A recipe for hope

Israel is far from home with no chance of returning.  Ezekiel gives them a recipe for hope.

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A recipe for hope

December 8, 2013 – Ezekiel 37:1-14

 

“Cast Away,” is a 2000 movie starring Tom Hanks.  Hanks portrays Chuck Noland, a time-obsessed systems analyst for FedEx who jets around the world solving productivity problems.  He is also deeply in love with Kelly (Helen Hunt) a Ph.D. student.  They want to get married, but Chuck always seems to be too busy.

One Christmas Day, he is summoned to Malaysia.  After exchanging gifts and kisses in the car with Kelly, he boards a plane and takes off.  While flying through a violent storm over the Pacific, the plane crashes.  He manages to escape to wreckage in a life-boat, but the emergency locator transmitter and the other crew members are lost.  His life boat washes up onto an island.  He tries in vain to signal for help and his attempts to re-launch the life boat are foiled. 

Noland explores the island and begins to make a life for himself.  He learns to spear fish and make fires.  He has regular conversations with Wilson, a volleyball that has also managed to make it from the wreckage to the island.  And he keeps a picture of Kelly close to him.

Noland has survived.  Nevertheless, he has lost all hope of ever getting off the island and seeing Kelly again.  So, one day, he takes a piece of rope and climbs a mountain to a tree in order to end his life. 

 

Israel has lost all hope.  They are far from home and see no way to get back.  They have been subjected to a devastating exile in Babylon.  In 597 B.C., King Jehoiakin rebelled against Babylon by withholding tribute, by failing to surrender taxes.  Babylon did not take this lightly.  They marched on Jerusalem.  They did not destroy the city.  Instead, they replaced Jehoiakin with his uncle.  They took Jehoiakin and the best of the best of Jerusalem back to Babylon with them, including the prophet Ezekiel.

Babylon could not, however, douse the fire of patriotism in those who remained.  Rebellions continued to break out throughout Judah.  In 588, Babylon moved to settle matters once and for all.  Jerusalem was destroyed.  The economy of Judah was ruined.  Its leading citizens were killed or deported.  The population that remained was made up of poor peasants who had not the means or the capability of making trouble.  Judah was no longer a place where anyone wanted to live.

Up until this time, Ezekiel had been very critical of Judah and of Jerusalem.  The first 33 chapters of his book are prophecies of judgment – judgment against Judah and judgment against the nations.  But, then, in chapter 34, the mood of Ezekiel dramatically changes.  For, in 33:21, Ezekiel receives the devastating news of what has happened back home:

In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, someone who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, ‘The city has fallen.’

Judgment has been executed in full against Jerusalem.  The time for judgment is over, Ezekiel knows.  Now is the time for comfort.  Now is the time for hope.

Ezekiel knows this from God, for he is given a vision of hope. He is brought to an unnamed valley.  It is filled with bones.  And they are very dry. 

God tells Ezekiel to prophesy – to speak the word of the Lord – three times.  The first is to the bones.  When he does, the bones leap up and come together and they are wrapped in sinews and muscles and skin.

The second word is to the breath. “Come from the four winds.  Come, breath.  Breathe upon these slain bodies.  Breathe life!”  And they all came alive.

Then God tells Ezekiel to listen – to listen to what they are saying, “Our bones are dried up; our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”

Finally, God tells Ezekiel to prophesy one more time – to the whole company – to the whole house of Israel.  “I am going to open your graves and bring you back to life.  And I am going to return you to your land, the land of Israel.  I will lead you straight back to the land I gave you and then you will know that I am the LORD.  I promise you I will do this.”

 

This vision is not merely about the loss of home.  It is about the loss of hope.  It is the loss of hope that has brought about this deadness, this dryness.  It is defeat, yes, but even more it is discouragement, it is hopelessness that Israel has suffered.  “Our bones are dried up and our hope is lost and we are completely cut off.”

The Bible talks about hopelessness as something we feel deep in our bones.  Psalm 31 says, “For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.”  And Jesus quotes Psalm 22 from the cross: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.”  We feel it hopelessness deep in our bones. We feel paralyzed and alone.  We are rendered utterly powerless and without hope. 

 

When this happens to us, what do we do?

The first step is to remember to keep breathing.  This may not seem very spiritual because it is so mundane.  But it is spiritual for that very reason.  Our breath comes from God –“Then LORD God formed a man from the dust and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”  Each breath we take is a connection with God.  Each breath we take is an expression of the Spirit.  Each breath we take is energizing and life-giving.

The second step is to connect with someone.  Often, when we feel hopeless, we also feel isolated.  We are much less likely to feel hopeless if we are deeply connected to someone else, even if that person is not physically present. 

And third – remember that God is with us.  Even when we feel most isolated from God, God is still present.  Even though we can’t see it, God is closer to us than we can possibly imagine.

 

Chuck Noland is unable to kill himself, so he comes back down off the mountain and continues to live by himself – with Wilson – on the island.  One day, a portable toilet washes ashore.  With it he is able to make a sail.  The sail allows him to take advantage of the wind, so that he has enough power to get his raft off the island.  He loses Wilson, but, eventually, is picked up by a passing cargo ship.

When he returns to Memphis, he finds that Kelly has married another man and has a daughter.  Even though they still love each other deeply, they decide not to disrupt her family so that can reunite.  In talking to his closest friend, Chuck says this about his experience:

 

We both had done the math. Kelly added it all up and... knew she had to let me go. I added it up, and knew that I had... lost her. 'cos I was never gonna get off that island. I was gonna die there, totally alone. I was gonna get sick, or get injured or something. The only choice I had, the only thing I could control was when, and how, and where it was going to happen. So... I made a rope and I went up to the summit, to hang myself. I had to test it, you know? Of course. You know me. And the weight of the log, snapped the limb of the tree, so I-I - , I couldn't even kill myself the way I wanted to. I had power over *nothing*. And that's when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that's what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I'm back. In Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass... And I've lost her all over again. I'm so sad that I don't have Kelly. But I'm so grateful that she was with me on that island. And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?

 

When we feel lost and alone, when we feel disconnected from the people and purposes that are so important to us, when we feel completely powerless, there is still something we can do.  There is a recipe for hope:

Keep breathing.  Stay connected.  Watch for the action of God.

Keep breathing.  Allow God’s Spirit to calm you, to energize you, and to clear your mind.  Keep breathing.

Stay connected.  Reach out to people who are important to you.  Nurture those relationships.  Give thanks for them, even if you can’t physically be with them.  Stay connected.

Watch for the action of God.  It is God who created all things.  It is God who saved Israel.  It is God who sent Jesus, so that we might know that not even death will separate us from God’s love.  Watch for the action of God.

 

For if God can raise Jesus from the dead, who knows what the tide could bring?