Ezekiel 37: Romans 8:6-17
Some children were impressed by the story of the Valley of Dry Bones and decided to try it for themselves. They got the skeleton of a chicken from a neighour who had made chicken soup and put it in a low place in the park. They got ready to preach to the bones when they realized the only preaching they heard put people to sleep, and decided to go play instead.
When the leaders of Jerusalem: political, religious and medical leaders, wealthy landowners, traders, and others; were taken to Babylon, they felt totally crushed, and lamented of having no hope. Ezekiel shared his vision and it helped to restore hope. At this time modern Judaism was born and formation of many of the Hebrew books of the Bible took place. It was a time of death and birth, and the forging of an identity that has endured millennia of persecution.
During the time in exile, Judeans shifted from focusing on their loss and their suffering to their relationship with God. Out of this, they fine-tuned what it meant to be Jewish, from food, through relationships with others and daily life to worship. They believed the power of God was with them, most of the time.
A relationship with God gives us power for good, power that is used inside of us, in our relationships with others, and in action in the world.
Our reading from Romans names the expression of this power within as focusing our attention on God and away from ourselves. Self-centredness is a sign of a failure to have confidence in self. The gift of not worrying about ourselves is a powerful, liberating gift of grace.
The power for good makes it possible to look outside of ourselves, to think about God and others. The gift of knowing we are okay, of not needing to take endless selfies, not needing to keep checking a mirror, not needing others to affirm us, flows into the ability to relate well to others – we are able to focus on them when we are with them. This power cuts the chains of self-doubt. It also cuts the chains of dependence on what we were or had or did. Because we know we are right with ourselves and with God, we can leave old lives behind as we give birth to new lives.
This applies to congregations as well as to individuals. When a congregation is focused on itself – its glories and its challenges — it no longer is looking to God except to pat their own backs or beg for help. When a congregation opens itself to let the Spirit blow freely, and to let the Spirit lead, it knows it is alright. It does not need to worry about itself. There is confidence that whatever happens will be blessed by God. Knowing they are right with God allows conflict to provide the creative tension necessary for right action.
This confidence in self opens the door to becoming the one who preaches to the dry bones. Until Ezekiel preached to the bones in his vision, nothing happened.
Until we actively connect God to the task at hand, the task sits there, unchanged.
There are many actions churches have taken, are taking, and can take. From feeding the hungry through seeking justice and right relationships to reaching out to those who are isolated by circumstances, illness, or emotional issues, there is much that can be done. Before taking action, individuals and churches need to be open to the Spirit and ready to really see and really listen.
We also need to be ready to let go of whatever blocks saying “yes” to the Spirit. For Bonnie and I, this included selling our dream house and my old Fargo, the first vehicle I owned. For the Michaud family we knew, it meant selling most of what they had and moving to another country. For St. Andrew’s, it meant selling their building and moving into new, dangerous territory.
The time of discernment might be minutes and it might be years. One young woman joined a congregation in Washington DC where it was expected that every member would find a mission of some kind to do. One day, when a beggar asked her for money, she took time to really look at him and talk with him. That encounter led to establishing a residence for people dealing with drug addictions. For Fairview United in Halifax, their mission became providing programs for mothers and others living in poverty including a tutoring program, community kitchen, Moms and Tots and others. For St. Andrew’s Norwood in Ville St. Laurent, it was establishing a program for refugees and immigrants from Latin America.
Wherever we are led by the Spirit, we have these words of assurance.
“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are.+ Romans 8:15, The Message Bible
Going with the Spirit is experiencing real life, even if it comes with bumps and bruises, cuts and tears. It comes with the freedom and the opportunities to offer the best we are and to discover what we can do. Thanks be to God!