Running on Empty
Ezekiel 37: 1-14
The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know. ”
What a privilege it is to be gathered together on this “Birthday” celebration of the community of Jesus – the Christian Church. Our red, yellow and red look great! It is a day for being filled with God’s Sprit and enjoying being a person of Christ living his mission in this town!
This vision of Ezekiel always helps me trust again that the Spirit of God is active and at work in even the deadest of situations, the driest of places, in the world and in my own heart. It helps me believe again that the church is his and he makes us church and he is what we need to be fully functioning disciples of Jesus living out Jesus’ mission life.
That picture of a dead, dry, lifeless valley and then the wind and the rattling bones and the flesh appearing and then lifeless bodies being filled with the breath of God, just like at the beginning in the garden help me trust the Spirit of God for my life and ours on this Pentecostal day.
Not all days are like this. Not all people sense this filling of God’s Spirit. There have been times when I, and maybe you, have felt like dry old bones. It is not a good place to be at first. We sense no Spirit. No power. No go. No fuel. We’re running on fumes. The tank is empty. We’re running on empty.
Stuck looking in ourselves
When we are running on empty two things can happen. One is that we blame God or others, or the church or past hassles for our lack of spiritual heart.
The other thing is that in the search to fuel up again and find spiritual life we can look in places that can’t deliver this fuel.
When we are in the valley of the dry bones we want to get out of it. That is natural. In the valley of spiritual dryness we search for fuel to fill up again.
Now we can find fuel for the goings on of our life in various places – some healthy, some not so healthy; some on a physical level, an emotional level, a psychological level. Looking after ourselves in these ways, learning about ourselves and how we tick and what replenishes us in these ways is wise and a blessing from God. But none of these lay at the very heart of our spirit – our spiritual core – our very being before the Lord as his creature.
We can spend a lot of time substituting emotional, physical, psychological well-being pursuits and think we are filling up our spiritual tank in doing so. We are very capable of misjudging what we really need and filling up on things that we think work, but actually are not what we really need at our very core.
No amount of good eating, good exercise, and good medicine will bring the healing balm of God’s forgiveness to bear in our very being.
It is my fault
I am continually learning that my lack of spiritual life, growth in faith, love for others, belonging in the congregation is not always “the church’s fault”, other people’s fault or God’s fault.
In fact, when I am honest, (and I need the Holy Spirit here to help me diagnose the problem accurately) I am responsible for my lack of spiritual well-being, because the Spirit of God never withdraws himself or his gifts from me. Why would he? He loves me. It is just that I fail to receive him and his gifts where and when he gives them.
So, my spiritual liveliness and awareness to God’s Spirit and responsiveness to the Spirit has to do with me seeking or not seeking the Spirit, learning or not learning the Faith in his Word, practicing or not practicing his love for others, more than the “feeling” I get in worship at any particular place.
“Nowhere” might be Somewhere
I find it challenging to hear that God puts Ezekiel in a dead, dry, lifeless place first, before he fills up his spirit to the full with an enormous promise of national resurrection of God’s people.
Could it be that the Spirit may lead us into the valley of dryness so we can receive his good gifts? Because up until then we will still be blaming others or looking for Him in places that can’t deliver?
Only the Spirit can do it
Friend, if you can almost feel the sand of the valley floor around your toes so dry and lifeless is your spirit, then listen up; it might be where you need to be so you can be revived.
It is from this kind of place that the Spirit of the Living God creates new spiritual people. Those dead people slowly come to life before our eyes as the rush of the Spirit’s presence comes in on them – all through the Word of God given to another human being to speak.
4 Then the Lord said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
The Word of the Lord through the voice of a human being is the trigger for re-creation.
Now for the resurrection – the breath – the life of God….
Again, the Word of the Lord spoken through a human person:
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
“A vast army”: Reminds me of scenes from that epic trilogy of motion pictures, “Lord of the Rings”! From disconnected, isolated, alone, lifeless, spiritless, empty bones to fully functioning community of the Lord at the ready for the task that awaits – and all by the Word of the Spirit through a human being.
The Right Fuel is on tap
Friends, those dry, dead, lifeless people could not be re-created and resuscitated by anything but the Word of the Spirit. Going to the gym would not have helped!
Our spiritual tank can only be filled with the right fuel – the living Spirit of God, the Word of God. Like dead bones brought to life and assembled into a functioning, purposeful community with a job to do (an army), and like a car that needs the right fuel to run well and be of use and reach a destination, so we need more than diets, exercise, medical care, and even emotional support in human relationships to run fully alive as God’s person in his world.
We have heard it so many times before but that does make it untrue – we need the Living means of the Spirit’s breath – the very breath of the Spirit himself – the Word of God – in all its forms – written, read, spoken, sung, and enacted in worship – especially the holy meal of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit; the Living Word given freely in his ways – that’s the fuel stop and the fuel that binds us together as a Church.
Of course, Ezekiel understood that the Spirit of God is mighty powerful and is completely free in where and when he breathes life in this magnificent vision.
The Apostle’s on that day of all days for the Christian community also knew this truth. They were as amazed as everyone else at what the when and where the Word of the Spirit showed up and the effects he had on that first church.
But through Ezekiel speaking God’s Word and by the speaking of Jesus’ warnings and promises, and the doing of his direct commands in baptizing, proclaiming his gospel and sharing his meal, the Spirit of Jesus attaches himself for all time, all people, all valleys of dry people! He does not withhold his good gifts at all. They are constantly on offer, molding, shaping, teaching, empowering us if we choose to receive them whole heartedly.
Fuel Line for Life
So, St Petri Pentecostal people, we are a fuel line through which the Gospel’s fuel is pumped. It is tough uphill work against much gravity, inertia and resistance, involving many trials and tribulations, especially when we are prone to taking shortcuts off the main road or believing we know a better way to get better fuel. But even then, the Spirit of Christ does not hold back his good gifts of forgiveness, healing, life and power for living in the gathering of his people.
This Spiritual journey we share is risky, yet freeing and exhilarating, even in grand experiments and failures.
When we, God’s “Salvation Army” fuel up on God’s spiritual gifts of life on offer all the time and then “prophesy” his Word as we let the Gospel take us up the hill instead of trying to push the damn thing up ourselves, we breathe God’s life into this valley of dry, deadness in anyone longing to find real life in God.
What a trip! What a church! Come, Holy Spirit. Come, fill our hearts with fire of your life!