When I think back upon the experiences of my childhood, there are some images and memories that come readily to mind.
I can picture the farmhouses of my grandparents. They both lived in two story houses with no heat in the upper level.
I can bring to mind certain flavors and tastes as well.
My grandmother’s holiday candy coated popcorn sitting in a bowl, all red and green.
My other grandmother’s icebox cookies, or her coffee cake.
But most of all when I remember my childhood, it’s not the places or the flavors that come to mind.
It is the wind.
You cannot grow up on the plains of Nebraska without having some memories of the seemingly omnipresent and powerful wind!
In August it swept through the cornfields and pastures rattling the leaves of cottonwood and cornstalk. I can remember its hot, parching kiss on my face when it came from the south. I remember my hair tossled and pushed back as I stood facing into it, grimacing like a motorcyclist as it pushed against me in gusts though I was standing still.
In the fall the wind would howl from the west, south-west working up a storm from the lower Rockies, unpredictable in its decision between rain or snow.
In the winter the wind assaulted from the North, bringing from the Dakota’s either a seeping moist damp chill that seemed to sap the heat from everything or a bone chilling dry cold that would cut through clothing no matter how many layers you put on.
And in spring the wind could not quite decide which direction to take, and so it would huff cold from the north and then drive warm from the south, swinging the temperature up and down and with its indecision would bring swirls of black-green sky, severe storms of hail, lightning, and tornadoes.
The wind was a constant companion on the plains, and the literature of the Great Plains bears witness to that.
It was the persistent wind that drove the immigrant characters in the novels of O.E. Rolvaag to distraction and mental breakdown.
In Willa Cather’s novels, the wind rustled dresses and straw hats in a somewhat romanticized recollection.
In Steinbeck, the wind moved whole populations, and the nation itself with dust bowl promises and broken American dreams. It howled from freight cars and hobo camps and around deserted farmsteads where desperate travelers huddled for shelter.
The wind had a life and power all its own.
And so, it should not come as much of a surprise that in the bible too, the wind takes center stage.
It is the force that breathes life itself into creation. God breathes into lifeless clay and moves over the face of the waters, and life takes hold.
It is the wind that carries the still, small voice of God to Elijah on Mt. Horeb.
The wind is depicted as the power of Pentecost, the Spirit rushing in like a might wind to empower the witness of the disciples and to proclaim the Kingdom of God sweeping in.
And here in Ezekiel, the wind is the power of prophecy. It is a word spoken to dry and dusty bones to make them rattle back into place, take on sinew and flesh, live again.
In his vision, God takes Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones.
“Dry bones” for Israel was a metaphor for the loss of all hope. “Our bones are dried up” the Psalmist exclaims. It is an expression of hopelessness and despair that anything can truly change.
The location is important.
The question God asks Ezekiel is this.
“Can these bones live?” It is asked while Ezekiel as he sits in the very midst of the dryness and death.
This is not an, “imagine if you will” kind of experience.
This is an experience. It is coming to Ezekiel and bringing him into a place where he can look at the hopelessness that surrounds him, and then asking the question while he sits in the very midst of it.
“Can these bones live?”
This is a question (or one like it) that crosses our minds these days in various forms.
It crosses our minds in the dry bones experience of another school shooting, another senseless act of violence, with the wringing hands on every side where we find ourselves paralyzed, uncertain of what to do, and dry, old arguments ever at the ready.
Can these bones live? Can anything change? Can we find a way to intervene in the senseless repetition of deaths and defenses of constitutional rights?
The question of whether things can change crosses our minds in world events.
Promising international events rise and then falter.
Treaties are hammered out amongst nations only to be abandoned. Urgings to end violence fall on deaf ears. The seduction of power, the desire to rule, the seeking of special interest, the old wounds and arguments resurface. Children suffer, refugees flee, strongmen prevail for a time and are toppled only to be replaced with worse leaders.
We watch the machinations of the quest for political power as it swings back and forth, again and again and we wonder, “Can these bones live?” Can nation ever appeal to the better nature of nation, leader to leader? Can trust be established or maintained and policies be pursued that benefit populations instead of investors?
We live in an exceedingly dry valley these days, where truth appears compromised and facts are made relative. In the swirling collision of messages we wonder, “Can these bones live?” Can truth be found? Can anything be held as reliable anymore? Anyone be trusted?
Even within the church, (and maybe especially within the church!) our thoughts wander to the valley. So much of what we once felt full of life and vitality is feeling a bit dusty and dry these days.
“Can these bones live?” Or will Christianity suffer the same fate as the gods of Greece and Rome, become a mythology half remembered and our churches eventually just ruins and sites for museums for vacationers to wander?
It is when my mind wanders in this direction that I recognize that I’m int eh same place as Ezekiel, sitting in the midst of things that I know I can’t change, and being asked.
“Can these bones live?”
Ezekiel wisely responds, “you know, Oh Lord.”
Which is to say that this is up to you, God. You know whether or not what looks what is long dead and gone to me has any hope of return or redemption, future or restoration.
You, and you alone God, know what is possible, and what is up your sleeve, and what you have decided will be the next step.
All I can see are bones, very many and very dry, and if something other than death and dryness is going to happen here, it’s not going to be up to me, it’s going to be up to God.
Except it’s not left completely up to God!
God won’t let it be left completely up to him, and that is where Pentecost and this matter of the Spirit and the unrelenting wind of my youth comes in.
“Prophecy to the bones!” God says to Ezekiel. “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.”
This is no small thing! In the very midst of the despair and the dryness, in the middle of the valley where no hope seems to remain, God does not roll up God’s sleeves and say, “watch this.” (Or in the popular vernacular, “Hold my beer.)
No, instead God says, “Here’s what you’re going to do.”
Here’s what I want you to say….”Prophesy to the Bones…..”
That move by God makes all difference, because suddenly this isn’t about what God is going to do about this place where I’ve ended up, but it’s about what God is going to do with me and through me in this place!”
You want to know what Pentecost is all about?
It’s about God reminding the disciples that no matter how dry and dead the valley looks, the power of the Spirit, God’s breath of life, is greater, and it is theirs to call upon!
Pentecost is our reminder to claim that.
Pentecost is about saying only God knows what will happen, but this is what I think God would want me to say!
It is about Peter standing up in the midst of the crowd and saying, “These are not drunk as you suppose!
Pentecost is about delivering a word of hope in the midst of what looks like despair, and the word, well that word is already given to you, so speak it!
In the midst of the valley of school violence, Jesus came to give life and give it abundantly, so no more hand wringing, get out there and prophesy!
Say to the powers that worship the gun, “thus says the Lord, you shall have no other gods before me!
Say to the rattling bones of kids dried up with no hope, “thus says the Lord, I know the plans I have for you, plans for a future with hope! There is a future bright and open to you and we will help you find it together.
Say to those who say nothing can be done that something can be tried!
And if what we try fails, then proclaim the forgiveness of sins rather than condemnation, a Spirit that lets us try another tactic, and another, and another, without blame or recrimination, until we find the one that works. Prophesy the Spirit as relentless as the wind that will not let up until dry bones live again!
In the midst of the valley of dry bones of political machinations, say to the bones, “enough!” No more will the levers of government be pulled by special interests and money. “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-rolling stream!”
If it costs me, so be it, I gladly give from the abundance God provides.
If it benefits my neighbor, let me bear it.
If a decision afflicts me, may I look to my neighbor to then speak on my behalf and to rattle the bones until compromise that benefits us both justly is found.
But speak, prophesy, lift your voice! This is what you are given!
In the dry valley of fake news and lies told, prophesy to the bones that we will tolerate it no more. Use the words of Jesus which remind us not to swear on heaven above or earth below or to make any promises beyond our reach but instead to ‘let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.” with no shades of variation.
Prophesy to the bones that rattle that your word is your bond, and that truth matters to you, so that you will not be tossed to and fro by every whim any longer. Demand the truth and hold leaders accountable to it because Jesus reminds us that it is the truth that sets people free!
Maybe the valley of dry bones we find ourselves in seems overwhelming.
Maybe you’re thinking that there’s nothing you can do in your corner of the world to change the machinations of politics and policies, media or mediocrity, methods or messages.
But I’m a child of the plains, and I’m telling you that when the wind blows, nothing gets in its way for very long. It wears down the rock and pushes oceans to waves and brings storm and blessing.
And, I am a follower of Jesus, and Jesus has promised that the Spirit is like the wind, it cannot be resisted, it blows where it wills, and it has power to shape, change transform and move.
Pentecost is our reminder that we have something to say to the valley of dry bones that we find ourselves in which we find ourselves in this world.
Life is coming.
God is bringing it, and God has sent you and me to proclaim it.
Prophesy to the bones, oh people of God, wherever you find yourself in the midst of them. Rattle them and let God do God’s thing of putting meat on them.
Because nothing, nothing resists the power of the wind or the Spirit forever.