Sunday, March 29, 2020
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Next week is Palm Sunday. We will be conducing our worship services via a Zoom meeting. So that we can see one another’s faces. And so that we can celebrate communion together in real time. I will e-mail out instructions for how to access our Zoom meeting early next week.
Please continue to send your donations to the church as you are able. Someone is checking the mail daily.
Dottie Johnson- fractured her hip, recovering at home.
Dorothy Patini- in Manor Care for dehydration
Health Care Workers
End to the coronavirus pandemic
Schaeffer’s celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary this week!
Cathy Sagi’s test results for COVID-19 came back negative .
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires, known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Confession of Sin
Merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart and mind and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. In your mercy, forgive what we have been, help us amend what we are, and direct what we shall be, that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.
I declare to you in the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. Go in peace.
Opening Song Holy Spirit Come to Us GtG 284
Holy Spirit, come to us; kindle in us the fire of your love. Holy Spirit, come to us, Holy Spirit come to us.
Old Testament Reading- Ezekiel 37:1-14
The Valley of Dry Bones
37 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
Sermon: Can These Bones Live?
Let us pray,
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be pleasing and acceptable to you, our rock and our redeemer…
It’s good to be with you again this week. This week I’m going to continue with my theme of preaching from strange books of the Bible by preaching from the book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel is one of the major prophets of the Old Testament. I imagine this book is an unfamiliar one to many of us. So I’d like to begin with some background on who Ezekiel was, and what the world he lived in was like.
The book of Ezekiel records six visions of the prophet Ezekiel from 593 to 571 BC. Ezekiel and his wife lived during Babylonian captivity, on the banks of the Chebar River, with other exiles from Judah. Exile is a period of being separated from all the things, places, and people that give life meaning. It is a period of learning new ways of being in a strange place among strange people. For the Jewish exiles living under Babylonian captivity, the key symbols of Jewish faith- Jerusalem, its temple, its people, and the Davidic monarchy- had all been destroyed. With the temple destroyed, many exiles wondered if the Lord was truly lord and truly faithful.
Into this experience of exile, Ezekiel shares his vision for the valley of dry bones. Ezekiel sees many bones on the floor of a valley. Ezekiel asks God, can these bones live? God tells Ezekiel to prophecy to these bones that I (God) will make breathe enter into these bones, and these bones will come to life. For thus says the Lord:
My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them: I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’ (Ezekiel 37:12-14)
What’s interesting to me about this vision is that God breathes life into a valley of dry bones after Ezekiel prophecies. There is this beautiful interconnectedness between divine agency (God acts) and human response (Ezekiel prophecies). In other words, new life happens when God and Ezekiel work together. God continues to take the initiative. God’s spirit will bring new life to a people dead as dry bones, because of the prophet’s initiative.
Even though Ezekiel is a strange book of the bible for us. It’s actually included in the lectionary on the Sunday before Holy Week every year. We read it as a reminder that resurrection life isn’t pretty. When we say resurrection life, we’re talking about the life made possible for us through Jesus’ death on the cross, resurrection from the dead, and ascension into heaven. We’re not talking about the promise of new life, for example the life of a newborn baby. No, we’re talking about renewed life, a life forged from death. A life made possible through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
The valley of dry bones is a poetic and prophetic response to the situation of God’s people. To their sense of hopelessness, to their situation of being cut off from their land, their temple, and (they think) their God. Ezekiel reminds us that even in this landscape of death, hope for renewed life remains. Ezekiel prophecies to the bones that soon reanimate. The true miracle is that these bones live after the community has faced such devastating loss. Ezekiel’s message of hope is that even in a valley of dried bones, God continues to breathe new life.
Right now, we as a faith community are facing a situation similar to Jews in exile. The rapid spread of COVID-19 in our world has necessitated major changes to our daily lives and routines to help mitigate its spread. Last Monday, March 23, 2020, Governor Wolfe signed a mandatory stay at home order for Allegheny County. In addition to closing all non-essential businesses, and eliminating all group gatherings, this order mandates that we must stay home except to pick up groceries, medicine, or go for a walk outside. The mandate is in effect until April 6, 2020, but it will likely be in place for longer.
In an effort to protect the health of the most vulnerable in our communities, this mandate is making the rest of the community vulnerable in new ways. The closure of non-essential businesses will lead to a rise in un and underemployment. The closure of schools and day cares means that many children in our community are facing food insecurity. Many, many adults are learning to work from home, while caring for children in confined spaces. Many more adults are trying to care for parents they can’t visit. When this virus hits its surge, I will have to tell families that funeral services for loved ones will have to be postponed until we can gather in public again.
So in the midst of all of this fear, uncertainty, and new ways of living, where is our hope? Ezekiel reminds us that God will continue to breathe life into dry bones. That no matter how bad our current situation is, God promises to be with us always. Ezekiel also reminds us of the interconnectedness between divine agency and human response. While we believe that God acts, God is in control, and God will ultimately bring this virus to an end, we also believe that we have a role to play in all of this.
Right now, the role we have to play is to stay calm, stay home, and stay safe. Throughout this last week, many of you have called to ask me what you can do for the vulnerable in our community. What you can do is probably not what you want to hear. And that is to stay home. This week we have a real opportunity to slow the spread of COVID-19 before our hospitals become too overwhelmed to treat everyone who needs care. The best way to slow the spread is to, if we’re healthy, not contract the virus. And if we’ve contracted the virus, not spread it to other people. The best way to do both of those things is to stay home.
I know I’m asking a lot. Like many of you, I am a doer, and staying at home feels like I’m not doing my part in the face of a worldwide pandemic. But while I trust that God will see us through this, I also trust in our medical experts who say that the best thing I can do right now is to stay home. I know this is hard. But when we look back on this time months from now, or even years from now, we all can take comfort in the fact that we did all that we could to protect the health of the most vulnerable in our communities. Trusting that God will continue to breathe life into these dry bones. As we wash our hands.
Thanks be to God,
In Jesus’ name,
Let us confess our faith, using the words of the Apostle’s Creed:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and life everlasting. Amen.
Pastoral Prayer/Lord’s Prayer
Almighty God, in Jesus Christ you taught us to pray, and to offer our petitions to you in his name. Guide us by your Holy Spirit, that our prayers for others may serve your will and show your steadfast love; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord:
Let us pray for the world.
Let us pray for the church.
Let us pray for those who govern us.
Let us pray for world leaders.
Let us pray for the sick.
God of compassion, bless us and those we love, our friends and families; that, drawing close to you, we may be drawn closer to each other, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Name an unexpected blessing of the previous week? (3 minutes)
Name an unexpected challenge of the previous week? (3 minutes)
Closing Song Within Our Darkest Night GtG 294
Within our darkest night, you kindle the fire that never dies away, never dies away. Within our darkest night, you kindle the fire that never dies away, never dies away.
You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has a purpose to you being there. Christ who dwells in you has something he wants to do, through you, wherever you are. Believe this and go in his grace, and love, and power. Amen.
We'll see you back here next week. God Bless You!