“…So I prophesied as I had been commanded;
and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling,
and the bones came together, bone to its bone.
I looked, and there were sinews on them; and flesh had come upon them,
and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal,
and say to the breath; Thus says the Lord God;
Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain
that they may live. I prophesied as he commanded me,
and the breath came into them, and they lived,
and stood on their feet, a vast multitude…”
The complexity of the prophet Ezekiel is one that has always intrigued me. As do many of you, I appreciate the image of the valley of the dry bones. I have often, more than I care to admit, found myself standing in front of what feels like the impossible and wondering, “God you must be kidding.” My mind continues, “Not only is there no way I can do what you ask, but also I don’t even know how to begin.” Somewhere in my head I understand, “with God all things are possible,” but it is challenging for my mortal spirit and body to perceive anything beyond my senses. There is a temptation to skepticism I keep hidden from the world, but that exists none-the-less. I believe this is a “catch 22” for us as a people of faith seeking to be a witness together through our diverse churches and ministries.
I am presently writing from Louisville, Kentucky as I prepare for the board meeting of the Presbyterian Foundation of which I have the privilege to serve. I found myself led to this text, which has once again challenged and reminded me of several critical observations that are both helpful and necessary for compelling inspiration.
First, it is clear God is always the initiator of the possibility of new lives. This is true throughout the Biblical witness. We are the receivers of that message. It is God who initiates the possibilities in the midst of the impossible. It is God who invites us to step up and into the challenge of the unknown.
Second, God “commands us.” God does not make an inquiry or ask a question of Ezekiel, such as, “would you like to stand before a dry and barren people and land?” In this narrative, God does not even direct Ezekiel to where he should go. God takes Ezekiel by the hand and places him where he is called to breathe new life.
Third, the “rattling of the bones,” reminds us before new life can occur, there will often be new and unfamiliar noises. These noises remind us the true prophetic word will cause us to want to put our hands over our ears. It reminds us that if we can trust God, those rattling sounds will give way to new life.
Fourth, the breath Ezekiel is commanded to call upon does not come simply from one place. The breath comes from the four winds – reminding us that God’s life-giving breath comes from every corner of this earth, from every corner of the Presbytery of Philadelphia. God’s powerful spirit is not limited to or by our particular corner of the universe.
Finally, I was reminded yet again, in order for God’s transforming breath to come and work through us, we must stop long enough to call upon God. We must listen for God’s invitational voice to obedient service, service and witness often unclear and unformed. It is in obedience to God’s command that Ezekiel is able to prophesy new life into what had once been but a valley of dry bones – an impossible situation. Ezekiel calls on God’s powerful and Holy Spirit – and it is then that those bones not only live, but also stand as a vast multitude.
I am smiling as I type this, as I can visualize a gift on my desk that I received from my former presbytery in California. On it is a quote from Walt Disney (the great American philosopher) – “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” I love that we as a church are given this opportunity to call upon God’s Holy Breath in an effort to be faithful, relevant, and creative as we seek to be and do church in new ways. Throughout our Presbytery, there are faithful initiatives inviting new life in places where the valleys have been deep and dry. I am grateful for the spirit of possibility in the midst of what often feels impossible. May this word breathe life-giving encouragement into our often weary souls – as we share and embody the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this world.