Have you ever heard the statement, “This place is dead,” or something like that? In movies and TV, this is usually uttered when a bar, club or other social gathering place is nearly empty and no one appears to be having a good time. Having had some experience in a pastoral role I’ve heard churches be referenced as “dead” also. Usually this statement is used by someone to highlight their dissatisfaction about things ranging from worship songs to the pastors message to the empty pews/chairs/collection plates. It’s a tough thing when a church is referred to as “dead”. On one level we try not to measure success by statistics because it is easy to get bogged down in the details and miss what God may really be doing. On the other hand, we may hold onto certain practices/songs/traditions/pews/pulpits for so long that they no longer have any meaning or life to them either. They can become relics and we are in danger of missing God while clinging to that which might no longer have any meaning. Today’s verse for Lent looks at a prophecy given too the people of Israel when they were considered “dead”, without a homeland and in exile.
The Lord’s power overcame me, and while I was in the Lord’s spirit, he led me out and set me down in the middle of a certain valley. It was full of bones. He led me through them all around, and I saw that there were a great many of them on the valley floor, and they were very dry. He asked me, “Human one, can these bones live again?” I said, “Lord God, only you know.” He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, Dry bones, hear the Lord’s word! The Lord God proclaims to these bones: I am about to put breath in you, and you will live again. I will put sinews on you, place flesh on you, and cover you with skin. When I put breath in you, and you come to life, you will know that I am the Lord.” I prophesied just as I was commanded. There was a great noise as I was prophesying, then a great quaking, and the bones came together, bone by bone. When I looked, suddenly there were sinews on them. The flesh appeared, and then they were covered over with skin. But there was still no breath in them. He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, human one! Say to the breath, The Lord God proclaims: Come from the four winds, breath! Breathe into these dead bodies and let them live.” I prophesied just as he commanded me. When the breath entered them, they came to life and stood on their feet, an extraordinarily large company.
Ezekiel 37:1-10 (CEB)
The people of Israel were considered (or maybe saw themselves as) a valley of dry bones. Bones that were long dead and lifeless without any breath or any hope of a future. They had been carried off into exile, away from their promised land, away from the Temple and symbolically away from God and his life giving, life sustaining breath. They were far removed from the things they thought they needed to live and worship God. They felt dead and dried up. However, Ezekiel shows up with this prophecy from God that promises to not only restore the flesh and skin to these bones, but to again breathe life into them so that they might live.
What once seemed dead, lifeless and empty was about to be restored and reanimated by God.
What are some valleys of “dry bones” in your life? As I mentioned, there are things that we cling too well beyond their useful life that we treat like relics. We think that because they once had meaning and importance that they must have eternal meaning and significance. We may feel that if we give them up, or let them “die”, then we may become lifeless and empty ourselves.
For example, I remember as a child that I would wear “floaties” on my arms whenever I went into the pool. They did their job well and kept me from drowning when I was not a very experienced swimmer. I could have kept wearing those things thinking that without them I would die. I could have turned them into relics believing that without them, I could not be able to swim or that swimming would have no meaning. But, it would have been a little odd once I learned how to swim and could touch the bottom of the pool. At that point, the floaties would not be helping me out in any way, in fact they would probably have hindered my swimming and social life. They served their purpose, but I needed to let them go and maybe pass them along to another kid who needed them.
This happens a lot in church life. There are things that serve their purpose for a time but we may need to leave them behind or leave them to others who can get life out of them. Lent is the perfect time for this. What if a church fasted from something they thought they needed? What if there was some “dry bone” or “relic” that was given up for the 40 days of Lent to learn how the church would work without it? What if it was offered to God to see how God could breathe new life into it? Put new “flesh” on it so that it could be lively and active rather than stale and stiff.
God does not let things stay dead, but desires new life to flow. When we give something up we can learn to live in a new way and a fresh breath of life can flow in. We don’t just discard the old because it’s old, but use it as stepping stones to a new life and new understandings of truth and reality. The bones of the old are used to bring new life, to be connected and moved by new muscles and sinew. The church and it’s members are not be mummies lying in state. The church is a living breathing body that needs constant restoration and reanimation by the breath of God. As the oft quoted saying goes, “the church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.” The Church should be an example and creator of the new life given in God.
What are the “dry bones” in your life? What might they look like if you allowed God to put new life into them? Are there “dry bones” in your Church? Where might your Church need a new breath from God or new sinews and muscles to move?