Summary: Dinosaurs look good in the museum, but their bones are really disconnected, are not together, and are dry as dust. The church must learn to connect, to unite, and to be exciting, as God wills.
Dinosaurs fascinate me. Those ancient beasts which once upon a time roamed this planet, foraging for food and terrorizing smaller creatures. You’ve seen them on the late movies, enormous reptiles, roaring and raring up on their hind legs, grabbing the pretty girl between those giant jaws and lumbering off down the mountainside so that our hero can rescue her just before sign-off time!
Dinosaurs. Their very names suggest power and terrible strength. Brontosaurus. Tyrannosaurus rex. Stegosaurus. Barney. Well, maybe not Barney.
Now, let me ask you, how do we know what the dinosaurs looked like? We don’t have any running around to look at any more; we just have fossil remains. Occasional footprints, bones, sometimes a bit of a skeleton, embedded in the rock. And with those fossil fragments, scientists are able to reconstruct what they think the dinosaur looked like when it was alive. You can go down to the Natural History museum; and you will find there a creature that has been reconstructed for you. It has been put together out of bone fragments and educated imagination! A vertebra here, a toe there, a jaw up on this end, and a whole lot of plaster and clay that represents what the scientists think the original dinosaur looked like. They don’t really know, you understand; it’s a guess, and every now and again they get some more evidence, and they have to change their guesses and reconstruct their reconstructions. Makes you wonder!
But we have to give them this. We have to admit this much. That when they have taken a few bones and a lot of plaster and clay and super glue, the end result looks good. It really looks good. It looks impressive. It looks as though it could leap off the display stand and prowl the halls of the museum. It looks as though it could turn and invite you to lunch, that is, if you will be the lunch. These rebuilt, imaginary, plaster and clay and guesswork dinosaurs do look good.
There’s just one thing wrong with them. There’s just one big, big problem. What is it?
They don’t breathe. They aren’t alive. They have no life in them. They look good; but there’s just one thing missing: life.
Some folks say that the church is like that dinosaur. Some folks argue that churches are made up of fragments: a few women and children, some old folks hoping against hope, the ignorant and the poor. That’s what some say the church is.
And the church, it is said, is like that dinosaur in that it is kind of unreal. It isn’t living in the real world. It is a relic of the forgotten past, held together by superstition, kept in place by tradition, and whipped into submission by threats. Some say that the church is a dinosaur, which has long since outlived its usefulness, and is just plain dead.
Oh, it may look good. It may be a patchwork reconstruction of little fragments from the past. But it isn’t real. It isn’t going anywhere. And it isn’t alive. That’s what they are saying out there. What do you think?
The prophet Ezekiel takes us today to the valley of the dry bones. In his mind’s eye he sees a horrible place, where the bones of long-dead warriors lie in the hot sun, scattered all around. It’s an image of death and hopelessness. Just endless piles of dry bones. No hope, no life there.
And in his vision, Ezekiel hears the Lord ask him, "Man, can these bones live?" "Can these bones live?" What would you have answered? Not too likely, wouldn’t you say? Not much hope.
But then the Lord says to Ezekiel, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ’0 dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. ... I will cause breath to enter you ... and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord. ’"
Can these bones ... our bones, our dinosaur, our church ... can these bones live?
Notice first that Ezekiel sees the bones coming back together from their separateness. They return from disconnectedness. It’s a picture, of disconnected bones reconnecting, scattered bones finding one another.
"Suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone."
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen pictures of some of the charnel houses, or burying rooms, of ancient monasteries. In some of the monasteries, like St. Catherine’s on Mount Sinai, when the monks die, and after their flesh decays, the bones are separated and placed in piles. The skulls in one place, the legs in another, and so on. A gruesome sight! Horrible!
But it’s God showing us the disconnectedness of His people. It’s picture of our sheer individualism, in which we cut ourselves off from one another and separate ourselves. And Ezekiel says that one of the gifts God wants to give His people is to reconnect us. His Spirit will give us to each other.