Out Our Way: Prairie Fires - Ezekiel 37:1-14
Last updated 5/28/2021 at 9:34am
Out our way, folks wear a lot of "different hats" in their daily lives. In addition to being a pastor, I was also a newspaper reporter, a D.J., a warehouse worker, museum director, and - of course - a cowboy. It's part of rural life - a small community calls for folks to develop multiple roles.
Now back in Wyoming, one of my "hats" was that of a rural fireman. We had 40 coal trains coming through our rural area daily and when it was dry it was not unusual for a spark from a hot box or other source to start a small fire. Folks were on the alert and we usually got the fire under control before it spread too far - but sometimes the wind picked up and the whole prairie for miles around went up in smoke. I still remember a time when three different fire companies from surrounding towns were sent out to battle a huge fire that was sweeping across miles of open land. It was like a scene from a war movie as we lined up our trucks and tankers and firefighters into a "battle line" and approached the line of fire. The sky was black with smoke and was on a lead truck manning a firehose and feeling like Audie Murphy leading a tank battalion against the foe. Hot, smokey and dirty work, we fast approached the fire line and I nearly broke a leg when we hit a chuckhole the driver did not see and I was flung over the railing onto the hard packed ground.
Well, most of you have seen the damage a prairie fire causes and know how the scorched earth looks, smells and feels. For a rancher whose grazing land is thus destroyed, I can only imagine the devastation she or he must feel. And yet, over the years, I discovered that these prairie fires are sometimes necessary and even a blessing. In fact it was common for Native tribes to deliberately set prairie fires from time to time in order to improve the bison grazing grounds. For you see, the land can renew itself, and often where the fire has been worst, the grass grows back richer and stronger than before. I have ridden over former fire scorched earth and seen new life springing up out of the charred remains. So have you - especially if you know your history.
The famous "dry bones" vision of Ezekiel has been validated time and time again as the Lord has restored the devastated and raised them up out of the ashes. These days of trial and turmoil in the world are days of one "prairie fire" after another. People are blinded by the smoke of hate, misinformation, and the loud voices of false prophets screaming "Doom, doom, doom!" Well, if you have ever faced a wall of fire racing across the plains, you know the feeling of helplessness as everything in its path is consumed and seemingly destroyed. That was the world of Ezekiel, for, in his vision, the dry bones represented Israel, a nation surrounded by enemies and seemingly decimated from within and without. It was hopeless. Yet the Lord said, "Not so! These bones shall rise again!" And against all odds, against all obstacles, against all hopes, Israel did rise again.
This vision was written down approximately 2,600 years ago in far off Babylon when Israel, as a nation, was technically no more. The Jews were in captivity, Jerusalem destroyed, and the Holy Land lost for all time ... or so it seemed. Yet, 70 years later, the Jews returned and rebuilt Jerusalem, the temple, and reestablished themselves in the Holy Land God had given them. It was also during this time that the scriptures we call the Old Testament were written down into a standard form and the rise of the synagogue where the present form of Judaism was refined. From the ashes arose new life, stronger and more abundant than before.
Read your history and see that there have been many more "prairie fires" since that time, many more times when the faith seemingly dried up and left only dry bones in the desolate valley. And, each time, the Lord has come and raised them up, renewed the life and breath of His people.
In modern times we have seen the same miracle in the church. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and so many others have set prairie fires in their homelands and the world and announced the end of the faithful. And yet, in each case, when the fire died out - the breath of the Lord raised up the dry bones and restored life in the faithful.
In these days, when those who set afire the prairies of our world once again have arisen and seem unstoppable, remember the past and look to the future. God's enemies have forgotten the lesson of the "dry bones," but we shall not. Even in the smoldering ash, new life is taking root. When the Spirit of the Lord once again blows upon the dry bones, as it has in age after age; then once again the dry bones will be restored to life, as they have in age after age as well.
Be blessed and be a blessing.
The Rev. John Bruington is the retired pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Havre. He now lives in Colorado, but continues to write "Out Our Way."