Woody Allen was waxing optimistic one day. He said, “More than any other time in history, humankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other path leads to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”
Joe was so depressed. He could find no enthusiasm, no joy in his life. His marriage was stale; he and his wife just didn’t seem to have anything to talk about anymore. His job was… there. It paid the rent. But it paid no satisfaction.
One day, Joe said, “My life is worthless; there is no reason for me to live. I might as well end it all.” So he climbed to the top of a bridge and was about to jump when a policeman caught his shoulder.
Joe protested. “You don’t understand how empty my life is, officer. Why should I bother? Just let me jump!” Well, the officer said, “I’ll make a deal with you. You take 5 minutes and tell me why life is not worth living, then I’ll take 5 minutes and I’ll tell you why I think it is worth living. If at the end of 10 minutes you still feel that you want to jump, I won’t stop you.
So Joe took his 5 minutes. Then the officer took his 5 minutes. Then… at the end of 10 minutes… they both joined hands and jumped off the bridge! One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other path leads to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.
You know, if they had heard the passage from Ezekiel we heard today, maybe those two men would be here testifying instead of blowing bubbles. You see, in 587 BC, when Ezekiel wrote the vision of the dry bones we heard today, his life and the life of his people seemed utterly hopeless.
11 years earlier, in 598 BC, the best and the brightest of Israel had been shipped out to Babylon. Those exiles were overwhelmed with hopelessness. They felt like God had abandoned them, left them high and dry. They felt like there was no reason to go on worshipping the Lord. God was gone. There was nothing left to do except worship the Babylonians gods, the gods of human sacrifice and terror, like the Babylonians around them. The people were down, depressed, desolate. Their hearts were dry as old dead bones. Brittle. Lifeless. Dried up, from the inside out.
A pastor was walking down the street, and noticed a middle-aged lady by a bus-stop. She was weeping to herself. The pastor went up and asked if she could help. The lady was a bit embarrassed, and said there was really nothing seriously wrong. She said “I’m not sick; I’m just frustrated. Every morning I get up early, fix breakfast for my two kids, pack lunches, and then take a bus to work. Then I wait here each evening for a bus home- more work and a few hours of sleep, only to do the same thing again tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. I’m not sick; I’m just tired of it all. What’s the point?”
Sound familiar? But for most of us, something inside us usually rallies. And we will our way back to work, or back to fixing the ceiling, or back to a relationship that feels as sterile as dry bones, without hope and without God in the world.
We will ourselves back to the kind of life where we’re just going through the motions, because there’s no spirit left inside us. Nothing is all that bad, really; it’s just that nothing’s alive.
Ezekiel described that feeling as he was looking out over the valley of dry bones. The bones, miraculously, had begun to clatter and put themselves in order: the foot bone walked over and attached itself to the shin bone, and the shinbone to the kneebone, and the kneebone to the thighbone, all the way up to the headbone! Sure enough, all those bones pulled themselves together and they formed a skeleton.
And then, miracle upon miracle, the bones started to put on flesh, and soon a whole army was standing there- flesh and bone. And you know, they looked alive. It didn’t look like there was any problem. Only problem was, they were still dead on the inside; sterile on the inside; dried up on the inside.
“Be kind,” I have heard it said. “Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.”It might not look like it; we may be bright and cheerful and sunny on the outside. But we get down under the surface, and each of us has some burden, some pain that weighs us down.
Some of us, if you get to scratching under our shiny surface, we’re just like Ezekiel’s army of people. We go through the motions of life- job, friends, family. But there’s nothing on the inside. We’re standing there in full flesh and bones, but there’s just not much spirit in us.
And it might not be that life is particularly difficult or horrible. It’s not a nice house or a good income which determines whether or not we’re part of the walking dead. It’s the presence of hope. It’s the presence of spirit. It’s the presence of God. Only God can breathe life into these dry bones and make them live.
Have you ever been walking along a road, with your thoughts just clouded over with gunk, and out of nowhere, you can feel the breeze on your skin, and hear a bird in the distance? And for some reason the weight, like some cloud, just lifts?
Nothing on the outside changed; your situation is the same. You owe the same bills you did when you started the walk. You’re married to the same person. You have the same job.
But there is a spirit… a presence inside you which recolors your world. Nothing changed, and yet everything is different. That’s the presence of God.
Maybe Woody Allen was right when he said that one road leads to utter despair and hopelessness, and the other road leads to total extinction. The nations are disintegrating into nationalist enclaves, we’re abandoning to earth, giving up even the most basic environmental protections.
We’re calling down hate on one another as if it’s some kind of human right to demonize other people.
Yup. One road leads to utter despair and hopelessness, and the other road leads to total extinction. But we forget… that there is a third road. A third way. Not fight or flight, not despair or denial. But the road that Jesus traveled, the road that looks to God, and says, “Nevertheless, Lord, we will trust You.
Yes, there will be sterile times, when loving relationships get dry. Yes, there will be times when there is no end to the bills, and the needs, and the demands. And we will ask ourselves, “Why bother? What’s the point?”
And God says to Ezekiel, “Mortal, can these bones live?” And Ezekiel replies, “Lord God, only You know.” “Mortal!” cries the Lord, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! I will breathe into you, and you shall live. I will bind you with sinew, strengthen you with muscle, cover you with skin. And I shall put the breath of my Spirit in you, and you shall live. And you shall know that I am the Lord.’”
Dear friends, there is yet hope in these old bones. And that hope’s name is Jesus.
In the Name of the One who loves us, and will bring life again into these dry bones, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.