Rise!

We live amongst some of the most beautiful valleys in the world!
I grew up a couple of hours west of here, in Buena Vista, in the Upper Arkansas Valley. I still travel that way on occasion. There is a moment at the very end of the journey…after a few mountain passes, some long flat valley’s, a handful (or two) of tiny towns…almost at the end of the trip, you turn this corner and there it is…God’s creation…all the valley’s beauty laying before the majestic mountains. God’s artwork in full view. I feel God’s presence so clearly; it’s like I can touch the sacredness of the moment.
When I was growing up, we used to get in our ‘48 Jeep Willies and drive into the mountains. We would come to a fork in the road, and my dad would ask “left or right”…right! Left! How about right this time? Once we drove all day, in fact, I remember we were a little worried about running out of gas! And suddenly the road came to a dead end. A very abrupt dead end. The road drove right into a deep canon. The bridge long-gone but we could see where the road used to be on the other side. We got out of the Jeep and walked around taking in the beauty of the place. Not far from the road was a tree stump with flint chips laying all around. Someone sat under this tree hour after hour, chipping away at the smooth glass-like stone…I can almost hear stone colliding with stone…day after day, month after month, year after year…
My grandma lived on the other side of the valley near Salida. On the side of one of the mountains, the property was originally a homestead. 360 acres. If you walked out of her front door and up the hill, at the top you could see the beauty of the valley, it was on that hill that I found my first arrowhead almost like someone had left it there for me to find.
As I think about that arrowhead and the others we found lying around over the years, I realize that I grew up in a valley of dry bones.
Assyria had been a tiny nation for well over a thousand years. It had grown a bit, taken over some of its neighbors, but never much. And something would happen, often factions within Assyria would battle one another, and the country would collapse into a small nation once again. Until about 800 BC. A strong King took the thrown, stop the factions from fighting and focused their energies on taking over the surrounding nations. Well, not taking over…the nations had the choice. They could pay a heavy tax and allow Assyria to put a puppet king on the throne…the Northern Kingdom of Israel decided not to go along with the plan they fought Assyria. And Assyria decimated them as a people, ending 10 of the 12 tribes Moses led out of Egypt. Assyria took those with power and influence away, they sent in their own citizens to resettle the land; they brought in the worship of their own gods…

Assyria eventually fell. Babylon filled the power vacuum left by the fallen Assyria. Ezekiel was a prophet as Babylon came into its power and started pushing towards the remaining tribe of Israel, warning the Southern Kingdom of Judah to change its ways, to turn back to God. Ezekiel begs the people of Judah to remember who they are, whose they are. And when Babylon takes over the Jerusalem, cutting off their food supply, destroying the temple and most of the city, carting off many of the people into exile…ending a way of life, bringing an entire race of people nearly to extension…

It is in this hopelessness that we find Ezekiel’s wild image…this valley of bones.
Last summer I went to Pine Ridge, South Dakota on a mission trip with our youth. They don’t sell alcohol on the Indian Reservation where we were staying and working, but they do, right outside the border. We drove through the small town of White Clay a few times while we were in the area. It is poverty. Buildings barely standing, not an inch clear of graffiti or drawings, Indians…ratty clothes, sitting, sleeping, slouching…people littering the streets. No more hope than the trash that surrounds them as they sleep.

And I hear God ask… “Can these bones live? Can this brokenness be healed? Can this death be resurrected?” …and I answer with Ezekiel, “oh God, only you know.”

On Nov. 29, 1864, more than 600 U.S. Army volunteer soldiers — led by Methodist ordained minister John Chivington — attacked a peaceful camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes near Sand Creek. Nearly 200 women, children and elderly in the camp were killed and many more left wounded. In the summer of 2014 the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, all 600 of us, got on buses and traveled to the Sand Creek Massacre site. We saw the valley where the massacre occurred. We walked in silence as we felt the hot wind on our faces, remembered the tragedy, we could almost hear the cries of the women and children in the silence of the day….

And I hear God ask… “Can these bones live? Can this brokenness be healed? Can this death be resurrected?” …and I answer with Ezekiel, “oh God, only you know.”

You don’t have to travel to Pine Ridge or Sand Creek to see that we are living in a valley of bones. Just turn on the news, even for a few minutes! The brokenness, the death is all around…Orlando, Virginia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Dallas…
And I hear God ask… “Can these bones live? Can this brokenness be healed? Can this death be resurrected?” …and I answer with Ezekiel, “oh God, only you know.”

Then God says to Ezekiel, Ezekiel, speak to these bones. Speak into the death, speak in the brokenness… and there was a great noise, and bone came together with bone, and flesh came upon them…

While we were at Pine Ridge we visited Red Cloud Indian School. Some graduated students gave us a tour of the building and the property. It is a Catholic boarding school started in the 1880’s. From the beginning, Lakota children would leave their homes to learn, reading, writing, math, and how to be white. Today, the children are taught both Catholic values and Lakota language and history. This school has the more Gates scholarships than any other school in the nation. One senior that graduated this year…Marlee Kelly dreamed for years of going to Washington University..and she got accepted. But Marlee decided to expand her reach…just to see. She was accepted to Yale and Harvard. Another student Jacob is going to Brown. Another Bobby got accepted to Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth.
Can you hear the rattling? The shaking? Bone coming together with bone.
Just last month the clergy from the Rocky Mountain Conference gathered together during clergy session and we took a vote. We condemned Chivington and his actions on the day over 150 years ago. We stood together and made it clear as his colleagues we could not stand by his actions…
Can you hear the rattling? The shaking? Bone coming together with bone.
Of course, you can! It doesn’t take much looking to see God at work. To see glimpses of healing, to see God breaking into the world. To hear the rattling of bone against bone.

But that is NOT the promise of this text.

“Come from the four winds, Oh Spirit, breathe upon these slain that they may live.” Ezekiel called upon the spirit of God to bring life to the bones and there was life. The promise is life, abundant life…From death to life. From brokenness to healing. Do you believe that promise? Do you believe the Lakota people will thrive once again? Do you believe that one day the world will know that Black Lives Matter, too? Do you believe that God can do all of that?…because I have to admit, most days I am not really sure.

I have struggled with that a lot as I studied this text this week. I am not sure how to promise you that God can bring life to the brokenness of our world if I don’t believe it myself most days. I see the death, the brokenness, And I hear God ask… “Can these bones live? Can this brokenness be healed? Can this death be resurrected?”

…and I answer with Ezekiel, “oh God, only you know.”

I answer with Ezekiel, “God, only you know.” And I realize, I am in good company, Ezekiel did not know either.

But still, God commanded him to speak, even though he doubted. And Ezekiel spoke. God commands us to speak, even if we doubt. He calls us, as his church to speak life into death we encounter…

There is that moment, returning home, I journey up that final hill, around that final corner, and there it is…God’s creation…all the valley’s beauty laying before the majestic mountains. God’s artwork in full view. I feel God’s presence so clearly, it’s like I can touch the Sacredness of the moment.

And I hear God’s promise, bigger than the brokenness, bigger than death, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live. Tell these bones that God is God. That God is bigger than death. Remind them that God brings life…even from dead bones. God can bring hope even when everything seems hopeless. O hear ye dry bones, God is bigger than your story, bigger than your death, God can bring you up to life.”

It demands that, even in the hardest of moments, that I hope. It requires that I take steps in faith. That I live like God’s promises are true…because if I am not speaking God’s promises into the brokenness I encounter…then what I am I saying. Because I, because we have something to say to death…we are a resurrection people…death is not the end. Death is not the end. Thanks be to God.

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