Sorry, there is no audio version for this sermon delivered by Chaplain Scott Shields.


Easter 2 – April 23, 2017 (Prince of Peace, SD)

Ezekiel 37:1-14

 

“Wake Up, Dry Bones!”

 

   A young LCMS Sailor stood on the smoke deck of the ship, talking with his Chaplain. His voice was choked with depression, pain, and misery: “Chaplain, why doesn’t God ever speak to me? I am a Christian, but I feel so hollow, so empty, so alone. Where is God? Why doesn’t He come to me? I feel so lifeless … like a bag of dry bones!”

   The Chaplain knew that there were more video game systems aboard ship than Bibles, and that only a handful of Christian Sailors bothered to attend Bible Study or worship while at sea. So, the Chaplain asked, “Thom, God speaks to us through His Word to revive our dry, empty, sagging faith lives. When was the last time you made time to be in His Word or where Christians were gathered together for worship to hear God’s Word to be revived and nourished through His Word of life? When was the last time you recalled your Baptism and relied on God’s promise to impart new life in you each and every day through the gift of His Holy Spirit given to you through water and the Word?” The young Sailor just sighed, and confessed that it had been a long time … years.

   The Chaplain continued: “You see, Thom, God isn’t a ‘god of zaps.’ He doesn’t just ‘zap’ spiritual life into you. Rather He is a God of means. He works through His Holy Spirit to create and sustain our faith in Him. And His Spirit comes to you through the means of grace … His Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. I invite you come to the Lord’s Supper to receive Christ’s forgiveness and strength to revive your sagging faith, and if need be, to engage God through private confession and absolution, where He speaks to you personally through a pastor to assure and reassure you that He is daily present in your life, to revive you through His gracious gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.” The young Sailor continued to stare out to sea, considering his Chaplain’s invitation to give God the opportunity to revive and restore his sagging faith.

   Dear friends in Christ, have you ever struggled like this depressed young Sailor … feeling like all life in you is gone, and that you are just a bag of dry bones? Maybe you have felt like one of the following people:

·      A patient in a hospital moans: “I feel so useless, Pastor. I feel like I am cut off from reality here. My life is like dust in my hands.” 

·      A wife cries: “My children are all grown up. My husband works every bit of overtime he can in the mine. I feel so alone. What’s my purpose in life now?”

·      A teenager thinks, “I don’t know who I am. What should I do with my life? Where am I going? What’s my future? Do my friends really like me or are they just saying they do?”

·      A young mother sighs: “I have no time for myself. I’m exhausted and tired of serving everyone else. My life seems so busy and entirelymeaningless. Where am I going in life?”

·      A worker wonders, “I’m tired of my boss constantly looking over my shoulder. I hate emptying garbage and cleaning floors for 8 hours a day. How does taking out the garbage and cleaning floors give glory to God anyway!?”

 

Friends, have any of you ever felt like any of these people?

 

   Today’s Old Testament lesson for the 2nd Sunday in Easter tells us a story about “dry bones” where in we learn how our lives of depression and emptiness can be made alive again and how our dry bones can be made into living flesh. Though we often feel depressed and lifeless, God’s desire is to daily revive, restore, and resurrect us for our life now and for the life to come.

   Friends, this Old Testament reading from the prophet Ezekiel is a prophecy of how God would resurrect the children of Israel from their bondage to the Babylonian invaders. In this prophecy, God takes Ezekiel to the middle of a valley, and there on the valley floor are dry bones scattered everywhere, bones that have been there a long time. It’s a scene of absolute and utter hopelessness and despair! And there in that valley of death, God gives a Word of hope to a hopeless people … He promises that the dry bones will rise again, resurrected by “the Word of the Lord.”

   In this Old Testament account we see the genuine resurrection power of God’s Word … His promise that with Him all things are possible! And thanks be to God that He does speak and follow through with His promises! Friends in Christ, God is speaking and doing in our lives today by the work of His Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who breathes life into lifeless bones. He does this by pointing us to the cross of the One on Good Friday who died for us and rose again on Easter Morning, and who through the means of Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper continues to deliver to us … over and over again … the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. So, if you feel like a bag of dry bones, cut off from life as it was meant to be, with no hope, know that God is leading us all again to the foot of the cross … to His throne of grace …  in repentance and faith.

·      Repent for failing to see God as the source of your life, and have faith that it is He that has created and formed you and sustains you.

·      Repent for failing to trust in God, and have faith that, “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose – Phil. 2:13.”

·      Repent for failing to use His means of grace as the power supply for your daily life, and trust that, “You do not have, because you do not ask God – James 4:2.”

·      Repent for failing to live a life that honors God as the One who will raise your dry bones on the Last Day, and trust that He who is just and merciful has forgiven you and empowered you with the Holy Spirit to live a life that glorifies God and loves your neighbor as yourself.

 

   Friends, know this … as sinful human beings, our greatest problem is that we have bought into Satan’s lie that repentance is not a necessary and vital part of our faith lives. In this way, we live in the very prevalent delusion that all that is needed to remain a Christian is a sincere belief in something noble and good works. This could not be further from the truth, and makes about as much sense as sincerely believing that one trip to the grocery store or gas station is sufficient to get you all the way through life. Because this delusion exists among us, let us hear God’s Word of resurrection promise to us today:

·      “Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand – Isaiah 41:10.”

·      “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest – Matthew 11:28.”

·      “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness – 2 Cor. 12:9.”

·      “Your strength will equal your days. Underneath are the everlasting arms – Deut. 33:25, 27.”

 

   You see, the Truth is that God is a discoverable and contemporary God, a God who lovingly desires for you to make regular and frequent use of the power supply of His Word and Sacraments … to be open to His promise that His Holy Spirit will turn your dry bones into living flesh.

   Brothers and sisters in Christ, do you struggle to trust and live daily as a witness of the truth that God’s Word is, “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes?” (Rom. 1:16) God’s promise is clear: Engage in His Word and the Holy Spirit will put flesh on your dry bones.

   Friends, it is God’s desire that you to live daily in your Baptismal identity. For Baptism is the very means by which God made you His beloved child … a member of the body of Jesus Christ, the Church. A daily remembrance of your Baptismal identity will always lead you to Calvary where your sins were nailed to the cross, died, and buried with your Savior, which serves to continually revive and restore your faith, causing you to live a life full of joy and newness of life. This is what St. Paul meant when he wrote: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through Baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life – Romans 6:3-4.”

   God’s desire also is for you to have a hunger and thirst for the Lord’s Supper, and to make use of it as often as it is offered to you. The Lord’s Supper is for repentant sinners. If you are not a repentant sinner, you don’t belong at the Table of the Lord. Martin Luther once said of the Lord’s Supper: “Your hunger and thirst (for it) will come as you receive, and the more you receive, the more you will hunger and thirst (for it).”

   Friends in Christ, God’s desire is that you discover again and again the blessings of regular and frequent Communion fellowship … a deepening, active fellowship with Him in the Body and Blood of Jesus, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins. It is in the Lord’s Supper that your Savior is present to revive your dry bones, to keep you alive in the faith, and to help you mature in the faith through the gift and work of the Holy Spirit. Are you hungry and thirsty for these benefits God makes continually available to you free of charge, or have you bought into Satan’s lie that your dry bones can remain spiritually alive without God’s life-giving means of grace?

   And there is one more blessing that is available to you that is often overlooked … the opportunity for private confession and absolution with your pastor. As Luther once said: “I know the devil well. If you had known him as well as I, you would not have thrown private confession so quickly to the wind.” (Sermon against Carlstadt, 1522) “So I will let no one take away private confession and would not exchange it for all the wealth of the world, for I know what strength and comfort it has given me.” Friends, if you are continually bothered by general or specific sins that are sucking the life out of you, and burdening you with a load of guilt and shame, then come and receive the benefit of personal absolution from your pastor. Come, confess your sin, and hear your Savior say through your pastor: “Go in the peace and joy of the Gospel. Your sins are indeed forgiven.”

   Through God’s Word, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and private Confession and Absolution, God’s desire is to revive our dry bones and breathe new life into us. It is as God says in His Word, “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.”

   Brothers and sisters in Christ, God’s means of grace are here for you to revive and restore your faith in the promises of God. God not only speaks but acts in these means to keep His promises to you, which are not just for today, but also for the life to come. This is what prophet Ezekiel assured us of when he wrote: “This is what the Lord God says: O My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them … Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it.” So live in the hope and power of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

   Consider the following illustration: A pastor had just finished the Sunday morning worship service and was shaking hands at the back of the sanctuary. A couple came through the line with their little boy and shook the pastor’s hand. Later that day the pastor received a phone call from that same couple. Their little boy had climbed up into his bunk bed for a nap that afternoon, fallen, hit his temple, and died instantly. The pastor rushed over to their home. The father was there at the door to meet him and placed his dead son into the pastor’s arms. The only thing that held this family together was God’s promise of the Resurrection. They trusted in God’s promise that all who believe and are Baptized will see their loved ones in the faith again. Ezekiel gives us that same Resurrection hope today: “I will put My Spirit in you and you will live … Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it.”

   Friends, if you ever get to feeling like a bag of dry, lifeless bones … if you ever feel as if there is no hope or joy in your life … then remember that your Lord is ready to restore, revive, and resurrect your dry bones through His Word and Sacraments. Come, for all things are ready! You do have hope … hope for your life today and for your life to come! Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!   

Let Us Pray: O Jesus Christ, who suffered the anguish and death of the cross to win forgiveness for our sins and eternal life, we humbly thank You for graciously giving Yourself for us. Let us never become careless as we confess our sins, or grow cold toward Your life-giving means of grace by which You deliver to us forgiveness, life, salvation … the power of the Holy Spirit to revive and restore us. Through the love You have shown us and the eternal life that is our sure promise, enliven daily the new Adam in each of us through the remembrance of our Baptism, that we might daily put to death our sinful flesh and continually live resurrected lives as the true children of our heavenly Father. Lord, hear our prayer, supply our needs, and comfort us in all things that distress us. In Your life-giving name we pray. Amen.