The Rev. Dianne O’Connell

First Congregational Church

April 10, 2011

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Romans 8:6-11

John 11:1-45

Dem Dry Bones

"Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,

dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,

dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones!"

"Now hear the word of the Lord."

When I was a little girl, my Grandpa Shullaw used to sing that song to make me laugh.  I couldn’t help but smile when I read the scripture lesson from the Old Testament for this week, and decided “Dem Dry Bones” was for sure gonna be my sermon topic, if for no other reason than to take a few minutes to reflect on the impact grandpa made on me during the first eight years of my life.

My grandpa grew up at the turn of the last century in a small Illinois town near the banks of the Spoon River. He was a printer and worked for the Wyoming Post-Herald newspaper nearly all his adult life, until he died at the age of 58.  He loved his family, both those who were alive, and those who had passed on – keeping their memories and spirits alive through scrapbook pages of news clippings and photographs.  He was the family historian and I’ve followed in his footsteps.

I was the first grandchild – by several years – so I’m the only one in my generation who really remembers Grandpa Shullaw.  He’d bring me balls of string to play with – I kid you not – these were lean years for the Shullaw Clan.  And he’d cheer me on when I was learning to button my pajama buttons without looking, “all the way to the top”.  And, he’d make me giggle with:

The head bone connected to the neck bone,
The neck bone connected to the back bone,

Now, hear the word of the Lord.


The depth of my grandpa’s theology might not impress you.  But I’m here to say that when I think of that song, I remember that my grandpa loved me and that he’s still out there somewhere cheering me on -- “all the way to the top.”

So, what does that have to do with the Prophet Ezekiel and the Valley of Dry Bones in our lesson today?  It has something to do with Renewal, life after death, and lifelong blessings received from small encounters.  I invite us this morning to think of those people who have touched us, inspired us, loved us – enabling us to pull ourselves together during tough times to continue the dance – all the way to the top.  Those are the people who have blessed us and breathed new life, continued life,  into our dry bones.

In this morning’s scripture reading, God takes Ezekiel to a valley where the ground is covered with dry bones. God leads him all around that valley, and Ezekiel can see that there are many, many bones, and that they are very, very dry.

Now, the bones that Ezekiel saw that day were the bones of the people of Israel, his beloved people, a people who had been conquered, captured, and carted off by the Babylonians. The nation of Israel was no more. And that’s what Ezekiel saw there in the desert that day, the death of the nation of Israel, the death of the people of Israel. And “there were many, many bones,” he said, “and they were very, very dry.”

We live in a world where dry bones are also plentiful, in a world, where sickness, loneliness and loss are the order of the day for many, many of us. On a larger scale, our world is one where far too many people are crushed, where far too many people are bruised and broken by oppressive systems, by physical and mental illnesses, by dysfunctional and abusive relationships, by homelessness, poverty, war.  We can walk through any number of valleys with countless dry bones.

Now, hear the word of the Lord.

And God said to Ezekiel, “Mortal human, can these bones come back to life?” And Ezekiel replied, “Sovereign Lord, only you can answer that!” Notice, even though the bones are “very, very dry,” Ezekiel held out hope, left the door open for God to move…Not a yes, but not a no, either. “Sovereign Lord, only you can answer that.”

And then God told Ezekiel to preach to the bones. “Tell these bones to hear the word of the Lord.”

So Ezekiel did just that. And suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.  Ezekiel looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them -- but there was no breath in them.

 Then God said to Ezekiel, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ Ezekiel prophesied as God commanded him, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

God gave Ezekiel the power to summons God’s breath. God gave Ezekiel the power to summons God’s blessing, a blessing for a dry and weary land, a blessing for a dry and weary people. And there, before his very eyes, Ezekiel saw those dry bones get up and dance!

I think the message is that God gives us all the power to summon God’s breath, God’s blessing, for those around us. In fact, that’s our purpose for being here.

A friend of mine, Pat Abney, sends me little e-mail inspirational messages on a regular basis.  This week she sent me one concerning whether or not God exists.  I’m going to share it, although in a bit of a revised form.

There was this stranger who comes into a barber shop.  I should mention here that my Grandpa Shullaw’s brother was a barber, but that really has nothing to do with the story.

Anyhow, the barber and the stranger get to talking about all manner of things and finally the subject of God comes up.

“I don’t believe that God exists,” the barber tells the stranger.

'Why do you say that?' asks the stranger.

'Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn't exist. Tell me, if God exists, would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children? If God existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain. I can't imagine a loving God who would allow all of these things.'

The stranger thought for a moment, but didn't respond because he didn't want to start an argument.

The barber finished his job and the stranger left the shop.   Just after he left, he saw a man in the street with long, stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed  beard. He looked dirty and unkempt. The stranger turned back and entered the barbershop again and he said to the barber:

'You know what? Barbers do not exist.'   

'How can you say that?' asked the surprised barber. 'I am here, and I am a barber. And I just worked on you!'

'No!' the stranger exclaimed. 'Barbers don't exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like that man outside.'

'Ah, but barbers DO exist! That's what happens when people do not come to me.'

'Exactly!' said the stranger, as he walked outside the shop and gathered up the bedraggled man and sat him in the barber’s chair. The barber kind of got the idea and  fastened a towel around his new customer’s neck, and lowered the man’s head back to the sink.

The stranger smiled, put a couple of dollars on the counter and left the shop.

Now hear the word of the Lord.

God gives us the power to call God’s blessing into being, the power to bring life to a dry and weary person, the power to bring hope to a people or person in despair, the power to bring feeling to a people who have forgotten how to feel, forgotten how to laugh, how to cry, how to love, the power to bring peace to persons and to nations who’ve known nothing but unrest, the power to bring good news to the poor, liberty to the oppressed, recovery of sight to those who’ve never been able to see. God gives us the power to call God’s blessing into being! God gives us the power to make dry bones dance!

            This church, your church, has been through its dry bones times. There have been losses and sadnesses. But over the months, I’d venture to say, that the breath of God has filled this sanctuary with blessings, renewing us and urging us forward, teaching us how to button those buttons, one by one, all the way to the top. 

            Today is First Congregational’s annual meeting.  Please stay and be a part of the discussions. You have to be a member to vote, but you just have to be you to share your thoughts.  It’s a day to recognize and honor those who have held leadership positions during the past year or so and to honor those who have accepted nomination to carry our work into the future.

May we continue to be a blessing to one another as we prepare to share the Lord’s Supper together.   

Now hear the word of the Lord.

Click to Return to Sermon Index