Sermon 03/26/2023 – Sinew and Skin

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The 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. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “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: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I 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.”

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

Then 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.’ Therefore 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. And you shall know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I 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.”

Sermon Text

As far as I’m concerned, Ezekiel’s vision could have taken him to this very moment and in this very place. The valley of dry bones was not a literal place, it was a vision God placed in Ezekiel’s mind of God’s people – not as good as dead, but long dried up and left alone. It was also a vision of their revivification. For him this vision meant the people of God in exile – the Israelites scattered across what once was Assyria and the Judahites scattered across Babylon – would someday leave there exile and come home. But, what does it mean for us now?

We are in a difficult time in the Church. The ages of being the default social group people in society is long past. Denominations are all shrinking – non-denominationals are seeing the end of their peak period and are experiencing a slide much like what the mainlines before them felt. The majority of people in the United States still identify as Christian, at least in name, but that will change.[1] We will shrink, we will see more churches close, and more denominations struggle to keep up the image they once held of themselves. We are in a waning period in our history, the collapse of the world as it was, and the start of something new.

The simple truth of prophecy, of the words which God offers us to inspire us to change and to embrace the work of God in the here and now, is that it is never positive in the short term. There is abundant hope in what God has to offer us, a future where all will be made right, but in the short term you seldom see a prophet bring good news. Jeremiah, in a moment we all can relate to, rebuffs a false prophet on a single basis. When prophets come to the people of God, they bring news of a world that is broken and about to break even more, and that false prophet only had good news about what was coming down the pipeline.[2]

We are at a point where the heat of the sun is beating down on the people of God. We are tired, we join in the cry of the dry bones in today’s text, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost…” I don’t know about you, but there are plenty of times where I find myself feeling that my hope is gone. The troubles of the world, multifaceted and terrible as they are, have very little hope of clearing up in our lifetime. Poverty, war, an unbridled and impossible to combat materialism that has reduced the world into a countdown clock to environmental disaster, all weigh heavy on the mind. Things are grim dear people. Things have given us every reason to worry about what the future may bring.

We who gather here are not given the escape of just imagining things will get better on their own. We know that there has to be a revivification of the world or else it will continue to dry out, to die bit by bit. Sometimes we think we could just magically flip a switch, and everything will be like it was. We’ll worship how we did then. We’ll have as many people as we did then. We’ll do everything we loved and took pride in then. And you know what that would do, if such a miracle could be achieved? We would just postpone our decay for another twenty or thirty years. The slow decay of the world, of a congregation, is exactly that – it is slow. By the time we notice that the pews are emptying, and the waters of life seem to be drying up in the wells we dug long ago, the problem has been around much longer.

I know sometimes we will try to point to singular moments or events that caused our present troubles. The Pandemic is the current monster we look at and say, “If only this had not happened, we would be so much better off!” Well, I tell you that the pandemic was the head of a beast that came out of the sea for sure, but it had been gnawing on the roots of many a congregation for years before that. We just called it a million other things, a million small cuts and fractures that eventually had a chance to burst into a problem we had no answer for.

The Prophet did not come into the valley of dry bones and prevent the thing that brought about disaster. The damage had been done, the bones were as dry as they possibly could be. If anything was going to happen, it was not going to be from fighting the battle that got them there in the first place. Looking to blame some Satanic force like we did in 80s won’t bring renewal. Coming up with some imagined culture war will not inspire people to take the leap into a new life. Even singing and preaching for weeks at a time won’t be enough to change the world as it is. The only thing that can revivify the world we are in is a movement of the Spirit, and it will only come when follow the lead of prophecy as we see it in our text today.

We have to walk in the valley of dry bones, we have to count them and notice just how much we have let go fallow, and then we have to cry out to God. We have to call for God to bring the Church back together – to unite us in love and power. I talk all the time about how the Church needs to fight to sort itself out, but we need to see that we go to war with one another more often than we have any healthy family spat. Our denomination is exploding, and it is not because one group is Biblical and the other is not. Both parties in this struggle are trying to serve God however they feel convicted to do so. No, the reason things are exploding is because we cannot bring ourselves together enough to begin to be the body of Christ.

The thing that the prophet sees happen is firstly that the body of the slain comes together, and then and only then does the Spirit fill them and give them life. The Church is definitely going through a rough time, and it will get rougher before it gets better, but the first thing we have to do to get better is to come together. We’ll be a charge soon, and that is the most obvious sign of coming together, but it needs to be more than that. We need to serve one another, we need to love one another, and not just in this room – but across churches and across denominations. We have to reach out a hand, to draw the disparate pieces of God’s body back together, and we have to pray to God each and every day for the Spirit to bring us together and give us life. – Amen.

[1] Even if denominations do experience growth, the present trajectory of belief in the United States is toward increasing loss of belief, and shows no sign of increase.
Pew Research Center. “Modeling the Future of Religion in America.” Available at:

[2] Jeremiah 28

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