By Dennis Sanders
Lent 5A: April 10, 2011
Flash forward three decades and a whole lot of life later, these words from the prophet Ezekiel make sense, at least that whole valley of dry bones part.
As I read this text, my thoughts drifted to my home state of Michigan and how it's faring these days, which is not well. The census figures came out recently, and the news was not good. Detroit, which was once the nation's fourth largest city, lost 25 percent of it's population in the last 10 years. What was once a city of nearly 2 million in 1950 is now a city hovering around 700,000. The changes in the US auto industry have ravaged Detroit and most of southeastern Michigan, leaving utter devastation in its wake. My hometown of Flint had close to 200,000 when I was born in 1969. These days, it hovers around 100,000. In the 1970s, around 80,000 people worked in the many auto factories that dotted Flint and the surrounding cities, including my parents. Now there are less than 10,000 working for the auto industry. The loss of so many jobs can take it toll. In towns like Flint and Detroit, where there were once neighborhoods filled with well-maintained homes, there are now places filled with rotting houses and crime. Its always hard to come home and see how far Flint and most of Michigan have fell.
Ezekiel is taken to a valley filled with dry bones by God. Our prophet surveys the devastation and then hears this strange question from God. "O mortal, can these bones live?"
I know there aren't supposed to be dumb questions, but this really seems like the dumbest question to ask. These were bones. Oh, and they were dry bones, so there was zero chance they were going to come back to life. It seemed like there was an obvious answer to God's question, but Ezekiel was smart and replied that only God can know.
God keeps talking about how God will put the bones back together with muscles and skin and finally with the very breath of God. Life would come from where there was no life.
God then explains to Ezekiel what this whole exercise was about. The Israelites were in exile, far away from home. They felt cut off from everything they knew and felt like those dried bones. But God had a plan. All was not lost. God told them they would come back to their homeland and not only that, they would receive God's spirit.
As we continue our Lenten journey this week, it might seem odd to have a story about hope in it. After all, we are on a journey towards the Cross and this is supposed to be a "somber" time. Hope is something that feels more Advent than it does Lent.
And yet, maybe it makes sense to have this passage of hope in this dark time. As I think about the economic devastation that is Michigan, I am reminded of stories that point to hope, that point to something that says, "despair will not win." I am reminded of a recent article in my hometown newspaper about folks moving into Flint at a time when so many are leaving. They see hope when others see despair.
In many mainline Protestant churches, there is a sense of feeling like dry bones. The glory days are long gone and there might be a sense that there is no hope.
But God counters our despair by saying that God will save and restore us. God will bring us back from the graves to life. God gives us hope, not in a fairy tale-ending, but that God will be with us and breathe life into us.
This Sunday, I hope that you can acknowledge the dry bones that are in your life and in the lives of your congregation and community. I also hope you can preach...hope. Remind them, remind yourself that even when there seems to be no life, when the bones are raw that God will come and knit us back together, bone by bone. Hope will heal.
Go and be church.
Photo:Abandoned, decrepit Victorian-era home in Brush Park, Detroit, Michigan from Wikipedia.