April 2nd 2017 – EnjoyLENT, Week 5

Complete Joy

Ezekiel 37: 1-14 & John 16: 16-24

Call To Worship

Our God is a gathering One.

God gathers the broken and the bruised, the faithful and the certain.

God calls each and everyone of us towards community.

For it is in community that our joy is made complete;

In community we are granted a vision of God’s work in the world around us.

Our God is a gathering One.

May we, in this time of worship, be open to the Sprit’s life restoring breath!

So that our dry bones might be filled with purpose once again.

So that our weariness would find relief.

And so that our questions be met with hope abundant. 

Opening Prayer

Gathering God, throughout time and across the wide world you have brought people together for instruction and inspiration.  We thank you, Lord, for your steadfast invitation.  Open our eyes to catch your vision. May we see this world through your lens of redeeming love – seeing just what this dry valley could become. May we be a people of Kingdom joy and possibilities….

Sermon

Dem bones, dem bones, de gunna walk around
Dem bones, dem bones, de gunna walk around,
Dem bones, dem bones, de gunna walk around,
Now hear the Word of the Lord. 

Remember that one?

Growing up, we would sing “Dem Bones” in worship every Lent when Ezekiel 37, came up in the lectionary texts.

We would sing this song usually with the attitude of appeasing the minister.  For we always sounding pretty silly singing spirituals.  We were the ‘frozen chosen’ pushed beyond our lyrical comfort zone of Isaac Watts ad Bill Gaither.

I remember “Dem Bones” as the weird little song about an even weirder passage of the Bible. And yet, the song (and the Scripture) hold a powerful message of hope- hope in a creative, life-restoring God.

Our passage opens with the hand of God scooping up Ezekiel and flying him off for a little lesson

Ezekiel was a Hebrew prophet during a time when his people, were exiled to Babylon.  Their temple: the capital of their civic life, home base for their religion and culture… had just been reduced to ashes… Their identity had been slaughtered around then- another victim of war.

The Israelites were a displaced people… many were taken as slaves, like war-time spoils.

And now Ezekiel was the prophet to a hope-less people.  They had lost their hope.  It had gone down with their temple.  They were alone and grieving, with nothing to invite them forward.  From captivity in Babylon, they were resigned to the fact that Israel (the nation, the identity, the relationship with God) would likely never be recovered.

Psalm 130 says, “Out of the depths I cry to you… I wait for the Lord, my soul waits.”  My soul waits.

There was likely a similar prayer on the lips of the Israelites…

But, God has something to say about all this…

Having scooped up Ezekiel, the Spirit sets him down in the middle of a mass grave.  A valley of dry bones… this was going to be their classroom.

Giving Ezekiel time to consider his icky new environment, God asks him… “Mortal, can these bones live?”

There is a church in a small village named Sedlec in the Czech Republic that was long ago nicknamed “the Bone Church.”  Back in the 13th century, the monks that kept the church ran into an over-crowding issue when a Bishop from Rome came for a visit and blessed the burial grounds in Sedlec.  After word spread of a blessed grave yard, people from all over were signing up to be buried in Sedlec.  And on top of that, a decade or so later the Black Plague came through killing thousands.  They were running out of room to put the dead.

To remedy this space issue, the monks decided to create an Ossuary to hold the bones of these people. The bones were dried and placed on shelves in the basement.  But all to soon that ran out of space too… And so the monks again had to put on their creative thinking caps, and they came up with the idea to start working the bones into the church its self… Up the wall, stacked around pillars… and then they got even more creative… they built an alter of skulls, they began to pattern the bones artistically across the aches, the monks even built a massive coat of arms out of bones for the entryway (maybe out of arm bones… teehee…). There was one wall in the church that really stood out to me when I was looking at pictures, at a glance it looked like polka-dotted wall paper… but it was really a wall of knee caps.

And the piece de resistance is this massive chandelier in the sanctuary featuring a display of every bone in the human body.  They are fans of pelvic bones, and chimes of tiny toe bones.

Over hundreds of years, the monks made their ossuary into a truly macabre interactive art piece.

When looking at pictures of this church all you see is the medium now.  You see the craftsmanship of the monks, you see the sun bleached, aged bones… But you don’t really see the remains of individuals, there is nothing that witnesses to the persons present… it’s impersonal.  There are no headstones, no placards… Just bones.

But they weren’t always like that, were they?

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet there is this scene in the graveyard just before the burial of Ophelia.  Hamlet and his friend Horatio, come upon the gravedigger who is preparing Ophelia’s grave.  And in doing so he digs up other remains, he digs up a skull… Hamlet asks him whose skull this was, and he answers “Yorick.”  Hamlet picks up the skull and he cradles it in his hands and he lifts it to his eyes and says, “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him…a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy… Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft.  Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs?”

Bones, can be an artists medium, they can be artifacts, they can carry the memories of those we have loved with and laughed with…

God had asked Ezekiel, “Mortal, can these bones live?”

But Ezekiel knows that God wasn’t just talking about the bones in the dry sun-baked mass grave where they now stood…

God was talking about much more…

Could Israel be restored?

Could their wartime scars heal?

Could they recover from being victimized and enslaved?

Could they live again from the heart wrenching lose of their temple?

Could they be resurrected?  Resurrected body, mind and soul against towards God?

God asks all this to the ‘prophet of hopeless people.’  Ezekiel knew the pain of his former Israel, he had experienced the lose of all they was.  He knew their anguish, their fear and doubt…

Maybe he wanted to answer “no” for the sake of his heavy grief… but he just says, “Only you know, Lord.”

And to this… God put on a little show…

God calls upon the Spirit, who rattles the bones… They start to move and rejoin… toe bones, and ankle bone, leg bones, and back bones… They stand.  The Spirit wraps them in sinews and flesh and then… breathes life into their bodies again.

“Only you know, Lord.”

And God does know…

For this is the Lord- Creator of All.

This is the Lord who brought forth a nation from an elderly, childless couple – Abraham and Sarah.

This is the Lord who freed their children from the living death of slavery in Egypt.

This is the Lord who made promises to them, taught them, cared for them.  The Lord who brought them manna and water…

This is the Lord who raised up kings and judges and prophets… all while Israel strayed away again and again.

So, of course these bones can live!  God is not done with them, and God never will be.

In Genesis 1, the first thing we read in Scripture is that that Spirit of God hovered over the waters/ the Spirit hovered over the chaos.  This is where God began to create.  Chaos was God’s chosen medium.

And still today God’s creative energy gravitates towards the mess, the hurt, the broken, the confused… all that is in chaos.  God gravitates there to bring forth life.  God is our great Creator, the Creator of what was, is, and will be.

Revelation 21:5, says “Behold, I am making all things new!”  Even when the book ends… God isn’t done.

This is good news for our world!

Think of all the bones!  The wartime mass graves of Darfur and Syria.  The bones of gun violence and drug abuse and that bully Depression.  The bones of poverty and sickness.  The bones of a hurting earth…

If we consider our lives… there are so many bones… Loved ones who have gone, relationships broken, mistakes that have taken their toll, abuse- done to us and by us. Sin that has left us burdened.

The bones are overwhelming…

And yet, God asks, “Mortal, Can these bones live?”

While we think it is impossible/ while we want to say “no” through our logic or our grief… God say, “Of course they can.  I’m not done with them yet.  The bones that surround us might be decades old, having sat drying in a sunny valley for decades… But, give them to me and I’ll restore them.”

Today, we hear a promise only God can give:  “Thus says the Lord God: I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.”

The Breath of God, the Ruach… The creative Spirit that hovered over the waters of chaos. This is the healing, life-restoring work of God.

Ezekiel’s vision in the valley of the dry bones in one that we must carry with us.  We must keep it in our hearts and in our minds, for that moment when we find ourselves gasping for air, struggling to stay alive/ that moment when we are asked to navigate the impossible landscape of grief… This is the vision that calls us forward from that place.

“Thus says the Lord God: I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.”

There is a poem by Khalil Gibran that says this:

“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.”

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus tells his disciples that through their sorrow and grief… one day their joy will be made complete.

So, if we believe in a creative God, who made all this…

If we believe in Christ who died and rose for us that we might have abundant life…

If we believe in that curious Divine Breath, who brings new life wherever she blows…

Then when God asks us, “ Mortal, can these bones live?”

Our only possible answer is, “Yes, Lord, most defiantly yes.”

Amen.

Litany of Confession 

Source of life, send your redeeming breathe into the world today.

For we are surrounded by dry bones, 

a world that is held captive by despair.

a world where we place our hope in structures, systems, ourselves before you. 

We hear you, Lord, calling us forward to resurrection.

So often we are spellbound by the dry bones in our midst,  

they pull our gaze, mesmerizing us with the sting of their loss…

and we stand there too dumbfounded to call forth life in your name!

We hear you, Lord, calling us forward to resurrection.

As with the Prophet Ezekiel, awaken us with your life giving power!

So that we would not be stalled in despair. Send us on toward a joy rooted 

in the eternal, on toward a hope that is assured, on towards life anew.

Through this Bread and Cup may we be washed cleaned, drenched with purpose and vision to see the Spirit’s movement around us. Call us forward, again Lord, towards resurrection.  We are ready to follow.  Amen.

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