Monday, March 17, 2014

Hope in Death Valley Reinbeck UMC Chapter 17

It seems like there has been a tremendous amount of death in the community lately. Just this week we held the double funeral for the Adairs, the Browns lost a father and grandfather, and many of us were touched by the outpouring of grief from the High School students as they buried a classmate.
Personally, I have had enough death for this week. How about you?

I think Ezekiel had enough death too. Ezekiel had witnessed the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. Who knows what terrible things he saw, and how many bodies he saw piled up. In that same siege, Ezekiel lost his wife to the Babylonian sword. Ezekiel had firsthand experience of death. He intimately knew the sting of death, the stench of death, and the stupor of grief.

Ezekiel also knew spiritual death. Remember that Ezekiel was a child during King Josiah’s reign. Josiah was one of the few good kings in Judah’s history. He led a conservative religious reformation and spiritual revival, taking Judah back to the Law of Moses. Ezekiel had seen what life with God should be like.
When he grew up, however, he saw bad king after bad king take the throne, each of whom did more evil in God’s eyes than the one before. Ezekiel became a priest and he saw the end of Josiah’s reforms and the spiritual death of the nation. People were worshipping idols and defiling the temple. Then the Babylonians burned the temple to the ground. Ezekiel knew the sting of spiritual death, the stench of idol worship, and the stubbornness of a defiant kingdom.

In addition, to personal death and spiritual death, Ezekiel witnessed the death of his nation. Remember that Ezekiel was among the 10,000 Israelites carried off to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. He marched in that long line of refugees leaving his home, his country, and the promise of God behind in order to live in a foreign land 500 miles away.
Imagine how devastating it was to be taken from your own home, your job, and your homeland. Then add the grief of seeing your whole nation carried off as prisoners. Then multiply that by 10,000 and you’ll understand the death of the nation of Judah. Can you imagine how devastating it was to lose the land God had promised to your ancestors many generations ago? In Ezekiel’s mind, the promise died with the exile.

Ezekiel knew death: personally, spiritually, and nationally. He knew death from every conceivable side, but he had never seen anything like this.
In his vision, he found himself standing over a valley looking at a great holocaust. There were thousands and thousands of skeletons, broken and strewn across the desert. Not one bone was connected to another, and they were white. They were so dry and hard, a dog wouldn’t even bother chewing on them. It was a hopeless sight.
One of the worst insults a Jew could suffer was denial of a proper burial. Here is a valley filled with the bones of the dead; defeated by their enemies and left to rot where they fell. Ezekiel saw a vision of death on a massive scale. It was a literal death valley.

We know that death valley, don’t we? As we peer over the edge of a casket containing the earthly remains of someone we loved.
We know that death valley, don’t we? As we look at the sorry state of the church in America.
We know that death valley, don’t we? As we read the statistics that the nones, “N.O.N.E.S”; those with no religious affiliation, are on the rise. One out of 5 Americans now claims no religious affiliation. That number increases to one of the 3 for those under the age of 30.
We know that death valley, don’t we? As our culture becomes more and more alienated from our neighbors, more and more callous to the needs of those around us, more and more focused on our own little lives.
We know that death valley, don’t we? As we watch the decline of our culture into increasing violence and pornography.
We know that death valley, don’t we? We sure do.

As Ezekiel looked over Death Valley, God said to him; (Ezekiel 37:3) "Son of man, can these bones live?"
"Ezekiel, can this carnage of death, this expanse of waste, can it be reversed? Can those who are lying disjointed and without life, can these victims of this catastrophe be brought back to life? Can they live, Ezekiel?"
I am sure that Ezekiel’s head said, “Of course not. There is no way this can be changed.”
I am equally sure that Ezekiel knew that the question came from the Lord of Life, and his heart probably had a very different answer from his head.
He evades the trick question by saying, “You know lord!”

Did you see that? Just a little glimmer of hope. Just a sliver of optimism.
And it is not empty hope. It is not vacant optimism because God is here.
Because God is here, there is good reason to have hope.
It was God, after all, who created the earth and all that is in the first place.
It was God, after all, who brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.
It was God, after all, who went before the Israelites with an angel army to collapse the wall around Jericho and defeat the Canaanite kings.
It was God, after all, who chose David and Solomon, making Israel a great nation.
From our perspective, it was God, after all, who came miraculously in the baby Jesus.
 It was God, after all, who raised Jesus from the grave.
It was God, after all, who took a spiritually dead Saul and transformed him into the great evangelist Paul.
It was God, after all, who grew the church and made her the greatest influence on western culture.
It was God, after all, who gave you new life by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is God, after all, who saves us and loves us and brings us to this place today.
And it is in that same God that both Ezekiel and we find hope.
There is no hope outside of God. All the hope that ever existed, comes from God and rests in God.

As Ezekiel looked over that valley of dry bones, the God of hope spoke to the prophet and told him to do two things. Ezekiel was given a personal responsibility to that valley of dead, dry bones. I want you to see this because the same responsibility that rested on Ezekiel's shoulders then rests on our today.
First, He Was Commanded To Preach - “…Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.” (v 4)Ezekiel was commanded to preach to a valley filled with skeletons! Nothing could be more foolish or ridiculous than to preach to a bunch of dry bones. 
Yet that’s what he did. He stood up and he preached to a valley of dry parched, dismembered skeletons. Behold, there was a rattling among the bones. The bones began to vibrate. The bones began to shake. The bones began to assemble themselves. The bones began to grow ligaments, and tendons, and muscle, and skin. Finally, there stood before Ezekiel a great army.
Nothing could be more foolish or ridiculous than to witness to a bunch of dry bones. Nothing could be sillier than to witness to God in our culture where God is increasingly considered irrelevant. Nothing could be more uncomfortable than to share our faith with our friends who don’t really want to hear.
 But when we do, the bones begin to shake. The bones begin to vibrate. The bones begin to shake. The bones begin to assemble themselves. The bones begin to grow ligaments, and tendons, and muscle, and skin. Maybe, just maybe your friend starts to see God putting his life back together.
“But,” you say, “I’m not a preacher.” That’s OK. If you have a tongue, you can tell the story of God’s Good news. If you have lips, you can tell the story of what God has done. If you have a mouth, you can share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with people around you who are broken and dead.
Look around you… you’ll see dry bones or hopelessness everywhere: in your families, at your neighbor’s house, at work, in government, in our culture, even in the church. Do we have some dead dry bones around here? Absolutely! SHH! If you’re quiet you can hear them rattling. Do you hear them vibrating?
Wherever you see dry bones is a great place to share what Jesus has done in your life. Wherever you see lifelessness is a great place to speak of the resurrection of Jesus. Wherever you see brokenness is a great place to testify to the wholeness that is available in Jesus Christ. Wherever you see hopelessness is a great place to tell the story of God in Jesus Christ.
But… but, if you don’t tell it… if you don’t share the story… if you don’t testify to the power of God the bones remain still, and lifeless, and dry.

There was something else Ezekiel was told to do.
He Was Commanded To Pray - “…prophesy to the breath..” ( V. 9) With the preaching or the witnessing, there may be a noise, a shaking, a coming together of bone to bone, and even the appearance of sinews and skin, but the scripture says “…there was no breath in them,” v. 8. Ezekiel had preached the Word of God to the bones. They had the appearance of life, but they were still dead. They needed the touch of God before they could live. He was commanded to pray that the Lord would breath on them and make them live.
Ezekiel did and, the bones took on life. “and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.”
Talking about it is not enough. For us telling the story is not enough. For us testifying to God’s power is not enough. There must be prayer that the power of God will do the work of bringing life. We can put the bones together, but God must make them live and that only happens through the power of prayer.

          We are called to share and prayer. We are told to say and pray. We are taught to preach and beseech. Use whatever words you like… it all means the same…it means there is hope. There is hope when we work with God to bring the good news of life to a dead and dying world.

God has the power to bring new life. That is a Fundamental truth of the faith. But another fundamental truth is that God uses us to get his work done.
·        God can bring new life to our nation. Tell of God’s guiding and grace-filled hand guiding her, and pray that God will bring us peace and prosperity.
·        God can bring new life to our culture. Testify to the transforming power of a relationship with Jesus Christ, and pray that God will create a ripple effect among the people who hear it to begin transforming our culture.
·        God can bring new life to your friends. Share the story of the Good news of Jesus with your friends, and pray that God will make that a living and breathing reality in their lives.
·        God can bring new life to this church. Witness to the power of Christ in the church, and pray that God will push us off dead center into new and exciting ways to reach God’s people.
·        God can bring new life to your family. Proclaim the power of Jesus Christ to your family, and pray that God will heal you of the broken relationships and mistrust.

·        God can bring new life to you. Tell of that power that has brought you to this place and time, and pray that God will continue to work in you to bring you new life and new hope.

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