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By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

March 26, 2023

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Ezekiel 37:1–14 (ESV)

1 The hand of the Lord was upon me, 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. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And 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.” 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. 9 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 may live.” 10 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. 11 Then he said to me, “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 indeed cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: 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. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 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, declares the Lord.”

Ezekiel is not my favorite book of scripture. There are a few really interesting stories, or visions that he records. But overall it is a book that will leave you troubled. If the things that Ezekiel speaks about are literal and not an exaggeration, the world today is extremely moral and pure.

I think it is important to have this book in scripture though. It gives us a glimpse into something that I hope we will never have to experience. Ezekiel was born during the reforms instituted by Josiah. Josiah became king of Judah after they had spent a century as a vassal nation under the dominion of Assyria. A few weeks ago we spoke about that time when Isiah advised the king not to enter into an agreement with this nation. Assyria laid waste to the northern kingdom of Israel, and spared Judah as long as they continued to pay tribute. When Josiah became king, they found the books of the Law, and Ezekiel’s father and all the other priest began to restore the righteousness of the nation.  

Ezekiel watched as his father did these things. They tore down the altars on the high places. They instituted the feasts and festivals according to Torah. They began to train the next generation of priest, of which Ezekiel would become. And as they did these things Nationalism began to take hold of the people.

There is a healthy respect for one’s nation. I love my country because it is where I was born. But to blindly accept everything a nation does as being honorable because it is your nation, that is nationalism. Nationalism is irrational, it is idolatry. It is taking the love people have for their home and manipulating it to promote something that does not reflect the history and culture of the people that live there. Josiah was a good king. He tried his best to do what was right in the eyes of God, and scripture honors him in that attempt. But there is always a but, Josiah was human. For the past century the people of Judah lived under the thumb of pagan rulers, even their own kings promoted the worship of these pagan gods. Josiah sought to move Judah away from that and rightfully so. As they did this, as they repented spiritually, the people began to think that they deserved something better.

They began to think God was indebted to them. They began to believe that they deserved, that God owed them. And they began to move against Assyria politically and militarily thinking we have turned back to God and God will protect and liberate our nation because we are on the right side.

History would prove that the timing of this nationalistic movement would correspond with the weakening of Assyria and the rise of Babylon. And as Assyria plead with Egypt to help them with Babylon, Judah thought that they could gain full independence once again and Josiah lead the army to intercept Egypt. They were defeated and became a vassal of Egypt instead of Assyria.

Ezekiel watched this happen as he was being trained to serve God in the temple. He watched the rise of this nationalistic fervor; he watched as they made attempts to become righteous. He watched as the people of his nation turned to God in word, but those words did not saturate the soils of their being. Their heart, the core of who they were as individuals and as a nation were still as idolatrous as they had been for the past century. And this young apprentice priest watched as the rulers of his nation gave lip service to God and acted contrary. He watched as they went from a vassal of Assyria, to Egypt, and eventually he watched as Babylon deported Judah’s future far from Jerusalem. He watched because he was among them.

Ezekiel was just becoming a man when he made compulsory journey across the wilderness. Just as he would have been coming of age to serve in the Temple of God, he was following the pathways of the goat that was meant for Azazel. He like the youth of Judah were being lead away from their home, away from the dwelling place of God into a land that was not their own, a land under the dominion of evil. They were in exile.

I go through this brief and simplified history because we should make an attempt to gain the perspective of this man before we look at the reports of his visions. Ezekiel was not in Jerusalem when the temple was destroyed by Babylon. Ezekiel was among those that were carried away. He suffered not because of his own actions but because of choices others made around him. He suffered because his parents’ generation and those that came before them made choices that his generation were indebted to. The story of Ezekiel in many ways is the story we live in today. We see it in the news, we see it in our social media feeds, we see the same story within the arguments between the boomers and the millennials and Gen Z. Ezekiel speaks from the perspective of those that pay the price. And I want us to sit with that idea for a moment. Ezekiel speaks about the suffering of Israel, a suffering caused by the choices of his parents and grandparents, a suffering that must be endured even though it is not fair. And Ezekiel with all his vulgarity and passion helped a lost generation find faith in the most unlikely place.

This young man, this apprentice priest, who was just coming to an age where he could begin serving in the temple was exiled to Babylon and had been in that foreign land for five years before he received his first vison from God. That first vision is filled with imagery that is terrifying and confusing if we want to be honest. If you were to do an internet search for literal depictions of angels from scripture, it is the stuff of nightmares and that is what Ezekiel saw. But it is imagery not literal, Ezekiel was seeing the magnificence and the terror of the very throne of God. The throne of God is both beautiful and terrible depending on the perspective of those gazing upon it. And unfortunately for Ezekiel it was terrifying because he was called to go to a rebellious nation. He was not being sent to the people that were left in the land of Judah, but he was being sent to those that paid the price for the rebellions to those in exile. If you are brave, I encourage you to read Ezekiel. If you are brave I encourage you to look deeper and examine your life, our community, and our nation in the light of this prophetic book. But I warn you it is not for the faint of heart, because it is vulgar and brutal.

Today, we meet this young priest as he is again meets with God within a vision. And God takes this priest into the deserts of the soul to show him the truth behind the rebellious nation. “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.”

I have heard songs about this vision my entire life. Since I was a child I have been told about this vision, and yet those songs and the stories do not do the passage justice. They skip past the terror of the vision and make light of the reality. This is a valley full of bones. And Ezekiel is walking through this valley. This is not just a vision of a graveyard, but the vicious carnage of war. A war so devastating that the fallen were not removed and buried, but left in disgrace to the elements. The devastation was so vast that no one came to the battle ground for such a long time that the fallen were forgotten for so long that their bones were not just dry, but very dry or bleached in the sun.

We have a tendency to rush through these words, but as I sat with these words this week my mind was captivated with these first two verses. My heart is heavy as I reflect on these words. A valley of bones. A valley of the forgotten, the damned. A valley filled with young men that bravely followed their leaders into battle, only to be struck down and left. It is in-human what is being said in these verses. It is a commentary on the dehumanization that occurs when ideology becomes more important than humanity. Throughout the valley Ezekiel walks. Imagine the shear emotional pain this man was feeling at that moment. Imagine the full-throated wails of sorrow this young priest would have been uttering as each step was greeted by yet another empty gaze from the eyes of the disregarded. My chest tightens with the thought. And I imagine eventually emotion grips him completely and he falls down next to one of the bleached remains of a man who might have been younger than him.

Ezekiel walks this valley of despair, and I imagine like so many who question the existence of God, he asks where was God when? God is right there with Ezekiel as he walks in that dry valley. Often we look at this passage and the voice we imagine is booming around, I do not think that is the case. I believe God was in tears right next to Ezekiel.

God is right next to Ezekiel, he is with him as he faces the grim reality of the failures of the kingdoms of men. And I believe they just sat looking across this valley in tears. I believe they sat with those fallen men and watched as the shadows marked the hours. God sat with Ezekiel as he gazed upon the hopelessness before him. And as the tears dried God asks this young priest, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

What question is God really asking? As we sit in a hopeless situation, as we look at the world around us and we see everything seems to fall apart. God is asking us, “Can hope be restored?”

Not long ago I went to Union Station and visited the Holocaust exhibit. And I remember looking at a single shoe with a sock still stuck with it. Behind that single shoe was a photograph of a mountain of shoes. And in that moment, I realized just how weak I am. When I went to school, I read the writings of the theologians of the confessing church. At the time I thought yes, I would be like those great individuals that stood up against the evil they saw before them, and yet as I looked at that single shoe, I realized that I would not. That single shoe convinced me, it showed me just how often I too have denied the humanity of someone, and how I too have blindly followed and even carried the banner that would deny the humanity of person that might have worn that shoe. Ezekiel sat with the bones, I stood staring at a shoe, and both of us came to grips with the reality that we are at fault. Those bones were there because ideologies denied humanity, just as that shoe did. There is always a cost and eventually that debt will come do. But can hope be restored?

Ezekiel answered God saying, “O Lord God, you know.” Ezekiel in this moment is not expressing exuberant faith. He is expressing resignation. He is at the end of himself. He is looking at the sun bleached bones and he is saying that there is nothing he can do. The bones are dry, all is lost. God is with Ezekiel in that pit of despair. He is with him in the hopelessness, but God does not let Ezekiel stay in that place. “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them. O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.”

What do we do when all hope seems lost? If we were to deeply study Ezekiel, you will see that he often makes reference to the Garden of Eden. He takes the rebellious nation he was called to minister to not back to king David, not back to Abraham, but to the very beginning. He reminds them not of the glories of the kingdom, but he reminds them of God’s original plan. God’s original plan was that God and humanity would walk together. That humanity would go out into creation and nurture the entire earth and make it into an extension of the garden. Ezekiel reminds them that even the kingdom ruled by David was not the original plan, but was one sign of repentance. It is not the nation in a political sense that God wants, the people. God wants us to repent. He wants us to return to him.

We can continue to be motivated by the kingdoms of men, but where does that lead us? Turn on the news and it will tell you. Wars, famine, poverty, devastation all around, hopelessness. God wants something more than a government he wants us. In the query we reflected on today it asks a question, “Do you attend regularly the services of your church and participate in them actively? Do you prayerfully endeavor to minister, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in humble dependence upon Christ, the spiritual gifts with which you have been entrusted?”

That query is like the question God asks Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Can hope be restored? The answer that God gave to Ezekiel is a resounding YES! Hope can be restored, the garden can be reestablished. And it begins with each of us turning away from the things that dehumanize and turn back to the things that restore the dignity of each human life. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hope is restored when we draw near to God, when we listen to his voice, when we let the words we confess percolate deep into the very core of who we are, and we let it revive us. Hope is restored when we embrace that of God instead of that of man. Hope is restored when we walk with the dry bones and as Saint Francis says, “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.”

But where do we start? There is a valley of dry bones before us. There is a war in Europe, wars in Africa, earthquakes in Turkey, and that person on Facebook just said something bad about me. We do not live in Europe, we do not live in Africa, we do not live in Turkey, but we live here now. We begin to restore hope in our lives and in the dry bones around us when we begin to Love God, Embrace the Holy Spirit, and live the love of Christ with others. We love God by actively participating in the Meetings of Worship. We actively participate by preparing ourselves for worship. That means turning off the tv for a bit and reading scripture instead so that when we come to worship, we have something to contribute. We embrace the Holy Spirit by taking the words we read and meditating on them in prayer. By talking with God about what we have read and allowing space for the Spirit to speak and guides. And we live the love of Christ with others but using the things that we have, our finances, our careers, our talents, and our time to encourage those around us. This does not only have to be here in this Meetinghouse, but everywhere we go. We restore hope by living and reflecting the love of Christ wherever we are. God is asking each of us, “Can hope be restored? Can these bones live?” How will we respond? “O Lord God, you know.”

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About jwquaker

I’m sure everyone wants to know who I am…well if you are viewing this page you do. I’m Jared Warner and I am a pastor or minister recorded in the Evangelical Friends Church Mid America Yearly Meeting. To give a short introduction to the EFC-MA, it is a group of evangelical minded Friends in the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. We are also a part of the larger group called Evangelical Friends International, which as the name implies is an international group of Evangelical Friends. For many outside of the Friends or Quaker traditions you may ask what a recorded minister is: the short answer is that I have demistrated gifts of ministry that our Yearly Meeting has recorded in their minutes. To translate this into other terms I am an ordained pastor, but as Friends we believe that God ordaines and mankind can only record what God has already done. More about myself: I have a degree in crop science from Fort Hays State University, and a masters degree in Christian ministry from Friends University. Both of these universities are in Kansas. I lived most of my life in Kansas on a farm in the north central area, some may say the north west. I currently live and minister in the Kansas City, MO area and am a pastor in a programed Friends Meeting called Willow Creek Friends Church.


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