This is one of the few passages from Ezekiel that most of us have ever heard. It’s the story of the prophet being taken in a vision to a valley filled with dry, long-dead bones. It’s a story of God’s promised hope of resurrection, of Israel being restored, and the inspiration for the hit classic “Dem Bones.” But like any time we hear only one part of a book as big as Ezekiel, it’s always helpful to know what’s going on around it.
Ezekiel got this vision after a huge disaster—actually the biggest disaster imaginable—had happened in Judah. Jerusalem had fallen to the Babylonians, the Temple was burned to the ground, and the whole population was deported to Babylon, where Ezekiel was living. Four hundred fifty years of the Davidic monarchy came crashing to an end. The people’s whole world had been turned upside down. The way they were used to living was upended, undone, caput in an instant. Suddenly they had to adapt to a completely new way of living in a completely unfamiliar place.
I like to joke that my family is like the Hotel California—“you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” My parents, maybe by accident, ended up making our family system one that sucks people in like a black hole of love, adopting friends to become like family who become part of what we always did. It’s why, even after my sister’s first marriage has been over for going on six years, her stepkids are still very much my niece and nephew. My parents have always valued being family to whoever needs it; it’s one of those things I’m glad they taught me growing up.
And being a close knit family isn’t something that’s outside of the experience for us at Our Savior’s. It feels like every other week I discover some new family connection in the congregation; people I didn’t realize were related (well, I knew they were related, but I didn’t know how). So when Paul talks about the church being the family of God, and the members being children of God—well, we get a really good picture of that. We here are a literal family!
But there’s a different reason we’re family as a church. It’s not the fact that y’all are all each other’s relatives by blood or by marriage—no, what makes us family as the Church is the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit is a spirit of adoption, as Paul writes, God’s free choice to make us part of the family. God brings us in together, and whether or not we have anyone we’re related to in the congregation, we are family because we are in the Spirit.