I want to spend some time this morning talking about a special
part of my week: an opportunity which I had that I know you’ll
hear even more about in the weeks to come. Ron Nicodemus, Diane
Lund and I went to Indianapolis on Wednesday evening for an all-day
event on Thursday: the Orientation Day for our Community Ministry
Grant. Representatives from each of the other 30 congregations around
the state of Indiana were there, too. You’ll be receiving
and discussing more of the information which was shared there, but
I want to talk about a particular part of that event, an opening
presentation by Dr. Kilen Gray of New Mt. Zion Baptist Church in
Shelbyville, KY. I won’t preach his sermon -- I couldn’t
match his style even if I tried -- but I will share some of his
Fifteen years ago, give or take, when Dr. Gray’s church was
having meeting in their basement after the worship service to talk
about their identity and ministry, they got two key insights: one
from an elderly member of the congregation, Ms. Lani Jones, and
one from a high school student. Neither of these people were deacons
or ushers or leaders or the movers and shakers of the congregation,
but the group had agreed to respect everyone’s input.
Members of the church had been asking friends and neighbors in
their community, “What do you think of when you hear the name
of our church?” The association that most people had was that
it was a family church -- this was true; New Mt. Zion was started
more than 100 years before by three families, and many of the members
were still related to each other. Although the church prided itself
on being welcoming and friendly, folks in the community didn’t
think they’d fit in if they weren’t part of those families.
So as the group in the basement was trying to figure out how they
could shake this association as a family church, this long-time
member and saint of the church said, “Pastor, I believe that
family is the greatest blessing we have. If you don’t have
family, you don’t have anything.” And through that comment,
the congregation began to realize that what they had assumed was
a weakness was actually their strength. Because of that prophetic
word from Ms. Lani Jones, the congregation wrote a mission statement
-- which they still use -- which begins, “Our mission is to
win souls for Christ by being a family healing center.” Family
was already their identity; they made it the center of their mission.
The other comment which came out of those meetings was from a high
school boy that nobody thought was paying attention. He had not
spoken in any of the previous meetings, and no one expected him
to have anything to say in this one. So it was a surprise when he
put up his hand and asked, “Can I say something?” Of
course. And he said, “Pastor, we’re in the Bible.”
And the passage this young man was reading was Ezekiel 37: the reading
which you heard this morning about Ezekiel and the Valley of Dry
Bones. I chose to use this text for this sermon about three weeks
ago: as you might imagine, that sermon has undergone a pretty radical
re-write in the past few days.
Today is Pentecost -- this was Jewish harvest holiday that came
50 days after Passover, or seven weeks after Easter. In Acts chapter
2, this is the day when the disheartened and dispirited disciples
are gathered in Jerusalem and suddenly there’s a rush of wind
throughout the house and tongues of fire above their heads, and
the Spirit gives them the ability to preach in other languages.
I’ll spare you the entire list of Parthians and Medes and
Cappadocians and Elamites and all the rest -- a lot of different
languages. It’s an image of the Holy Spirit working through
our speaking and our listening and our understanding. It’s
an image I know we’ll be coming back to, and I hope our worship
installation will serve as a reminder of the Spirit in our midst,
even when you’re no longer wearing red, yellow, orange, or
Ezekiel gives us another image of the Spirit which is both similar
and different than Acts 2. Of course, Ezekiel came about 600 years
earlier than Acts -- Ezekiel’s prophecy is in the Old Testament.
I had to do some re-reading of Ezekiel; it’s not the biblical
book to which I typically go for inspiration. I think it’s
kind of a crazy book -- if you want to see a weird recipe for bread,
read Ezekiel chapter 4 -- so I was a little relieved to read in
one of my commentaries that in some Jewish traditions, Ezekiel was
not to be read by anyone under the age of thirty. I am safely over
the limit, in case any of you are concerned.
It’s helpful to know a little history: the events referred
to in the book put it during the Babylonian exile -- when the city
of Jerusalem was conquered, devastated, and occupied. The first
Temple of Jerusalem built by David’s son Solomon was destroyed,
and many of the Jewish political and religious leaders were taken
into captivity. Ezekiel was one of these. He was taken into exile
before he received the word of the Lord. His situation seemed hopeless
-- even worse than that of the apostles in Jerusalem on Pentecost.
At least they were free Jews; Ezekiel is far from home, and doesn’t
know if anyone will remember Israel in the generations to come.
And into this seemingly hopeless situation comes the hand and the
Word and the Spirit of the Lord.
We are probably most familiar with Ezekiel 37 and the Valley of
Dry Bones, but it is just one chapter in the midst of a whole lot
of prophesying going one. The word of the Lord keeps showing up
and saying, O Mortal (that’s Ezekiel) prophesy to . . . whatever.
In Chapter 33 it’s the people, the house of Israel. In Chapter
34, Ezekiel is to prophesy against the shepherds -- that is the,
the false leaders who have taken advantage of the people, in Chapter
35 and 36 to Mount Sier and to the mountains of Israel -- and on
it goes. What is consistent in all of these prophesies, is that
the word of the Lord is in command. The word of the Lord says, O
Mortal, prophesy here, and the mortal gets to it. The word of the
Lord does not call a meeting and say, OK, what do you think we should
The valley of dry bones might have been an actual valley, or it
might have been a vision given to the prophet Ezekiel -- we’re
not told and I don’t think it matters. The setting certainly
suggests the site of a battle, of soldiers defeated and either killed
or left to die. The bones are dry. They’ve sat out for years
while the flesh and sinew rotted away. Ezekiel is told to prophesy
to the bones -- a tough crowd to preach to, for sure -- and by the
power of God the bones come together, and are covered with sinew
and flesh. But they are still not alive. They are bodies with no
breath in them. As you might remember, the Hebrew word rurach can
mean either breath or spirit. They are bodies with flesh but no
So God says to Ezekiel -- here, and no where else in all those
chapters -- prophesy to the breath, tell the breath to breath upon
these bodies and they will live. Let these bodies have Spirit! And
they lived and stood on their feet. And God tells Ezekiel that these
bones are like the house of Israel which will rise from their graves
and live, and return to their homeland and their own soil.
I think I was actually in seminary when I realized that the bones
were re-membered. That is what that word literally means: to put
together again: God is showing Ezekiel a vision of how his nation
and his people will be brought together again and given new life
through the Spirit. Every time that we gather, and every time that
we pray for one another, we are inviting the Spirit into our midst
to re-member the body of Christ. That was the work of the Spirit
on Pentecost, to gather and animate a group of people who were discouraged
Ezekiel is a terrific image -- the best zombie story in the Bible.
But I want to be sure you understand why I think this story is one
we should hear. Let me be clear: I do not think we are a bunch of
dried up old bones. That is not who I am, that is not who you are.
At the beginning of this sermon I listed some of the things I saw
going on here at Creekside just in the past week. That is not the
work of dried up bones, that is the work of caring for a grieving
family and honoring a friend and reaching out to people in need
and making our church property and building a welcoming place. That
is not the work of dry bones, that is the work of the Spirit. We
are not dried up bones, we are Ezekiel. We are being told to hear
and obey the word of the Lord, and to speak that word to whomever
the Lord tells us to, even if it may seem a little odd at first.
If you say so, Lord.
Here’s what it means to be Ezekiel; to be part of the work
of re-membering God’s people: It means accepting that we are
not in charge. We are commanded by the word of the Lord, and we
are joining what God has already decided to accomplish; It means
that God will show us the vision of what we’re to do, and
it will be where we are, not someplace else. We will find that vision
when we look outside our doors. And finally, we need the breath
of the Holy Spirit; it is the Spirit which gives us energy and purpose
and hope. It is the Spirit which makes the body of Christ live.
Brothers and sisters, in the coming weeks we will be giving you
information and asking questions and listening to how the Spirit
is moving in our midst to reveal where God is working in our community
and how we can partner with God and with our neighbors in ministry.
I think I can speak for Diane and Ron in saying that we are excited
about sharing this process with you. We want and we need your participation,
because the Spirit can speak a prophetic word through any of you,
just as the folks from New Mt. Zion Baptist Church heard the Spirit
through Ms. Lani Jones and a young man who pointed out his own church
in the prophesy of Ezekiel. We want and need you to show up even
if you don’t think you have anything to say, because the witness
of Pentecost is that there is no point speaking in every language
under the sun if no one is listening. Ezekiel has to listen for
what the word of the Lord tells him to prophesy.
The Spirit is up to something, and we need to figure out how we
are being called to join in. And that, O Mortals, is the word of
the Lord. Amen.