame of conquest at the hand of an army led by a pagan god. The Temple in Jerusalem, the dwelling place of the Almighty One on earth, was razed to the ground. The leaders of the former kingdoms of Judah and Israel were uprooted and dragged into slavery away from the Promised Land. In the midst of this painful experience, the people became hopeless. They felt that there was nothing to live for anymore. They had anything left to cling to. All seemed to be lost.
Then God came to the prophet Ezekiel; Ezekiel who belonged to a prominent and influential priestly family before the war; Ezekiel who suddenly lost his wife at the beginning of the exile in Babylon; Ezekiel who was reduced to minister to a defeated and depressed people. God came to him in the form of an unexpected visionary journey. As “the hand of the Lord came upon” him, the prophet was brought into the middle of a valley which was full of human bones. As the Holy One led him around them, Ezekiel could only noticed their incredible amount. He could only noticed how very dry they were, as dead as they could possibly be. And then God asks Ezekiel, “Mortal, can these bones live?”
Honestly, this question is not necessarily what one would expect from the almighty and all powerful God. What is the point of asking this question? It could have been easier for God to skip the small conversation part and display God’s incredible power immediately. God could have said to Ezekiel, “Look carefully at the amazing and incredible miracle I am about to perform and write down the exact words I expect you to repeat to my people.” Instead God seems to look for an interaction with the prophet, to make him part of the issue and also of the solution. Unfortunately, Ezekiel’s response sounds like the answer of a resigned and defeated man, “O Lord God, you alone know”. God replied, “What do you mean you do not know? Have you learned nothing from the Scriptures? What about the time I freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt? What about the times when my people were victorious against more powerful enemies? Stop saying stupid things Ezekiel and begin to prophesy to these bones.” Okay… The last few sentences did not actually come from the Bible, but I believe you get my drift here…
I like to imagine a very perplexed Ezekiel who stood in front of a pile of bones and began to preach to them. As the prophet was speaking, something extraordinary happened in front of his own eyes. God did exactly what was said. Words became reality. Once again, God delivered on the promise made. The scattered bones began to clank and clink and rattle. They moved toward each other and joined together, forming human skeletons. Muscles and flesh were fitted to each skeleton. Finally the breath of God came into these bodies and they lived and stood on their feet.
This very dramatic vision was offered to the Israelites and everyone who ever felt they were deserted by God. This vision is a message of hope for those who end up in a hopeless situation. It is a breath of fresh air to those who are secluded in one way or another. It is an image of release for those who are held in bondage. When death, despair and devastation surround us, we are reminded to look beyond that catastrophe in order to envision a brighter future where restoration and hope would be conceivable.
We are also called to remember that God invites us to be part of the whole process. When we find ourselves gasping for breath, when we struggle to meet our financial obligations at the end of the month, when we wonder if our congregation would be swallowed by our deficit, one option is to lose hope and to give up, another is to believe that God would come and solve all our problems. However, as we can understand from the book of Ezekiel, God invites us to defy the odds and to go against the grain. We are called to be generous in times of scarcity, to love in times of hatred and war, to remain calm in times of turbulence, and to promote reconciliation in times of division. We are called to be part of God’s plan for the people of God.
Rabbi Sheldon Blank refers to this morning’s passage as a spiritual wake-up call. Ezekiel received the mission to preach to the Israelites in Exile who had lost hope in the future and felt as dead as a pile of dry bones. The prophet proclaimed to his people that despite every signs around them, restoration was at hand’s reach if everyone begins to work together. Throughout history and still today, we can find comfort in the fact that hopelessness and abandonment do not have the final word. New life is possible in the midst of desperate situations. For the people of God, for every one of us, it ain’t over yet. Amen.