1st Sunday of Pentecost
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people and kindle in them the fire of your love! Amen. In the name of Jesus, who promised to send the Holy Spirit and has fulfilled that promise, dear friends in Christ,
One of my friends is a pastor in northern Wisconsin. A number of years ago his wife was diagnosed with cancer. It was July 12, 2005, Kris, his wife and mother of 3 young daughters, lies in her hospital bed at home, her body fragile and weak, defeated by cancer. “Daddy,” her 8 year old Kayla asks, “Why are mom’s eyes black around them?” “You know what’s happening to mom, right?” Her dad responds. “Yes, she is getting sicker?” “That’s right, Kayla, and then what will happen?” “She will die.” The very next day this wife and mother died. Have you been there? Watched as the life slowly ebbed out of your loved one? There’s nothing fun about it, let’s be honest, it’s horrible. You know, we live in a world full of hopelessness, don’t we? Chronic illnesses, accidents, sicknesses, broken marriages and families, family feuds, grudges, resentment, work frustrations, set-backs, financial difficulties, and then all the problems and difficulties of this world will end in one place: death. It’s not fun, it’s not pretty and for many it’s hopeless. Dust you are and to dust you will return.
In the midst of this world full of dry bones, both in us and in our experience, God comes with hope. It’s one of the main things that we humans need in this world full of dry bones: hope from God. There are times in the lives of people where there is no one to give hope. And many people are out of practice in looking to the only one who can give hope in a hopeless world, many people are out of practice in looking to God for hope. That’s exactly what happened to God’s Old Testament people.
At the time of our text there was no hope for God’s people. The Babylonians had come in and burned and destroyed Jerusalem. Many people were taken back to Babylon in exile. Some of the poor and needy were left in the demolished city. This weekend we especially thank the Lord for the men and women who serve our country in the armed forces and are willing to lay down their lives to protect our freedoms. But imagine that some foreign enemy of the U.S. actually took over the U.S. invaded our land, not only coming through Bemidji, destroying our city, destroying your home, destroying our church, but also exiling you and your entire family to some foreign and strange place. Way off it Babylon the Israelites sat. No city, no home, no church, no army to come and rescue them. They felt like they were living in a grave. Add to that that the reason they had been overrun by a foreign enemy was because of their unfaithfulness to God. Because of their unfaithfulness they lost the blessing of being a nation, they lost the blessing of a special promised land, so, had they lost the most important blessing of the Savior too? No hope for the future, no American dream, no hope for a pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, they felt like they were living in a grave.
And that’s the truth for us too. God was teaching His people a lesson. This world is nice, we thank the Lord for the life He gives us in this world, but if we look to anything in this world for hope, it will ultimately fail us. And we can see that. Some people look to politicians to give them “hope” but after 4 or 8 years they’re ready to look for someone else to give them hope. Some people look for hope in money or a successful career, but then they find out that those things usually only come with a high price tag that includes losing the more important things of life like their family, their health, their contentment. Some people look to some kind of substance to give them hope- this drug or that, alcohol, you name it – but those things, too, come with a high price tag of losing health, friends, family, freedom. Where are you looking for hope today? If you are looking for hope in this world, it will fail you.
To His people in exile in Babylon, His people feeling like a bunch of dry bones, God sent His prophet Ezekiel. And here Ezekiel has a real out of body experience, God gives him a vision. God takes him to a valley full of dry bones, God walked him back and forth, back and forth in this valley. And these bones were very dry. So, we ask, “What is God doing here? Why is God leading him back and forth in this valley of dry bones?” God is getting Ezekiel to see the intense hopelessness of the people. Death happened in this valley, thousands upon thousands of people died, there is no life in this valley, it’s a hopeless scene. That’s what it felt like to the Israelites. Dust you are and to dust you will return.
Why do we face death? Why do soldiers die in a battlefield? Why do young wives and mothers die from disease? Why do tragic accidents take the lives of children? Why do you and I face our own bodies getting weaker as life slowly ebbs away from it? Death is a consequence of sin. The wages of sin is death. Dust we are and to dust we will return. And that’s not the worst of it. Not only do we face physical death, but each of us was born into this world dead. A baby might look very much physically alive, but spiritually we inherited our parent’s sinfulness and so we were born spiritually lifeless, dead, a corpse the Bible tells us. And there’s one thing we all know: dead people don’t do anything.
But then God asks Ezekiel a question, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And when God asks you a question the safest answer is, “Why don’t you tell me, Lord?” Ah! There it is. What is God getting at? The people had forgotten how to hope…in God! If we haven’t learned to hope in God, we will be left desolate, deserted and like a bunch of dry bones. But God has the answer, “Prophesy to these bones.” In other words, speak God’s Word to these bones. And what happened? Close your eyes for a moment and picture it. There’s a noise, a rattling sound, this leg bone is scurrying over to this other leg bone and they’re being joined to the hip bone, this bone that had been carried over here by some animal is being brought back and is being attached to this other bone, then there’s tendons and muscles forming over these bones and then there’s skin that’s covering these bones! What a sight! But there was no breath in them, so God said, “Prophesy to the breath,” and the breath came and filled these people and they stood up, living and breathing, and their chests were going in and out. And there before Elijah stood an army, the Hebrew literally says, “An army, great, very, very.”
What happened? God made them alive! A moment ago they were nothing but a bunch of lifeless, dead, dry bones, but GOD made them alive! Then God applies the vision. This is what you are to tell those people living in captivity. They thought they were going through a dry bones experience, they thought they were living in a grave. The bones represent the people of Israel, they are saying, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.” But this is what God says, “O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live!”
What’s God’s whole point? Your situation looks hopeless, but I am… God! I make dry bones live! You are not hopeless because you have GOD! Think about it. You know what this means for you and for me? We still live in a world that’s chock full of tragedy, disease, illness, accidents, set-backs, sometimes life can feel like you’re living in a grave. But there’s no reason for us to be hopeless for God is with us and God makes dry bones live! Some 30 years after this event the Persians completely overran the Babylonians and one of the first things the Persians did was allow the Israelites to go back to their land and they even funded their rebuilding of Jerusalem. Why? Because GOD makes dry bones live, GOD gives hope in hopeless situations, GOD makes sure His promises never fail!
Many of you know many hopeless situations where they’ve gotten better. In fact, you’re one of them. The fact that you believe in Jesus as your Savior is a dry bones made alive experience. Today is the day we celebrate Pentecost. The day when God really made dry bones live in Israel. God sent the Holy Spirit to bring people to real life, spiritual life. Peter, a dry bone, stood up and spoke to a bunch of dry bones and said, “You killed the Son of God! But God made Him to be a sacrifice for sins!” And how did the people respond? “Get out of here!?” No! They said, “What shall we do?” “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”
You and I were dry bones once too. But in amazing grace God sent the Holy Spirit through God’s Word or through baptism to give you life, to give you flesh, to give you breath, to give you spiritual life. Today, all over the world, the church, God’s people are alive and breathing in a God who saves, who is here to share life and hope in a hopeless world, because God makes dry bones live.
Sometimes it takes longer than we’d like, but that’s no reason to give up hope. July 13th 2005, God took Kris, His tired child home. Yes, 3 daughters will grow up without their birth mother. They have to wait to see her. But see her they will. For God made dry bones live and now she really lives with her Lord and Savior in heaven. See how God gives hope – even in death!
In this world we are so easily wrong when it comes to any hopeless situation that we find ourselves in. We get hopeless way too quickly. But see what God does? God brings dry bones to life! What hopeless situation are you facing? Illness, difficulties, trouble, setbacks? Set your hope in God; He brings dry bones to life, He fulfills all His promises, in Jesus’ blood He’s already redeemed you for eternal life, He promises to bring you safely there! And even death, our final enemy, even when death is awaiting us, on the Last Day day God will make our dry bones come alive and unite them with our soul and we will live body and soul in heaven with all our fellow believers forever. So hope in God, if God is with us, we’re going to be ok. Amen.