A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Susan Allison-Hatch
There they were—a people discouraged, a people dispirited, a people defeated. There they were a people exiled to a foreign land, a people living amidst sights and sounds and smells unfamiliar to them. There they were—a people cut off from all that sustained them—family, friends, familiarity and even their God. There they were—a weary people sapped of hope, sapped of life, a people weeping by the waters of Babylon.. There they were—the people of the Exile living like dried up bones settled in a valley far from home, a valley hemmed in by the rivers of Babylon.
Living in their midst—a young priest named Ezekiel. God says to him, “Come with me” and then God whisks that young priest off to a valley filled with dry bones, a lifeless valley absent even of the hope of a visit from God, a valley not far from the rivers of Babylon. A looking-glass kind of valley.
Pointing to the bleached bones on the valley floor, God asks Ezekiel the question Ezekiel and those who wept with him asked themselves time and again, “Can these bones live?’’ And then God says to young Ezekiel, “Prophesy, mortal, prophesy to these bones.”
I can imagine that young prophet wondering, in the pause between sentences, what on earth he could possibly say to a people seeing themselves as nothing more than a pile of dried-up bones waiting to be buried by the soils of time in a foreign land. What on earth could he say to a people cut off from those they loved? What hope could he offer a people who saw themselves cut off even from God?
And yet God says to Ezekiel, “Tell my people ‘I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live, I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live....I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live....”
You and I, we live in a world of dried up bones. We, like our brothers and sisters weeping by the waters of Babylon, sometimes find ourselves cut off from hope, sometimes cut off even from God.
We see the violence of our day—children beaten—sometimes to death, men shot, homeless harassed and we wonder, “Can these bones live?”
We see our friends, our brothers and sisters, sometimes ourselves turned away from the church we have called home and we wonder, “Can these bones live?”
We see people we know and love stretched beyond the limits of their endurance by workplaces pushing them to work harder and faster, workplaces profitting on the backs of their workers and we wonder, “Can these bones live?”
We watch with horror as this fragile earth, our island home, witnesses the ravages of a changed climate—flooded coastlands, parched rangelands, dried up fields, air unfit to breathe—and we wonder, “Can these bones live?”
Yet God says to Ezekiel, God says to us, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.” What does that look like? What does God’s enlivening Spirit look like?
Perhaps that Spirit at work, that enlivening Spirit, looks like old ladies huddled together with young kids—black and white—in Oakland, California, spending an hour every Saturday sanctifying a place where a young person has been shot to death.
Perhaps that life-giving Spirit looks like a church inviting same-gender couples to kneel as a priest blesses their union.
Perhaps that Spirit sounds like a friend calling a friend by the name they have chosen to adopt or a door being opened to a person used to being turned away or pushed aside.
Perhaps that Spirit looks like people and communities throughout our country planting trees, diversifying their crops, developing drought-tolerant grains we need to survive.
Perhaps that Spirit looks like people from St. Martin’s and people from Live at Five worshipping together and sharing a meal.
God’s life-giving Spirit at work in small things that bring dried-up souls, broken hearts and our fragile earth back to life.
Send forth your spirit, Lord. Renew the face of our lives. Renew the face of our Earth.