A Sermon for Series A 5th Sunday in Lent 2017 “The Breath of Life”

 

Old Testament Lesson  Ezekiel 37:1-14

Second Lesson  Romans 8:1-11

Gospel Lesson  John 11:1-45 

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the Old Testament lesson just read.  [Ezekiel 37:1-14]

O de bones, O de bone, O de je-umpin bones / O de bones, O de bone, O de je-umpin bones / O de bones, O de bone, O de je-umpin bones / O hear de word of de Lord.  Most of us learned that old Gospel tune when we were young kids.  De ankle bone connected to de foot bone / de foot bone connected to de shin bone / de shin bone connected to de knee bone / O hear de word of de Lord.

The person leading the song was usually dancing around; maybe pointing to the ankle bone and then the shin bone and then the knee bone.  And it was such a happy, uplifting song that everyone was smiling as they sang along.  Remember that?  Happy times.

But the stark reality we see in the Old Testament reading today is Ezekiel, carried away in a vision, is standing in a graveyard; a huge graveyard; a mass grave filled with the bones of dead soldiers.  It was anything but happy, and Ezekiel wasn’t dancing around leading a song.  Not only did this vision appear gory, scary, maybe even spooky; but it must have made Ezekiel particularly anxious.

Ezekiel was a priest, and the bones of dead men were some of the worst possible things he could be surrounded by.  Touching the dead, and especially touching the bones of the dead, would make a person unclean.  So unclean that they would need days and days of ritual cleansings to restore themselves.  For a priest, that meant being unable to do the things required of him; required by the people, as they came to him asking him to perform sacrifices for them, and required by God to intercede for his people.  For a priest, becoming ritually unclean was about the worst thing that could happen to you.

But, God had placed him there, in the middle of this mass grave.  And this wasn’t a new grave; these bones were dry.  The blood had dried.  The flesh had rotted away.  The sinews were gone; and all the moisture had left the bones.  There was no life in them at all.

What God showed Ezekiel was complete and utter death.  There was no life in this valley at all.  And yet, this chapter in the book of Ezekiel was meant to bring hope to the people of Israel.  Ezekiel lived in the middle of the exiled people of Israel.  He was the prophet sent to the exiles by God. For the first thirty-two chapters of the book of Ezekiel, God tells his prophet to proclaim curses and warnings; against Judah and Jerusalem, against the northern kingdom and against all of Israel’s enemies.

But then the tone changes and for the last fifteen chapters, God sends a message of hope to the people through his prophet.  This chapter then, is a part of those final fifteen chapters, a message of hope.  It starts with a vision of death.  Bones that have no life in them at all.  Bones that can’t be ordered to rise because they have nothing in them that would make them able to do it.

We hear: “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.  And I will lay sinews upon 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 was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.  And I looked, and behold, 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, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”  So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

God breathes life into lifeless bones and they live.  God breathes life into his exiled people; people who think God has cut them off, people who see themselves as good as dead, and they live again.  God gives them the breath of life.  He gives them his Spirit.

Just as he breathed the breath of life into a lifeless lump of clay and Adam received life, so he does with his people, Israel, in Ezekiel’s vision.  And so he does with his church.  He did it with Jesus’ disciples on Pentecost Day, breathing life into them and giving them the ability not only to speak in languages they didn’t know, but giving them the words to speak; his words, life giving words; and people who were dead in their sins were given life.

Three thousand people were baptized that day.  Three thousand people died to sin and were given the breath of life through water and the Spirit.  Men, women, children, whole households, even those who were servants in those households, all being brought to repentance by God and being Baptized in the name of the Lord.

God continues to breathe life into his church today; not only in baptism, but through the continuing work of his Holy Spirit in each of his children.  We look at our world today and we’re tempted to say that the church is in decline; that the church is dying.  But, God continues to breathe his breath of life into his church.

And the dry bones that we once were; the bones without any energy of their own, no ability of their own, no voracity of their own, are lifted up by him, put on our feet by him, and given the breath of life by him so that now we live in him.

We live, by God’s grace alone, through faith alone; faith his Holy Spirit has given us, faith in his Son, our Savior, who is the living Word of God himself, the breath of life itself.

Once we were a valley of dry bones.  Once we were not a people.  But God sent his Son to redeem us, to rescue us from death and, with his own life, to give us life.  And because God breathed into us the breath of life, now we are an exceedingly great army.  Now we are God’s people.

It’s not by chance that in the Gospel lesson today we hear Jesus saying to Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, you have received eternal life!  Breathe in the breath of life.  You’re in Christ and, in Christ, this life is yours.  Amen.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle