Ezekiel 37.1-4 “The Valley of Dry Bones”
If you’re under 30 or a woman, you probably shouldn’t read Ezekiel…at least according to the ancient Rabbi’s you shouldn’t. The book of Ezekiel is full of STRANGE VISIONS and EXPLICIT SEXUAL LANGUAGE. Some ancient Rabbi’s figured since Ezekiel didn’t receive his visions until he was 30 and since he was a man, it was a good rule of thumb to apply to future readings of his prophecy. While I don’t think we need to take those rabbi’s literally, we need to take them seriously. Ezekiel wrote in the direst circumstances – the Babylonian captivity of Israel – and communicated with dramatic visions to break through their spiritual despair.
God whisks Ezekiel away to a Valley of Dry Bones and asks a powerful question: “Can these bones live?” To which Ezekiel wisely replies: “Only you know!” I don’t know about you, but in times past, I’ve l like my life is “dry bones” and the despair is real. What is DESPAIR? Its clinical definition is: profound and existential hopelessness, helplessness, powerlessness, and pessimism about life and the future. Deep discouragement and loss of faith in one’s ability to find meaning, fulfillment, and happiness, to create a satisfactory future for oneself.
Viktor Frankl, who was one of the few to survive a Nazi concentration camp and the holocaust knew despair. As a psychologist, he came up with a formula for it: D=S-M. Despair equals suffering minus meaning. How about you? Have you suffered? Have you lost meaning in your life? Chances are that you have or are experiencing despair.
Then God says “Prophesy (preach) to these bones.” The bones come together and flesh comes on them. But they aren’t yet fully alive. They’re sort of like Zombies, alive but dead (I can relate to feeling like this). LIFE must be about more than mere physical existence. Of course, I don’t have to tell you that, do I? The trouble is in figuring out in HOW to live life fully, as God intended.
So God says again: “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come fr. the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon this slain, that they may live.” The same Spirit that God breathed into humanity at creation is the same Spirit God breathes into us to give us the FULLNESS of life now. Life comes through the BREATH of God. What is impossible for us in our own strength, God makes possible by His Holy Spirit.
LISTEN to the FULL (29 minute) BREATH & BONES message HERE:
Sorry for the gap in posting here lately! A lot of exciting things are happening in the Rowinski household these days. I’ll fill you in on all of it during the coming weeks. By now I’m sure many of you have heard the news that Stefanie and I are pastoring Kansas City First Church of the Nazarene during their pastoral search.
Here is my first sermon for the church. It’s called Endings & Beginnings. The text is from the [original] ending in Mark’s Gospel — Mark 16.1-8. In this sermon, I address UNCERTAINTY and FEAR — as well as HOPE.
Here’s the link to the message. Listen to it while you drive or during a walk/run. I pray that you will be blessed and encouraged by this message.
Grace & Peace,
It’s probably my least favorite saying of Jesus: The last will be first and the first will be last. It just doesn’t sound fair, does it? We have a keen sense when things aren’t fair — and usually quick to point it out. When I was growing up, my mom’s form of ultimate discipline for myself and my two sisters was a good paddling. We had a paddle with made of two strips of leather sewn together over a thin, flexible piece of metal, with the ends left open to amplify that smacking sound. It was intimidating. It came with instructions burned into the leather: “Do not slap the face, the Lord has provided a better place” you know, just in case you were confused about hitting a child in the face with a leather paddle. There were a number of times where I received a paddling that I didn’t deserve. Something in the house would get broken. My mom would ask who broke it. It wasn’t me, I was the good oldest, the responsible one. It was probably one of my sisters. Neither of them would confess. So we all received a paddling — which was my mom’s way of making sure she got the right one. IT WASN’T FAIR!
The last will be first and the first will be last. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up my whole life in America and “last place” is the worst place. We only win gold medals. Greatness is measured by how many championships you’ve won. As Ricky Bobby said in Talladega Nights: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” In life, we know that there are winners and losers and no one wants to be a loser. The fact of the matter is sometimes we lose. Sometimes it’s not our fault. Sometimes it is. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. I DON’T HAVE TO TELL YOU LIFE IS UNFAIR, DO I? You already KNOW IT. You’ve EXPERIENCED IT — school, work, relationships, health, death = UNFAIR.
The last will be first and the first will be last. This saying comes at the end of a parable Jesus tells in Matthew 20.1-16. Briefly: a vineyard owner hires workers throughout the day from early in the morning until almost quitting time to work his land. When paying time comes — he gives everyone the same wage. This angers the early workers because they figured that since they worked longest, they’d be paid more — even though they agreed to work for the wage he paid.
The vineyard owner is taken aback by the charge of “unfairness” or injustice. He asks the early workers 3 questions. The first two questions show that the vineyard owner isn’t unfair.
+Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? [YES]
+Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? [YES]
The third question reveals that the problem isn’t actually fairness, but offense over generosity.
+Or are you envious because I am generous? This question reveals the point of the parable.
The last will be first and the first shall be last. Jesus’ parable is like a Rorschach test for the soul. It’s meant to reveal some things to us about our ideas of fairness and about life. As long as we are attached to trying to balance the ledgers of life ourselves, we’ll be sorely disappointed — and angry — about the results. That’s because this life operates based on the MYTH of SCARCITY — that there’s not enough for everyone so you have to take what you can get at all costs or rise above and be better than everyone else in order to “win at life.” In this reality — people are consumed with asking the question: WHAT AM I OWED?
Jesus parable points to a greater reality — a MINDSET of GENEROSITY — the foundation which is grace (unmerited favor). The generous mindset believes, “There’s more than enough for everyone” and “We’re in this together.” In this reality, people don’t worry about their “rights” and having “power” or making sure they “protect” what they own. A person of the generous mindset is driven by the question: WHAT CAN I GIVE?
The mindset of SCARCITY asks: WHAT AM I OWED? The mindset of GENEROSITY asks: WHAT CAN I GIVE?
The last will be first and the first will be last. To which mindset do you belong — SCARCITY or GENEROSITY? Are you frustrated when others are happy or successful? Do you obsess about what you deserve? Have you often felt like a victim? Does unfairness consume you? Reject the MYTH of SCARCITY and embrace the MINDSET OF GENEROSITY. Give and you shall receive!
The early Church historian, St. Jerome tells this story about the apostle John. “When the venerable John was very advanced in age and could no longer walk to the meetings of the church but was carried by his disciples, he always uttered the same address to the church; he reminded them of that one commandment which he received from Christ himself, as comprising all the rest, informing the distinction of the new covenant.”My little children, love one another.” When the brothers and sisters, Wearied of hearing the same things so often, asked why he repeated the same thing he replied, “Because it is the commandment of the Lord, and if this one thing be attained, it is enough.”
John’s test of true religion is simple. We know our religion is true because we love one another. It’s a matter of life and death. Most are not murderers, but hating our brothers and sisters? We’ve probably all been guilty of that at one time or another, stirring up discord in the church when our preferences, opinions, and comfort are disturbed.To love means to live and to cause to live. Love brings life! Does your Christianity bring life or death to people?
False religion brings condemnation and true religion brings confidence. False religion deals in guilt and manipulation. True religion loves in truth and action. William Barclay said, “We cannot begin to live the Christian life until we accept Jesus Christ for what he is, and we have not accepted him in any real sense of the term until our attitude to others is the same as his own attitude of love.”
John says, “Little children, Love one another.” This is true religion.
We need to look at our not only our official doctrine of the church, though that matters, but more along the lines of do we practice what we preach? If someone were to give us a test to determine what we believe through our actions, not our words, would we pass the test? What does our faith-practice say about what we really believe?
This matters immensely in our day and age. The #1 charge against Christians is hypocrisy. Let’s make a clear distinction here between hypocrisy — which is pretending to be something/someone that you’re really not or not really intending to become something/someone that you’re supposed to be — and failure (due to ignorance & sin) to live fully into your identity in Christ. People understand that Christians won’t be perfect. They expect that but they also expect Christians to be humble, acknowledge they aren’t perfect, seek to understand those who are different, treat people as they want to be treated, and ask for forgiveness when they’ve done something wrong. What people don’t understand are Christians that act and speak in ways that are contrary to Jesus’ life and teachings.
Micah 6:8 says: What does the Lord require? Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God.
James 1:27 says, Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
John says, ‘Little children, love one another. Not with your words, but in truth and action.’
Our actions and our words reveal our beliefs, so — What is your faith saying?
Heavenly-mindedness comes naturally to people. You don’t have to be a person of faith to have a heavenly yearning.You need to go no further than your radio to realize this. FOR EXAMPLE – I submit to you the1980’s Hair Band WARRANT singing “HEAVEN ISN’T TOO FAR AWAY”: “Heaven isn’t too far away. We get closer to it every day. No matter what your friends might say. I know we’ll find a way.” Presumably, the way to heaven involves AquaNet and eyeliner. And who can forget the raspy voice of BRYAN ADAMS singing the simply titled song: “HEAVEN.” “Baby, you’re all that I want. When you’re lying here in my arms. I’m finding it hard to believe. We’re in heaven.” That’s poetic genius right there.
The popularity of heaven even saw a modern WORSHIP SONG enter the secular charts, with MERCY ME’s “I CAN ONLY IMAGINE” Surrounded by You glory What will my heart feel? Will I dance for you, Jesus? Or in awe of You be still? Will I stand in your presence? Or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing hallelujah? Will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine.I can only imagine! Side note: I certainly hope that going to heaven doesn’t mean performing a solo dance and song number for Jesus. I’m hoping for a good conversation with him over a cup of coffee.
People know they need relief from the mundane routine of being stuck in a cubicle for 9 hours a day or the stress of trying to balance the family budget while trying to figure out how to pay for rising health care costs and children’s sports. Heaven sounds really good for people who simply need more than a little bit of R & R. And so, we look for it, hoping we’ll catch heaven.
Many people yearn with anticipation for a time when the world is just or as Christians might say, when “the world is put to rights.” We desire the day when there is no more pain, injustice, abuse, war, disease, famine, and brokenness. In a world where so much can go and has gone wrong, it is natural and even good to look forward to heaven. Heaven sounds like the answer to a lot of our problems.
BE WHERE YOUR FEET ARE
The problem with being so heavenly minded is that we can become no earthly good. There’s a saying I heard for the first time today: “Be where your feet are” or in other words: BE PRESENT. Being present, being mindful, being aware of the here and now is wisdom reflected in many major religions and philosophies throughout time.
We only have the present — this moment in time we are HERE, we are ALIVE. The past is gone and the future is pregnant with possibilities that may or may not happen. Wishing for another time and another place means we are less than full participants in the here and now. If you spend all your time looking up or looking back, you’ll miss everything that’s right in front of you. Be where your feet are.
Where are you right now (physically/situationally)? What’s going on in your life? What are your important relationships? What can you do right now? How can you be more present in your daily life?