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If anyone ever needed the Spirit to show up… it was the people of Israel living in exile… These are desperate times for them… Ezekiel was living it with his people. He was a temple priest who had joined 10,000 people who were carried off to Babylon during the first exile… taken from Jerusalem. There is no more Israel on the maps… the regional superpower Babylon has sent in the troops and claimed Israel for their own. Desperate times.
And if you had asked anyone living in those times, they would tell you that their best days are over… write the obituary… prepare for the funeral… and chalk them up as people left for dead. Or so they think…
For just at this moment, the Lord sends the Spirit to do what the Spirit does best… the same Spirit who took the chaos and darkness of a formless void and created a world is now sent ready to make something out of nothing once again… ready to bring life out of death…
That’s the vision Ezekiel sees… as he is given the famous vision of those dry bones coming to life as the Lord sends the Spirit. (Remember how the spiritual said it?: “Dem bones, dem bones dem dry bones, now hear the word of the Lord”)
Turns out, God has not left them for dead… the Lord is ready to give them a life and a future…
As you remember the story, do not, I mean do not… miss a key point of the story…it is key to understanding how the Spirit works in our lives: The Holy Spirit is able to bring hope and life to people, because there are people and a prophet who are actually listening for a word from the Lord… they may be dead, but they haven’t given up on God… they are ready to hear what the Lord has to say. And Ezekiel is ready to proclaim what he hears.
Hearing and proclaiming… these are not passive bones just waiting for the Lord to raise them… they are called to listen, to hear…
Remember that word when we go through Holy Week… especially on Good Friday… when you think Jesus is one more skeleton tossed on a pile of bones… God has other things in mind… let those with ears… hear!
That’s what Ezekiel did… he was actively listening and learning… he had not given up on God…so that when the time is right… he is able and ready to hear a word from the Lord… then to proclaim it. This word does not come to Ezekiel out of the blue… he is a person of faith…open to the Spirit… waiting and listening… so that when the time comes… he ears the word speak the word of hope and is ready to share share what he has heard with those living in desperation….
Today, I want to lift up the example of Israel and Ezekiel to all members but especially the leaders at the Kirk—both those on Session and those in any position of leadership… that the most important role we may have in leadership is to listen for the word of the Lord… Then to share with one another what we have heard (test the spirit)…and then to act: to proclaim.
Listen, hear, test, proclaim.
In other words, your most important role is to learn to discern and let the Spirit be your guide.
For most people of faith today, the way they have learn to listen to the Holy Spirit is through an active life of faith… that is devoted to listening for God to speak through Scripture and prayer… both individually and through a community.
For them, the Bible is more than a textbook to be studied… a book to dissect only in an analytical way… a book to study… It is more than a self help book… For them, the Bible is not a book to be used to justify my way of thinking or living… They don’t simply go to the Bible to find the verses to rationalize and support their personal arguments or biases…
No, for them, the Scripture is a way God uses to speak to us… a sort of divine text message… they read the scripture with listening hearts…ready and open to hear a word from the Lord…
Those who listen to Scripture with the help of the Holy Spirit… are listening for God to speak a word to them… and sometimes, we have admit, it is hard to hear or understand what God is saying… after all, these words were written in another time and culture… and here is where some good Bible study tools and analysis can help… They are our translators so to speak… translating the word of God from another time and culture into our time and culture… all for the purpose of hearing a word from the Lord.
Another way in which people hear God is through a deep life of prayer. It is clear that this comes easier to some more than others. But it is a gift of God to all of us… it is a means by which we can stop and listen and share with God… My witness to you from those who pray much better than I is that God speaks powerfully in prayer. God offers hope through prayer… changes lives through prayer…
I have a good friend in my study group who teaches me how to pray all the time… he is someone who prays with heart, mind, soul and strength.
The last time we were together we were talking about prayer. My friend said an amazing thing to our group. He said, “ I think the members of my church would love to know that I spent one hour a day in the Sanctuary in prayer… they would like to know I am praying that much…” Now there is a pastor and a congregation that values prayer. I’ve wondered what you would think if you came by or called the church office and Bonnie said, “Jody’s not available… he is in the sanctuary praying and won’t be available for an hour. Please do not interrupt him…”
Listening, hearing and proclaiming responding… those are ways the Holy Spirit seeks to speak and guide us.
And when the Spirit is your guide… you better watch out. The Spirit will do things you never imagined possible…
Read the Scriptures, where the Spirit is active, amazing things happen all the time… I mean, all the time!… the dead are brought back to life… in Acts we are told sons and daughters prophesy… young men see visions… old men dream dreams… it is the Spirit that gave birth to the church… It’s amazing what can happen when the Holy Spirit is your guide.
I have seen the Holy Spirit inspire and guide us in amazing ways at the Kirk over the past decade I’ve been with you… but it has been here from the beginning… Looking back, I’m amazed…
It is not lost on me that some of the most effective ministries of the Kirk were NOT born from a long range plan but from people who were listening and something urged them to pursue a ministry or cause. Name some of the ministries we value most: the community garden… becoming an Earthcare congregation… Stephen ministry… and today, with our friend Patty here, I’d lift up our Guatemala partnership… That was not in anyone’s plans or dreams… except the Lord’s. I mean who had heard of Pala’ a decade ago?
But the Lord wanted to breathe life into a place of chaos and death—remember, Hurricane Stan had devastated Pala’— and the elders had been praying… and we met them… and listened to their story… listened to our hearts… and dare I say, listened to the Holy Spirit… and look what has happened. That village, those people are coming to life! And so are we! And with all due respect to the leaders… who have listened… and responded… let us this day say that the Holy Spirit of God gets some credit too!
We should not be surprised if we were listening to the reading today…At the end of our reading today this powerful promise of the Lord to the dry bones, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.” (vs 14)
God is constantly at work through the Spirit… trying to bring life to people who are dying. If you want to know where the Holy Spirit is working… look there… where the Spirit is bringing life and hope to people who are dying… let the Spirit guide you there… and you’ll be a witness to God’s grace at work…
This week I was given a glimpse of the spirit at work in a place of despair and fear… My daughter, a four year cancer survivor shared a story in her CaringBridge post this week… A story where the Spirit seemed to break through to people who needed a little hope:
“On the latest visit, Mom sat with me in the waiting room. Well, I got there first, and she joined me. There were a few others sitting in our group of chairs–a lady in her fifties reading a book, an elderly gentleman sitting by himself, and an older biracial couple. You never know the story of why these people have the misfortune to be sitting in the same room as you…is it them? Is it a loved one? A parent? A child? Are you waiting to go in or for someone to come out? But no matter what color scheme you choose and how many windows let in how much light, the fact is–it’s the Cancer hospital. You don’t forget it.
Well, Mom joined me with a couple of bags of chips since I hadn’t had breakfast and I could not get (one of them) open to save my life. This loud, stupid bag of chips that I am ripping at…
I try tearing the corner off, then pulling it apart from the bag itself, then ripping from the top hoping to find an invisible perforation, then pulling at the seam that runs down the middle of the bag…nothing. This thing was superglued.
And because it was loud, everybody noticed.
And the gentleman in the couple across from me gets up and offers to help. I sheepishly hand it over to them, because it was a pretty quiet waiting area, and the din of the bag was surely annoying. Well, this tall, strong man can’t get it open either. And we start to laugh. The elderly gentleman to my left starts digging for a pocket knife.
The woman by herself looks up and chuckles. And we all share in this great moment that for all the problems we might have, right now, it’s just us versus this bag of chips.
The place of silence and doubt suddenly had this silly laughter. And that laughter sounds better than any other to me. I hope their journeys are going well and their bodies are healing, these strangers who laughed with me.”
Do you know what that laughter sounded like to me? The Holy Spirit… after hearing the story of those drybones… I’m thinking the Holy Spirit was there… Ready to offer silly laughter… that sounds like the laughter of hope to me… Laughter that says, there is life left in your old bones… there is life left in you…don’t let despair get to you…
Just listen… just listen… let the Spirit guide you… and get ready to laugh even in the face of death… knowing when the Spirit is here… the Spirit will breathe life into these old bones of ours.
O people of God… hear the word of the Lord.