Monday, April 07, 2014

Sermon - Lent 5 - Ezekiel 37:1-14

Lent 5
Zion Lutheran Church, Marengo, IL
Ezekiel 37:1-14

Lent is a good time to think about death. As good a time as any.
It's a topic every man must face sooner or later. A topic we like to put away, out of our sight, far from our minds. Try as we might.

One of my favorite songs by a group called the “Counting Crows” has this line,

“I got bones beneath my skin, and mister...
there's a skeleton in every man's house
Beneath the dust and love and sweat that hang on everybody
there's a dead man trying to get out”

Death is universal and unavoidable... like, well, death and taxes. No matter how we try to get out of it. For us Christians, in some ways it's the same, and in some ways it's different. Death is still an enemy. It still brings tears, even to the eyes of Jesus at the grave of Lazarus. Death is a separation from loved ones. And it is the great leveler of all men – after all, whatever wealth you have in this life, you can't take it with you.

But death for Christians is not the worst thing that can happen. For Christians, like Lazarus, there is Jesus with the answer to death. For us, death is not the end, nor is it to be feared. Where, oh death, is thy sting? Indeed, it is through his own death that Jesus brings salvation, and through his resurrection that he brings life. And so we grieve death, but not without hope.

Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones shows hopelessness turned into hope. It shows us the power of the word. And it points us toward the Christ, whose death destroys death and who will resurrect his people to eternal life.

Take a look at that valley with Ezekiel. A vast army of dead, very dead people. Not freshly slain soldiers, among whom you might find some living but injured survivors. No they are quite dead. Not merely dead, but really most sincerely dead. Dead and decayed, just bones left, and dry ones at that. They are not even close to alive.

Kind of like you, in your sins. In fact, just like you, in your sins. Sometimes visions like this paint an even truer picture of reality than our eyes do. Just like the Israelites of Ezekiel's day were a hopeless and defeated nation with no life left in them, exiled to Babylon, powerless, hopeless, as good as dead. So are you, and so is every sinner, who may look alive but is very much dead in sin.

That valley of dry bones is the human condition apart from God. Just as dead and hopeless. Just as far from life and breath as anything. Might as well be a rock or some dirt. Your everyday experience tells you you're alive and just fine. But God's word shows the true reality. Sin brings death. It clings to us. It infects every part of us. We are dead men and women walking. Because we are sinners who sin daily and sin much. And no matter how hard the skeleton tries, it can't come to life. No matter how hard, you, the sinner, try, you can't come to life. What we need is a miracle. A divine intervention.

And God is in the business of doing just that. From death he brings life. From the cross, first and foremost. There in the hopeless, helpless, death of Jesus on the cross, he brings help and hope and life to all people. There in the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus dies to bring the light that chases away death forever. And as his dead flesh would rise to life again, so does he bring life to dead sinners who die in him.

Ezekiel's vision wasn't without hope, because he had God's word. The prophet spoke, by God's command and promise, to the wind, that is, the Spirit. Who came and brought life to those lifeless bones. Just as the pastor speaks the word of God to lifeless sinners, and the Spirit works through that word to bring life to you again. The valley of dry bones is a vision of how God works in all times and places, bringing life to the dead, through word and spirit, because of the life from the dead won by his Son at the cross.

As pastors, we could look out on you, the people in our care, and see a pile of bones – sinners who are hopeless and struggling with all their own faults and failings, grieved by the sorrows of living in a world where death reigns. You tell us your troubles, and we listen, but usually can't do anything much about it. It's like Ezekiel looking at a femur and a skull. The troubles can be so much. And I am just a man.

But the pastor has one thing for you, and it is enough. Not a man's word, but Christ's. So now hear this, you dried up and dried out dead people: Jesus Christ has died and Jesus Christ lives and Jesus Christ promises you new life. So hear the Gospel, now, and live! Hear the life-giving word of the Spirit, who creates life where there was only death. Hear the life-renewing hope and the sin-forgiving declaration. You are not dead. You are not lost. You are forgiven. You are in Christ, and Christ is alive. So, too, do you live through him!

You are baptized. There you first rose from the death of sin to new life in Christ. And one day your flesh will die, only to rise again because of the promise of Christ. The fanciful picture of dry bones coming back together, and breathing the breath of life again – is not so fanciful compared to the promise of the last day. That at the trumpet call of God the dead in Christ will rise and meet him face to face, in a glorified body, and see him as he is, being like him. This is our hope. This is our destiny.

Son of man, can these bones live? Yes. Can Christ conquer death and live? Yes. Can he, does he, promise the same for you? Yes. So believe it, and live in him always. Amen.

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