The Need for Prophets in the Valley

March 1st, 2017

Ezekiel 37:1-14

A family is fighting a battle against one of life’s most feared enemies, cancer, and they watch their loved one as she literally wastes away from the disease. A community is ravaged by a natural disaster, and the residents return to find their homes, schools, and businesses lying in ruins. A man is facing an unknown future as his company conducts layoffs, and he is unsure of how his bills will be paid. A country is in the midst of war, and it watches as its young women and men enter into the dangers of combat. A woman is struggling with an illness no one sees, and she struggles to make it through each day against the waves of depression. As we look at the world around us, it is easy to become discouraged and wonder about God’s presence in the midst of all the despair.

The prophet Ezekiel faced a situation that caused great despair in the lives of his audience. It was one of the darkest times in the history of God’s people. The Babylonians had conquered their land and carried many people off into captivity. The nation of Israel experienced tremendous physical and emotional losses. Their confidence in themselves and in Yahweh was at an all-time low. The people needed to be reminded about the God who loved them and sustained them. The people needed to have their hope restored and their vision enlarged. It was in this time of need that the Spirit provided Ezekiel with an experience that still speaks to us today.

The Spirit of God carried Ezekiel out to overlook what might be described as the ruins of a battlefield. There were many bones scattered upon the ground, and they had obviously been there for quite a while. There was no sign of life left in them, as they were old and dried out from the ravages of time. The Spirit then asked Ezekiel a pivotal question, “Mortal, can these bones live?” Ezekiel, like many of us, hedged his bets. He didn’t say no, yet he wasn’t willing to say yes either. Ezekiel’s answer was evasive at best, and in his uncertainty he turned the question back on God—“O Lord GOD, you know.” As he was faced with the lifeless bones, Ezekiel was uncertain. He had been called to answer the question that haunted the house of Israel. He was called to consider whether God could work a miracle in the life of a nation that appeared as good as dead. Ezekiel was called to examine his faith in the God who delivered them from slavery and gave them the land.

Can these bones live? It is a difficult question to answer. It is difficult because it is a question that challenges the prophet to view the world around him not with the eyes of reality, but with the eyes of faith. Ezekiel is called to imagine the divine power working to bring life where there was death. He is called to trust in God who has acted on their behalf in the past. Ezekiel is called to imagine a future filled with hope, boldly proclaiming promise even while those around him are uttering words of despair. Can these bones live? God says yes.

Still, the most interesting part of the story is that God calls the prophet to play a part in the reanimation of the dry bones. It is only when Ezekiel has prophesied to the bones that they will live. The prophet must say to the dry bones, “O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.” It is only when the prophet proclaims the word of God to the bones that they begin to reassemble and be covered with flesh. Then, even after this initial stage of the miracle, there is no breath in the bones. God calls the prophet to prophesy yet again. “Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal . . . that they may live.’ ” At each step of the miracle, God uses Ezekiel to proclaim the divine words and to announce the new thing that God is about to do in the midst of the valley of dry bones. The proclamation for the word is central to the miracle!

God knows that the bones can live again. Could it be that by inviting Ezekiel to name the acts of God, God is helping Ezekiel discover the answer to the question “Can these bones live?” God engages Ezekiel’s help in the miracle, and does so in order that the proclamation of God’s word and actions may continue. God desires human witnesses to speak of God’s miracles of life. Even at the conclusion of our lection, we find God articulating that very reason for this powerful act, for “then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act.”

As I look at the world around me, I find myself surrounded by piles of dry bones. There are individuals, communities, and nations that are at the end of their ropes. I look around and there is great reason for despair. We are wandering in “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4) and some around me seem to have no reason to hope. We are surrounded by a broken and hurting world. People all around us ask, “Can these bones live?” That is why God needs prophets in the valley today. God needs men and women who will stand knee-deep in bones and proclaim that death and destruction do not have the final word. God needs preachers and prophets who will prophesy to the bones, who will speak the word of truth. God needs us to remind those who are lost, alone, and afraid that God will “bring you up from your graves . . . put [God’s] spirit within you, and you shall live.” May God continue to use us to proclaim the good news and the promise of new life to those who need it the most!

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