The Journey: Bones

December 10, 2017
Ezekiel 37:1-14
Jordan Clegg

I love science fiction. It is easily my favorite genre of both literature and film. Some of my best and oldest friendships are rooted in a mutual love of Star Wars and other nerdy things like that. I believe that the best science fiction has a way of being prophetic showing us possible futures or revealing hidden real-world truths, fears, or injustices. More often than not, the futures look bleak and the revelations are less than flattering for humanity.

One of the most popular science fiction franchises ever and one that gives us a rare, optimistic view of the future is Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek. What started out as a 1960’s television series has become a legitimate subculture phenomenon with conventions, spinoffs, movies, toys, games, and even a Star Trek themed Christian church where priests, musicians, and congregants show up to worship in their Sunday best: their official Starfleet uniforms.

In 2009 the Star Trek movie franchise was rebooted with a new cast and a new timeline. In the new series we are reintroduced to Captain James T. Kirk the crew of the Starship Enterprise. Among Kirk’s closest friends is the ship’s medical officer. Dr. Leonard McCoy.

[Some of you may see where I’m going with this now. What was Captain Kirk’s nickname for McCoy?] Bones.

In the film we find out how McCoy gets the name “Bones”. When we first meet Dr. McCoy he’s making a huge scene as he boards a shuttle to the Enterprise. True to his grumpy, pessimistic persona, McCoy is listing in graphic detail the many ways one might meet their end while traveling through space. As he reluctantly straps in next to Kirk we get a clear picture of McCoy as a man who knows the pain, loss, and fear of exile.

“I’ve got nowhere else to go,” says McCoy, “the ex-wife took the whole ____ planet in the divorce. All I’ve got left is my bones.”

Have you ever felt like bones?

Have you ever felt like all that is life-giving, joyful, and meaningful has been stripped away?

Have you ever felt like bones?

Have you ever felt like dry bones…like the loss, the pain, the doubt, and confusion have set in?

Has it ever been hard to remember the “good times,” if those times ever really existed?

Have you ever felt like just…bones?

Maybe it’s a destructive habit or addiction that you just can’t seem to kick.

You’ve done all the things you’re supposed to do…

You’ve sought help.
You’ve paid for therapy.
You’ve gone to the meetings.
You’ve tried accountability.

But you just can’t seem to shake the fixation that dominates your life at so great a cost.

The desire for one more fix,
one more drink,
one more bet,
one more click,
one more purchase,
or one more glance at the smartphone, at Facebook , or the news

has stripped away all the truly good things that should be at the center of your life. It feels like this behavior defines you. It is starting to feel that freedom is out of reach…or maybe hope was lost a long time ago… all that’s left is your bones.

Have you ever felt like bones?

Have you ever felt like dry bones?

Maybe it’s a long season of doubt. Maybe it feels like it is God is distant, uncaring, unfair, or just plain mean. What do you do with these feelings, especially if you’ve grown up in the church (like me)? It is scary to be in a season of like this. If this gospel is not true then my life has been a waste. If this gospel isn’t true then I’m not sure I even know who I am anymore. For some this doubt may be fleeting, but for others it has been a painful nagging for months or years…like a bone out of place in your foot as you stumble through life.

          Have you ever felt like bones?

          Have you ever felt like dry bones?

Maybe it’s illness; chronic disease that strips away all but symptom management. I’ve experienced this in my own life. In 2012 I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. MS is an autoimmune disease when cells that are supposed to fight infection and illness, attack the myelin sheathe, the outer coating of nerves in the brain and spine. When this happens, lesions form causing a sort of short circuit in the nervous system.

The symptoms vary slightly from person to person, but most commonly they include relapsing periods of numbness, weakness, and muscle spasms that escalate over a period of a week or so followed by a time of plateau and tapering recovery. For me, it started as a strange loss of hot/cold sensations in my feet and legs. After a time I experienced an intense headache at the base of my skull. Following that there was tingling and numbness that started in my left hand and worked its way up my arm. Once the weakness set in and the numbness had moved to my chest and abdomen I started to suspect that something was wrong.

An MRI scan of my brain and neck showed three lesions: one on each side of my brain and on in the upper part of my spine. But the worst had not yet come. Over the next week or so after my diagnosis symptoms had spread across my chest and into my other arm and hand. Eventually my dominant arm was so weak I couldn’t do things like hold a fork, turn a doorknob, or type on a keyboard and I certainly couldn’t play a guitar. Eventually I had trouble walking. Muscle spasms wouldn’t let me sleep for more than two hours at a time and fatigue began to set in like a fog hanging over every thought.

As bad as all that might sound, my symptoms are actually considered mild compared to many others who struggle with the same disease. I’m lucky to be living in a time when MS no longer guarantees that you’ll be wheelchair bound in a matter of years. I’m happy to say that due to good doctors and good medicine that I have been relapse free for going on 4 years now. But anyone who has experienced this kind of life-altering diagnosis be it MS or something far more serious and life threatening, will tell you that it feels like your whole life falls apart, and everything become centered on managing new circumstances. Life as you know it has been stripped away. All that’s left is your bones.

Have you ever felt like bones?

Have you ever felt like dry bones?

Israel knew what this was like…to feel like bones. They were a people in exile; refugees in a foreign land. Cut off from their home. Cut off from Jerusalem, and the temple, which for them pointed to the presence of God among them. To make things worse, news has reached Babylon that the temple and Jerusalem have been destroyed. Not only are they separated from their home against their will, Israel now finds out that there is no longer a home to return to. Even more disturbing, there may not be a God to return to either. It’s not just a loss of material; it’s a loss of dignity, identity, and hope. Babylon had taken everything. All they’ve got left is their bones…and even those are all dried up.

Have you ever felt like bones?

Have you ever felt like dry bones?

Enter Ezekiel, the sci-fi prophet with his visions of alien-like cherubim with wings and multiple animal-like faces, a strange spaceship-like vehicle with wheels within wheels that God’s glory flies around in, and this vision we heard and saw today of a valley full of bones coming back to life that can only be described as a scene from a zombie movie.

Ezekiel is prophesying at the same time as Jeremiah who we heard from a few weeks ago, but unlike Jeremiah who was initially left behind, Ezekiel is among the first wave of exiles to Babylon. Ezekiel knows what is like to feel like bones. He knows the pain and loss of exile intimately. He also knows that this exile is an exile of Israel’s own making.

Ezekiel has warned Israel that Jerusalem was going down. He warned them the temple was going down too. And it was because of Israel’s disobedience; primarily their idol worship. Ezekiel’s message for the first half of his book is, “this is your own doing!” It is not a very comforting message. It is easy to understand why Israel would assume that God had cut them off; that God no longer wanted to have anything to do with them. It had to have been a hopeless feeling. They had ruined everything. All they’ve got left is their bones…and even those are all dried up.

Have you ever felt like bones?

Have you ever felt like dry bones?

As important as it is to see Ezekiel’s vision through the lenses of our personal lives, Ezekiel is speaking to an entire community of people.

“These bones are the whole house of Israel,” God says.

This begs the question: What are the dry bone valleys we’ve created as a church, as a city, as a country? What causing the body count to rise, the bones to pile up and dry out?

Could it be political tribalism; sounding off in our echo chambers that never challenge our perceptions of the world and declare that those who see differently are either ignorant or ill-intentioned?

Could it be our treatment of the refugee and the immigrant?

Could it be our complicity in systems that keep the poor stuck in poverty and the hungry in need of food?

Could it be our smartphones or tablets with constant stream of status updates, streaming television, and news.

Could it be our refusal to acknowledge our privilege and our reluctance to use it for good of those with less?

Could it be our unwillingness to look weak, to give up power?

Are these communal sins; these mass graves of our own making; cutting us off from God and one another.

          Are we beginning to look like bones?

          Are we beginning to look like dry bones?

Ezekiel’s message at the beginning of his career is one of judgment, but once Israel receives the devastating news that the temple is destroyed his message turns to one of hope. In earlier chapters Ezekiel writes that he has seen the glory of God leave the temple and Jerusalem. This might sound distressing at first. After all, remember, the temple was the symbol of God’s presence with Israel. The departure of God’s glory from the holy place may have felt like God abandoning them. But Ezekiel’s vision of God mounting a chariot led by angels may not be a vision of abandonment, but that of pursuit. Ezekiel’s earliest vision of God on the move is before Jerusalem is sieged and the temple destroyed. God leaves God’s dwelling place, mounts God’s chariot, and goes…to…Babylon.

This exile may be an exile of Israel’s own making.
God may not be willing to keep it from happening,
but God will remain faithful in the midst of their trauma.
God will go with them into exile
and God will lead them back.

In this season of Advent, we acknowledge that we are a people waiting for God to come and save us,

To ransom us from our captivity and from our lonely exiles, our valleys of dry bones.

We are waiting for Jesus Christ who was born just like we were born, lived as we live, died like we die, but was raised to life again so that we might live and creation be restored.

O dry bones…hear the Word of the Lord:

          I will put on muscles and tendons.
          I will put on flesh and cover myself with skin.
          I will breathe the air you breathe…and you shall live.
          I will cause breath to enter you
          I will lay muscles and tendons on you
          I will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin…and you shall live.
          I will heal the divisions among you,
          I will bring justice to all people,
          I will break your destructive habits and addictions,
          I will stay with you even in your doubt,
          I will heal you of your illnesses,
          I will restore your myelin sheath,
          I will heal your loneliness, your heartbreak, your despair
          I will make a path home for you…and you shall live.

The promise of this text is not that we will never face exile, or pain, or loss, or injustice. God’s promise to us is that he will enter the exiles and the dry bone valleys of our lives in order to restore that which has been long dead and lead us into new life.

This restoration is not a nostalgic return to the way things once were, it is a transformative sort of restoration. We know that Israel did eventually return from exile, but they were never the same again, and that return home did not last. There were more exiles to come…some were self-made and some were not. God’s promises held true for Israel and they hold true for us in Jesus Christ.

O dry bones, as you wait to be restored, hear the Word of the Lord:

9 … you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,[c] in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

10 Once you were not a people,
 but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
 but now you have received mercy.
(1 Peter 2:9-10)

Once you were dry bones, now you are being restored and transformed.

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Renee Krueger