【2012년 5월 27일(주일)】VKC 성령강림주일
【제목】너희 마른 뼈들아 ('Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!’)
There were many cafes and restaurants with funny names near the university I used to go to. One restaurant was called “Ham Ji Bak” (means “big round wooden bowl”) and if you go there, they would give you so much rice such that the amount of rice would be fit a big wooden bowl. There was also a café called “Got Mang Hal” (means “soon to fail”) and that café really failed… One of the cafes that I went often was called “Dry Leaf Reborn”). I liked this café because the name seems to have a hopeful meaning. One more important reason for liking this café was I used to meet my wife there often…
When I was preparing for today’s sermon, I remembered that café. And I thought the name “Dry Leaf Reborn” was very relevant to today’s sermon. The passage is actually about ‘dry bones,’ but ‘dry leaf’ and ‘dry bones’ all represent a desperate and hopeless situation.
Today is the Pentecost Sunday and I think today’s passage is very meaningful and relevant to the special day. This is because a church without the Holy Spirit and saints who do not experience the presence of the Spirit are dead like the dry bones… So hopefully, just as the dry leaves and dry bones can reborn, we have the opportunity to experience the new spiritual resurrection through the presence of the Spirit.
Ezekiel 1:2-3 says:
On the fifth of the month--it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin-the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the LORD was upon him.
Jehoiachin was 18 years old at the time when he became a king. But when Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, sieged Israel, Jehoiachin surrendered within three months and was held captive in Babylon along with 10,000 other prisoners. Ezekiel had to also be exiled to Babylon with his father Buzi who was a priest. There, by the river Chebar, Ezekiel received a calling to become a prophet.
We need to think about why God chose Ezekiel the priest to be the prophet. There are many esoteric and fascinating stories in the Book of Ezekiel. For example, the Book includes a parable of two eagles and vine, the parable of the pot, a vision of the dry vines, a story of four living creatures, and a story of wheel intersecting a wheel. There are also bizarre prophecies of eating a scroll, becoming a mute, travelling spiritually to Israel, and even his wife dying.
There are so many bizarre and unique stories in Ezekiel that so many theologians, psychiatrists, alien researchers, ethnic separatists and apocalyptic protesters have had a lot of attention on the Book of Ezekiel. The psychiatrists are interested in strange symptoms that are mentioned in the Book. The alien researches are interested in Ezekiel’s visions. Also, the apocalyptic riders are basing the Book on their belief that the end is imminent shortly.
The reason for the unusual scenes being shown in the Book of Ezekiel is not because Ezekiel is into such things. Rather, it was because Ezekiel was in a situation where he could not normally worship and give sacrifice. He was a priest and also a son of a priest. However, in Babylon, he could not afford the duties of a priest. Therefore, he had the spread the word of God through a different means. He was held captive at the time, and so instead of spreading the word directly, he did through his prophecies, parables, and symbolic behaviours.
It is not important that Ezekiel prophesied through a vision or a special way. Instead, it is rather more important that the Lord was upon him with His authority. Verse 1 says, “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.” The authority of the LORD is 'the hand of the LORD’ in the bible. That is, the LORD kindly led Ezekiel by grasping his hand.
When Ezekiel was given the first calling in Chapter 1, Section 3, the LORD’s authority was upon him. The authority of the LORD is not power, but His hands. (In the Korean version of the Bible, the translation of the “hand of the LORD” appears as the “authority of the LORD.”)
Ezekiel saw amazing, marvelous scenes while being led by the hands of God. God’s lead is important. God led the prophet Ezekiel through a bizarre vision to speak for God’s words when he could not control the duties of a priest.
If so, what does ‘being led by the hands of God’ mean?
A book written by a pastor Lee Jae Chul, “Young man crying, you should plant seeds!”, tells of this story: After losing against the Western powers, modern China had to open its door. At the same time, many western missionaries could enter China. They told the Book of Revelations of St. John, Chapter 3, verses 7 and 8 to the Chinese. key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.” And they themselves had thought, “how dare anyone could close the door of China because God opened it.” However all missionaries were expelled out of China by the Communist government led by Mao in 1949. Then, they shouted out towards God. Why did YOU abandon China?” These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the
But before China became communist, what the missionaries found hardest to deal with was their widely spread belief in superstition, which had existed for 2000 years. However, during the years when the Communist party took over, all those superstitious beliefs were breaking. This would not have been possible without the Communist dictatorship. If the missionaries were to accomplish such a deed with the 1 million Chinese population, it would have taken them at least 200 years. This was what the eldest Korean-Chinese pastor, Sung-Ha Kim, said. God has now opened the doors to a superstition-free China. China probably already has more Christians than Korea’s population. The Chinese churches will continue to spread like wildfire.
Just like the Chinese missionaries, when Judah was destroyed in combat, Ezekiel, taken captive, probably also screamed “God, why did you abandon your people?” But Ezekiel was led by His hands and saw an amazing vision: dry bones forming new lives… God had a plan. But God had shown this through Ezekiel whom He led.
But do you know where Ezekiel was led to? And what he saw? The place that God took Ezekiel doesn’t sound that appealing – “it was full of bones” and “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” (37:1-2). When it says ‘led me back and forth’ here it means to go about cautiously, after looking around.
I said previously that I’d like to be led by God (hope those who said ‘Amen’ in agreement is listening here), if we were led to a valley full of bones, dry ones at that, and he made us look all around, how would we feel? Especially if these bones, as it is mentioned in verse 11 ‘are the whole house of Israel,’ in other words, those of our own sisters and brothers, would we not be frightened?
What else did God do? Verse 3 says, “He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’” How can the dead rise again? How can dry bones live again? Had it been me that God had asked, I would’ve rebelled and laughed at the idea of preaching to a bunch of dried up bones. However, Ezekiel responded with “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”
When I read these words, I felt something move inside me. Ezekiel isn’t saying Yes or No to God’s question nor is he saying ‘I believe in whatever you say’ or the opposite. Instead Ezekiel is saying that what he knows or doesn’t know is not the focus but is confessing that it is God’s plan that is the most important.
We tend to judge a given situation as something we can or cannot do. So we say, it is impossible to convert Muslim nations, there is no hope in Africa, this person cannot become your servant, and that simply cannot be done.
Hanbin is currently in Bangladesh and I was able to hear how he’s doing through Deaconess Shim. When Hanbin first arrived, he thought that there was no hope and that God simply wasn’t there. However, in a matter of just a few days, he realized that God was there and that this was also God’s land.
Only God knows how he will show himself. Although we have no idea, he knows and if we believe, we shouldn’t prematurely conclude or judge, even if it is dry bones that greet us.
Today is Pentecost, and if we believe in the Holy Spirit, we must confess ‘only you know Lord.’ Why? Because the Holy Spirit changes us and we believe in the possibility of this change occurring.
A while back, I told a story of a pastor who was newly appointed to a church. He gave a wonderful sermon at his first service and the members loved him. However, the week after, the pastor gave the same sermon. The church members were a little confused but thought that he must’ve confused his notes. Then the week after, the pastor yet again, gave the same sermon and one courageous church member spoke up and asked “Pastor, when will you give a new sermon?” and the pastor answered, “When we begin to really apply what we’ve learned in our lives, I will give a new sermon.”
I, unfortunately, am not courageous enough to follow suit; however, the thing for us to realize from this little parable is that the pastor believed that the church will change. Had he not believed in this possibility for change, he wouldn’t even have bothered doing this. And the Holy Spirit, likewise, is talking about faith that will change our lives.
Beloved church members, God knows. If it is in his plan, it will happen. I hope that these lines will become our own confessions. Just as God had saved us, raised to life the dried bones and the dried leaves, he will do it. Only he knows…
The last thing I want us to think about is in verse 4, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!’” He is telling Ezekiel to proclaim to these dried bones to rise again.
What happened in response? “I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life” and “I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life!” (37:5-6).
The bones begin to come together, tendons form, flesh come upon them and skin begins to cover it all. How miraculous is this?
However, even when these bones come together and tendons and flesh forms and skin covers it all, without breath, there is no life. And because of this, ‘breath’ is repeated throughout verses 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10.
Then, what does it mean by ‘breath?’ The word not only means breath as in how air enters our bodies but also connotes the Holy Spirit. In other words, God wanted to show Ezekiel that a person without the Holy Spirit is only a zombie, a life form like Frankenstein created mechanically; however, through the Holy Spirit, breath enters and the person becomes truly alive.
In Acts, we see that the disciples, after Jesus had left the world after his resurrection, picked a new person to fill the spot of Judas, so that they’d become 12 again. They drew the name of Mattias and then came together at Mark’s attic to pray. They had formed the basic foundations of a church, disciples, place and members of the church. Thus, it seems to make sense to see this as the beginning of a church. However, this was a church without ‘breath,’ and in the second chapter of Acts, God makes breath enter the church and makes it live.
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Sprit enabled them.”
The presence of ‘breath’ makes a person genuine and the same applies to churches. God’s wind, his breath, and the Holy Spirit make a church a true, a live church.
Today is Pentecost and I hope that God will show us this vision. For him to hold our hands and lead us, even if it is to a valley full of bones. And for us to answer, ‘Lord, only you know,’ to the questions he asks. And for us to have the courage to declare the words of God toward the dry leaves and bones. And for them to rise with the breath of God. And for our church to become a live, wholesome church, a church where dry leaves live again…
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