Sermon
March 21, 1999
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
Write to Rev. Hamilton

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Gospel Lesson - Ezekiel 37:1-14

1 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. 2 He

led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they

were very dry. 3 He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O

Lord GOD, you know." 4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say

to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus says the Lord GOD to

these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 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."

7 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.

8 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. 9 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." 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath

came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

11 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.' 12 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. 13 And you shall know that I

am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my

people. 14 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. (NRSV)

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Sermon - "Bone Marrow"

You all probably know those annoying phone calls that seem to come in -

usually at dinner time, the ones that we automatically respond to with a curt

"I am not interested" and then hang up. It might surprise you to know that we

get the same kind of phone calls in the office here - usually on Friday

afternoon, just when we want to be preparing for Sunday morning. A few weeks

ago I wandered into Mike's office just as he finished one of those phone

calls. He was laughing - "I think I surprised that guy" he said - "he

started out - "Pastor, do you want to bring new people into your

congregation?' " Before he could go any further I said, "NO - but if you

could help me get to know the new folks we already have _ Why I'd pay good

money for that kind of help."

We decided that as pastors we had a wonderful problem - trying to get to

know each of the new people in our congregation personally, trying to link

faces with names. That is why it is so wonderful when people come through the

membership classes - that helps us to begin to make the connections that will

fix your face and name firmly in our mind. We are so pleased to have all of

our new members joining today.

It was not so long ago that this congregation was in a far different space,

with a much different problem. Less than 10 years ago, we had a steeple that

was ready to fall onto main street, the paint was peeling off the building -

bare spots were beginning to appear. Pieces of stained glass were starting to

fall onto the carpet to be discovered on Sunday morning, a chunk of the

ceiling in the sanctuary fell onto the pews one night, our fellowship hall

was a dark and damp room and the bathrooms downstairs were beyond description.

Our pastor of more than 35 years had just retired, as did the pastor of

visitation, and then - the young associate took a new job. Things were pretty

grim around here. Spirits were a bit low.

I think that this congregation felt a bit adrift - much like the Israelites.

They had been given the promised land, they had built a temple, their people

had flourished. They had had a great king, David and they were a force to be

reckoned with - until the Babylonians decided to take on that challenge.

Suddenly the Israelites were being conquered, divided up - the richest,

brightest, most powerful were sent off, dispersed. They were no longer near

the temple, the one place that was central to their faith. Their faith was

truly at a new low - they thought that life as they knew it was over - that

God had forgotten them.

The passage from the prophet Ezekiel is a reference to the exiled people of

Israel - They were the dry bones, lying in a valley in the desert, when

God summoned Ezekiel to help bring them back to life. "I will put my spirit

within you - you shall know that I am the Lord - you shall live." This was

very good news for the Israelites.

It was good news for Martha and Mary when Jesus arrived to help their brother.

Lazarus was dead when Jesus called to him. And Lazarus walked out, new life

filled his body. The unthinkable had happened. The people who saw believed.

Two stories about resurrection read 2 weeks before Easter. Two stories about

the breath of God - the Holy Spirit - blowing the sweet wind of life into the

body - The body of Lazarus and the body of the Israelite people - and for us

- the body of Christ - these stories are like our own story - New life blown

into our congregation -. Who we are today is not the same as the folks who

grieved the loss of their pastors - we are not the ones who then had so much

work to do that they didn't know where to begin. Today this congregation has

repaired the steeple, painted the building, restored the fellowship hall and

the bathrooms gleam - the windows have been releaded - and the projects are

lined up - ready to go - one by one, the energy to continue builds.

As the building began to be put back together so did our understanding of

ourselves as God's faithful people. We began to do the work of the body of

Christ, one small step at a time, letting the Holy Spirit guide us, let

Christ be our anchor and our vision for the future. Like those who witnessed

the resurrection of Lazarus - we saw and we believed.

Last Sunday I had a chance to visit and worship in a different church - a tiny

church. When I walked in I was warmly greeted. The people around me helped

me find my way through their service. They chatted with me, just the right

amount of interest. Not nosey, not aloof. Because it was so small it seemed

that one could actually feel the breath of God in that church. Then I

realized - It reminded me of this congregation - wonderfully welcoming - we

are much larger, but the feeling was the same.

We like to think that the breath of God is separate from us, wrapping around

us, like a blanket. But the breath of God is within us - like the marrow of

the bone that serves to produce the blood cells that keep the body alive. The

breath of God that is building up this congregation and bringing us new life

is within each one of us. Sending us into the world as Christ's hands and

feet.

This is a congregation that is willing to reach out to our neighbors, to

offer a willing hand up, to volunteer time in our community. When a call

goes out for help - you are all there, ready to leap into action. It is

incredible. The breath of God lives in our hearts - the holy spirit dwells

within each of us - it feeds the hungry, it comforts those who mourn, it

provides for infants that would go without, it sends help where it is needed,

it produces children of faith - and today - it welcomes new members, the

breath of God - shared in our hugs and our handshakes - is what binds us

together.

God's promise to Israel is also God's promise to us - "I will put my spirit

within you - you shall know that I am the Lord and you shall live." It is

very good news. It is our history and it is the promise of the future - we

can rest in it and we can trust the lord to continue to breathe new life into

this congregation for we are the body of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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