December 08, 2013 – First Baptist Church Edmonton – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato
GodStory, Act III: Israel
Key Event #14 of 37
Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14
Title: “Waiting for the Ridiculous”
In this season of Advent we sing:
O come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear…Rejoice…Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight…
I often hear people saying that they love this Christmas song…perhaps it’s because it’s in a minor key…and goes beyond the “holly, jolly” part of Christmas and seeks to wrestle with the deeper, darker places of our lives that make the yuletide season hard to cope with…our hope here at FBC is that you can bring your whole “selves” to worship and to this community of faith…whether you be in joy, or sorrow, sadness or gladness or somewhere caught inbetween.
O come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here.
For the past several week we have been preaching the prophets section of the GodStory…we’re in the 3rd act of the GodStory, Israel…and we’ve hit that place in the story where the earthly kingdom of God’s people has reached an all-time low.
Long gone are the glory days of the great kingdoms of David and Solomon.
The beautiful “royals” as they were. The glory days of the temple have been squandered by a chasing after of idols, money and power. God has warned the people of the consequences of their sins…judgment looms…the promise of God creating a people who would bless ALL the nations is once again in jeopardy.
In fact, God’s people who once had a place to worship and a temple set aside as sacred space to worship the 1 true God have been kicked out of their country and taken as prisoners of war to a foreign land.
Ezekiel was a priest who was raised in an upper class family who got deported to Babylon in the first wave of prisoners to go Babylon. As Tana said a couple of weeks ago…when planning to oppress and annihilate a people, take the cream of the crop first and then deal with the weak ones later.
Ezekiel ends up in exile, in Babylon in 597 BCE and then is called to the vocation of prophet. He suffers his own sorrows in Babylon…his wife dies and he’s told by God not to mourn her death as a sign to God’s people that they are not to be pitied.
And then for 10 years, all God wants Ezekiel to do is prophesy judgment to the people Israel. Doom, Doom, Doom! God would say “encouraging” things to him in these times like: “And you…don’t be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house!” (2:6).
For 33 chapters, Ezekiel pronounces doom and gloom upon Israel for their wicked ways. And once these 10 years of prophetic brow-beating are done, Ezekiel gets word of the complete demise and toppling of the temple in Jerusalem.
The Babylonians have completely scorched Jerusalem and all of God’s people have been eradicated from the area.
This is the world of God’s broken, crushed, people…this is what gives rise to some of the lament Psalms (42, 79, 115)… “Why should the nations say, ‘where is their God?’ Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes. Let the groans of the prisoners come before you; according to your great power preserve those doomed to die” (Ps. 79:10).
Perhaps this is the place where this haunting, minor key hymn [of Advent] also finds its source.
O come o come, Emmanuel…ransom captive Israel. That mourns in lonely exile here.
And I’m not sure how this would play on your psyche, but for Ezekiel, 10 years of preaching doom and gloom has made him a pretty crusty and cranky prophet.
Stressed out and hard to live with!
And just when you think he’s going to be God’s mouthpiece for more judgment and “you’re only getting what you deserved”… we are once again surprised by the God of the GodStory. God does not wait for repentance from his people. God does not press his knees into the back of Israel until they cry “uncle!”
No…God presses into God’s promises.
“They shall know that I AM the LORD” (36:37).
In the waning hours of a cool evening in Babylon, the hand of the Lord comes upon Ezekiel and whisks him away in the spirit…an out-of-body experience where Ezekiel is transported in a vision to a valley full of bones. Imagine sitting in your home, staring out your front window and suddenly being whisked away to the endzone of commonwealth stadium…and God asking something like “can this football team live?” I digress!
Ezekiel is set down in the middle of a hot, dry valley, full of bones. He’s led to walk along this sun-bleached boneyard of 10,000 crackly corpses…perhaps even feeling bones crunch under his feet!
The LORD pulls him aside and asks: “Ezekiel, can these bones live?”
He sheepishly answers: “Uhhhhhh, I’m going to leave that answer to you….you know, don’t you??”
PROPHESY TO THESE BONES, Ezekiel!
“Oh dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.”
“Oh dry bones, hear the word of the LORD…
I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life.
I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin,
And breathe life into you.
You shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”
There was a sound, a noise, a rattling…the bones came together right before Ezekiel’s eyes…bone to bone, sinews forming, muscles emerging, skin stretching over them…but there was no breath in them.
PROPHESY TO THE BREATH, Ezekiel!
“God the Master says, Come from the four winds! Come, breath. Breathe on these slain bodies! Breathe on them the breath of life.”
And suddenly from the heavens there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind…
The breath of God entered the hunched-over bodies, they stood on their feet like a massive army.
Ezekiel, these bones are the people Israel!
They cry out, “Our bones are dried out, our hope is gone, there’s nothing left of us!”
They weep and lament, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”
PROPHESY TO ISRAEL, Ezekiel!
What do I say?
Tell them that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob declares:
“I am going to dig up your graves and bring you out alive – – oh my people! I will bring you back to the land of Israel. When I dig up graves and bring you out as my people, you will realize that I am God. I will breathe MY life into you and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act.”
* * * * *
“I AM going to dig up your graves and bring you out alive.”
[ Will we allow this promise to sink into our BONES this morning?? ]
This is the promise given to us when we cry out and when we sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel…and ransom captive Israel…[ransom me; ransom US ] who mourn in lonely exile here.”
In this community of faith, we humbly attempt to proclaim the good news of a God who will dig up your graves and bring you out alive.
And perhaps it’s easy for you this morning to get to that “grave” place, that dark pit where it feels like the end has come.
Perhaps it’s easy for you to get to that place of deadness, that place of dislocation, that place where you feel that God has forsaken you.
All of us have these places, but the weight or threat of the deadness is, of course, at different levels, or different volumes in our lives.
And the good news of Advent, and the good news of today’s GodStory, is that God promises to arrive anew in our midst. Whether we’ve ended up in a dead place, or a dead end, or a dead relationship because of ourselves…or in spite of ourselves…the good news is that God comes anew.
God doesn’t wait for us to repent enough, or say “I’m sorry” enough…as the preacher Fleming Rutledge reflects on this passage she observes:
“God does not raise Israel from the dead because they have repented.
God raises them from the dust because he is their God….
God’s promises are unconditional.” [p. 347, And God Spoke to Abraham]
In essence it’s God’s reputation that is on the line…and God is in the business of “raising the dead.”
So in this season, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is to be more than a song,
it’s a plea for God to be who God is!
Will we hear the good news?… “I AM going to dig up your graves and bring you out alive!”
These seemingly “ridiculous” promises are echoed in our gospel reading in the voice and heart of Jesus…
“I AM the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?” (Jn. 11:25-26).
Mortals…sons and daughters of God…FBC hearers of the word…do you believe this?
May we not be sheepish with our faith – – may we NOT be reluctant about the reputation of our God!
Our lives need this good news…our neighbours near & far need this good news…and our world needs Christians who believe and walk out the reality of this good news.
May we be emboldened to say and believe boldy: “O Lord God…You know!”
We stand alongside the Ezekiel’s and the Martha’s of the GodStory and we go out on a limb and say…
“Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ; the Son of God, the one who comes into the world” (11:27).
Even so…we pray, sing and cry out…Come, Lord Jesus, come!