Death, Life, and Dem Dry Bones
After a brief hiatus from posting sermons (Pastor was preaching from outlines and had a bit of a backlog), we return to the blog with today's offering: A reflection on hope, promise, and the future of the church.
Death, Life, and Dem Dry Bones
April 6, 2014
Rev. Leanne Masters
Southern Heights Presbyterian Church
As is the case with much of what we read from the prophets, the vision that Ezekiel sees comes to him in the midst of a time of great crisis for the people to whom it is being proclaimed.
Ezekiel spoke these words to the Judean people who were living in the midst of captivity and exile in Babylon. Jerusalem had been utterly destroyed, razed to the ground, and the people had been transported to a place where they were forced to live and work in this strage place, in a strange culture, under the rule of a strange king who worshipped a strange god. It seemed as if all hope was lost for them, that they would be swept up and consumed and absorbed into their place of exile, and all would be left of the children of Abraham would be the dry bones of their ancestors and the skeletal remains of their culture, society, and city.
They were experiencing crisis, alright. Crisis about their future. Crisis about their present. Crisis about who they were and what was to become of them.
Speaking into this deep crisis was Ezekiel, speaking words of hope and restoration. Words that reminded the people that God's spirit was powerful enough to breathe life into those dry bones, and bring them life, even in the midst of the death and destruction of all that they had known and all that they had held dear. His words were words of promise; promise that God was not done with them, and that they were not done as a people.
We would do well to listen to and hear these words that Ezekiel is speaking here today, because he is not just speaking to a people long ago, but to us, in this world and in this place and in this time today.
There is a lot of fear and worry out there about the state of the mainline Christian church today. If I am to be honest, it is not just about the mainline Christian church, but we have it, too, about the state and the future of the Presbyterian Church (USA). You read it in news reports and in articles and in blog posts as we wring our hands over declining church memberships, the starting of new denominations and the defection of PC(USA) congregations for these, and other, denominations. (And it is true that we are losing people to these other churches, for one reason or another...recently, in a spectacularly snarky comment, the president of the Ethic and Religious Liberty commission of the Southern Baptist Convention recently quipped "Some think if we can just barter away Christian orthodoxy fast enough we can catch the wave of that Presbyterian Church (USA) church growth boom." (1))
Not only that, we worry and we fear about the changes in our culture that we see around us; changes that have created a culture where we no longer have dominance in a society that we once ruled. We lament that where once church was the only option on Sunday morning, now there are seemingly a thousand different options, and attendance at worship is the only one...that church, that this community, is now merely an option, and a not very competitive one at that.
We fear that we have become, or are becoming, a valley of dry bones: a graveyard, a discard pile, of the skeletal remains of what once was. There are times when we feel that all hope is lost for us...and we, too, are in a place of deep crisis about our present, our future, our identity and our purpose. Deep crisis that causes us to wonder "Who are we?" and to cry out, "What is to become of us?" We truly wonder: "Can these bones live?"
And, as to the people of Judah so long ago, God says to us..."Oh yes. Just you see."
As you all know, I spent the better part of last week attending the NEXTChurch conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A conference where 400 church leaders from around the denomination came together, taking time out of the busy season of Lent, to talk and to dream about the future of our churches and the denomination and the Christian church in America and in the world today. We learned about new ventures in ministry, where creative manifestations of being church are connecting with people in exciting and life giving ways. We heard about churches, once on the brink of closing, who, emboldened by the Spirit, reached out into their communities to share the love that God had given them, and have thrived as a result, even if htye have not grown in numbers. We talked about the changes in culture and society and people's attitudes and connections with church, and instead of lamenting them, talked about how we can shift our own thinking of how we do the business of church to better serve the people that God has given us. We wondered aloud about what it will look like and be like in the future, and realized that, even though the church will not look the same in 5, 10, 15, 50 years as it does today or did in yesteryears, we know that, no matter what becomes of us, if we follow God's call as faithfully as we can, and allow God's spirit to move among us, we will have been agents of God's love and grace and mercy to the world. And we praised and we worshiped the God that was doing all of these things, in us, in our communities, in our congregations, and in our denomination.
It was a wonderful week, full of things that reminded me of the words of Ezekiel that we hear today: words of hope and promise...hope of restoration and renewal and new life, and a promise that God is not done with us.
And friends, I believe, with all of my heart, that God is not done with us. Not as individuals and as Christians, not in this church, not in the Presbyterian Church (USA). God is not done with us, and we are not a valley of dead and dry bones with no possibility of life in them. I believe that God's spirit is moving among us, building us up, giving us strength where we are weak and courage where it falters. I believe that God's spirit is breathing upon us, giving us new life, and encouraging us to move forward as a people. I believe that God is here, showing us a new way to be and a new way to live.
Can these bones live?
Oh, yes. Just you see. They will live, indeed.
Thanks be to God.
(1) http://www.russellmoore.com/2014/03/24/on-world-vision-and-the-gospel/ (retrieved 4/5/14)