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Can These Dry Bones Live?

May 22, 2021
The Badlands National Monument, South Dakota

When I was leaving my position as the Chaplain to the Thunderbirds (USAF Air Demonstration Squadron) I was given a parting gift. One of the demonstration pilots who was the advance pilot / narrator for their shows took me up on an incentive flight. What was the incentive? Well, I can assure you that it wasn’t so that I could prove that I don’t get sick when pulling high-G maneuvers! Seriously though, part of the flight was over Death Valley. As we flew, Mike commented on how peaceful and almost beautiful it looked from the sky. My family and I had driven through Death Valley National Park a year or so earlier. The view from the ground was different indeed. 

As Mike and I talked, we wondered aloud how difficult that journey must have been for the early pioneers with their wagons and horses. We were flying at Mach-1 in an airconditioned cockpit… my family and I had driven through in an airconditioned mini-van… a huge difference from the way the white emigrants experienced the valley. As the white emigrants traversed the valley, they encountered a hostile terrain and legend has it that as one of the early groups left the valley, they said “Goodbye, Death Valley!” Thus, the place name and the “white” legend was born.

The original Indigenous residents of the land, the Timbisha Shoshone people, had traversed that land for thousands of years. They found everything that they needed to survive, and the land held many sacred places for them. One group saw death and desolation while another group saw a land that provided for their needs. 

The picture at the top of the blog is from a trip that Denise and I took to the Badlands National Monument in South Dakota a few years ago. We visited the Badlands twice, once in winter and once in the spring. The Indigenous people (Lakota) who first traversed the area called it mako sica (literally bad land) because of the rough and unforgiving terrain. The French fur trappers who were the first white people to traverse these lands called it (bad lands to travel across). With few water sources, inhospitable terrain, and extreme conditions, the Lakota didn’t live there but they did hunt there. Unlike in Death Valley, both the Indigenous people and the whites had the same opinion of the Badlands. It was a good place to hunt/visit but not a good place to live permanently. Yet there was plenty of wildlife that made the place their home so there must have been something good about the land.

How does this apply to the story of the Valley of the Dry Bones from Ezekiel 37:1-14? It is all about impressions and looking beyond the surface. When Ezekiel was taken by the spirit of the Lord to the site of an ancient battle, all he saw was a scene of death a bunch of dried-up bones. “He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’’ (verse 3) As the story goes on, God tells the prophet to prophesy to the dry bones and between the words of the prophet and the breath (ru-ah in Hebrew) the bones were revived. The central point though is the fact that it wasn’t until the divine breath blew over the bodies that life was given to them. This was the same divine breath that gave life to Adam in Genesis, and this would be the same divine breath that would blow on the disciples at Pentecost. What had been a place of death and destruction, the horrors of warfare, became a place of renewal and new life. I can almost hear God saying to Ezekiel, if you are inspired by my bringing life to this valley of destruction and desolation through the revival of these dead bones, just think what it would look like if my Breath was allowed to flow through my troublesome people!

The same Spirit blew through the house and transformed twelve scared and insecure followers of Jesus into Apostles with a message that they would take to the far corners of the known world. The crowds were amazed that day how a group of Galileans could possibly be sharing a message that each heard in their own language! The cynical amongst the crowds said, “Hey they’re drunk on new wine!” Instead of a momentary incident involving cynics, skeptics, and surprised Apostles; this was the beginning of a new movement, a new reformation so to speak. Did the Apostles understand what they were on the cusp of? We don’t know the answer to that question, but we do know that Peter and the others realized that something big was happening.

For our church community, Pentecost Sunday 2021 heralds a new day in the life of the church. After a long COVID exile, the congregation will be returning to the sanctuary for worship. While we will be masked and there won’t be congregational singing, something wonderful is going to happen. As the doors of the sanctuary are blessed and the worship service begins the Spirit will indeed blow throughout the sanctuary and in our individual spirits. Pentecost signified the beginning of a movement initially called The Way (the way of Jesus) that would challenge and transform the faith community and world.

My prayer for the church at large this Pentecost Sunday is that it will be open once more to the transformative power of the Holy Spirit in individual lives and in the church community. What will that transformation look like? Perhaps the dry bones of division, gossip, and mistrust will be replaced with the living body of unity in the midst of diversity, talk that uplifts and builds up individuals and the community, and a body that walks with and trusts the Spirit to guide it through the ministry it has been called to live out. Come Holy Spirit, may you challenge us, renew us, and energize us as we seek to be the hands and feet of Christ in this community and beyond as we serve in the name of our risen Lord.

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