Piano in the video is played by John Shillingberg. Two of the songs are “dry Bones” arranged by John Shillingberg and “All Creatures of Our God and King” arranged by Dino Kartsonakis.
Welcome to the members and friends of Streetsville United Church and to all others who have joined us on–line today. I am John Tapscott, the minister of the church. For as long as necessary we will continue to bring God’s word to you in this way. But we look forward to gathering as a worshipping community once again when it becomes possible. If you would like to contact the church for any reason, or make a donation to the church, you may do so through the contact information on our website.
The Valley of Dry Bones
37 The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”
In the valley of dry bones God gave the prophet Ezekiel a powerful and hopeful vision. This passage may remind you of an old spiritual song. Here are some of the words, “Now hear the word of the Lord! The toe bones connected to the foot bone, the foot bone connected to the heel bone, the heel bone connected to the ankle bone, the ankle bone connected to the leg bone, and so on… Hear the word of the Lord!”
Now if you expect me to sing those words, I can assure that that I am not. Not too long ago I sang a solo in public, and that was the last time. But John will play a chorus of it on the piano.
The bones Ezekiel saw in the valley must have been there for some time. Ezekiel said that they were “very dry.” They were probably the bones of a defeated army. But God said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy and say to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.” So Ezekiel prophesied and suddenly there was a rattling noise as the bones came together and flesh covered them. The Lord told Ezekiel, “Prophesy to the breath, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God, ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live.’ So Ezekiel spoke and breath came into them and they lived and a great multitude stood on their feet.”
Now at that point in history the people of Israel were scattered. Many had been taken into exile in Babylon. It seemed like the nation was dead, lost forever. All hope was gone. But God promised to bring the people home and restore the nation. Israel would live again! God said to Ezekiel, “These bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ So speak to the people, “I am going to open up your graves, O my people, and bring you back to the land of Israel…I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act.” And in due course, it happened as Ezekiel prophesied and as God promised.
These words contain eternal truth. Through Word and Spirit God gives new life. In these days when hope is in short supply and we are cut off from one another, we need to hear the word of God and lift up the name of Jesus. For when God’s word is proclaimed among us God’s Spirit moves among us. The rattling of dry bones is heard. New life appears. Hope returns. People begin to stand. And it all comes from God. Let me say it again. Through word and spirit God gives us new life. It is happening now. Even in these dark and difficult days, God is giving us new life.
For one thing, God is giving new life to the church.
Now we do feel scattered these days. We cannot worship or meet together. How long all this will go on we simply do not know. In these days, people are longing for hope and light. In times of crisis, the support of the church and the proclamation of the gospel becomes more important than ever. So we are sending out the word of God via these weekly on-line messages. We are keeping in touch with one another in new ways like Zoom and in the usual ways of phone calls and weekly emails. Many of our members are offering help to the church and to their neighbours. Even in these days God is giving life to the church and to our congregation. And it’s happening everywhere. So many organizations are closed down, but congregations large and small are finding new and creative ways to do church and to bring people together. We are helping one another to stand. It is good to see. And no doubt some of the lessons we are learning, and the new methods we are using will become part of the church’s life when all this is over. In these days God is giving new life to the church.
Secondly, God is giving new life to the living.
That sounds strange, doesn’t it? For if we are listening to this, obviously we are among the living. But the situation we are in now doesn’t feel much like living, does it? Sure, sometimes it’s great to have a couple of days at home, to relax, read books, to paint the walls, clean your garage, enjoy your hobbies, or catch up on some favourite programs. That can refresh you and give you enthusiasm to go out and meet the world again. But 2 or 3 days is enough. Two or three weeks, or more, starts to sap your strength and spirit. Your enthusiasm wanes and your anxiety level rises as you watch the news. And with the house of Israel we say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost, and we are cut off completely.” “O mortal, can these bones live?” God answers “Yes, you can live, for I am giving you new life.”
In this time of isolation and yes, boredom, we can turn to our eternal, never-changing God even more than we turn to the fleeting, ever-changing news. God often called his long suffering people to wait just a little longer. But in doing so, he gave them the assurance that he is moving, working, quietly, but powerfully and effectively. So we ask God for patience, which is a gift of his Spirit. And along with patience God is giving the peace which calms our fears and overcomes our anxiety. God is opening our eyes to see signs of hope. God is opening our ears to his promises. Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” And in these days we are realizing how important relationships are. Just speaking on the telephone to someone really lifts my spirit. Remember the words of the hymn, “As comes the breath of spring with light and mirth and song, so does God’s Spirit bring new days, brave, free and strong.” In these trying times, God is giving new life to the living.
And then too, God is giving new life to the dead.
Every day we see the rising numbers of those who have been tested positive for the coronavirus as well as those who have died. Hopefully the peak is near and we will soon see a drop in both rates. And we want to do everything possible to stop the spread of the disease and to make the sick well again. It will be wonderful when the death rate from COVID-19 hits zero.
But I want to be clear here. No one wants to die needlessly or prematurely. Nor do we want to lose a loved one. But everyone of us will die someday. The death rate for the human race is 100 per cent. Now we can face the prospect of death with fear, the fear of being cut off and lost forever. Or we can face the prospect of death with faith, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible declares that the sin virus which infects all people not only causes us to die, but to perish forever, apart from God. But the Gospel also declares that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has defeated that deadly virus. And now everyone who is joined to the living Christ by faith, even though he or she die, yet shall they live. God will open our graves, as he opened Jesus’ grave, and bring us up from the graves, to the Father’s house, where we shall dwell in God’s light and love forever. God will give us a new resurrection body fit for life in the nearer presence of God and all his redeemed people, a great multitude. So we put all of faith in Jesus Christ. Trusting in Christ, our hope is never lost and we are never cut off and we are not afraid. Death cannot and will not separate us from the eternal love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Through Jesus Christ, God gives new and eternal life to those who die in faith. Jesus said, “Believe in God, believe also in me…In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am the resurrection and the life.”
One great hymn we often sing is “Now Thank We All our God.” It was written by Pastor Martin Rinkart, not in a time of ease and good health, but during a great 17th century plague in Germany. Rinkart was the only surviving pastor in his town and he sometimes conducted 50 burial services in a day. Tens of thousands died. What we are going through now is difficult but nothing like that. Yet during that awful time Rinkart wrote this great hymn of hope and thanksgiving. And the second verse will be our closing words for today.
O may this bounteous God, through all our life be near us
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us.
And keep us in his grace, and guide us when perplexed.
And free us from all ills in this world and the next.