Come to Life
Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1-10
Preached on July 10, 2016
by Tracey Leslie
@ Trinity UM Church, Lafayette
Words are powerful. If you’re a married woman, you – no doubt – recall the moment your husband spoke those words “Will you marry me?” If you’re a father, you probably remember the day your wife said the words, “I think I’m pregnant.” Words are powerful. They can change our lives and transform our future.
Words evoke powerful emotions. Critical, condescending words can cultivate emotions of anger or shame or resentment.
Simple words like “I’m sorry” or “thank you,” when they’re sincerely spoken are like a gift. As we know all too well in our country today, violent words, inflammatory rhetoric and accusations fuel fear and aggression.
Words are powerful.
In the ancient world – and still in some places and cultures today – people believed that sorcerers or magicians could speak something into reality. People believed in the power of curses and incantations.
Words have power. They had power in the ancient world. And, they’re powerful still today. Yet, no words are more powerful than the Word of God. Our Old Testament contains stories of prophets who spoke on behalf of God. That’s really what a prophet is. A prophet isn’t a fortune teller, but simply one who has been called to speak on God’s behalf. A prophet speaks the Word of God and therefore, those words they speak carry the authority (or power) of God. God’s Word represents divine action – something that can be counted on with certainty. God speaks and it happens. Because God said it, it is.
Our bible begins with a narrative in which God speaks all of creation into existence. In the beginning, God said… And, because God said, it happened: earth and sky, oceans and dry land, trees and birds, and people. About 2/3’s of the way through the Old Testament, in a book named after the prophet Ezekiel, God’s Word re-creates.
Ezekiel was among several of Israel’s best and brightest citizens who were led away as captives to the land of Babylon. That march into exile happened in two waves; one in 597 BCE and one in 587. In 587, after multiple sieges, the city of Jerusalem was finally taken and ransacked by the army of Babylon – buildings destroyed, the city burned. Most scholars think Ezekiel was taken with the first round of exiles in 597. That decade was a grim time in Israel’s history. It had been their understanding that God lived, God dwelled, in the Temple in Jerusalem; his legs dangling from the heavens and his feet resting on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. But now, that footrest and all that surrounded it were gone, crushed to smithereens. And where had God gone, they wondered? Where was their God now as they found themselves in this strange foreign land?
Currently I’m leading two study groups on the “I am” sayings of Jesus in John’s gospel and, through this sermon series, examining how those identity claims of Jesus in John reflect the nature and character of God in the Old Testament. Today was a bit of a challenge because we had the trinity of “I am” sayings; when Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
We know God to be the source of life and, as I’ve already mentioned, we know from scripture that life proceeds from God’s Word and God’s Spirit. The Word of God is a word of life, a word of renewal, a word laden with possibilities beyond our wildest dreams.
Way back in the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy, Moses gathers the Israelites in a solemn assembly before they conclude their wilderness sojourn and enter the Promised Land. Moses gathers them for a covenant renewal service; a renewal of vows, so to speak. Moses reminds them that they should not ever take the Word of God lightly. In fact, Moses warns that failure to obey God’s Word will result in them being driven away from this Promised Land God is giving them. So Moses exhorts the Israelites to choose life by choosing to obey the commandments, the Word, of God. Furthermore, Moses explains that the key to obeying God’s Word is to carry God’s Word within them; to internalize it. He says, “The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”[i]
And yet, as we all know, anything in our mouths can be spit out. The Israelites do not carry God’s Word within them and so they do not obey it. They live rebelliously and, eventually, they find themselves exactly where Moses warned: driven away to the distant land of Babylon where God raises up this prophet, Ezekiel.
We see the power and authority of God’s Word confirmed at the time of Ezekiel’s calling. One day, Ezekiel is by a river in Babylon when he sees a remarkable vision that reveals the glory of God. He hears God’s voice speak to him. God tells Ezekiel that he will speak God’s Word to his fellow exiles, fellow Israelites. God says, “You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear.”[ii] And then, the most bazaar thing happens. God hands Ezekiel a scroll. The scroll has God’s Words on it. And God tells Ezekiel to eat the scroll; to literally consume it; to put it in his mouth and swallow it so that it will be inside of him. Then God says, “Go to the house of Israel and speak my very words to them.”[iii] What an image, huh? It is as if Ezekiel will be regurgitating God’s Word for his fellow Israelites. Friends, God’s word was never intended to lay dormant on a page. God’s Word needs to get inside of us. We need to take it into our hearts and our guts. We need to chew on it; we need to internalize it.
And why? Because they are words of life.
That’s what Ezekiel experiences in the valley of the dry bones. God tells Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.”[iv] Ezekiel preaches the Word of God to a valley filled with nothing but dry bones. Talk about a tough audience. But that Word has an immediate effect. Something happens: bones join together; muscle and tissue and flesh form around those bones.
Ezekiel witnesses that there is a powerful, death-defying synergy that happens when God’s Word and God’s Spirit come together. Together, they bring life out of death; they defeat the power of death; they reverse the process of death. Friends, our God is in the business of life. No matter how hopeless, dead, or empty something seems, God can still revive it. God’s Word is a word of life. I believe in the power of God’s Word to accomplish impossible things.
And yet, according to Pew Research, only 30% of mainline Protestants – and that’s us by the way – read the bible at least once a week. 44% of mainline Protestants – again, this is us – say they read it seldom or never.[v] 44%!
Friends, there is a lot of death and despair around us in our world today. A lot of people have lost hope. Perhaps some of you may be facing situations in your own life right now that feel hopeless. You may feel as if you’ve experienced a loss from which you will never recover. That was how those ancient Israelites felt. And God knew how they felt; God knew what they were feeling and saying. God tells Ezekiel, “They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone; there’s nothing left of us.’ Therefore – [God tells Ezekiel] – tell them, ‘I’ll dig up your graves and bring you out alive… Then I’ll take you straight [back] to the land of Israel.’”[vi]
Friends, maybe some of you can relate to those ancient Israelites. Maybe you’re at the place where you’re saying, “Hope is gone; there’s nothing left. I feel nothing inside but dry and dead.” But friends, God has a Word for you, a word of hope and a word of life.
This book has the power to change your life and transform your future.
But it can’t simply remain as words on a page. We need to consume these words; we need to take them into us; we need to internalize God’s Word.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus was a walking, moving, breathing illustration of the truth of God. He was God’s truthful, creative Word made flesh. He spoke God’s truth; and what he spoke was demonstrated by the way he lived.
Friends: increasingly, we find ourselves in a culture of extremes. Some folks who will tell you everything in this book is meant to be followed exactly and interpreted literally. I know I’ve shared with some of you the story of my trip to a mission with a group of youth where a speaker so adamantly affirmed Genesis as the scientific explanation for creation. Boldly, he said, “God has only one story of creation.” One of my teens leaned over to me and whispered, “That’s not true. There are two stories back to back right at the beginning of the bible and they’re different.” (Score one for the teenager.)
Yet, some folks are at the other end of the spectrum. They will tell you this book is outdated and primitive, parochial and even oppressive. But friends, this isn’t a science book or a history book. This book is a truthful revelation of who God is AND who God created and called us to be. And the relevance of that revelation doesn’t expire like an outdated carton of milk. This is God’s Word for us; wonderful words of life and hope. We know the Word of God so that we can know the God of that Word. Glenn Hinson writes, “There is a sense in which the scriptures do not become the Word of God until we take them into our hearts and live the message they have for us.”[vii]
Friends, we need to take God’s Word into us; to read it and to internalize it. It will change how we live. And it will change how we speak. And it’ll change what we think.
Preacher Fred Craddock tells of a young woman’s confession to him about her freshman year in college. She said, “I was a failure in my classes; I wasn’t having any dates; and I didn’t have as much money as the other students. I was so lonely and depressed and homesick and not succeeding. One Sunday afternoon I went to the river near campus. I had climbed up on the rail and was looking into the dark water below. For some reason or another I thought of that line, ‘Cast all your cares upon him for he cares for you.’ I stepped back and here I am.”
Craddock asked her, “Where did you learn that line?”
She said, “I don’t know.”
He said, “Do you go to church?”
She said, “No… Well, when I visited my grandmother in the summers we went to Sunday School and church.”[viii]
Folks; that “line” that young lady remembered is a scripture verse that she undoubtedly had heard at her grandmother’s church.[ix]
Remember, friends; words are powerful and no words are more powerful than God’s Word. Where God’s Word and God’s Spirit meet, there is new life and hope.
Hear the word of the Lord.
[i] See Deuteronomy 30:11-20. NRSV.
[ii] Ezekiel 2:7. NRSV.
[iii] Ezekiel 3:4. NRSV.
[iv] Ezekiel 37:4 NRSV.
[vi] Ezekiel 37:11-12. The Message, Eugene Peterson
[vii] Companions in Christ Participant’s Book. Upper Room Books, Nashville. 2006. P. 71.
[viii] Craddock Stories by Fred Craddock. Chalice Press. 2001. P. 33.
[ix] See 1 Peter 5:7
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