Dry bones Lent 5
April 2, 2017
For Beloved Community Mennonite Church &
Mayflower Congregational Church
Vernon K. Rempel, 2017
With Cole Chandler
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. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I 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 he said to me, “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.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.
Play “Ezekiel saw a wheel”
Chutzpah and humility
It is good to be with you this morning.
Once again, I am so grateful to this congregation
for hosting our new congregation
and with such a generous spirit.
And it is a privilege to share with you.
So, I’d like to start off with something friendly and easy
just to break the ice.
So let’s talk about abortion!
It’s almost like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, isn’t it?
What a political and cultural moment we are in.
What a familial moment we are in.
A lot of my conservative evangelical relatives
who I love and appreciate,
whose voices are some of the first voices I heard on earth,
voted on one issue: abortion.
And so there is political tension.
And as Parker Palmer says in Healing the Heart of Democracy
we need to learn to hold the tension in life-giving ways.
I need to find my way into conversations
and make peace, “so far as it depends on me” as Paul says in Romans.
Palmer says that we need two qualities to do this well:
chutzpah and humility.
Chutzpah, to speak from the heart
and humility to remember that whatever we say or think we know
we will never have the whole picture and so we listen.
Chutzpah and humility: I’ll tell you what I think of abortion.
Great – another man telling people
what he thinks about abortion!
But I think we do need to tell each other,
talk with each other, listen to each other.
We need to get into the real mess with each other.
And anyway, what I have to say probably isn’t that big a deal.
I think Hillary Clinton got it about right a number of years ago
when she said abortion should be rare and legal.
And then to listen: What’s the better angel of your heart have to say about it?
And who do you find that you want or need to
listen to to advance and heal our conversation?
That is an exercise in tension holding.
May we always do it in life-giving ways.
May we do it with both chutzpah and humility.
The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel held the tension of his people.
As you may know, the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament,
is a record of a people brought out of captivity in Egypt,
only to be taken into captivity again by Babylon.
Now they are in exile, once again made captive.
It is into this moment, filled with tension,
that Ezekiel speaks and acts.
Ezekiel is the tension-holding prophet par excellence.
He holds the tension so well
that it seemed to make him crazy.
Crazy from holding a vast social tension.
He is supposed to speak to his fellow captives in exile.
But they are not innocent victims.
They are captives, but they are also people who have failed
to live with justice in their own lives.
This has weakened them in the face of their enemies (Ezekiel 3:11, 17; 5)
How do you say that to someone?
It’s a tough place to be, full of tension.
The divine spirit tells him to speak,
with words and performance art.
He seems to go crazy.
Ezekiel sees beasts.
He sees a mighty wheel “way up in the middle of the air”
He eats a scroll.
He lies on his left side for 390 days.
He lies on his right side for another 40.
He makes himself suffer for the people
Chutzpah and humility. Look what he does:
The chutzpah of a hard message;
and the humility of being ready to suffer for it.
And then, in the midst of this turmoil,
something begins to happen.
Now he sees a valley of dry bones,
and the divine voice asks – can these bones live?
And the prophet, exhausted and crazy, replies
“O Lord, you know.”
Say to these bones, I will cause flesh to come upon you,
and breath to enter you.
And so the prophet speaks to an impossible valley full of dry bones.
And now there is flesh, and the bones rattle together,
and start to reassemble themselves:
the hip bone’s connected to the leg bone,
hear the word of the Lord.
Come together, right now.
And now there is breath.
And now the bones live.
Plant a church
Can these bones live?
We may ask ourselves this question every day.
Can our democracy live?
Can I take another step of courage,
or shall I let the couch and the television consume me?
Shall I stay with my comfortable, agreeable friends,
or can I also step out to meet the ones who voted wrong,
who have the wrong view, who are being destructive, in my opinion,
those who are the other, the other side,
the opposing force?
Chutzpah and humility.
We are so grateful to be with you this morning,
and for the generous way in which you
have provided a home for this new church.
Our new church has been born
from so much good, and sometimes difficult, tension holding.
Some of these include:
How might Catholic Worker and Mennonite collaborate?
How might a small new church bring church leaders from Mexico city to help us?
How might we make a home together with immigrants, homeless folks, friends and family who need a place to stay?
How might we offer ministry recognition and credentials to a woman who has served and loved for a generation without receiving formal recognition in our Mennonite denomination?
What’s the best way to live in wholehearted community as people who are lgbtq and others?
Can we be a real community of shared resources, so that anyone in the community does not need to fear for their material wellbeing?
What does it mean to live committed to nonviolence when there are very real dangers?
Can we play the blues as a key mode of Christian worship?
How might a young new pastor and an old experienced pastor, 30 years apart in age, work together in a new congregation?
Tensions, that can all be fruitful productive tensions,
with a little chutzpah and humility
a chance to see miracles when the Spirit asks
can these bones live?
And now let’s hear a bit from that young, new pastor.
A shared homily with Vern Rempel
For Beloved Community Mennonite and Mayflower Congregational Church
2 April 2017
Can these bones live?
O Lord God, you know they can.
With two parts chutzpah and three parts humility,
these bones will put on flesh,
and these bodies will breathe the breath of life.
Where is my chutzpah? Where is my humility?
I’m not sure if Vern remembers the story quite like I do or not, but we first met in May of 2015. Kaylanne and I were at first Mennonite with a couple of our friends, sitting in the back row as we were apt to do… and I noticed in the bulletin that there was some kind of going away celebration being scheduled for Vern in the next couple of months.
I asked my friend what that was all about, and then he started telling me that Vern was going to plant a church and he’d been talking about it with Ted Haggard… which I found to be so very peculiar and intriguing… and then I stopped listening and I just went and tapped Vern on the shoulder and asked him to tell me about it himself.
So… I did a little research on facebook…
And I showed up at a Blues and Brews event in Vern’s backyard…
And Vern and I drank coffee together in the afternoon’s after I finished my work at SAME Café… And I felt like I was watching and listening to this leader who was articulating a vision for community that was so similar to mine, with thirty years more maturity.
So I set there and I listened… and I soaked in his wisdom and style… his wholehearted humanity and creativity… and I told him on more than one occasion that he was the “least high strung pastor I had ever met.” I admired his ability to hold this new church with open hands, to let things emerge organically, to let the wind blow where it will.
I sensed that it wasn’t even a struggle for Vern to want to control the unraveling life of this new community… that Vern lived with a deep consciousness that this life was spiraling right out from the love of God, right out into the world.
And then Vern asked me to speak into the life of this community… he asked me to stand on my own two feet and speak from my own experience… and one thing led to another, and before long I found myself to be accessing a deeper sense of my own voice and personal agency than ever before… I found myself to be experiencing a deep synthesis between my soul and my role… and let me tell you that if you’ve never experienced that… it feels like the breath of life breathing into dry bones.
And as if that is not a miracle… I want to tell you about one of the other miracles of this journey… but maybe I should zoom out a bit further first. When I graduated from seminary in 2013, the quest for an experience of authentic community led Kaylanne and I to move into the Denver Catholic Worker house and begin to share in the life of a radical community of hospitality that has shaped our life in Denver in more ways than we can describe even after we moved on from living in the house ourselves.
On a cold morning in January of 2016, as I set beside a candle with a warm cup of coffee and a book in my hands, looking out over downtown Denver and the Front Range, enjoying the most pleasant of mornings…
My phone started ringing off the hook. Friends were calling to tell me that everyone was ok, but the Catholic Worker House had burned down.
I put on my coat, biked down to the Worker and took a moment to take in the scene of news trucks and fire hoses spraying down the scorched brick container that had expanded to hold a community of love for the past thirty-eight years. As I reflected upon that scene later on that day, I wrote, “This chapter of the Worker has most definitely ended after thirty eight years of hospitality and solidarity. Our prayer is for new seeds from the ashes. A resurrection, and new incarnation of all that is good and beautiful. In the words of Peter Maurin: A new society within the shell of the old, a society where it is easier for people to be good.”
In the days and weeks after the fire, Vern stepped in and showed up at Catholic Worker meetings, and folks from those meetings showed up at our worship, and with the initial grace and openness with which he has held this new emerging community, I remember Vern saying, “I wonder what is being born among us?”
That is just a bit of context that helps me understand the miracle of the Beloved Community Village. A potential tiny home village for people experiencing homelessness not far from my house, or the former Catholic Worker house in the River North Arts District.
Since mid-December, Vern and I have thrown ourselves into this project wholeheartedly… Showing up for daily meetings… Reading god-forsaken amounts of emails… Listening to people who sleep outside in the dirt telling us that we’re privileged and don’t have any idea at all how to make this thing work… Standing in front of neighborhood organizations… calling the city councilman’s office… meeting with angry neighbors… writing arguments to the City Planning Department for why a self-governed tiny home village should be permissible within the Denver City Code… casting the compelling vision for “a new society within the shell of the old, a society where it’s easier for people to be good.”
Asking the question: Can these bones live? Yes!
Chutzpah and humility… breathing the breath of life into dry bones.
In times like these there is cause to wonder if democracy is possible… if community is really possible… if the human spirit has the strength and resilience to hold the creative tensions required to live together peacefully and authentically and in that living to allow each individual to stand on their own two feet and fully develop their own sense of personal voice and agency. We have to be wondering if we can really listen to one another, and resolve conflicts, and love one another.
And in times like these we look not to the news to find our answers… but to the smallest microcosms of the social structure where the beloved community can truly emerge… we look to couples… to friends… to households… to churches… to villages… and therein we find the hope that the human spirit is graced with resilience, full of courage, joy, love, and life.
Can these bones live?
O Lord God, you know they can.