The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley and they were very dry.
We know that valley. We see it in our lives. The dry bones of our best intentions, our failed efforts, our fractured relationships. We all hit some serious dry spells.
We see it in the world – in the broken bodies of persistent racism, hate crimes, of war and famine. Of slaughtered Syrian civilians, young black men who can’t find jobs, gay teenagers who commit suicide because of the rejection they face, impoverished Honduran campesinos, women beaten by the men they love. In scorn for people with mental illness or who speak a different language or who travel in a wheelchair. Children who don’t have enough to eat and who are.not.loved.
It is a dry valley and it is full of bones.
The world is a very bleak place indeed. But
He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.
We have hope.
There is hope and we find it in the word of the Lord that comes to us through the prophetic voice.
But hang on a minute.
Where do we find the prophets these days?
I mean, we know that the prophets of the Hebrew Bible still speak to us today:
There are those familiar words from Micah:
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? “
And from Isaiah: “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. “
Those words still resonate with life and breath for us today.
And of course we know Jesus came along and had some things to say
But where else do we find prophetic voices in our modern world?
There are lots of answers to that question. I’ll offer a few. But I also I leave it open to you to think about this question in the days ahead. Who speaks words over dry bones and makes them whole?
We can think of some —
Dr. Martin Luther King. Cesar Chavez. Gandhi. Malcolm X. Fannie Lou Hamer. Barbara Jordan. Ella Baker. Marian Wright Edelman. poets. artists
“To climb ever closer to God is not to move away from our troubled and troubling neighbors, but closer to them,” that from the author and new monastic Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
From Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who in 1980 was gunned down by a government because of his advocacy for the poor of his country: “The world of the poor teaches us how Christian love should be. It should certainly seek peace, but unmask false pacifisms, resignation and inactivity… The world of the poor teaches us that the magnanimity of Christian love must respond to the demand of justice … and not flee from the honest struggle.”
Or the writer Alice Walker who said “I must learn to love the questions themselves.”
There are indeed prophetic voices all around us.
But we’re still in the middle of the story here, aren’t we?
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.
We know not all endings are happy. We know things get broken that cannot be fixed. Mistakes that can’t be made right. (I’ve got plenty of those.) We know there are people whose hearts are very hard. Unjust systems that are fully entrenched. The world is ugly sometimes because of the evil that human beings do. And sometimes because bad things just happen.
It is what it is. We’ve heard that, said that before.
But often, often there is hope. There is hope for the living from God.
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.
From the four winds there is breath and there is life. Now we could make sense of this in any number of ways, but I’m going to suggest one way we might read this passage today – because scripture always speaks to us where we are at any given moment, right?
First I’ve got to tell a bit of a story. This is not a story about being a gay Christian – though that is a story I tell sometimes. Instead it’s a story about talking about gay Christians.
This past week I read a couple of blog posts. One was by a sort of hip, millennial, conservative evangelical woman – one whose writings I like. She admits that she prefers the whole one man-one woman definition of marriage. But she also takes on the whole debate about the issue. She speaks of the parable of the Good Samaritan and then she says this:
“it was instantly and perfectly clear that the gay community had been spiritually beaten, stripped of dignity, robbed of humanity, and left for dead by much of the church . . . We don’t get to abandon the theology of love toward people; the end does not justify the means. That is not Christ-like and it is certainly not biblical . . . I am convinced we need no more soldiers in this war. We need more neighbors.”
Ok, that’s pretty prophetic. But hang on.
The next day I read another piece, this by a gay Christian man. He referred to this first piece I just quoted and talked about meaningful conversations he had about the topic of being a gay Christian. And he ended with this
“And so I’ll keep saying it because I am reaping such a harvest, such a renewal of life is growing in the ground of my soul: I am gay and I am Christian. I’m a gay Christian. You are straight and you are Christian. You are man, woman, genderqueer, black, white, brown, and Christian and the kingdom is where we meet and grow together. Sling arms over shoulders. Open our hands and choose to see the best behind our eyes. Choose to stay even when it scares us.”
Now that’s pretty prophetic too.
But let’s go back to the 4 winds piece. What really brings life into this is not just their individual words. It is the conversation.
Not one wind.
Not one voice.
More than one.
Voices in conversation. People talking and people listening. Lots of differences there, but in conversation with one another. Come from the four winds – from all directions. A multiplicity of voices joined together. People talking to people who are different from themselves.
We don’t all have to have the grand prophetic voice of Ezekiel or Isaiah or Martin Luther King.
I suggest to you tonight we ordinary everyday people can together be a part of the prophetic voice that breathes life into this troubled world.
When we join together in conversation, in human connection with others — from the 4 winds, from the 4 corners, from good neighborhoods and troubled ones, rich and poor, black and white, young and old, gay and straight, and on and on and on across difference — when we treasure all of these voices — especially the quiet ones that don’t always get heard — and when we engage those voices in conversation, the result breathes new life.
It joins us together, sinew and bone, life and breath. We can all be engaged in the prophetic voice – inhaling and exhaling that breath of God when we join together.
It is found in relationship, when we hold back the harsh word and enter into a moment of genuine connection. Open to the moment of mutual transformation through engagement with a sister or a brother, another beloved child of God.
It is not a mistake that the words conversion and conversation are so close. We can feel this full in our bodies and deep down in our souls. We commit to staying in conversation with the world, to the witness across difference — and in so doing this prophetic voice breathes new life into the dry bones of our world.
And we shall live.
And we shall know that the Lord God has spoken.