Use puppets to show that they need a hand inside them to make them do anything, like we need the Spirit of God.
Alternatively, use cut-up-straws and large beads to thread together a dry-bones-man. You can make one up on a long thread and spread out the pieces so that they look all jumbled, then pull the thread and they will pull together to make a person.
You might be wondering why we have that weird story from Ezekiel today, Pentecost. But stay with me, it links in beautifully.
It’s a cracking story, every 8-year-old boy’s delight! A load of dusty bones that rattle themselves together and stand up to make an army of skeletons? It’s straight out of Indiana Jones and the Rat Temple of the Crystal Dungeon. Seriously, I think I’ve even seen this story on Scooby Doo!
But this passage is not about creepy zombie warriors, like when suits of armour come to life (do I watch too many cartoons?). It’s about hope, it’s about God-with-us, it’s about life.
Look at the story with me.
Ezekiel has a vision and sees masses of dry bones, hundreds of them, scattered over the valley floor. It looks like some appalling defeat in battle, and this is what’s left of the losing side. Pretty depressing. Useless and dead.
Now, we don’t go round hacking lumps off each other with battle-axes anymore, but we still have our fallen and our wounded. Folks who feel worthless or a failure. Not matching up to what we think we should be. Money worries, addictions, fear of the future, regrets of the past, unhealthy relationships, hidden anger, and a hundred other things.
Being a Christian does not make us immune to the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ to quote … someone. We all bear the scars of walking through this world and we can all of us, at some time or other, feel like those dry bones. The rubbish left after the battle. Useless and dead.
“Can these bones live?” God asks Ezekiel. “Sovereign Lord, you alone know”, he replies. I love that answer. “God knows. ‘Cos I certainly don’t.”
Who are we, who am I, to think that I could possibly be of any use in God’s kingdom? I’m just a bunch of dried up old bones, too bashed about and with too many troubles of my own to be of any use.
But you know what? The dry bones don’t stay like that.
They get drawn together and clothed in flesh. But that’s not the important bit. There is still something missing.
In verse 5 God says to the bones “I will make breath enter you.” That word ‘breath’ is also wind or spirit. It’s like back in the Garden of Eden, when God “formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being”. Breath is life and spirit and wind. The wind of change, we might say, because it is the breath, life, spirit, wind that makes all the difference.
What happened on The Day of Pentecost to that huddle of frightened disciples was the same as happened in Genesis 2, and the same as happened in Ezekiel’s vision – breath, life, spirit, wind. The non-living becomes a living thing: mud becomes man, dry bones become warriors, a random bunch of ordinary people, battle-scarred from the troubles of life, some with anger issues, some with a gammy knee, some greedy, some gossips, some who just can’t kick that habit, all now with the breath of God, the life of the kingdom, the Holy Spirit, the wind of change.
And this was not just for them, it is for us too. Jesus in John’s gospel, promises this same spirit to all God’s children, as was written by the prophet Joel, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.”
This is the ultimate God-with-us, God IN us! And that means we’re a whole lot more than dry bones!
The hand of the Lord was on 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. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 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. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
John 15:26-27, 16:4-15
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
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 Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
New International Version (NIV)
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