“Receive a Deep Breath”

“Receive a Deep Breath”
Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:25-26
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
March 26, 2023

Name that show:

“I do love a locker room. It smells like potential.”

“If God would have wanted games to end in a tie, she wouldn’t have invented numbers.”

“You know what the happiest animal on Earth is? It’s a goldfish. You know why? It’s got a 10-second memory. Be a goldfish, Sam.”

The third season of Ted Lasso aired last week.

Tedd Lasso is a show that first appeared on Apple TV in July of 2021 and surprised everyone with its popularity. All kinds of people made one of the characters their costume over Halloween 2021 and 2022. All kinds of people bought up mugs and t-shirts with various well-known quotes.

It is the story of this midwestern college football coach who is hired by an English soccer team – and he has never coached soccer. He is hired because the ownership is trying to tank the team, but his positive attitude and coaching insights, like the one about goldfish, start to change things for the better.

And it was really funny… and was nominated in 20 categories at the 2021 Emmys, winning a record 7 – including the award for Outstanding Comedy Series and now just last week Season three has launched.

Why did that show have such popularity?

A 2021 review from Variety sums it up well: “At a time when just about everything feels catastrophic, there’s something undeniably satisfying about spending some time with good people who are just trying to be the best they can, on and off the field.”

Translation: people were starved for goodness, for laughter, for hope.

In fact, he also said things like, “So I’ve been hearing this phrase y’all got over here that I ain’t too crazy about. ‘It’s the hope that kills you.’ Y’all know that? I disagree, you know? I think it’s the lack of hope that comes and gets you. See, I believe in hope. I believe in belief.”

There is a real sense in which the full embrace of the show is directly related to how hungry people were for some kind of good news, some kind of hope – and yes it was only television, but hey, here was some can-do hope.

Our passage in Ezekiel this morning is about a famine in the land of hope – and where some food might arrive.

We hear from our passage that the people are putting it this way: ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’

It helps to know that in Genesis, we read that famous creation account where God takes dust from the ground and breathes into it to form a man. And soon thereafter God takes the rib from that man and creates woman. Adam and Eve.

And Adam exclaims, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”  In ancient society, “bones” was an idiomatic way of referring to one’s deepest self. “My innermost being is filled with joy.”

Oppositely, in the Psalms, we will read how the Psalmist cries, “My strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.” (31:10)

Or “My bones are shaking with terror” (6:2) or “burn like a furnace” (102:3)

My innermost being is broken, desolate, without hope. 

In Ezekiel, the Valley of Dry Bones is a valley of the living dead. The Israelites had been forced into exile by the Babylonian Empire – and many had died.

The living who now remain were forced from their homeland amid incredible grief. And actually, we read in verse 2 that their bones are ‘very dry’ – the point being that these bones have long been dead. Much of that deadness a result of years of chasing other gods, chasing their own ways.

A valley of very dry bones…

I’m reading a book right entitled Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age by Katherine May, an author from the UK, and the premise of the book is about where and how to find something deeper, something richer, something enchanting in a post-religious, post-spiritual society?

Early in this book, she spends some time trying to put language to our times:

“It’s as though the scale of things has overtaken us. The teetering numeric weight of the world has been revealed, and it’s like looking into the face of God: we are blasted by its terrible complexity, its stark enormity. Nothing could have prepared us for this…It sometimes feels as though we are stoking a giant machine that will eventually consume us anyway. We are tired. We are the deep bone-tired people who no longer feel at home. We can see no way out of it.”

Bone-tired. No way out – like standing in a really deep valley.

And actually, it is that very honest space of raw assessment about reality that is the starting place of real hope in Ezekiel.

“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.”

And if that were not enough, verse 2… “He led me all around them (takes him on a tour right up close); there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.”

What if the hand of the Lord has drawn us together this morning not to escape from the terrible complexity, the stark enormity of whatever presses upon us…but look at and even tour right through it?

  • the medical diagnosis
  • the addiction
  • the consuming anxiety
  • the debt
  • the relationship
  • the situation
  • the crushing refugee crisis
  • the chasm of difference and division
  • maybe even the church itself – once so much more in this country

“Mortal,” God speaks. “Mortal, the bones you look upon – can they live?”

“O Lord God, you know.” That’s what Ezekiel responds with.

Is it a statement of confidence? Resignation? Doubt? All of the above. It’s ambiguous, which feels maybe as honest as he can be – we are looking at dry bones, after all.

Do you know what happened in Season 2 of Ted Lasso?

People didn’t like it quite as much because even with plenty of comedy – it took a darker turn at times, a far more introspective turn – the writers seeming to recognize that as good as Season 1 was… it didn’t tell the truth about real hope, as if you could just ‘positive thinking’ your way out of any challenge.

Increasingly we see Coach Ted Lasso having panic attacks, drinking – and he tries to keep all this quiet and hidden under his can-do, encouraging way.

But his body simply won’t let “be a goldfish” work. His body remembers pain – pain of a family suicide and abandonment – he does not like to see or think about or acknowledge.

And in season 2, episode 10 the panic attack is overwhelming as his unprocessed pain keeps coming back.

He calls this therapist who has been working with him but he has not been letting in very much…and he thinks he is dying and over the phone.

Of all the things in the world, she could do as she arrives to see Ted Lasso staring at the dry bones of his past – a family suicide, a disconnect, questions of love – what, of all things does she say?

“Ted, breath. Practice your 4, 7, 8 breathing. I’m on my way.”

That’s a type of breathing where you breath in for a 4-count. Hold for a 7 count. And breath out for an 8 count.

Thus says the Lord God to these (dry) bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

The very first words of good news to dry bones who can do nothing for themselves:

“I am going to breath into you. It’s going to be a Genesis story, a re(genesis) story, a new beginning story…”   The fundamental promise to dry bones is breath.

Notably, the breath always arrives in the valley.

Not above the valley. Not away from the valley.

In the stark enormity of it all.
In the panic.
In the pain, the sin, the death.

Jesus did not bring new life by stepping around the cross or over the cross. But going through it…and do you remember what he does three days later when he encounters the disciples?

“He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Breath of life and life eternal arriving through the cross.

What the dry bones upon which we look this morning? The ones we are not above the valley looking upon but right next to? Perhaps the ones among us and within us?

And if we are talking about this God (cross), the question is always this: Where is there any sign of air whispering through?

I can’t say precisely how the breath arrives in the varied dry bone injustices and pains and sins and hardships of this world and our hearts.

Maybe it’s…

Through a counselor.
Through a whole movement.
Through another in the church.
Through the church itself.
Through others around the church.
Through an event.
Through God-breathed Scripture.
Through prayer.

I imagine it is through all of the above in different ways and seasons but what I know for sure is this:

Air is everywhere around us.

And I think God made it that way to make it clear that the distinct possibility for new breath is always present.

And so my sense is that the best any of us can do is stand with Ezekiel and declare: somehow, some way, with this God… the breath of life is here.

Last fall I invited our 18 elders to do a visioning exercise. Imagine FPC in five years at our very best. God is abundantly faithful in and through some of the things that God has really put on our heart:

hospitality,
service and mission in Central Texas,
thoughtful intergenerational discipleship,
intentional, family care for one another…

…take a few moments and use your five senses to consider what FPC looks like. Sounds like. Tastes like. Feels like. Smells like.

Then I opened for discussion. First comment: “I hear laughter.”
Second comment: “I heard the same thing.”

Karl Barth, one of the most influential Christian theologians of the 20th century, said, “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God” … The closest thing to giving expressing to the miracle of God’s undeserved love poured out on all the dry bones. Laughter…

How beautiful that the leaders of this church have a vision of breath so deep and full that it expands the bellies wide and exhales in laughter?

Ted Lasso, Season 1 was not wrong about the fundamental need for laughter – its good breath for the soul.

But season 2 told the heart of the truth – there is a full, deep breath that does eventually exhale in the laughter that marvels at God’s miracle, God’s forgiveness, God’s surprising way of turning everything we thought upside down but…that breath is known and received in the valley. Through the valley.

What if right here in the Valley we risked a fresh inhale of the Air that cannot help but be present and alive… held it in genuine thanks for all that it is worth, and then right there in our part of the valley… exhaled the blessing of hope. Amen.

 

About Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert