We Are The Walking Dead

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Zombies are the perfect metaphor for chaos, conflict, and catastrophe. We are obsessed with the living dead. Zombies have been and will continue to be a mainstay in popular culture. Beginning in movies with men wrapped in toilet paper to today with full-feature cable television shows, the living dead are a part of our culture. If you’re not a zombie person or not a cable person, every Sunday evening you can tune into AMC’s The Walking Dead or Fear the Walking Dead. Based on a graphic novel, each week on The Walking Dead Rick Grimes and his crew tries to navigate not only the living dead, zombies, but also the dangers the lurk in post-apocalyptic America where the dead are not dead, and survival requires you to be wary of everything around you.

Like every other show on cable television, the storyline from week to week does not change. Rick and his crew experience problem X to kick off season five and by the end of season five problem X will have been solved but don’t worry, a teaser for season six reveals problem Y and four new characters, keeping you locked in for another season. For full disclosure I was a fan of The Walking Dead but checked out two seasons ago when the storyline restarted and went from problem Z to problem A. It is an awful, futile show. I can tell exactly what will happen at any point in the plot, and I know I’ll be correct because the show has not changed since it began.

And that’s just the problem with the way the living dead have worked their way into popular culture. There’s no end to it. Week after week, season after season, and frankly show to show it is the same. The characters are trying to live in a world where the living dead are present, and they only way the living dead keep moving is by feasting on those who are still alive, and the characters we love to begin feeding off the other survivors they come in contact with.

The story does not change. The characters do but not because of epiphany or circumstance. They either continue to die to the way their new reality is shaping them, or they become the living dead.

Zombies are human but not quite whole. They are broken. Disconnected from their reality and the reality of the community, leading to hostility.

Israel has a problem. Ezekiel knows it. God knows it and how to address the problem.

God called to Ezekiel, showing him a valley of dried up bones. There was no life left in the valley and there as a bone upon bone. God asked Ezekiel if these bones could ever experience life again. Ezekiel replied, “if you see to it, then yes the can.” God said to Ezekiel, “tell these bones to rise up. Tell them that new life is possible because you are my prophet.”

So, Ezekiel spoke to the bones and they came together, regaining skin, muscle, blood, and tendons.  Then God commanded Ezekiel to prophesize and breath entered into the bodies. God told Ezekiel that these bodies were Israel, what seemed like hopeless graves were being opened up and the Lord would restore that which these bodies had lost. They would regain their land. With the spirit of the Lord upon Ezekiel, this is possible, and the people will act because the Lord has spoken.

Ezekiel, being a prophet, responds to the command of God to speak out. While Ezekiel knows life cannot return to the dry bones by his command, once God speaks, Ezekiel knows God can do that which Ezekiel cannot do.

So, what does all of this have to do with us gathered this morning? What do zombies, Rick Grimes, Ezekiel, and a bunch of dry bones have to do with the church today?

Zombies are the perfect metaphor for chaos, conflict, and catastrophe because if you have ever watched a movie or television show with zombies you know that chaos, conflict, and catastrophe are the storyline. But in the church, we are living in a time where conflict has the ability to lead to catastrophe. Conversations about relevancy or reclaiming the Church’s place within the community are more common than many of you think they should be. There was a time when the church was the center of life. Scheduling baseball practice on a Sunday was never thought of, you did not consider skipping church to make it to brunch with friends, and C & E Christians were not the norm.

Relevancy of the church in communities is waning. I don’t have to tell you that here this morning. There have been studies done, books written, and podcasts recorded about the topic. The topic of relevancy has been overdone to the point that most of us are numb to the findings. Yes, we know the church has lost relevance, but no, we do not know how to fix it.

We know something is wrong and yet we are just trying to survive week to week. We want to solve problem X before problem Y presents itself. But it seems we’ve started at problem A.

To make matters worse, relevancy of the church in the mind of members is waning. We see attendance numbers dropping quarter to quarter or year to year and think, “what’s going on?” “What did those people see that I haven’t?”

Then slowly, we move from a living as the body of the resurrected Christ to walking a long-slow death as we claw our way to reclaim something that slipped away from our reach. We cannot expect those outside the church to see us as relevant when we don’t see ourselves that way. That sounds harsh, but I don’t know how else to say it.

The conflicts we create as we debate ad nauseam how to reclaim that which we alone are trying to reclaim will lead to the catastrophe of the local church being a pile of dry bones. The dust on the pews will continue to grow as the conflicts in the church spill over onto social media and the local news. Catastrophe will strike, in some cases it has, and before we know it we will be living in a post-apocalyptic valley where relevancy won’t be a problem anymore because we will have been left behind.

In our endless conflict over relevancy, which essentially has become how do we get millennials to walk through our doors we are moving like the walking dead. Not quite dead but not quite living. Not quite living because we have forgotten that the one who called us and sent us was not concerned with relevancy. Christ himself was concerned with two things: loving God and loving each other.

Back in the valley of dry bones, Israel had been in exile, living outside of the comfy confines of Jerusalem. Israel was longing for the restoration of the good ‘ol days. This meant returning from exile, regaining the hope that had been lost.

But if we listen carefully to God speaking to Ezekiel we hear that hope is not lost. Ezekiel should hold onto his faith, and so should Israel because God is faithful and when all hope is lost God still acts.

Moving from a pile of dry bones into restored life was not something Israel could do on its own. Notice that the actor in our reading is God and not Ezekiel. God is speaking to Ezekiel, but the breath breathed into the bones was the breath of God. The valley of dry bones did not regain tendons, flesh, and blood on their own or by the work of Ezekiel. New life is only possible through God. Looking back to Genesis and the creation of the heavens and earth we see that God is in the business of creation, creating where there is nothing. The valley of the dry bones had no life in it in the eyes of Ezekiel, but in the eyes of God, it was primed for life.

Before we can experience new life, we must first realize that only God can breathe life into that which we see as lifeless. If we seek to breathe new life into the local expressions of the local church, we must first rely less on ourselves and our own relevancy and more upon the work God has called us to be a part of.

What would an exploration of the “dry bones” reveal to us about our faith? What have we abandoned and what have we been drawn away from? God’s Spirit works in both cases, resurrecting that which has been abandoned or forcibly removed.

Irrelevancy and decline are the undead among us, preventing us living the called life we were born into through the waters of baptism. Without living into the new life we experience through the waters of baptism we are not only those trying to survive the post-apocalyptic zombie-infested world, worst yet we are the living dead, reaching, pulling, and ripping the life out of anything we can get our hands on. Without the living waters, we emerge from and the new life promised to us in that exit we are wandering through the world struggling to survive.

What Ezekiel saw in the vision given to him by God was new life in a place where all life was considered to be gone. God did not raise up a select few to raise up the others, rather God raised up the entire valley. Reclaiming what we think is lost to the ages cannot happen by individuals but rather through the entire body of Christ, those sinners, and saints who gather weekly to pray, sing, worship, and share in the Bread of Life.

It sounds like a monumental task, coming out of a post-apocalyptic world, and it is. But through the grace extended to us by the one who overcame the separation caused by sin and death all things are possible. The dry bones we are living in are an opportunity to experience grace and the divine breath. Our dry bones are an opportunity to allow God to breathe the breath of life into those called to make disciples.  Not being the lead character in our own story allows us to yield to the one who can bring us out of our state walking dead in our sins and into new life.