Come Back to Life

Come Back to Life   Ezekiel 37:1-14                       December 10, 2017

1 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. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 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.” 7 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. 8 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. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal

l, 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.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 11 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.’ 12 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. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 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.”

I stumbled onto an episode of the radio show Radio Lab a few weeks ago entitled “The Bitter End.” In it, they talked to a medical doctor, Joseph Gallow, who is also a professor at John Hopkins who had launched a study in the 1940s following doctors through school and into their careers. They asked them about medical practices and treatments and retirement. Then, 15 years ago, as these doctors were now in their 60s, 70s and 80s, they asked them about death and the kind of medical assistance they would want to receive if they needed it to live. They took the same questions to people on the street. From CPR, dialysis, intubation, iv fluids, major surgery, 80% of people on the street said, “oh yes.” Medical doctors? 90% said, “no, absolutely not.” The only thing they said they wanted? Pain management. Good drugs to manage their pain while their bodies died.

One of the most startling revelations for me were the statistics behind their emphatic “no.” The effectiveness of CPR, the thing teenagers are taught for babysitting certification, the training we used for our Bible camp staff every summer, the thing we see on medical shows bring people back to life 75% percent of the time (they studied it)? It’s actually only 8% effective. 8% survive to at least a month. And then whittle that 8% down to 3% good outcome. So certainly the person may still be technically alive, but they’ll never be that same person you knew. It seems the doctors have a very clear picture of life and death and that there are worse things than death.

Then, just a few days ago I listened to another podcast by Rob Bell where he interviewed a funeral director, Caleb Wilde, who has a new book out called Confessions of a Funeral Director. And he talked about reaching a burnout point, wondering if he could continue to respond to grieving, traumatic death calls day and in and day out for the rest of his career. He discovered that the professionalization of the death industry has taken away our tending to the natural part of being human: death. And this has contributed to a negative vision of death instead of a positive one. He’s worked at changing the narrative for himself – to view death not as a negative thing but as a deep, sacred reality we all share. He still bears a heavy burden, but it’s made all the difference.

My guess is that the Israelite people are certain there are worse things than death. They feel cut off from the Lord. They even say, Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely. They are destitute. They’ve lost their leaders, their homeland, their place of worship, their way of life. They are breathless. They cannot see a future. They have lost their faith. They are dried up and done. Dry bones.

So Ezekiel, a priest and a prophet, who has been prophesying all along that Jerusalem would fall if they did not stop worshiping all the false gods, has lived long enough to see his prophesy come true.

Back in the first chapters of the book, Ezekiel is visited by God in Babylon. Now this is impossible because they believed God only lived in the temple in Jerusalem. So God tells Ezekiel to begin condemning the people of their worship of false gods and to perform public sign acts. Think sidewalk artists in New York City. So Ezekiel builds a small replica of Jerusalem and then stages an attack on it and destroys it. Or, he shaves off his hair and then chopped it up with a sword. Or, the most bizarre example is when he laid on his side for over a year, an imitation of being the scapegoat on the day of Atonement, and eating food cooked over a fire made of, ahem, poo as a sign of the nasty food people will have to eat when their city is under attack. Now, on the streets of New York City, you might throw a coin or 2 in their open suitcase or top hat, but poor Ezekiel was thought to be crazy. God even told him that they would reject his message.

So I think it shows true faith that Ezekiel, seeing his prophesy come true, doesn’t launch into a self righteous sermon of “I told you so” or a God-sanctified “neener, neener, neener.”

Instead, he looks out at the people who have lost all hope and he reminds them that the God of Israel, the one true God, is a God of life. Of new life.  Not a God of resuscitation and 4% positive outcome but The God of transformation. The God of a future of hope. The God of breath.

O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 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.” 7 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. 8 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. 9 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.”

These dry bones we see piled up in a grizzly scene? It’s not only a symbol of their temple being destroyed, their home being lost. It’s a physical embodiment of being spiritually dead. They didn’t follow God. They didn’t listen to God. They didn’t have faith.

Yet, when God’s breath gets involved, there is always new life. Because breath in the Old Testament has a 3-fold meaning: spirit, wind, and breath. And this story only makes sense when God’s breath, God’s spirit, God’s wind gets involved. Otherwise it’s just a creepy vision of an army of zombies. God’s breath equals life. God is always working toward life, bringing new life.

When have you felt life coming back into your tired body? When have you seen, unbelievably, a thing you thought was dead sputter back to life and be something altogether new? There’s nothing like it, is there? Emerging from the depths of depression. Feeling the fullness of a deep breath shock you awake, realizing you haven’t been breathing past your throat. Feeling like you’ve got a future in front of you instead of being caught up in the wake of the pain of your past.

When God’s breath gets involved, things that were disjointed and discombobulated get put back together. They get reimagined. They are reassembled. And suddenly you can look out and see a future. You even dare to have hope.

Chances are, something had to come to an end in order for that new life to rise up. Something had to die so that there could be new life. Like a grudge or an old assumption or an old argument. Maybe you could finally look in the mirror and admit that you are tired and done with this stuff that’s got you artificially alive. And you could finally cry out to God – I am cut off. I am a heap of bones. Because when something dies, well, that’s not the end of our story and God’s story. That’s when God really has something to work with: our ego, our pride, our selfish ways, our unforgiving heart. When we can admit our hearts have turned to stone, that our bones are dry and brittle – that’s when it all changes.

Because that’s the promise: new life. New hearts to love. A faithful God with you every step of the way. God’s spirit blows into your life, beckoning you to come back to life.

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