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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Lent - 3/9

          Enter for a moment the world of Ezekiel.  “In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the river Chebar, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.”  That’s Ezekiel 1:1.  If you’ve been following the daily lectionary printed in the newsletter you know that you had this verse and some other parts of Ezekiel as readings over the past few days.  Ezekiel saw visions of God.  You know what we do with people who see visions, though.  If I stood up here and said, “I had a vision of God this week that I’d like to tell you about,” you’d probably listen but at the same time you’d be thinking, “Uh oh, he’s lost it.”  Who knows though, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss such visionaries.  As strange as Ezekiel’s visions were, (and some of them were very strange) they were remembered, written down, made part of scripture.  They do reveal to us something about God.

          Today’s first lesson is the third of the four visions of Ezekiel, the vision of the valley of the dry bones, probably the best known passage in the whole book.  “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.”  Not a pleasant image.  Picture a battle field where hundreds, maybe thousands have been killed and there was no chance to properly bury the bodies.  They were just left to be devoured by animals, picked at by vultures and other birds that act as nature’s garbage men, feasted on by insects, the bones then left to be dried and bleached by the sun.  Or perhaps we might picture a more recent image, the rubble of the twin towers and the little pieces and shards of bone that were found among the ashes, the only identifiable remains of close to three thousand people.

          Then God’s question, “Mortal, can these bones live?”  You know what Ezekiel was thinking; you know…the same thing any of us would think; of course not.  Dead is dead and the bones in the valley, the bits of bone in the 9/11 rubble were deader than dead.  “Can these bones live?” Of course not; any other answer is absurd. 

          Ezekiel though, in the presence of God, comes up with a different answer.  You know what he was thinking but what he said was, “O Lord God, you know.”  What he means by that isn’t exactly clear, but with those words he has effectively thrown the ball back into the Lord’s court and by doing so he has given the Lord the opening he needs.  “Prophesy to these bones,” he says. “Prophesy!  Thus says the Lord God to these bones: ‘I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.’”

          In his vision, Ezekiel watched.  The bones rattled and came together, sinews and flesh and skin covered them and then finally breath, the breath of God, the spirit of God came into them, and they lived.  It’s absurd.  It doesn’t happen.  We know better.  Just the ravings of someone who claims to have visions of God. 

          Through the eyes of Ezekiel, through our eyes, the question posed by the Lord is ridiculous.  Can these bones live?  Of course not.  But in his vision of the valley full of bones, for a moment Ezekiel was able to see what God sees.  What he saw was that our absurdity is God’s possibility.

          In his sermon last week Luke said that God doesn’t see things the same way we see them.  In those lessons we had the story of the anointing of David as king of Israel where, of all Jesse’s sons, David was the least likely to be chosen, at least by human standards, because David was the smallest and youngest, just a shepherd boy.  But God doesn’t look on outward appearances, he looks at the heart. 

A few years ago at Camp Calumet, the Lutheran camp in New Hampshire, I preached a sermon on What Would Jesus See, back when WWJD, What Would Jesus Do bracelets were quite popular.  What I said was that you can’t do what Jesus would do until you see what Jesus would see.  Jesus sees the poor, the oppressed, the outcast, those who are different and marginalized;  he sees them, and he sees them as his problem.

          God doesn’t see as we see.  Not judging by outward appearances; seeing the poor and outcast as our problem; that’s all part of seeing what Jesus sees, seeing what God sees, but the vision of Ezekiel offers another dimension of God’s vision.  God sees hope, where we see hopelessness.  God sees possibility where we see impossibility.  God sees life where we see death.  Can these bones live?  Of course not.  But see them through God’s eyes and watch them rattle and move and take on flesh, watch them receive breath, watch them live.  Through our eyes we can’t see it.  Through God’s eyes, watch the impossible happen.

          Lazarus was dead.  Lazarus was as dead as a door nail; four days in the tomb.  There was the feeling among Mary and Martha and the others gathered to mourn that if Jesus had been there things could have been different.  He’d healed others; he could have healed Lazarus, his friend.  But now it was too late; dead was dead.  Even those who had seen Jesus in action knew that.  To think that Jesus could do anything now, four days later, was absurd.  Can this corpse live?  Of course not.

          But see Lazarus through Jesus’ eyes.  See hope in what appears hopeless.  See possibility in what seems impossible.  See life in what seems to be irretrievably dead.  “Unbind him and let him go!” Jesus says and he speaks to death itself.  “Unbind him and let him go!”  Through our eyes it’s impossible.  Through the eyes of Jesus though, death does not, death will not prevail.  Through the eyes of Jesus, life and hope and possibility always exist.

          This is the gospel, this message of hope.  This is the gospel of our Lord.  The valley of the dry bones and the raising of Lazarus are just two examples out of many in both testaments of the Bible that tell of the different way of seeing that God invites us to share.  It’s not a denial of reality; quite the contrary in fact.  Both of these stories directly take on the reality of death, the reality of all those circumstances and losses that make us wonder and ask, “Can these bones live?”

          We ask when a spouse or a parent dies, God forbid when a child or grandchild dies.  When faced with separation, divorce, job loss, economic difficulty, the kids move away, when faced with our own illness or that of a loved one, when our own death draws near, we ask, “Can these bones live?” Can God sustain us, can life go on?  Can these experiences of emptiness and loss be filled with hope and new life? 

          For many the answer is no.  It’s absurd.  But through the eyes of God, through the eyes of Jesus, watch the bones of emptiness and loneliness and hopelessness rattle and move, watch as the breath of God, the spirit of God comes into them.  Look with God’s vision and watch it happen.

          We draw close now to our consideration of the most absurd story of them all, the passion, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus.  It is this story into which we are baptized, the story we are made part of.  With Jesus we die and are raised to new life, new life which unbinds us and sets us free from emptiness and hopelessness.  It’s new life that enables us to see through the eyes of God, through the eyes of Jesus. 

          “Can these bones live?”  No, it’s absurd.  But our absurdity is God’s possibility.  Through the eyes of God, watch it happen.                       


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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