Ezekiel 37:1-10; Mark 2:15-17
The Rev. Tom Herbek
August 20, 2017
My maternal grandmother, Grandma Jordan, grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Grandma had a lot of colorful sayings, some of which made sense and some made no sense to me at all, and still don’t. She used to say that so-and-so person was “as happy as a dead pig in the sunshine.” If you figure that one out, let me know. But one that she used frequently was “no bones about it,” meaning what she had just said was absolutely true. This morning, the scripture from Ezekiel is all about bones, and the coming alive of those bones through the Spirit of God, God’s breath. The Hebrew word for Spirit, as well as the Greek, means both spirit and breath, what you have when you are alive. We get words like respiration from this, and when someone has this spirit, this breath in them in a special way, we call them inspired or inspiring, meaning they can even breathe it into others. Breath, spirit, can make dry bones live again. And in the dryness of our own lives, the spirit can help us live again: we can become inspired.
This spirit allows us to see in new ways. It gives us a new sense of vision. Today, we are at a time in our society where many people are searching for nourishment for their souls, searching for a way to fill up the barren places in their lives, the dry bones. Jesus spent much of his ministry around people whose lives desperately needed nourishment for their souls, saying, “Those who are well have no need for a physician, but those who are sick do.” Yet, new life can be quite scary. In his book, The Active Life, Parker Palmer tells about finding a little book of poetry entitled, “Threatened with Resurrection.” He writes:
I have sometimes feared life itself, and the movement toward new life, more than I have feared death in its various forms. We sometimes do that to ourselves, clinging to our pathologies in full or in part because they are perversely useful to us.
We find our debilities functional, even comforting and somewhere deep inside we are threatened by health, new life, resurrection.
The same point is made more somberly by an apocryphal tale about the apostle Peter. Immediately after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Peter – filled with the power of this great event – sees a blind beggar crouched in the dust beside the gate of the city. Overcome with compassion, Peter rushes to the man, places his hands over the blind eyes, and says, “In the name of the resurrected Christ, may your sight be restored!”
The beggar leaps to his feet, eyes wide open and clearly healed. But with his face full of rage he screams at Peter, “You fool! You have destroyed my way of making a living!”
We sometimes know how to “make a living” from our figurative blindness, but are afraid that we would starve to death if our sight were restored.
One of my most difficult lessons involved the fact that part of me wanted to stay depressed, despite the pain and despair, because as long as I was depressed life became “easier.” In my depression, no one expected much of me, and neither did I. I received more sympathy and fewer challenges. I had a legitimate reason for hiding out from the world of action and decision and responsibility.
All of us face significant change with some trepidation, even if we hope it will be better. But, as Bob Dylan once said: “Anyone not busy being born is busy dying.” Yet, any birth does not happen without some struggles.
I like what Joan Chittister wrote: “The essence of struggle is the decision to become new rather than simply older.” For most of us, we have to get to the point where the day comes when the risk to remain the way we have been becomes more painful than the risk to change.
Especially today, in order to take the chances involved in allowing ourselves to be inspired, we need to also allow for the presence of hope in our lives. Jesus ate with the left out and left behind in his society, and he gave them hope. In her book, Becoming Wise, Krista Tippett describes the need for hope today:
I might be accused of taking this virtue of hope too far. So be it. My mind inclines now, more than ever, towards hope. I’m consciously shedding the assumption that a skeptical point of view is the most intellectually credible. Intellect does not function in opposition to mystery; tolerance is not more pragmatic than love; and cynicism is not more reasonable than hope. Unlike almost every worthwhile thing in life, cynicism is easy. It’s never proven wrong by the corruption or the catastrophe. It’s not generative. It judges things as they are, but does not lift a finger to try to shift them.
I experience the soul of this moment- in people young and old- to be aspirational. This is something distinct from ambitious, though the two may overlap. I’d say it this way: we want to be called to our best selves. We long to figure out what that would look like. And we are figuring out that we need each other to do so.
In order for the dry bones in our life to come alive, we must allow for the presence of hope, and we must find ways to inspire hope in those around us. We must let go of the past, let go of those things that are keeping us from finding hope and healing, as difficult as this may be. Scott Peck tells a story about the need to let some things go:
Two monks, Busho and Tanko, were traveling from one monastery to another on a rainy day. Halfway in their journey they came to a crossroad that had become a gigantic mud puddle. A young woman in a lovely kimono was standing at one corner looking forlorn. Busho went up to her and asked if she needed help getting across the road. She said she did. “Well, then,” Busho exclaimed, “jump up on my back.” She jumped on his back, and Busho waded across the road and gently put her down on the other side. Then he and Tanko continued their journey through the mud and rain.
They arrived at their destination just before nightfall, tired and hungry. They washed and then were fed a good meal by the other monks. After dinner Tanko said, “Busho, how could you? How could you have carried that woman? You know that we monks are not supposed to have anything to do with women. Yet you invited one to actually jump on you, and not only that, but a young and beautiful one. What might people have said if they had seen you? You disgraced your vows and our order. How could you?”
Busho looked at him. “Tanko, are you still carrying around that young woman?” he asked. “Why, I put her down over five hours ago.”
- The Different Drum
Each of us is called to make room for the new. When we give up some of the things of the past, we make room for the new. Only then can we become inspired. Only then can we become inspiring. The good news of God in Christ is that we have available to us everything we need to become alive, everything we need to become fully human. And in doing so, not only do we become healed, but we also become healers for those around us. We are each called to healing, but also, we are each called to become healers. As it happens with so much of life, we need others for this to occur. I like what Scott Peck says about it:
Paradoxically, then, a group of humans becomes healing and converting only after its members have learned to stop trying to heal and convert. Community is a safe place precisely because no one is attempting to heal or convert you, to fix you, to change you. Instead, the members accept you as you are. You are free to be you. And being so free, you are free to discard defenses, masks, disguises; free to seek your own psychological and spiritual health; free to become your whole and holy self.
When the dead parts of us come to life, when the dry bones rise up; when the breath of life enters us and gives us a new vision, inspires us to be more than we ever thought we
could be, then we are truly the people of God, a healing community. No bones about it, we are alive in spirit, people of vision. The Spirit of God that once breathed life into those old dry bones is still around, still inspiring us, still rebirthing us, rekindling life in us.
No bones about it.