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Sermon Ideas 4U - Archived Sermons -- AFTER Advent 2002

This page is in honour of the 'pesky, perpetual, predictable and persistent return of the Sabbath'!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This Week's Sermon !

May 19 - Pentecost Sunday

Ezekiel 37: 1-14
Psalm 104
Acts 2: 1-21

Bones, Bones and More Bones

Quite a few years ago now, my family doctor had a skeleton hanging in the inner hallway, outside his exam rooms. One day, an article about him appeared in the provincial newspaper (the doctor, not the skeleton) and he told the reporter that it was the skeleton of a previous secretary, whom he had worked to death! I suppose the bony patient, complete with ball cap, was a great way for him to explain broken bones or hip and knee replacements to his patients.

In the last few months there have been a great many Facebook posts on the Holocaust. We know that the vast majority of those who survived the Nazis’ death camps, looked like living skeletons when the camps were liberated. The released men, women and children had been starved, beaten and mistreated in every way and were quite literally worked, almost to death. If you do an internet search on any of the various genocides which happened in the 20th century you may well see pictures of piles of human bones, especially skulls, often in large stacks. These bones are a chilling reminder of lives lost due to ethnic hatred, violence and war.

I have told you before that I like watching what are often termed “police procedural shows.” One of my favourite shows is “Bones” in which a forensic anthropologist and an FBI agent team up to solve crimes, new and old. Her passion for her work is inspiring and their relationship is hilarious.

In one episode their daughter learns a song in her day care about bones: you know the one - “The toe bone's connected to the foot bone, The foot bone's connected to the ankle bone, The ankle bone's connected to the leg bone, The leg bone's connected to the knee bone,” and so on. The forensic anthropologist wants to forbid the child from singing this song because it is anatomically incorrect and she tries to write one that is -which is not easy considering that any song for a child needs to be singable.

Today’s passage from Ezekiel is described as a “vision,” not a visit to an actual site. The vision is of a field of bones - dried out in the sun, perhaps scattered by wild animals, as far from the living and breathing people they used to be as one could possibly imagine. What desolation would you feel if you saw something like that and knew that they represented YOUR OWN KIN.

He is called to prophesy to the bones, to speak God’s word to them. You heard it, he did prophesy, speaking a word of new life, a word of hope. The bones do come to life after a fashion. First, they become bodies but there is no breath. He prophesies again and with the second prophecy, they became truly alive, truly human because they needed not only a body of flesh and bone but to become breathing beings, filled with the Spirit.

Imagine a people in such despair that they see themselves only in terms of a once glorious past - which is GONE. Their better days are far behind them - they have lost all hope. YET, the prophet tells them they are being too hasty, they are throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There is hope. There is life.

Lets look at what was going on in the world around Ezekiel - who lived about 600 years before Jesus. At some point after the reign of King Solomon the country split in two and the Kingdom of Israel was defeated in war and was wiped off of the map, disappearing forever. Then the Kingdom of Judah was defeated by the superpower Babylon, and the were taken into Exile - as captives, prisoners of war.

But it was more than that. It was a profound crisis of faith about their God. In a mind-set where a nation’s fate in war and the power of their God were opposite sides of the same coin, the Jewish people worried that their God had been defeated that their God was lying with the bones of their people, in the ruins of their beautiful city.

Think of all of those TV “ghost towns” with abandoned buildings, tumbleweed blowing around and the saloon door swinging in the wind on one rusty hinge.

But what about us and our lives here in Saskatchewan in 2024. I have heard a number of people speak of the days where there was “a homestead on every quarter”. Of course, when you were limited to using older farming methods with horses you could only handle so much land in one season. Many farmers had a winter income from forestry or mining and the women in clerical work. I’m told that it started to change after WWII which was, of course, a time of change in many sectors of society the world over, The sizes of farms gradually grew as children left the farm for the city and mechanization meant one farmer could work more land. Now, corporations seek more control over commodity costs and own the land AND the processing equipment.

I believe it was my second Christmas here; someone gave me a book of photographs titled, “Forgotten Saskatchewan.” It shows abandoned houses, churches and grain elevators . There is a certain kind of sad and nostalgic beauty in a well taken photograph of an abandoned farm property. It does not take much to imagine a family gathered in those kitchens for a meal. BUT the house has long since been abandoned and the descendants now scattered to the four winds.

“Country Canada” is a TV show which has been on since the mid 1950s (when it was called, “Country Calendar”) and I recall one episode which focussed on a family from Rouleau. (If you don’t know, my great grandparents and grandparents farmed near Rouleau for about 25 years.) My dad made sure his mother was near the TV so she could watch this program. After it was over he asked her if she knew that family. Her response was simply, “they farm our land.” Because of the drought my father’s family was part of that Exodus to other parts.

Farmers have an intimate connection to a certain piece of land that is hard for non-farmers to truly understand. I have a picture of the front yard at home on my cell phone; it is property we would never have owned if my grandparents had stayed in southern Saskatchewan. Yet I know no other “view from the front window.”

It is also hard for us to understand the connection to the “land of promise” that Jewish people we read about in the biblical story felt. It seems that they were destined to spend the most of their lives longing for that promise.

These days a people restored to the land by international agreements in the aftermath of WWII are doing everything they an to keep it and to make sure no one can truly threaten their living in the land. The friction and outright war between the modern state of Israel and the Palestinians who have been on those lands, continuously, for countless generations is hard to wrap our heads around. I am also warned that we should not equate the modern secular and Zionist state of Israel with the Israel of the biblical era. It is not an easy task to sort out all these competing claims to the same small piece of land which from which 3 groups who claim to be children of Abraham have sprung. As Jews, Muslims and Christians we need to find a way!

To find a new place to call home and to welcome new people are acts of hope. To find a new place to call home and to welcome new people are part of the human story.

But we are not a people who look forward, easily. Even after 5 short years (in Codette) (in Nipawin), I can look out from my vantage point here in the pulpit and see those of you who are no longer sitting out there. I can see the hardy souls who shovelled snow and mowed grass and cooked soup and kept the church open and thriving for so many years. You will have so many more faces and willing hands that you remember and miss.

Now that so many churches have gone to part time ministry, or amalgamated, or closed altogether faith communities are having to re-think what church is. What is church where there is no building in which to gather or on which to pin our identity? If God being with us means a thriving church, which part of that equation is missing? Has God let us down? Or have we forgotten how to look for signs of God alive and active in our midst?

In the TV show Call the Midwife, one of the nurses loses her sweetheart to complications arising from an accident and she is in despair. An older woman, a holocaust survivor, is challenged to come out of her despair by the birth of a new generation and she prepares to move with them; to move on. As she says “goodbye” to her neighbours she tells the nurse to, “keep on living until you are alive again.”

Bemoaning the past will not give us life nor will wishing we were back in those good old days! What will give us life is the word from God that says God’s presence is not to be found among the bones of the dead, or in the past, but in the word of God that has always been there. Our God is with us, where we find ourselves and where we seek meaning in the here and now. As the hymn says, “Open my eyes that I may see.”

The God of life is with us; thanks be to God.


1995- 2021 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.

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