by Rev. M. Gayle MacDonald
This was originally written as a Pentecost story sermon. The second time this sermon was given at confere, at the time change intervals a few bars from the refrain of "I the Lord of Sea and Sky (VOICES UNITED) were played on the flute. This is entirely optional".
Copyright, May 1997. Permission is given to use the story sermon in a service of worship for March, 1999."
Joanne loved to sit on the big hill behind the church, looking at the valley stretching out below. There the sound of the cars was gone; there the sound of the wind rustling the grass was music to her ears.
This was not a good day and she needed peace. She was about to settle in her favourite spot when she noticed someone else sitting nearby--someone she had never seen before.
“Hello!” he said without looking at her. His eyes were fixed on the church below.
Joanne hesitated. She was far enough away and he was seated. “Who are you?” she asked.
“What are you doing here? and where did you come from?”
“Actually, I’m not always sure where I am from, but I know why I am here? I am here to look over the valley and listen to the wind?”
“Sometimes. . . sometimes, if I am very quiet and listen very carefully I can hear God speaking to me in the wind. So I travel all over looking for good places to listen to the wind--and then I sit quietly and wait for it. When the wind blows, things move, things change--and the way I see it, this place is ready for a change.
“Look at all those houses, half of them empty. Look at that train station not used any more. Look at that church--ah, that church used to be so full--now they can’t even get a decent choir. Dried up old bones, that’s what they are--dry, dry bones--no life, no spirit, no purpose, no direction, just trying to hang on as long as they can.”
“And you like that?”
“What the dry, lifeless places? Heck, no! At least not when they stay that way. But I do believe this one is due for a change. Listen, do you hear it. It’s the wind rustling through the grass, picking up speed, getting stronger. Watch out now! Who knows which way the wind might blow.”
“You’re scaring me.”
“Sorry, didn’t mean to--but it , it is a scary thing the wind. Can’t control, blows where it will, sometimes blows things and people clear across the sky--a good strong wind can change the whole air around a place. Yes, I do believe some things around here are about to change, I can feel it in the air. Close you eyes and listen carefully and tell me what you hear.”
“Joanne closed her eyes” and then thought better of it. After all she didn’t know this man. She opened them and looked around. Zeke was gone.
------------------- flute (optional) --------------------------
Zeke had come to this valley to meditate, to think, to spend some time searching for answers, searching for God. He closed his eyes and listened. After a long while he opened his eyes and looked around. He was alone on the hillside. In the city below people were coming and going. They seemed to be very busy preparing for a celebration. There was something familiar about this place, yet it was totally unfamiliar. He did not understand their language.
A group of people were filing into a building not far away. Zeke made his way down the hill and listened from behind some bushes n+earby. They were celebrating Pentecost--the first harvest after Passover!! Could this be Jerusalem? Could these people be his own people--keeping the sacred feasts. He listened carefully and though he did not know the language somehow he understood. They had lost someone recently, their rabbi perhaps, but more than their rabbi, a close friend. There were meetingto celebrate, but also to make plans and to wait--they had been instructed he was understanding to gather and wait.
“Like I wait on hillsides for the wind,” he mused.
“I can only imagine how they feel,” thought Ezekiel. “When you lose the people you love, when all that was familiar is taken away and nothing seems to make any sense--I’ve been there. Heck, I am there.”
Quietly Ezekiel slipped back to his vantage point on the hillside. The wind rustling through the dry grass was not so gentle any more. With a loud rush it swirled around the building where the people had been gathering. The noise was deafening. Oddly, Ezekiel seemed to be the only one outside, the only one to see this the wind twist and swirl around this one building--like a tornado, but not destroying; in fact, nothing was moving in spite of it’s force
The wind seemed to be speaking. Ezekiel thought he heard a voice, but he got only words and phrases: “I will not leave you orphaned; . . . the Advocate, the Holy Spirit . . .Do not leat you hearts be troubled, and do not left them be afraid ... I am coming to you.”
Ezekiel looked around but did not really expect to see anyone. He was growing used to hearing voices in the wind.
All of a sudden the wind died down and all was still. But only for a moment. A loud clamouring was coming from the building--loud enough for him to hear it all the way up on his hillside. It sounded like hundreds of people talking at once! What with the wind and the voices and the clamouring voices, Zeke was thinking he really ought to get out of there! Then the clamouring voices changed to distinct shouts of joy, to laughter, to singing.
It was getting dark. Ezekiel remembered seeing a small cave, a hole really a little to his right. It would make a good place to bed down for the night. Once inside it didn’t take Ezekiel long to go to sleep.
--------------------- flute (optional)-----------------------
The hot, late spring sun found Zeke in the cave. The heat of it was uncomfortable. He squirmed and twisted about. It has been such a good sound sleep, better than he had had in a long time. He didn’t want to get up.
He tried to look out of the cave, but the sun was so bright it was hard, at first to open his eyes all the way. He crawled out, stood up and stretched. Looking around he saw the virtual graveyard stretching before him.
“It was all a dream”, he said to himself, “just a dream.” He picked up his water skin and poured the last few drops into his mouth and sat down. “This is my valley.” he lamented, “a valley of dry bones--dry like the faith of my people is dry. It is a place filled with signs of death, a place with no hope. What word can I possibly take from this place, what words can I bring to my people? They who have forgotten the wonders and the holiness of God, they who consorted with idols and idolaters, they whose lands have been purged, who no longer have a land, who have lost families and friends and all their personal belongs, who have lost their livelihood--they whose future seems to have no place from which to begin.
“O God, most holy and awesome God, I sit here in this valley of dry bones with no word to bring to the people. I do not know where to start. Granted they had lost their way with you, but now they have lost their way in the world as well--where do we go from here? Most Holy God, can you people be forgive, can their lives and their faith be restored, is there any hope?”
Zeke gazed out over the sun drenched valley. Soon the heat of the sun would be unbearable. The bones of long dead warriors were scattered across the fields below. The sudden gusts would shift the dry earth, uncovering pile of bones and covering another. The dry, brittle, sun-bleached bones made all that happened to Ezekiel’s people seem uncompromisingly final--like death of the warriors whose bones were strewn across this awful place. In the hot sun, in the dry valley, it seemed to Ezekiel that all of creation was groaning even as the people were groaing inwardly waiting, hoping, praying.
“O God!” Ezekiel cried out, “what can I say to my people? Is there no hope for us?”
Ezekiel heard the voice. It was a small, quiet but it has come to him before whispering through the wind.
“Mortal, can these bones live?”
Frightened, unable to think of anything to say, not wanting to presume to know the obvious in the face of God, Ezekiel answered, “O Lord you know.”
“Mortal, prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you sshall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with sking, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
“O dry bones,” Ezekiel began.
“Louder”, said the Voice.
O dry bones,” said Ezekiel somehwhat louder.
“You can do better than that! Look down there at those bones. See how far away they are. Can they hear you? Could you hear you if you were down there? Come on Ezekiel. This is my prophesy. Shout it! Proclaim it! I know you have it in you?”
“O dry bones,” shouted Ezkiel as loud as he could.
“Dry bones, dry bones, dry bones” came his voice back to him as it echoed through the valley.
“Hear the word of the Lord!”
“Word of the Lord, word of the Lord, word of the Lord”
With a deafening, earsplitting sound, the wind rushed into and swirled around the valley, picking up dust and bones--twirling and twisting them up and down the valley floor--like a tornado interested only in bones.
Then all was quiet. Ezekiel looked and there were sinews on the bones, and flesh had come upon them and skin had covered them. But truthfully, they were kind of scary looking, lying there, life-like but lifeless; lying there where they had fallen.
“Prophesy to the breath, mortal, prophesy.” came the voice. “Thus days the Lord: Come from the four winds, O breath and breath upon these slain, that they may live.”
Ezekiel shouted across the valley and listened for his echos coming back to him: “o breath, o breath, o breath . . . . may live, may live, may live.”
Suddenly there came from the valley below there came a loud clamouring like hundreds of people all talking at once. So loud was the sound of their voices that Ezekiel could here it from where he stood up on the hillside. The clamouring turned to one huge shout of joy. Then there was laughing and singing.
“This, O God,” said Ezekiel, “is a message I can take to my people. We begin where we are, not where we once were or where we hope to be. If it is in a valley of dry bones that we are, then we begin with dry bones, and we turn to you for our vision, our hope, our strength. We call to you and we let your words restore us, bring us back to life again. Thanks be to you, o blessed and wondrous God.
Ezekiel began his climb down into the valley, to the place where his people were gathered.