Who Could Stand?
Keith McFarren
March 26, 2023
Ezekiel 37:1-14 In Psalm 130 the Psalmist wrote “If you, God, kept records of our wrongdoings, who could stand a chance? (Psalm 130:3 The Message). The Psalmist asks a very important question. If God held everything against us, if God kept track of all our wrongdoings and held us accountable for each and every one of them, who, of us, would stand a chance…who of us would be left standing? The answer is obvious…no one. If God held us accountable for all of our sins, none of us would be left to stand…we’d all be in big trouble because none of us would have any have hope. That’s a pretty bleak outlook. Except that’s not where it ends. In fact, this leads us to a greater possibility. “As it turns out,” the Psalmist continues, “forgiveness is your [way of life].” Ah ha! There is hope after all. The Psalmist then begins to close by saying that is where he will focus
his entire life…he will focus his entire life on this unconditional grace that God offers us. He’ll be watching for it just as a look out watches for his enemies at the break of day. He finishes by saying that God’s grace, this forgiveness that God offers is not just for him…it’s for everyone. He invites all of us with an open ended invitation to be aware of this all inclusive grace that God offers. Ezekiel stood looking out across a valley filled with dried bones that stretched as far as he could see. Bones that were brittle. Bones that had been bleached by the relentless sun and worn down by the ravages of time. Bones that represented the once proud nation of Israel…bones that now seemed to be without hope. It was a devastating reminder of what had once been a community of faith, a community of God’s own people who were called upon to make God’s glory known. Now the bones bore silent witness to the devastating downfall of God’s people because of their sin. As Ezekiel surveyed the wreckage, with God at his side, God posed a question to him…a question that really, only God could answer. “Can 2
these bones live?” Not just this one bone…or not just that one…not just some of them, but all of them, the entire faith community, the entire family of God. Can these bones live? It’s something we’ve all asked ourselves, at some point in our lives, especially as we face the challenges of illness, financial problems, family problems, broken relationships, or a faith in God that seems to dwindle by the day…all these things have us staring into our own valley of bones. Maybe we mourn over the past; we lament over what once was, while at the same time we look into a future that is filled with terrifying unknowns and we wonder if there are situations that lie ahead that are going to bring us to our knees and fill us with a sense of hopelessness…and we can’t help but wonder to ourselves, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel knew he couldn’t provide an answer to God’s question because he knew it was a question only God could answer. And Ezekiel said as much, “Only you know God” because to answer in the affirmative, to say that yes, these bones can live, would require a miracle that only God could provide. But the truth is, this isn’t the first time God had ever asked this question. God had been asking and answering that same question since the beginning of time. “Can these bones live?” He answered it as he provided clothing to Adam and Eve after they committed their initial sin. He answered it with the olive branch that was delivered to Noah by the dove as the waters from the great flood that destroyed mankind finally receded. God asked and answered the question as he brought his people out from slavery in Egypt. He also answered the question when he brought down the walls of Jericho and yet provided a way out for the prostitute Rahab and her family because of the courageous faith she displayed. The question was asked and answered for Ruth and Naomi when they lost everything…and for Elijah and Mordecai and Esther. Time and time again, God asked and answered this question through the prophets promising that he would send a righteous ruler to usher in a new beginning…not just for Israel but for the entire world. We are living in a time of tremendous change. If you don’t believe watch the news at night or read a current magazine or newspaper. One of those changes is the loss of influence for the church…churches worldwide and churches right here in our own community. 3 The church, both Bethel and all churches, are losing people. They (we) are losing people by attrition as we all grow older and eventually pass away. But the church is also declining because God doesn’t seem to play a very important part in the life of people today…so the idea of attending church on Sunday morning (or any other time) and being a part of a faith community is way down on the list of things to do. So that’s where we find ourselves this morning. Sitting here in the world in which we live. Sitting here in the midst of a whole bunch of dried bones. Sitting here in the midst of what once was. Sitting here in the midst of our hopes and dreams and expectations for the future of the church (including
this one). We’re sitting here this morning, despite all that is going on in the world around us and all that is going on within all churches everywhere (including Bethel) but this is exactly where God wants us to be on Sunday, March 26, 2023. This is exactly where God wants us to be…here in this place that used to be so easy…this place that now involves some effort…this place that now involves some commitment and a whole lot of faith. God sets us down in this church, a church like so many other churches,
a church that is facing an uncertain future and he asks us, “Can these bones live?” And our response to that question is to shrug our shoulders
and throw our hands up in despair. “Who knows,” we say. “If only it was like it used to be…if only we could turn back the clock…if only we had advertised more and reached out to our neighbors more…if only we would have loved each other more as a congregation and been nicerto each other and gotten along better…oh, for the good old days,” we say. And once again we ask ourselves can these bones live? Do you remember the shortest verse in the Bible? John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” He wept as he stood outside the tomb of his friend Lazarus who had been dead for a few days. But it’s not the only time Jesus wept. He also wept as he entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and saw the streets lined with people cheering him on (Luke 19:41). As he looked at all the people his heart broke because of their blindness, because of their lack of vision, because of their lack of faith, and their inability to see anything
beyond death. Jesus wept outside the tomb of Lazarus. But at the same time, do you remember what Jesus said that day outside Lazarus’ tomb. “Remove the 4
stone.” And who removed the stone that signifies Lazarus’ death? Not Lazarus…but his friends. And who unwrapped Lazarus from his burial garments? Not Lazarus…but his friends. Lazarus came back from the dead and he came out of the tomb…but he didn’t do it all by himself. Lazarus was set free from all that bound him up and held him down by others, by his friends working together under the directions of Jesus who came to bring light into the world and to overcome the power of death. So let’s get serious about all this. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Can these bones live? Can we survive in the midst of all our troubles? Can we survive with all of our personal troubles? Can we survive as Bethel UMC…can any of the churches around us survive? Not on their own, they can’t. Not on our own, we can’t. But then again, the answer is always yes for those who cry out to God. The answer is always yes for those who are willing to quit trying to do things themselves and put themselves at the mercy of God and open their hearts and minds to God’s grace. It’s ours for the taking…help is available if we are willing to change our ways…if we are willing repent and turn back to God. New life is ours for the taking if we turn away from trying to do things ourselves…if we quit trying to do things our way by pursuing our own agenda and pursuing our own will and our own desires and get back on the right track…the track that leads us back to God. God didn’t ask Ezekiel to answer the question about the bones because God needed an answer. God already knew the answer. God asked the question only because he wanted Ezekiel to realize that he was part of the solution. He wanted Ezekiel to be the prophet he was called to be. He wanted Ezekiel to serve as God’s mouthpiece as he had before and prophesy to the dead bones so that he could play a part in reviving what seemed to be dead and lost forever. Ezekiel never once questioned himself or his abilities. He simply did as God wanted him to do. He spoke to that pile of death and God breathed life into the broken remnants of his people…and what arose from the rubble was a magnificent great army. An army of great warriors who were strengthened and brought to life by the power of God.
5 God stands beside us this morning and asks us the very same question he asked Ezekiel, “People of God, can these bones live?” Can we overcome our own personal problems? Can we find our way forward through a world that is filled with hatred and anger and pain? Can we find our way through a society that wants nothing to do with God, let alone living moral and ethical lifestyles? Can the church and can Bethel UMC find its way and survive? Will these bones live? Will this church live? Will any of our churches live? No. They won’t live. They aren’t going to make it on their own if they are spiritually dead or dying. But they will live if you do something about it. So you bring them together, Ezekiel. You bring life back into these bones. You, you here this morning and you watching us over the internet, you bring them together. You prophesy to the bones. You pray for spiritual renewal. You go out and proclaim the truth that comes to us through Jesus Christ. You tell others about the peace and comfort that can be found in the Gospel. You tell others about the love of God that is so great that nothing can separate it from us…not even death. Just as God promised to restore his nation, he can also restore not only you as an individual but he can restore any church, no matter how dead and dried up it appears to be. So you get up and bring these bones back together and you bring them
back to life. And if you do that…if you do that…you will live…we will live…
and these bones will be alive again. What happened after that took some time…it didn’t happen overnight. But Ezekiel never gave up. He never gave up until it became right again. He did it not by depending solely upon himself to do it. He depended upon himself and the power of the Lord to do it. The story of the Bible is about renewal, it’s about continual beginnings, it’s about beginningsbased on the grace of God, beginnings rising up from what at one time looked like endings…and it is all made possible because we are loved by a God whose power is limitless. Where we might see nothing but old bones that look like a hopeless wasteland full of painful endings, God, through his grace, envisions a fresh explosion of new life. God calls us to play a part in spreading the hope of new beginnings…of bringing new life that comes from dried up old bones…the bones of our families, the bones of the world around us, the bones of this church. Speak to the breath of God…speak to the one who can do the impossible. 6 When we raise our vision to look beyond what our human eyes can see, we watch the impossible happen through the eyes of God. From past to present,God, with his love and grace, always has and always will renew our strength to stand.