The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.
Several years ago, my son was playing on a baseball game, and like my high school football team, they simply couldn't find a way to win. They'd lost every game that year. Finally it was the day of their last game. The dug out was like a funeral home. Not a single kid was cheering the other kids as they went to bat. They were just waiting for the game to be over so they could go home.
I stuck my head in the dug out and told these 7 year olds, "Hey guys, you can win this game. After all, you're only 25 runs behind."
One of the kids heard me and said, "Hey, that's right. We are only 25 runs behind. We've never been this close to winning before."
It was as if there was an electric jolt that went through the dug out. When the next kid at bat hit the ball right so that it rolled through the legs of the first baseman, the entire dug out was celebrating and high fiving each other. The excitement and confidence of our team must have totally confused the other team.
In the bottom of the last inning, one of our players scored the winning run.
I remember thinking that if I had known all they needed was hope, I would have visited the dug out long before that last game.
We need hope in our lives.
But we all know what it is like to feel that all hope is gone.
In our Scripture lesson for this morning we encounter the experience of a loss of hope.
Ezekiel stands before a great battlefield. He sees before him a valley of dry bones. The battle is long over with. The vultures have been there and gone and all the flesh has disappeared. Even the armor has been stolen by the grave robbers. All that is left is a valley of dry bones.
God asks Ezekiel, "Can these dry bones live?"
And with despair in his voice, Ezekiel admits, "God only knows."
The loss of hope is a terrible experience.
A woman walks out of a doctor's office after hearing that she has cancer. What hope is there?
A father hangs up the telephone after receiving a telephone call from the police and learning that his rebellious son has been arrested. What hope is there?
A husband or wife can't speak to each other because of the depth of their anger toward one another. What hope is there?
Where does one go when there is no hope?
To the grave. Or as someone once said, “Get busy living, or get busy dieing.”
When there is no hope, all is finished.
People need hope for the future. That woman walking out of that doctor's office after hearing her diagnosis needs hope for the facing of her cancer.
The father receiving that phone call from the police needs hope for his son's future.
We need hope.
The movie SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is a great movie about hope, and it starts in total hopelessness.
Andy is sentenced to prison, even though he is innocent of his wife’s murder. He is sentenced to life, and he spends 19 years in the Shawshank Prison until he finally escapes. At one point, Andy is talking with his best friend in prison about hope, but his friend, Red says, “Hope is a dangerous thing, it makes a man go insane.”
Red says that because he has lost all hope.
How do we find hope, when our hope has died – or maybe our hope isn’t dead, but it’s – well, shall we say – hibernating?
First, we need to know that God is present in our lives.
In the Old Testament, Ezekiel looks over the battle field. He feels the hopelessness of a battle that has been lost, and a war that has failed. But God is with him. In Ezekiel we read, (Ezek 37:1-2), "The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry."
Without God in our lives, we do not have a complete and sturdy hope for the facing of our lives.
Think about why many of us have lost hope – it is because we feel that God has left us. That God has deserted us.
But God is still present.
In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, we read, “Be strong and courageous… God will never leave you nor forsake you ." Deut 31:6
The second thing we need is to know that we can experience the presence of God, through the Word of God.
In the Old Testament, Ezekiel looks out at the hopeless valley of dry bones. Can they live again? Of course not. But God commands Ezekiel to preach to the dead – to speak to them the Word of God. So Ezekiel does, and in this story, the dry bones come to life as the Word of God is spoken.
Without the Word of God being spoken to the dry bones, the dry bones would have remained lifeless.
The Psalmist wrote, (Ps 130:5), "I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope."
You want hope to come alive in you again – let the Word of God dwell in you. Listen to the Word of God. Read the Word of God.
Thirdly, we need to trust in God above all else.
Hope as the world knows it is in thinking, "Give me what I want, give me what I want, give me what I want."
Hope as the Christian knows it is in praying, "Not my will, but your will be done."
In Ezekiel, the prophet is asked by God, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know." And there is a trust in God. Not a bitterness, but a leaning onto the Lord and trusting in God.
Real hope is found in God.
Lasting hope is found in trusting Him.
Thinking back to the film, the Shawshank Redemption, Andy never quite loses hope. He holds onto it. Even though he is an innocent man who spends 19 years in prison, he hangs onto hope. And at one point he tells his prison buddy, Red, “Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of all things. And no good thing ever dies.”
Or put it another way, as
did in the New Testament book of
Romans, “hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into
our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” St. Paul
And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
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Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.