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Dry Bones

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Dry Bones, Dead Dreams

Ezekiel 37:1-37:14 (NIV, NIRV, TNIV, KJV

Ezekiel, in our Old Testament lesson, stands on the battlefield. The battle is over, and his side lost. The battle has been over long enough for the smoke to have cleared and the vultures to have done their work.

All that is left is a valley full of bones. Dry bones.

It is a scene of hopelessness and despair and failure. Israel is a nation that has been defeated and its people live in exile. There is no hope left for that nation, and all that is left to be seen of Israel’s army is a battlefield of defeat long past, and a valley of dry bones.

You know, there is nothing quite like a dream that has died.

In Ezekiel, the dream that has died is that Israel would be a nation, free from exile. All that is left of the dream is dry bone. Or as the old spiritual would say, "DEM bones, dem bones, dem dry bones."

We all have had dreams that have died and have turned into Dem Dry Bones.

I can’t remember all of the words of that old spiritual, but you probably recall the one I am talking about. "Dem bones dem bones dem dry bones, so sing the word of the Lord."

That music has a lighthearted feeling about it. Rather comic feeling. But there is nothing lighthearted or comic about failure, or defeat, or dreams that die.

I think that the most frustrated in life s experiences.

We can’t go through life without knowing the feeling of failure. We can’t even get out of school without knowing that feeling.

I remember very clearly how I felt in high school when I took Geometry. Geometry is the only class that I ever took in school that I failed. And I don’t mean that I barely failed, I failed miserably. From day one, I never passed a single test in that class. What was so frustrating was not only the failure, but knowing half way through the year that I had no hope of passing. My hope of a passing grade was as dry as dem dry bones. And I had to sit there day after day in a class in which I had no hope.

I’ve had worse failures, involving more important things that geometry, but I think what makes geometry stand out in my mind is that I was so aware of how hopeless the situation was. Life normally does not give you a report card every six weeks to tell you how hopeless things really are.

Now failure is a part of life. There is nothing wrong with failure. It happens. And some things were not meant to be. We cannot succeed at EVERY thing.

One of the good things about young children playing baseball is that it teaches them how to handle failure.

In baseball, no one bats a .1000, which is a perfect record, having a hit for every time you go to bat.

Actually, I had an uncle who was a professional baseball player. In his last season, he batted .1000. Of course, he only went to bat once, and he just so happened to have had a hit that one time at bat. Most players in most seasons go to bat many times, and there will always be times when they don t get a hit. A batting average of .250 is good, which means that 25% percent of the time that you go to bat, you get a hit. In other words, having three failures for every one success is a good, acceptable performance.

You cannot succeed at everything. There will be failures. And yet, there are some dreams that we have that we do not want to see dry up in failure. Some dreams do not deserve to become dem dry bones in the valleys of our lives.

For some, it is the dream of having children.

For others it is to have a stronger, healthier family.

For others, it is the dream of being effective at work.

For others, it is the dream of being sober after years of alcoholism.

For others, it is the dream of self acceptance.

For others, it may involve a more global concern, such as protecting the environment or helping feed the poor or bring about world peace.

There are all sorts of dreams that we have for our lives. And while failure is a part of life, some dreams are such that we do not want to see them lay lifeless like a pile of dem dry bones.

In Ezekiel, our Old Testament lesson for this morning, there is a dream that

lies dead. It is the dream of a national homeland for Israel, a restoration of the nation of Israel.

That dream is dead, and to emphasize that fact, Ezekiel visits the army of Israel -- the only army being one of dead soldiers, unburied bodies that are in fact nothing but dem bones, dem dry bones.

How to handle failure is an important lesson to learn. It is important to know how to handle defeat, because there will be times of defeat. But that is not the lesson that concerns Ezekiel. For Ezekiel, the concern is how does one handle failure, when you know deep in your heart that this particular failure is not acceptable? How do you handle defeat when you know that this particular defeat is something you need to overcome, not accept and yield to.

In a marriage, for example, one might need to learn to accept divorce. The wife who is abused cannot change the violent behavior of her husband. The husband who cannot change the adulterous lifestyle of his wife. For some, the marriage is over, dry and lifeless. For others, however, a marriage may be rocky, but divorce remains unacceptable in the hope of somehow restoring life to their dry marriage.

Or, one might have to accept the loss of a particular job. You ve finally gotten your dream job with the company you ve always wanted to work for. But they go out of business. Or they downsize.

Some failures need to be accepted, no matter how painful. No matter how much you would want it to be different, there is nothing YOU can do. Things are out of YOUR hands.

But what do you do is a failure that should not be accepted?

Divorce is not always the only option, or even an acceptable one. The loss of one job should not mean the loss of a career.

Some dreams need to die. But what do you do when you honestly believe that yours is a dream that should live?

Ezekiel gives us some simple steps for situations such as that.

The first step is to accept reality.

Poor old Ezekiel goes out to look at his nation’s army and he sees nothing but dem dry bones.

If you can’t wake up to the reality that you have failed, or that your dream has died, or that life hasn’t shaped up the way that you wanted it to -- then you are not going to make any progress.

Face facts. Accept reality.

A parent dreams that a child will grow and mature. Every day there is evidence, tell-tell signs that the child is using drugs. Money on the parents dresser is missing. Changes in the child’s behavior is evident. Items used in drug abuse are found in the house.

And yet, it is easier not to face those facts. That is a hard reality to accept.

But until it is accepted, and faced, the matter most certainly simply gets worse.

Or the marriage that is in trouble. The evidence is there. The conversations that no longer take place. The intimacy that has disappeared. The tensions that have grown.

Until the reality is accepted and faced, the matter most certainly grows worse.

Ezekiel goes out to the battlefield and all he sees is dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.

What he sees is the reality. His dream of a nation for Israel is dry and lifeless. It is a hard reality, but it is a reality that he faces.

Do you have a dream that has died, that shouldn’t have died? Is there a failure in your life that you really don’t believe you should accept?

The first step is to face the reality --- to admit to the alcoholism, or to the drug addiction, or to the trouble in the marriage, or to the ---- whatever. Something in your life is not right. The first step in setting it straight is to accept the reality of the situation, and go from there.

The second step is to have faith in God. There are few things worse than defeat. There are few things sadder than to look out at your dreams and to see only dem dry bones lying in the valley. About the only thing sadder is to be in the midst of a defeat and to feel alone, to be unaware of the presence of someone who is greater than you or your problem.

It is difficult for me to comprehend how one can survive a defeat, or muddle through a problem, without knowing that God is with us, still accepting us.

When you stand in a crisis, when you stand at the edge of the grave of your hopes, you must have faith in God. You must be able to trust someone greater than yourself.

Ezekiel does this. He looks out at dem dry bones. Real bones. Human bodies that have been out on the battlefield for months and that are now nothing but bones dried in the sun.

God asks, "Can these bones live?" The obvious answer is, no way. But to this question, Ezekiel answers, "Only you, O Lord, know."

As we look at dem dry bones of our lives -- our compulsive gambling, our failure at work, our troubled marriage, whatever the dream is that has died or whatever the failure or defeat we have experienced. Whatever the dry bone is in our life, God has us look at it and asks, "Can these bones live? Can this lifestyle be healed? Can this marriage be saved? Can this dream be revived?"

We need to be able to say, "Only you, O Lord, knows." And we need to be able to say it with a voice of faith, assured that God does know, and that he does care, and that he is in control.

Do you have a dream that has died, that shouldn’t have died? Is there a failure in your life that you really don’t believe you should accept?

The first step is to face the reality. The second is to have faith in God. That is not enough however.

The next step is to be willing to accept God’s instructions. In the midst of failure or in the middle of a significant problem, WE want to fix things. WE want to resolve the problems. WE however often cannot fix things or resolve the problem by ourselves. We need to be willing to turn our problems over to God. And to act on his instructions.

Ezekiel does this in the Old Testament lesson for today. God tells him to prophesy to the bones. Poor old Ezekiel. As one minister to another I feel sorry for him. It’s bad enough to preach to people who occasionally nod off asleep or who obviously day dream during the sermon--but to preach to the dead! But that is what Ezekiel is told to do. To preach to the dead.

God gives instructions, and Ezekiel follows them. Ezekiel preaches to the dry bones, and the dry bones begin to change. As the lesson for today says, "There was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked and the tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them."

You see, having faith in God is not enough. We need to act on that faith.

In the 14th chapter of Exodus there is a very dramatic moment. Moses has led the people out of Egypt. The people are right on the edge of the Red Sea. The Egyptian army is fast on the move, they are coming to take the Israelites back. The Hebrew people look around and say "Uh oh, what have we gotten ourselves into?"

The people are stuck. The Egyptian Army is in one direction, the water is in the other. They have no where to go. The people start crying about how they should have stayed in Egypt. Moses is screaming orders at them and promises everything will be alright and then stops to pray.

At this very dramatic point, when there is a lot of action and tension, God says to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise

when you honestly believe that this your staff and the water will divide."

In other words, God tells Moses to stop praying and to get to work.

In the New Testament, James tells us that Faith without works is dead.

You see, we not only need faith in God, we need to be able to act on that faith.

Do you have a dream that has died, that shouldn’t have died? Is there a

failure in your life that you really don’t believe you should accept?

Face the reality, have in God, and act on that faith.

Ezekiel does that. He sees the reality of dem dry bones. He has faith in God and he does what God leads him to do.

But as you read Ezekiel, what happens is that these body parts come together, which is a tremendous miracle. But what you now have instead of dem dry bones, you’ve got them dead bodies.

The bones may have come together, and the flesh may have reappeared, but the text says, there was no breath in the bodies.

There was one more thing that needed to be done. One last step. God had to breathe his Holy Spirit into the bodies of these soldiers. Then they came to life.

It was not enough for Ezekiel to do what he had to do. He also had to wait

for God to do what He was going to do

We can face up to the reality of a problem. We can have faith in God and we

can do all sorts of things to improve or to resolve our problem. But until we step

back and let God get involved in our problem or our crisis, things may change,

but there will be no solution.

There needs to be a spiritual awakening. There needs to be an experience and an encounter with God.

For many of us, that is the one thing that our dreams lack. That is the one thing that makes our failures so bitter. We never let the Holy Spirit of God into our lives and into our dreams.

And until we can let the Holy Spirit into our lives and into our dreams, then our lives and dreams will never be anything but dem dry bones.

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