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Let These Bones Live!

April 1, 2017

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A short hike up into the Knoll Willows Nature Preserve above City Hall in Estes Park reveals the Birch Cabin ruins. Albert Birch was the city editor for the Denver Post and first visited Estes Park in 1902. In 1904 he hired Carl Piltz to build him a home on the land he had purchased. Birch wasn’t able to move into the cabin until 1907 when he moved to Estes Park. The cabin burned down in December of 1907 but the ruins stand as a sort of sentinel over downtown Estes Park. Birch was a colorful newspaperman and came up with a scheme in 1917 to promote the area and the newly established Rocky Mountain National Park.

He hired a 20-year-old college student, Agnes Lowe, to play “Eve” for a week in the Thunder Lake area. She put on a leopard skin, cave woman outfit and was given a send-off by Enos Mills plus the park superintendent. On Aug. 6, 1917, Birch’s headline in the Denver Post was, “Naked, Unarmed and Alone, ‘Eve’ Goes Forth into Forest.” He reported on her daily progress. Reporter Herald Story – Albert Birch

I didn’t know this story the first time I saw the cabin ruins from the parking lot behind city hall and the library.  I will admit that it adds a bit more mystery to an already mysterious ruin. Visiting the ruin at different times during the year always adds a new perspective as I take pictures. At times when I have visited, a part of the local elk herd has been in the area, adding some more excitement to the mix!

So, you may wonder, what does all of this have to do with the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent? Well, the passage from Ezekiel is about the vision of the valley of dry bones and the passage from John is about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. This picture came to my mind as I pondered what to put on the front of the bulletin for worship. The first time I visited the ruins, I was struck by the isolation and loneliness of the ruins covered with snow. These “bones” are all that is left of Albert Birch’s dreams, yet even these “bones” live as locals and visitors spend time in the Preserve.

Can these bones live? In the imagination of hikers, painters, photographers, and writers these bones do live. These bones can live as the Rocky Mountain Elk wander about the area along with a plethora of smaller creatures. These bones somehow live as a silent sentinel overlooking our town.

This, however, is not exactly what the readings from Ezekiel and John are pointing towards. In the raising of Lazarus from the dead, we see a foreshadowing of what would happen to Jesus on Easter morning. The disciples would not only remember the prophecies and teachings Jesus had shared with them, they would also remember how Lazarus who had been dead four days was brought forth from the grave.

What strikes me about this particular passage though is the fact that when confronted with death, Jesus weeps. He doesn’t have a long soliloquy about death and miracles, he wept. He wept for love of his brother Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha in their grief. He probably also wept as he thought of his own impending death on the cross and the suffering that would happen before that. He probably also wept for the people of Jerusalem and all Israel who would soon reject him and the message he brought from God.

Ezekiel was facing something similar I believe when the Lord took him to the valley of the dry bones. Ezekiel’s job as a prophet was anything but easy and the outlook was often grim. How would you like being the bearer of bad news all the time? As Ezekiel looks out over the valley of dry bones, he surely must have wondered what was going on. The Lord asked him, “Moral, can these bones live?” Seriously, Lord? All I see are dry bones from a battle long ago. Oh wait, the text tells us that Ezekiel said, “Oh Lord God, you know.” Oops! Well, to be honest, I can easily see Ezekiel saying what I said!

Have you ever looked upon a situation or setting and wondering what possible good can come out of it? Yep, when you are in the midst of that “storm” it isn’t easy to see a way through. I can’t count the number of times that I have been in that situation personally or professionally as a counselor. All that I see are a bunch of dried up bones with no life (or hope) in them.

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On our first trip out to Estes Park during the call process, Denise and I went exploring. We found this skeleton of a deer (I imagine) across Mary’s Lake from the Mary’s Lake Lodge. It was a stark reminder to me of the circle of life. Now multiply this single skeleton by at least 10,000 and you have an idea of what Ezekiel was looking out upon. Dried bones as far as the eye could see!

To be honest, dear reader, from our mountain home, I look out with the eyes of the spirit and see lots of dried bones. A nation and world torn apart by greed… by fear… by hatred… by bigotry… by all manner of phobias… My God, how can your heart handle all of this amongst your creation? How can you see hope instead of… oh wait, Jesus, you did weep when confronted by this world. You wept over Jerusalem and how she treated the prophets. 

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matthew 23:37-39)

Yet, the good news is that Jesus didn’t just weep. Jesus called Lazarus to come forth from the grave! Just as he calls us to come forth from the grave of our own making… the grave of fear… the grave of loathing… the grave of hatred… the grave of bigotry…. Yes Lord, call us forth from that grave! Call us forth into the light of your amazing grace, love, and peace.

This Lenten journey through the Wilderness has been both a struggle and a blessing for me. Yet about the time that I want to give up, the Lord reminds me… yes, these bones will live! My prayer, dear reader, is that the Holy Spirit will blow like a mighty wind throughout this world and bring about God’s peace… God’s grace… God’s forgiveness… God’s blessing….

Will you join with me, dear reader, in prophesying to the dry bones with the spirit of Ezekiel?  “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.” (Ezekiel 37:9)

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