Meg Peery McLaughlin
November 5, 2023
Ezekiel 37: 1-14
Prayer of Illumination
Breathe, O God, and speak to us now ,
connect bone to bone
connect faith to action
connect word to heart. Amen.
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 round 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 God 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.’
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The last time I stood in this pulpit I wanted to sink into the floor.
Page 5 somehow slipped out of my fingers as I grabbed the sermon off the printer before the 11 o’clock service.
It was face down by the volunteer desk in the office and I was here (with you).
I wanted to die of embarrassment.
Which is why the word embarrassment jumped off the page of an article
I read this week by Dr. Tom Long, a professor of preaching.
Long’s article which is worth a read, is called The Perilous and Promising Pulpit, and it quotes theologian Karl Barth. Barth said that the “only appropriate attitude for a preacher to have in the pulpit is embarrassment.”
So, I suppose, I’m doing okay. 😊
But Barth wasn’t talking about a missing page 5.
His reason for preacher embarrassment is that they stand in the pulpit empty handed, utterly dependent upon God to speak to them and through them.
Embarrassed preachers – are preachers who know they are beggars.
They can give only what God has given to them .
This week I was begging for words, for the Word.
Begging because it’s been a month now,
since Hamas terrorists rained down rockets at a music festival
and ripped families from their beds;
a month since retribution and a justified fear for safety
has fueled an utter pummeling of the Gaza strip,
with nowhere for civilians to flee.
And I wasn’t alone in the begging for words. Sue was with me too.
Sue is an elder at the Church of Reconciliation down the hill.
On Thursday, we were at a Presbytery committee meeting in Raleigh,
And Sue was giving the devotion before we began our work.
She taught us a song —
and with it some movements.
I went back this week to see if she’d just made up the motions,
But most were American Sign Language.
One word was Rich—show a big pile of money
Another word poor—elbow patches.
The song went like this:
When the rain comes down, it comes down for everyone.
When the rain comes down, it comes down for everyone.
No matter if you’re rich or poor. No matter if you’re great or small.
When the rain comes down, it comes down for us all.
I’ll spare you me singing any more.
But there were multiple verses and we were all just gently singing along,
until Sue got to the verse that talked about a baby smiling.
When a baby smiles, they’re smiling for everyone.
When she sang that she couldn’t go on. Her words failed.
All she could think about were the children dying in Gaza.
More than 3,600 hundred children in 25 days.
The committee held the silence with Sue in the way that loving groups do
when tears come in public. And then someone started the motions, no words.
(baby, everyone, baby everyone,
No matter, Rich, poor/ no matter Great, small, Baby, everyone)
Maybe you are like Sue,
And it’s the grief of this war and all this death that makes your throat go dry.
Or maybe the drought of words comes because of fear:
fear that you don’t know enough to understand all the nuance of the news;
fear that even to think a word of critique hints at antisemitism
Or perhaps it’s just a lack of hope:
that you have nothing to say,
because the piles of rubble feel inevitable
for people are prone to such destruction of each other.
We are all beggars, church. What are we to say?
God says, Prophesy to the bones.
Prophesy to the rubble all around you—find your voice.
Prophesy to every parched, grieving, fearful, apathetic place—
speak—not just any words—speak what God gives you: Hope, Breath, Life.
Ezekiel 37 is such a bizarre scripture.
I mean, admittedly, it’s perfect for the Sunday after Halloween.
But the prophet didn’t have costumes and candy in mind,
all Ezekiel could think of, or see, was exile.
His people had been living as refugees in a foreign land .
Babylon had moved in and pushed them out.
And the news had just come that Jerusalem had been razed, the Temple included.
So, the prophet’s vision of dried up bones was right on.
Ezekiel looks out at all the death
death of hope and future,
death of home and identity
and says I will cause breath to enter you.
One pastor says it may have been like this:
The first thing that happened was a sound of rattling
and clicking like the tide going out over a million pebble beaches
as the bones started snapping back together again.
The next thing that happened was a million reassembled skeletons pulling on skin like long winter underwear.
The last thing that happened was the color coming back to a million pairs of cheeks and the spark to a million pairs of eyes
and the breath of life to a million pairs of lungs.
It’s a stunning, albeit strange, picture of new life.
The impossible becomes real.
The stalemate becomes a way of hope.
Destruction becomes a dance party.
It is what you call good news.
Church, breathe it in.
Because that breath is the very Spirit of God.
And it is in the business of bringing life.
It always has been,
since God’s breath hovered over the chaos at creation,
since it’s warmth was felt as Jesus breathed peace
to terrified disciples behind closed doors on Easter evening.
I know your heart breaks as you watch the news,
I’m here to tell you there is no reason to fear that God’s Spirit has run out of air.
But perhaps, if we’re honest, we come here week after week to. . . check.
Or at least we come to remind this beautiful family to breathe in God’s Spirit,
and to encourage each other to walk back out into a thirsty world,
to breathe that fresh air back out.
But before we go out, glance once more at this story.
Notice how it all starts.
Before the words, before the breath, before the life.
God starts the whole thing with a question.
Mortal, can these bones live?
can anything actually be different?
can the devastation stop?
can these bones live?
I think our cynicism is so strong that we actually gloss this over;
and fail to realize it’s actually a question.
Sometimes I think we mistake the question as an impossible divine order:
Make these bones live.
Articulate a vision for how these bones can live.
Generate a strategy for how these bones can live.
Have all the answers about how these bones can live.
But we can only give what God has given us.
We’re beggars, church.
Definitely dependent on something beyond us.
God asks: Can these bones live?
And Ezekiel knows he is empty handed.
So the prophet wisely, amazingly responds: O Lord, you know.
And God does know.
Knows that yes they can.
God knows that life will come,
knows that God’s spirit will blow.
God will scoop together dried up brittle bones and dust,
And breathe new life.
And God knows —and I pray, chuch, that we do too—
that this life is for everyone.
No matter if you’re rich or poor
No matter if you’re great or small
No matter if you’re Israeli or Palestinian
That life is for everyone.