A sermon on Ezekiel 37:1-14 (The Valley of Dry Bones)
My first experience with the congregation of Scott Boulevard Baptist Church was memorable, friendly and caring. It was everything you’d expect from this group of people-lovers, complete with a poppy seed muffin meet and greet.
On May 18, 2014, I met one of the most caring groups of people I have ever met, and that day we leaned together on hope that God could take something that was ending and turn it into a new and beautiful beginning. As we served together, that new and beautiful thing was created and our church engaged in vibrant, face to face ministry to isolated elders.
I don’t know what led me to the valley of darkness, sometimes these things just happen. But sometime during my second year in service to and with Scott Boulevard, while we were serving isolated elders, I was experiencing a time of spiritual isolation of my own.
What had been an exciting time of innovation and dreaming became a grueling task of trying to prove myself – to make myself worthy of your generous welcome to me, of your complete embracing of me into your lives.
Eventually, my time of inner isolation and unrest was recognized by a medical professional as clinical depression, and I was able to address that and got better. I addressed the physical aspects with medicine, and the spiritual aspect with breath prayers, like the one Greg taught us last week, and through service alongside my dear friends here.
In that time, the deeply caring and always loving congregation that had called me to journey with them, journeyed alongside of me, pulling me through a dark time that felt like a walk through a valley of dry and brittle bones of disappointment and potential failure.
I learned to let go, and to trust the spirit of God to move as it will, and to follow wherever the spirit of God led. And I learned that, from you all.
For people like you, the faithful servants of God at Scott Boulevard who have said yes time and again to innovative ministry and new ideas, when the world would consider us weird for focusing so much on the later years of people’s lives, a word from Ezekiel, the weirdo, is a perfect revelation for us today.
Ezekiel is a prophet, and the people he is called to speak to are familiar with isolation and loss. Exiled from their homes and deeply homesick, they have lost their identity, the temple where they worship, their connection to a once vibrant spirituality. They feel the palpable absence of God, and long to be filled with hope.
The riddles of a double talking wordsmith are hardly helpful to them, but he tries anyway, to relay a message of hope into their darkness by sharing with them a vision of restoration and re- creation.
The valley is a wilderness of exile, the bones are the people of Israel, stripped of hope and just barely holding onto life, and the word of the Lord is a promise to them that out of the darkened wasteland will come a beautiful re-creation of identity, meaning and purpose.
There is life and movement in this text, and as I was imagining what truths this text might hold for us, it came alive to me, with texture and nuance. A hopeful and welcome promise for the beautiful future of our ministry together.
The word of the Lord to the people of Scott Boulevard Baptist Church, through the Reverend Sara Elizabeth Robb- Scott:
The hand of the Lord was upon me, it brought me out by the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the middle of the empty chapel – it was full of memories. Fresh reminders of recent loss, distant reminders of beloved saints from this congregation; memories of meaning and purpose.
There were very many memories and familiar faces both living and not, swirling in my mind. The Lord said to me, “Sara, of flesh and blood, what do you make of these memories? What meaning do they hold for the people you serve?”
I said, “God, only you know.” Then God said to me, “prophesy to my people, Scott Boulevard, and say to them: ‘people of God, hear the word of the Lord. This is what God wants to say to you:
O Scott Boulevard, my faithful servants, you have poured out your lives in service to the lonely and frail. Just as living breath, my spirit, has entered the lives of so many from this congregation through your ministry, so will my breath now enter your lives in this time of transition and change.
I will cause life to enter you and you shall live, and your ministry through you shall live to become a legacy. I will give you new visions and passions for what can be, innovations beyond your dreams for ministry with older adults, within and outside of the walls of this building. You and the people you will serve will know that I am the Lord’”.
So, I said “yes, I will prophesy this to the people.” Then, there was a stirring; a movement like the wind and I saw in my mind, a vision. Church at Home expanded to include the First Baptist Homebound community. The Senior Care Team became a comprehensive Care Partners ministry, even beyond what we used to do here.
People across generational lines were gathered in homes to worship together and everyone from the youngest to the oldest knew beyond any doubt that each one of them was welcomed at the table of the Lord.
Elderly hands longing for human connection were cradled in ours, as we became living, breathing reminders of the spirit of God at work in the lives of those whom society loves to cast aside. Through us, each one knew that God was present in their lives and would be present until the end of time, which in God, has no end.
And God said to me “say to my people, Scott Boulevard, ‘I will put flesh upon these visions, and you will be a part of it. It will be a change for you, and that can be scary.
But it will also be an opportunity for growth, and that can be exciting. Like newly pink flesh emerging from beneath a scab, itching and tingling as it adjusts to a new existence, away from the protective cover of old, dead skin;
and like exercising muscles which haven’t been used in a certain way for a long time…
this will hurt.
The soreness of losing an identity may creep in from time to time. The itch to cling to the familiar may feel like a constant presence that you wish would just go away.
I will put my spirit inside of you, so that in those times, those distinctly human times of fear and longing for the good old days, you will remember that I am with you;
and that my spirit within you is greater than any fear or any valley where the journey feels less like a rich experience of fleshy, robust ministry, filled to the brim with the marrow of my spirit; and more like a valley of dried up bones.
In those times, you will remember my spirit within you, and you will live. The legacy you began together will continue on long after every bone in this room has dried up. I have spoken, and will act, says the Lord.”
It’s an exciting time to be the people of God. Our church has been through its share of dry valleys, where even our tears were not enough to quench the parched, rocky earth beneath our feet. We have shared in weariness together.
Today, I hope we will choose to share together in joy.
Joy for the blood and marrow that has plumped up the bones of our ministry- our calling- to be God’s people in the world around us.
Joy for the opportunities we have ahead to create new “good old days”, with new friends and partners in ministry, and the spirit of God leading us.
Joy for the congregation of Scott Boulevard that has been, for the extraordinary love and deep care this congregation is known for, and for the new creation that is to be.
Joy, for a people, a legacy, and the spirit of God.