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Exposing the Rot and Breathing on Bones

April 10, 2011

This morning I preached (along with preachers all around the world) on those ‘dem’ dry bones of Ezekiel 37: 1-14. I linked into the theme of ‘crisis’ as ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’ that our parish is facing at the moment.

Ezekiel’s sense of crisis in the desert with a pile of dry bones is akin to our sense of crisis as we face the convergence of a range of challenges right now. All these challenges are symptoms of the way the loss of Christendom has exposed our weakness and left us not knowing whether the dry bones can live.

So this morning I put alongside the dry bones another metaphor. One that arose out of my own recent house renovations and repair. It is the metaphor of a painter scraping off old paint and discovering rotten wood underneath. Rather than post the whole sermon which is quite specific to our congregations, let me pick up from here with an extract from the sermon:

“It seems to me that as the support structures of Christendom have been taken away, as the wider society and state have pulled back on that ancient deal we had with them, as the church’s social status has dropped, as its social acceptability has diminished, as weekends have been lost, and as work pressures have increased on people’s lives … the fragility of the church’s witness has been exposed. This is not just Coastal Unity, this is the church in all the Western Societies who originally made up Christendom.

When you find rotting boards you are faced with an option. Either you paint back over them again and hope it will look good, or you replace them. You can say… what we need is better marketing, more welcoming people on the doors, trendier styles of worship or you can face up to the internal problem.

In my view that is our situation. We face important choices.

I also think, when I look around the churches that there are lots of people very tempted to paint over things again and hoping the house will still look pretty for new customers.”

Then I outlined the three stage revival of the bones from Ezekiel and continued:

“So what does this mean for us… who are in a different situation from those exiled Israelites of Isaiah’s day? The church has spent 2000 years interpreting this powerful image for its own life. But I wonder if ever before it has had to face up to crisis to the same extent as it does in our time. You see, over 1500 years ago we did a deal with the empire and later with individual nations which we haven’t really repented of … and of recent years the borer have only just been holding hands as secular states have begun to scrape the paint off the church.

Perhaps now we can begin to identify with the feelings of Ezekiel as he looked at a valley of dry bones and wonders whether they can live. And the truth is, only God knows if they can live, because it’s of the very nature of the bodies in question that only God can make them live. You can get a rattle on, set up structures that work well, get a good income stream and a fine set of goals but the bodies can remain corpses. [nb: this is a reference to the first stage of the revival of the bones in Ezekiel]

The church is not a building. The church is not the people (strictly speaking). The church is not an organization of people. The church is what God does to people. The church is a divine process which creates something that people cannot do on their own, something new. The church is a miracle of the breath of God.”

I went on to argue that the return to the Land means for us ‘a place of witness’ and of expressing our true identity, and that the ‘special kind of aliveness’ that the breath of God gives us is what the NT calls ‘reconciliation’ and also ‘the forgiveness of sins’. If anyone is interested in a copy just email me.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 10, 2011 9:32 am

    Thank you for this post. Something I needed to read at this time.

  2. Pam permalink
    April 10, 2011 11:17 pm

    Our Bible study group focussed on Ezekiel 37:1-14 last year. It would be easy to ‘give up’ with all the difficulties at present. The church musn’t retreat into its own structures but should be more involved in social justice work – which relates to people who are, much more often than not, not church members.
    I have intentionally volunteered in my community in organisations based on compassion and caring but not necessarily “church”-related.

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