First Lesson: Ezekiel 37: 1-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 104: 24-34,35
Second Lesson: Acts 2: 1-21
Gospel Lesson: John 15: 26-27, 16:4b-15
Grace and Peace from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you the story of Ezekiel this morning. You might know much about Ezekiel, but you know his story.
Ezekiel’s story is the story for the guy in high school that asks out every girl that he can think of only to keep receiving “no” for an answer.
Ezekiel’s story is the story for the baseball team that seems predestined to lose before they take the field.
Ezekiel’s story is the story for the couple sitting down with no idea where the next dollar might come.
Ezekiel’s story is the story for the person who has just received a diagnosis of cancer with no potential cure.
Ezekiel’s story is the story for the person who is quick to assume the worst at the first sign of difficulty.
Ezekiel’s story comes not only from the most terrible time in Ezekiel’s life but rather many people’s lives. The Book of Ezekiel was written perhaps during the lowest point in the nation of Israel’s history. The Israelis had just been wiped out in the battle by the Babylonians. The war was a blood bath. There were so many dead bodies on the desert floor that no one was going to make an attempt to bury them. These bodies were just left to rot out in the desert sun till they became nothing more than a pile of bones.
Dead bodies though weren’t the only consequence of the war with Babylon. The Southern Kingdom of Judah had collapsed. The King was taken away blinded and in chains. A foreign army now occupied the people's homeland.
Many of Ezekiel’s neighbors had fled to neighboring nations as a result of the war, whereas Ezekiel had seen other neighbors taken as prisoners and transported to Babylon. Ezekiel’s neighbors that remained lived in terrible poverty. Everyone who stayed in Judah was on the verge of starvation. In fact, the situation was so bad that the Book of Lamentations describes “Women cooking their children” so they could eat.
So the people of Israel were quite jaded during these days about their faith. The people of Israel figured that God had abandoned them to this epic suffering. Some believed that God didn’t even exist. Whereas others figured that their own sins were so great that God had stopped listening.
We know people like Ezekiel knew.
For example, a few years ago a TV miniseries came out telling the story of the Kennedy family. One scene highlighted this theme of God abandoning his people.
The scene occurred during World War II when the future president JFK vanishes at sea. His dad Joe then goes and sees the Catholic Priest to ask him to pray for JFK’s safe return. The Priest agrees, but he also reminds Joe Kennedy that he could also pray. Joe says, “I can’t do that.” Joe Kennedy believed that he had sinned too greatly for God to listen to his prayers.
For Joe Kennedy like the people of Israel in Ezekiel’s day, the idea that God might listen to them was hopeless.
It was into this thinking came, Ezekiel. They say all sin is caused by either “spiritual pride” as in the case of Adam and Eve or “spiritual despair” as in the case of Judas. Both types of sin played out before Ezekiel’s eyes.
For Ezekiel for years and years had been warning the people of Israel about the sins brought on by their pride. The saying rings true “pride cometh before the fall”. As the Babylonians conquered Israel, as soon as people fell into poverty, as soon as the desert floor became covered with bodies. Ezekiel’s message had to change to speak to a broken and battered people.
Ezekiel’s greatest fear was the people of Israel embracing “spiritual despair” or the belief that God couldn’t forgive them, and that God no longer cares.
It was with these concerns in mind that Ezekiel was led by God into the desert to see a vision of the future. Ezekiel was brought face to face with bones of the dead as far as the eyes can see.
Ezekiel saw every kind of bone imaginable (shin bones, wishbones, collar bones, and skulls). The sight of so much death brought terror to Ezekiel’s eyes beyond what the most terrifying of horror movies could capture.
When the Lord brought Ezekiel to this place, he asked him what would seem to be the strangest of questions. The Lord asked Ezekiel directly “Son of man, can these bones live?”
Ezekiel was like anyone would be, unsure of how to answer the question. Ezekiel began to respond with nothing but doubt consuming the back of his mind. “O Lord God, ONLY you know.”
The Lord decided to start getting bossy with Ezekiel at this point.
Hey Ezekiel “Why don’t you speak to these bones?” “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!
Ezekiel then began to preach to these bones figuring it would do no good. Ezekiel was wrong! Soon a rattling comes up from the ground. Bones started coming together. Ezekiel saw bone then he saw flesh then he saw skin, but yet there was no breath.
The Lord God then called Ezekiel to bring forth breath. As soon as Ezekiel started speaking, breath came, and people rose to their feet. The Skeletons were getting ready to dance in the streets.
Our lesson closes with the Lord wanting Ezekiel to take the vision that he had just seen and pass it on to the whole people of Israel.
The Lord wanted Ezekiel to confront the pessimists who were saying
“Our bones are dried up, and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”
Ezekiel is speaking to people who couldn’t be inspired. Ezekiel is speaking to folks who couldn’t be easily encouraged. Ezekiel is speaking to folks who believe that God had given up on them. There are plenty of people living today to whom Ezekiel could have been speaking.
The Lord wanted Ezekiel to bring forth a message of hope. A message that a day was coming when God was going to bring forth these bones from the grave. God was going to bring the people of Israel back from the dead in the land that they once called their own.
The thing about Ezekiel’s story is the people he knew assumed the worst! The last years of their life had them only seeing the worst! They assumed that they were going to begin another period of slavery in exile as it was in the days after Joseph and before Moses. Within the 50 years, the Babylonian Empire would fall into the hands of the Persians. Soon Israelites would come back to their land led by men such as Ezra and Nehemiah. Through the group of men who returned a Savior was born. God’s chosen people would soon be resurrected just like the dry bones promised.
For our lives are often the lives of the people to whom Ezekiel was speaking. We often identify with the population of Israel. Deep down inside we often view God with cynicism, skepticism, and doubt. We carry grudges because of either our pride or we don’t’ believe that God can change other people, or we don’t believe that God can change us.
As it is in the time of Ezekiel, it is when sin completely kills that the Gospel can bring us back to life.
For example, when you talk to preachers ask them if they’d rather perform a “wedding” or a “funeral”. The answer to this question might seem obvious, but it isn’t. For people often don’t care what you say at weddings, their mind is always on the upcoming party; whereas at funerals, the words that one says matter.
People are always wondering about God’s role in death. No one would sit here today if they didn’t. Whenever we sit at a funeral, we wonder about our own death. We wonder how God is going to respond when we come into his presence.
We care about the Gospel at funerals. We need to hear how soon a day will come when God will restore tendons, flesh, skin, breath and bring our dead bones back to life not only physically but also spiritually especially in an imperfect people as lived in the days of Ezekiel.
I want to close this morning by taking a detour in the sermon. I want to reflect upon a practical question that many people have “What do I think of cremation?”
Cremation is a practice that was looked down on in the Church since the Church’s earliest days for a few reasons.
1. Pagan religions often burned their dead as a way of mocking Christian belief in the Resurrection. Cremation was considered a crime whose practitioners could be punished by death in Europe for over 1000 years for this reason.
2. Eastern Religions like Hinduism often cremated due to their belief in reincarnation rather than Resurrection.
The last few decades though have seen cremation slowly gain acceptance in churches. The reasons for cremation are health reasons, financial reasons, and practical space reasons. China could in no way bury billions of people.
Lutherans have long been quite open to cremation for nearly one-hundred fifty years due to the cold climates that Lutherans often lived making burying people in the middle of winter difficult.
So for these reasons, cremation is in many cases a matter of personal preference. Cremation is a question to which the scriptures don’t’ give an answer.
What we shouldn’t do is argue against cremation for reasons of doubt on the grounds that God can’t create life out of ashes, just as we shouldn’t doubt that God can take the bones of a fallen people and bring them back to life.
The message that Ezekiel gives is the Gospel in a nutshell. Ezekiel’s story is a story of hope to people in a time of despair. A message that those on the verge of giving up need to hear.
1. No sinner is beyond redemption, no matter how wicked Israel was before it fell, and no matter how many false religions it pursued. God’s love was such that he was not going to abandon his chosen people.
2. Today we celebrate the day of Pentecost. The Birthday of the Christian Church. The day that the Holy Spirit came down from heaven.
Robert Farrar Capon points out how so many of us think about God’s activity in the world in the wrong way. We assume that God works like a sewing needle, piercing a piece of fabric, then withdrawing. Whereas rather God works an iceberg hidden below the surface, getting ready to poke above the surface water changing everything that it encounters without warning.
The message of Pentecost is that God is not absent from our world today. The Holy Spirit carries out God's work. God is present as we encounter the pages of scriptures by which the Holy Spirit speaks. God is present as the Spirit comes to us in the most ordinary of forms (water, bread, and wine). The Holy Spirit comes to us through articulate preachers and boring preachers. The Holy Spirit comes whenever we encounter the Gospel in our daily lives. The Holy Spirit comes when we hear a word of forgiveness and resurrection in the midst of our personal tragedy as in the days of Ezekiel.
The Spirit reminds us that God is still working in the world even when we might have good reason to doubt it. This God’s work is not going to be completed until dem bones get ready to rise from the ground and start dancing down the streets. Amen
 Lamentations 4:10
 The Kennedys miniseries from where this scene came aired in 2011 on Reelz Channel.
 Ezekiel 37:3
 Ezekiel 37:3
 Ezekiel 37:4
 Ezekiel 37:9
 Ezekiel 37:11
 A big lecturing theme of my former Luther Seminary Professor Steve Paulson.
 This reference is from a comment made by Frank Sonnek in a Mockingbird article entitled “Mockingbird Glossary: Pneumatology aka The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit” published by Mockingbird Ministries on March 16,2010.