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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Breath of Life (Dry Bones)

Introduction
            I heard someone describe getting old like this - put Vaseline on your glasses so you can barely see, earplugs in your ears so you can barely hear, weights on your arms and legs so you can barely move, and rocks in your shoes so every step hurts; this is what it feels like to be old.
            Being old is relative.  At 43, I don’t think I’m old, but I’m not young either.   As a pastor, I’m considered young. The average age of a pastor in the United Methodist Church is around 55.  Most of my colleagues are older than me--some much older.  I was only 36 when I came to PGUMC.  Hal Brooker came up to me and said, "Now I feel old.  This is the first time my pastor is younger than me."  (I think I'm a year or two younger than Hal.
            At the same time, I don't feel wet behind the ears as a minster.  I’ve been a minister for 17 years.  Many people don't become a pastor until their 50s or 60s so many of my colleagues who are 10, 20, or 30 years older than me are a lot less experienced as a pastor than me.  So I can feel both old and young at the same time as a pastor.  But to my kids, I’m just old!
            At what age do you consider yourself old?  That's a hard question to answer.  Many people’s bodies start to feel the effects of age at 37 or 38.  That was true for me as I started noticing my muscles and joints aching.  AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) grants membership at 50.  Is that old?  One survey showed most people defined old age as 68.  Really?!?!  Another survey defined old as 80 (I bet the people in that survey were probably 70!)  It seems everyone thinks old is what happens to people who are older than them.  No one wants to be old.
            So since it's so hard to define when old age starts, let me give you a few signs of old age:

If you fall asleep watching TV or reading the paper, you might be old.
If you become forgetful, you might be old.
If you groan when getting up from a chair or out of bed, you might be old.
If you say ‘back in my day’, , you might be old.
If you choose clothes for comfort rather than style, you might be old.
If you repeat yourself, you might be old.
If you have no idea what is in the music charts, you might be old.
If you insist ‘things aren’t as they used to be’, you might be old.
If you repeat yourself, you might be old.
If you choose places to eat because they play quiet music, you might be old.
If you have an afternoon nap, you might be old.
If you repeat yourself, you might be old.

            It seems few people want to be considered old.  Sometimes, it's because of vanity.  People are too proud to give up their youthful beauty or strength.  But often people don't want to grow old because it’s painful and limiting and causes health problems and, ultimate, we are afraid of death.
            If God allows us to live long enough, we will all grow old.  And the fact is every day we live, we are growing older.  The Good News is, God can breath life into our bones at any age, and ultimately even in death we find Eternal Life.

 Ezekiel 37:1-14 1 The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones. 2 He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. 3 Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”

“O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”
4 Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! 6 I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

7 So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. 8 Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”

10 So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.
11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ 12 Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the Lord. 14 I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’”

Explain the Passage
            The people of God were called Israel.  They were 12 tribed scattered throughout the Holy Land.  They were a united Kingdom under King David and King Solomon.  But then there was a civil war and the nation split into the northern kingdom of Israel (10 tribes) & the southern kingdom of Judah (2 tribes).  The Bible tells us that not a single king who ruled the northern kingdom of Israel was good.  They were all evil.  And God warned Israel for many generations to repent, but they would not.  He even warned that they would be conquered and destroyed if they did not, but they still would not turn back to God.  So finally, the Assyrian army swooped down upon them and destroyed their kingdom.  Their cities, their homes, their temples, everything was destroyed and the people we dragged away in to captivity throughout the Assyrian empire, never to return home again.  The northern kingdom of Israel was completely obliterated, and has not revived again to this day.  The Israel--the Jews--we know of today consist of the 2 remaining tribes of Israel--Judah and Benjamin.  The other tribes of the northern kingdom are know as the 10 lost tribes of Israel because they have gone extinct.
            Ezekiel was a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel during this destruction.  And God showed him this vision of the valley of dry bones during this time as his people were mourning the loss of their national identity and culture.  It was a vision God gave to tell the people that even though they were dying, God would one day bring all 12 tribes back together again.  This is a prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled; we are still waiting for it, but God will fulfill it in the Last Days. 

God Asks Ezekiel (and all of us) the Question
            A question like that reveals a lot about your faith.  Do you believe God has the power to turn bones into living people again? Do you believe in God? Do you trust Him?  When everything seems hopeless, do you believe God will come through?  Even as you are growing older and your body and health are failing and there's nothing you can do about it, do you trust God?  Do you trust God even as you face death?
 
God told Ezekiel to preach to the Dry Bones.

            That doesn't make any sense to preach to dead bones.  They can't hear.  They won't do anything you tell them to.  What's the use?  It took a lot of faith and obedience for Ezekile to preach that sermon.  But Ezekiel trusted that God knew what He was doing.  Ezekiel obeyed and we're still talking about it today.
            Sometimes we look at our church or our community, our family, our friends,and we think sharing the gospel with them or inviting them to church is about as hopeless as preaching to valley of dry bones. What’s the use?  We think, "They're not going to listen."  But if God ask you to do it, you do it.
            Ezekiel trusted God. He said, “Lord, I don’t know if these bones can live again or not. Only You know. But if You tell me to preach to them, I’m gonna preach.”  Ezekiel preached and the Lord brought life to the dry bones.
            If God asks you to preach to Dry Bones you better do it, because you just don't know what God wants to do, but God knows. You have to trust Him. If God aske you to invite you neighbor to church, you better do it.  If God encourages you to warn your sister or brother, daughter or son that they're going down the wrong road, you better do it.  God knows what He's asking.  If God ask you to be a preacher, you better do it.  God asked you for a reason--even if you don't know what it is yet.  If God asks you to preach to dry bones, you better do it. 

Sometimes I Feel Like I’m Preaching to a Valley of Dry Bones.
            Sometimes, the church seems to be full of nothing but whining and complaining. “I don’t like the food on Wednesday nights… I wish we sang different music...  Louder... softer.. faster... slower...  No body called me when I missed church…"  Sometimes, the church seems like it's lost its focus. Sometimes people act like the Church of the Living God is hospice care for the dying.  Friends, I believe in hospice care. It’s a God send to people who are dying and I encourage you to use hospice if you or someone you love is dying.  However, the Church of the Living God is not someplace we go to be comforted while we wait to die. It’s a place we go to COME ALIVE! So COME ALIVE!
            And while you're at it, bring all your friends, all your family, everyone you can to come and meet Jesus in His church and COME ALIVE!

Closing
            Oh, how I long to hear the bones rattling and shaking!  Oh, how I long to see dead, lifeless people rising up to new life!  Oh, how I long to see people getting excited about church!  Oh, how I long to see the young, the old, the middle aged, EVERYONE standing together as an army of God--ALL FOCUSED on our MISSION: Making disciples of Jesus Christ!  Oh, how I long to see Pleasant Grove Giving Hope to the Hopeless, Building New Relationships, and Helping Our Community!             Can these Bones Live Again? Oh, Sovereign Lord, only You know the answer to that.  But I know You have the power to do it! 
            “Dry bones!  Oh you dry bones!  You better listen!  You better listen to the Word of the Lord!  This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again!”  You better get up!  You better get up and get busy serving the Lord! 

Amen?  Amen!