God works with the world for life
April 8, 2017 by Lee Hinson-Hasty
Editor’s note: Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty gave this sermon at First Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama, on April 2, 2017. We’re sharing it in parts with you here over the next few days – acknowledging that the spoken version varied from this script. If you’d like to listen to his sermon, you can find that here.
First, we started with some words about this faithful Presbyterian congregation and its legacy of service in the community. Today’s installment addresses the scripture passage for April 2: Ezekiel 37:1-14.
God works with the world for life. Or The world works with God for life.
Ezekiel’s vision of a valley of dry bones speaks directly to the experience of the Israelites. There were lots of them. They were gathered in one place. It was not familiar, and it felt dull and lifeless. In that moment, God rhetorically asks as Ezekiel is led to and surveys a valley full of bones, “Mortal, can these bones live?”
God knows the answer to this question, Ezekiel knows God knows the answer to this, we know the answer to this question.
That’s not what is in question.
What is in question is if they and we believe there is life beyond what we are now experiencing.
You see, they had been stripped of their holy places: their land, their place of worship, and their seats of power. In their minds, exile was just another way to spell death. They were zombies, if you will, the walking dead. “Can these bones live?”
That’s the kind of questions researchers have been asking for 250 years about an organism that defies expectations of death and life, the tardigrades. Commonly called water bears, these one millimeter long organisms are able to withstand boiling water, zero degrees kelvin, the intense pressure of the deepest parts of the ocean, radiation exposure, and even the vacuum conditions of outer space. Water bears have been known to enter a quasi-death state for up to a decade. How do these organisms live?
Now I know the University of North Carolina has an outstanding men’s basketball team, but Tar Heel researchers may be even better because they have solved this two-century-old mystery. They have identified a group of proteins called IDPs, or intrinsically disordered proteins that are flexible enough to preserve the structure of each water bear cell when it is under stress. The animal retracts its head and its eight legs and curls into a dried-up ball – for up to 10 years. When more favorable conditions return, the organism uncurls and springs back to life. Seeds do the same thing.
Let us reflect for a moment on what it means to be dormant. It’s not necessarily the negative that we perceive it to be at first glance. It is a method of preservation.
Dormancy is not death.
Dormancy is a mechanism to prevent seed germination during unsuitable ecological conditions, when the probability of seedling survival is low.
Favorable conditions for germination must be present for a seed to start to grow. What’s favorable? This is defined as a complex combination of water, light, temperature, gasses, mechanical restrictions, seed coats, and hormone structures
Bones. In thinking about this term in Ezekiel, it can also apply to the Hebrew word etsem (עָ֫צֶם). It means bone, but it also can be translated as the framework of the body, substance, or self. Etsem is this stuff that makes up a body. In plural, it is what makes up many bodies, and that is the case here.
Live or the Hebrew term chaydah (חָיָה). The root of this word means life but in this case many do not translate it as “live.” It’s more active than that, it is more like “revive,” “quicken” or “have new life.”
This is what we are seeing with Christ’s Church. Congregations that have long existed, as First Pres Huntsville has, can seed new life. These bones can live!