Monthly Archives: April 2011

A Lesson for April 27th

Jonah 2:1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, 2 saying, “I called to the LORD out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.

Having been in a collision at sea while coming up to periscope depth, I can relate to Jonah. I remember feeling calm and focused on my duties while we tried to avoid hitting that other ship a second time. The water beneath us was deeper than all but research submarines could descend, yet I was confident that God was with us and that God would comfort our families on shore. For the record, although both ships were badly damaged, no one was hurt and both ships eventually returned to sea.

I am continually amazed when God uses tragedies in our lives to refocus our thoughts on what is truly important.

[NB: Christ Presbyterian Church has prepared a devotional for use during the season of Easter. My posts during the 7 weeks between Easter Sunday and Pentecost will spring from Daily Lectionary Readings not address by congregants and might not correlate with the readings for the day published.]

May 1st: “As One Sent”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: John 20:19-31

B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …

C. Other texts for Year A for 2nd Sunday in Easter

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

19 From whom do we have fear of now that we must keep our doors locked?
Is the doors being locked a metaphor for the minds of the disciples being shut to the possibility of Jesus rising from the grave? Mary just announced it to them!

20 The other 10, had also seen Jesus’ hands and feet.

21a Repetition of blessing after the disciples recognized Jesus and rejoiced.

21b Christians are sent!!! A different verb is used for Christ being sent vs. disciples being sent. The difference is demonstrated when the other disciples try to tell Thomas about the resurrection versus Jesus showing Thomas the resurrection.

22 Christ breathes the Holy Spirit upon us, yet we still have to receive it. N.B. parallel with God breathing a breath into Adam in Gen 2. In Gen 2, Adam had no choice but to receive the breath. In John 20, the disciples are commanded to receive the breath. It is up to the disciples to choose whether or not to receive it.

23 What an awesome responsibility! Forgiving sins and retaining sins. While our actions of forgiving/holding is in the future/present (present tense verb), the Jesus’ has completed this in the past (perfect tense verb).

24 – 25 What is our unbelief? What must we see/­hear/­feel/­taste/… to experience the reality of Christ with us?

26 The doors are still shut, yet Jesus breaks in and can be touched, more than just a spirit!

27 Jesus meets Thomas in his unbelief.

28 Confession of faith or statement of recognition? Are they not the same?

29 We cannot physically touch Jesus, yet Jesus has provided enough reassurance to meet our unbelief. The seed of faith has been planted so that we can come to the community of faith for nurturing and growing this seed and aiding the growth of the seed in others.

30 – 31 First Ending?
Purpose of this Gospel is so that we may believe and in believing come to know Christ and live.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • This is part II of the Easter Sunday story. Mary had seen Jesus that morning. In the preceding passage, Mary Magdalene had told the disciples that she had seen Jesus, yet the ten appear to have been as dumb founded as Thomas when Jesus appears to them.
  • The Johanine community added John 21 which contains the testing of Peter and the call to John.
  • This contains the second and third post resurrection revelations of Christ to the believers. It marks the first end of the Gospel. The second ending is similar an appearance of the risen Lord, a recognition, a demonstration of physicality (eating and breaking bread), a test of faith (“Feed my lambs.”), a declaration of faith, and a giving of mission (“Follow me!”).

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • v.31 Some variants have present active subjunctive, /pisteuhte/, you may continue to believe, rather than the aorist active subjunctive, /pisteushte/, you might believe. The latter is the preferred reading. Was this written to strengthen the faith of believers or to make new believers?

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

  • Last Gospel written, about AD 95, after expulsion of Christians from Jewish synagogues. Hence, v 19 “for fear of the Jews” even though the disciples were all Jews. Written as a spiritual/philosophical rather than factual/with parables exposition, by the “beloved disciple”. It has the purpose of shifting the reader from learning about Christ to telling about Christ. John lacks a prophecy of the Second Coming, substituting the presence of the Paraclete. Hence, v 22 “he breathed on them and says to them receive the Holy Spirit/Breath (/pneuma agion/).” Is this John’s version of Pentecost?

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

  • Luke records a parallel scene after the revelation on the road to Emmaus. These two ran back to Jerusalem and found the eleven gathered in the upper room. Jesus came and stood among them. They were troubled and thought they saw a ghost. Jesus showed them his hands and feet and offers to allow them to “handle” him and he eats with them. Luke allows us to see more of the Apostles feelings of fear of seeing Jesus. In John they are awe-struck in wonder and amazement and disbelief.
  • Attested to in 1 Cor 15:5 and Acts 10:41-44.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • 19 How does Jesus enter the room? Does that matter? Since they had to see Jesus’ hands and side, presumably he had entered in an ordinary manner. Could the verb for “he came” include the meaning “he entered?” For example the phrase he came to church presumes entrance in the normal way. Why not here?
  • 21 Christ is sent (/apestalken/) differently than how he sends (/pempw/) us. A few variants use the same verb (/apestalken/) in both locations. G. Sloyan (Interpretation: John) notes that elsewhere the terms are used interchangeably. But the TNDT notes: “/apestellw/ is a strengthening compound of /stello/ and is common in Greek for “to send forth,” differing from /pempw/, which stresses the fact of sending, by its relating of sender and sent and its consequent implication of a commission, especially in Hellenistic Greek.” Subsequent discussion in TNDT notes both the interchangeability and a difference which links /apestellw/ more closely with commissioning or sending forth. Thus the disciples’ sending is subordinate to Jesus’ commissioning by the Father.
  • 22. “Jesus breathed on them (/enefuhsen/) and says to them receive the Holy Spirit (/pneuma/).” /Pneuma/ is used widely for breath and for wind as well as for spirit. But there is also a word for natural wind (/anemos/) and a verb related to pneuma (/penw/) that could have been used to make the distinction between breathing and Spirit less clear.
  • 24. John refers to the twelve as disciples (/maqhtai/) rather than apostles, this may relate to their only being sent at the end of this Gospel.
  • 25. Thomas wishes to thrust (/balw/) his finger and hand into Jesus.
  • 26. The whole pericope is related in past tenses, perfect and imperfect, EXCEPT when Jesus “comes” and “says” to Thomas. Even Thomas’ reply is past tense. ==> Is this not the eternal presence of God?

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • Prose. Functions as a factual account of what happened.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Christ is present in the sending of the apostles (and all those who believe yet have not seen).

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Jesus expects Thomas to believe having heard, rather than demanding seeing.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Fred B. Cradock (Knox Preaching Guides: John) traces the post Easter drop in attendance to the return of the disciples to their old tasks (John 21).

G. Sloyan (Interpretation: John) reminds the preacher that belief is a gift of God. John would associate the failure to believe with an absence of grace from God.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Christ bursts through locked doors to send believers to be the Church with the authority of the Holy Spirit, in spite of human doubts.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

Despite our doubts that keep us from believing that Christ lives, the risen Christ assures us of Divine presence as we are sent out with the Holy Spirit to forgive sins.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

A Lesson for April 20th

Weeping Willow, shot in Auckland, New Zealand ...
Weeping Willow (Image via Wikipedia)

Jeremiah 17:7 Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.
8 They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.

Once I stuck a branch from a willow tree in a wet spot in the corner of our backyard. Towards the end of that summer, I could not pull the branch out for it had grown roots.

A community of faith can similarly nourish people: sticking them in the mud instead of leaving them by the curb; Propping them up when the wind blows them down; Trimming and pruning them so they might grow.

Very rarely does faith blossom over night. Much more frequently faith grows like a tree, almost imperceptibly, until it is so large that it provides shade for others and we cannot remember a time without being deeply rooted in God’s Word.

How has trusting God helped your faith weather life’s storms?

April 24th: “New Life”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: John 20:1-18

B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …

C. Other texts for Year A for 1st Sunday in Easter

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1 John does not tell why Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. It could have been to adorn the body as explained in the Synoptic Gospels, or it could have been to mourn at his tomb as people do today. In the first century (and in the Middle East today) the dead are typically buried on the day of death and mourning follows (c.f. Mary mourning for Lazarus).

1 The stone was rolled away to let us in rather than to let Jesus out. Note in other post resurrection appearances Jesus appears bodily despite locked doors. us).

2a “The one whom Jesus loved.” Why this title? Were not all of the disciples loved by Jesus? This title is also used at John 13:23, 21:7, and 21:20. At no citation is this phrase associated with a name. Was this Lazarus, “whom Jesus loved”? us).

2b Does Mary jump to the conclusion that the body has been moved based on the stone having been removed, or has she looked in side as well? Would the empty strips of linen been easy to see from the door? us).

7 The details on the folded grave cloths point to the error of Mary’s statement, no one has taken the body away. Jesus has left death behind!us).

8-9 If the beloved one, saw and believed, but did not yet understand from Scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead, what then did he believe? Did he merely realize the desecration of the tomb? us).

10 Why did they leave Mary there crying? Was the beloved one unable to explain what he now “believed”? us).

11 Believers wept at the cross, while the world rejoiced. Now Believers will rejoice at the empty cross and the empty tomb and the world is perplexed. us).

12 The angels sitting where the body had lain echoes Jesus promise of angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man and are evidence of the in breaking of the Kingdom of God.us).

13 Mary seems too readily accept the presence of the angels. In other appearance of angels, the humans typically fall to their knees in fear and trembling. us).

14 In her grief had she forgotten or had her eyes been covered as the two on the Road to Emmaus? And how often do we neglect to recognize Jesus in our midst? us).

15 Jesus’ question Mary: “Whom are you looking for?” and Mary’s response: “Rabboni!” parallel the questions by John the Baptizer’s disciples. This may be a good question for us today. us).

15b Mary is quite willing to get a partially decayed body herself. Are we as willing to get messy for Jesus’ sake? us).

16 It is indeed Jesus who has carried him away, as Jesus has the power to take up his own life and lay it down again. us).

17 Jesus calls us his siblings, not his children nor followers! What does it mean to be on a par with Jesus in the household of God? Able to call the creator of the heavens and the earth our Father? us).

18 Mark’s Gospel ends with the women in fear and silent, not telling anyone. John records Mary as the first evangelist. Luke spreads this honor among the two other Marys and Joanna. Matthew talks of two Marys.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

  • Mark 16 Mary M., “Mary the mother of James” and Salome went to the tomb to anoint Jesus. They were addressed by “a young man dressed in white” who tells them to tell the disciples [Jesus] is going ahead to Galilee, but they are afraid and tell no one. Mark’s abrupt ending allows the reader to wonder how the Good News came to be heard by others and brings the reader into the urgency of telling others.
  • Matt 28 Mary M. and “the other Mary” went to look at the tomb. Adds the stone was rolled away by an angel who frightened guards away. They are addressed by an “angel of the Lord” who looked like lighting dressed in white. They run with joy to tell the disciples and encounter Jesus along the way. They clasp his feet. He tells them to tell his brethren.
  • Luke 24 “The women” (3 named plus “others” in 24:10) take spices to the tomb. While in the tomb, two men clothed gleaming like lighting stood beside them. They tell the disciples but the disciples don’t believe. Peter’s going to the tomb later to look for himself in verse 12 may have been a later addition to harmonize with John 20.
  • John 20 Mary M. goes to look at the tomb. She tells Peter and the one “whom Jesus loved” the tomb is empty. After they leave she first encounters the two angels and later the risen Jesus on the way to the Father, but she is forbidden to clasp him. After this encounter she runs announcing: “I have seen the Lord!”

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

    • Many of the action verbs of the narrative are in the present tense. Particularly those involving approaching the tomb or Jesus.
    • “Dark” may also refer to the blindness of seeing the truth. Seven times in this text words for “seeing” are used; and the seeing always results in some belief about what is seen — and that belief is usually wrong!

2 “The one who Jesus loved” – /filew/ which tends towards friendship.

14 & 16 Mary *IS* turned around. The NIV and RSV ignore the passive form of the verb and give Mary the action of turning. Is it we who turn to God or does God turn us?

15 Mary refers to “the gardener” with the same title that she has given for Jesus to the angels, unaware of her accuracy.

15 The verb used when Mary says what she will do with the body is the same as used in 1:29: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” It has the sense of “pick up and carry away”.

17 Jesus “ascends” although NIV and RSV render this as passive. Active agrees with 10:17 – “I lay down my life, that I may take it again.”

18 Mary cannot contain her news. She “comes announcing.”

18 “Seeing” verb used here connotes something has been revealed unto Mary.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

The text gives many details that beg for explanation.

  • The un-named disciple out runs Peter, yet he does not enter until Peter has entered.
  • Mary’s return to the tomb is unmentioned. Has she simply followed the disciples?
  • Why is the burial cloth folded and laid separately from the linens? Where the linens folded? Is this to refute the idea of a grave robbery? (If so would the cloths have been taken as well or left in a heap?)
  • What did the un-named disciple believe if he still lacked understanding of the Scripture?
  • Why two angles in white?
  • What is the significance of Mary’s not being allowed to hold on to Jesus before he ascends?

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

E. Is there anything you wish the author had included in the passage? Why do you think this was not a part of Scripture?

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • The resurrection is hardly a routine way to start the day, or is it? – Harvey Mozolak in http://www.ecunet.org/Sermonshop.2003.04.20/ April 8, 2003

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Gail R. O’Day in The New Interpreter’s Bible: “The Gospel of John”. Pay little attention to which disciple does what, as this only leads away from John’s central point: The tomb is empty. The tomb is not merely empty, but its emptiness bears witness to Jesus conquest of death. Since the resurrection has not yet happened nor has the Paraclete been given, the empty tomb inspires hope of what is to come.

Fred B. Craddock in Knox Preaching Guides: John. The Bible does not recount for us the resurrection only post resurrection appearances. Where as non-canonical post resurrection accounts, tell of Jesus making shocking and compelling appearances to the general public and to strangers, the Bible contains restrained accounts with Jesus only appearing to disciples.

Brian Stoffregen http://www.ecunet.org/Gospel.notes.for.next.Sunday/, April 13, 2003 — The resurrection is not a return to the past, but a movement to the future. Neither Mary nor we nor our congregations can hold on to the past after resurrection. We look to the even greater future that God has in store for us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

William H. Willamon (Pulpit Resource, March 23, 2008) reminds me of how the resurrection interrupts the normal pattern of life. Easter happened on the first day of the week; a day when everyone was attempting to get back into the normality of life after a particularly bloody weekend. Consider inviting the listener into Mary Magdalene’s shoes. What would we expect to find? How would we react to a disturbed grave? What Peter believes on seeing the empty tomb is ambiguous, as he did not know the scripture. What would we believe? He suggests asking rather than when did Christ do such and such, but where is Christ doing such and such, recognizing Christ’s ability to get past locked doors.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

  • Mary did not expect to see the risen Jesus. When/where do we not expect to find Jesus?
  • Contrast the empty protestant cross with the crucifix.
  • In Tuesday’s with Morrie, the title character encourages the author to embrace death, because once death has been embraced, one may truly live.

A Lesson for April 13th

Footprints in the Sand

Romans 10:15And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!

What happens with a sermon once it has been delivered? Does it disappear like footprints in the sand, washed away with the next wave upon the shore?

There are sermons I still recall from decades ago. Times when I agreed with the preacher and times when I disagreed. Oddly, I have the clearest memory of sermons with which I disagreed: Did I miss the preachers point? Or was the point of contention a means to keep an issue alive? So I might continue to mull the issue and to discuss it with friend and colleagues.

Now that I deliver more sermons than I hear, I hope I stimulate discussion among friends and family so that the hears of the Word on Sunday morning might become bearers of the Word on Sunday afternoon.

When have you delivered Good News?

April 17th: “Christ Mindfulness”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Philippians 2:5-11

C. Other texts for Year A for 6th Sunday in Lent, Palm Sunday

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

5 How do we block out having the mind of Christ? Consider being full of Christ-like mind set, i.e. Christian mindfulness.

6 Since Christ “was in the form of God,” then are we too in the form of God? Consider Psalm 8: “You made [mortals] a little lower than [gods (Massoretic) | angels (LXX, Targum, Syriac)]. Would other organisms consider us as gods (Genesis 1:28)?

7 How then are we, finding ourselves in human form, to take on the form of a slave? Consider Adam’s servitude to the earth (Genesis 3:23).

8 We are to be obedient to God. Not to the church nor to any other human institution, not even to ourselves.

9-11 We hope not to be exalted for our actions or faith, but that God would be exalted through our actions!

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Paul is urging the Philippians to do for Christ as they would do for him, even more so.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • None noted.
  • Some interpreters suggest that present form of the hymn includes words not found in the original hymn to yield a poetic meter.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

  • The letter was written by Paul, but the hymn may have existed independently of the letter, either composed by Paul, or incorporated by Paul to make a point.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

  • John 13 (Jesus washing the disciples’ feet) has a similar structure and descent followed by exaltation.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • Verse 5 is especially difficult. Various English translations add helping words to avoid unintended English nuances. The Message offers: “Think of yourself the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.” The operative verb is in the second person present imperative.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • Verses 6 – 11 are poetic. Although the surrounding sentences are rhetorical.
  • The hymn, if considered apart from the letter, has a clear Christological message: Christ is God. But the letter uses the hymn to make a strong ethical command: Humbly obey God, like Christ. Combined they say: Obey like Christ, for God is in you. Hence in verse 13 Paul wrote: “for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity:  What would Jesus Do?
  • Emotional Center:  Slave-like obedience to God.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • How are we, as mere mortals, to adopt a Christ-like form of thinking?

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • This is the most important part of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and the most difficult to interpret. Verses 6 – 11 summarize the Gospels. But verse 5 demands that we must confess Jesus Christ is Lord and demonstrate Christ-like servant-hood by our actions.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Gerald F Hawthorne (Word Biblical Commentary: Philippians, Word Books, 1983) notes that since 1899 there has been broad agreement that these verse contain an ancient hymn, but there is much disagreement as to the structure of that hymn with regard to strophes and which if any words would have been omitted in the original Greek hymn to yield the particular meter. He also notes diverse scholarly opinions if Paul composed the hymn, if Paul adopted or adapted it from some other writer, and if John 13 (Jesus washing the disciples’ feet) guided the writer of the hymn. The hymn makes a clear Christological case for Christ as God, but Paul uses it to make an ethical statement. He recommends translating verse five to retain implied parallels as:
This way of thinking must be adopted by you,
Which also was the way of thinking adopted by Christ.
He discusses the use of /morfh/; discarding translating it as form, glory, image, mode of being, or condition/status, as each being partially correct and problematic. In considering verse 7, he summarizes interpretations of what the author intended by “he emptied himself”. And of what Christ emptied or poured out from himself. He interprets the obedient death of Christ, incorporating vicarious atonement, as obedient to God and serving people.He described the second half of the hymn, vv. 9 – 11, as shifting from Christ acting in humble obedience, to God acting to exalt Christ.

A Lesson for April 6th

Various types of Bread
Bread for Eating (Photo by Klaus Höpfner via de.wikipedia)

John 6:33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

I rarely eat plain white bread. I prefer bread with character and texture, with seeds or herbs, yielding a bold flavor. For life rarely comes sifted and bleached, but comes with surprising flavors and textures showing the diversity of God’s creation.

Gracious God, help us every day to savor the rich, full-bodied flavor of life, so we might recognize you in all that we receive. Amen!

 

April 10th: “Speak to the Bones”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Ezekiel 37:1-14

B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …

C. Other texts for Year A for 5th Sunday in Lent

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1 Might Ezekiel have been given spiritual eyes to see the community in which he lives as the valley of dry bones rather than having been physically taken to another physical place to learn about the spirituality of the community allegorically.

2 Unlike Lazarus, God has to put flesh back on the bones as well as breath life into the flesh.

3 Is God asking is it possible or does Ezekiel have faith that it is possible? Ezekiel seems to answer with humility of who is he to tell God what is possible rather than affirming that with God all things are possible.

4. God does not speak to the bones directly, calling forth life as at the creation, but puts words in Ezekiel’s mouth. What will we do with the life giving words we have been given?

4. Like the street preacher who calls out to anyone to no one, having faith that through the sound of his voice the Word of God may be transmitted.

5 Accepting the breath of life is not a choice we have.

6. The renewal of our spirit is not of our doing, but God’s alone.

7. But yet we do have a task to do. We have to share the Word of God that has been made known to us with those around us. It is not that God needs us, but rather that God chooses to work through us!

8-9 Sometimes our meager efforts fall short of what we hope for, so we have to try a second time.

10 When God is with us, miracles are truly possible beyond our imagination. Picture the transformation from dried bones to fleshy bodies to a standing multitude. Picture the transformation of our communities from dispassionate about God’s church to a standing multitude singing praises to God and love kindness, doing justice, and walking humbly with our God!

11 Not only Israel but also our churches!

12 The worst kind of graves are spiritual rather than physical. Spiritual graves keep us from living to the glory of God.

13-14 What does it feel like to have God place his spirit within us, to set us up right, to open our spiritual graves?

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

  • Amid a series of prophecies to/against Israel.
  • The book’s own chronology places Ezekiel’s prophetic call in Babylon during the fifth year of the Exile of King Jehoiachin of Judah (1:2), and the latest dated oracle in the book is assigned to the twenty-seventh year of the Exile (29:17).

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

  • Other passages parallel only in the theme of resurrection to new life in Christ. This passage is particularly significant as it is a recreation of a people from their own bones.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • 6 “And you shall know I am YHVH” — know I am the Becomer/Creator.
  • 6/8 flesh arises upon the bones.

III. Question the text.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • No where does it say that the people asked to have their graves opened and to be put back on the land. God simply does it.

E. Is there anything you wish the author had included in the passage? Why do you think this was not a part of Scripture?

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • Is there a parallel between the dried bones of Ezekiel’s valley and the unchurched? If the dry bones are Israel, then they are also those who have dried up from the Gospel. Will they ever have flesh on them? Will they ever come to church again? Ezekiel says to prophesy to the bones and he does and they have life! Similarly we are to speak the Gospel to the unchurched and when we do they will hear the Word of God through us and they will live! But it is not only the unchurched who will breath again, it is also the members of the church itself that shall be renewed for God’s service.
  • This is a ghost story;

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Donald Gowan (Knox Preaching Guides: Ezekiel, John Knox Press, 1985) contrasts what is popularly known about this text through the African Spiritual “Dem Bones,” with life and death of the church. Principally interpreted by Christians as the resurrection of the dead in the last days; and restoration of Israel to the promised land. Gowan asserts that Ezekiel does not hedge on answering God’s questions, but admits that God can do whatever God wishes.

Eugene March (Presbyterian Outlook, October 26, 1998, p. 28, “God’s Vision for Exiles”) asks: In the dry bones times of your life, what did you do? How did you find help from God? Why is hope so important? What is the difference between wishful thinking and biblical hope?

Katheryn Pfisterer Darr (The New Interpreter’s Bible, Abingdon, 2001, “The Book of Ezekiel”) reflects that Ezekiel’s fellow deportees lame as good as dead and, without hope they might as well be dead. Ezekiel’s response to God’s question (“Can these bones live?” “Lord God, you know.”) is intentionally ambiguous. Psalm 88 answers this question rhetorically in the negative, as would any sane person. She describes Ezekiel’s prophecy and the exile as a zero moment from which God provides. She cites Elie Weisel who noted that this vision, unlike Ezekiel’s other visions, is undated for every generation needs to hear in its own time that these bones can live again.