Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dem Bones

Does any Baptist out there besides me remember “M” Night? The “M” stood for “Mobilization” and the annual “M” Night held in each Baptist Association was a program designed to inspire the churches to ever greater discipleship heights through the program known as Baptist Young People’s Union, then as Training Union, then as Church Training, and then (and finally, so far as I know), as Discipleship Training. The rally was typically held on a Monday night in mid-autumn.

Once when I was a young pastor I was invited to bring the “inspirational message” for a neighboring association. I chose as my text Ezekiel 37:1-14, the story of Ezekiel’s vision of a valley filled with dry bones. In that vision God shows Ezekiel a valley filled with dry bones. The prophet is told to preach to the dry bones (here I resist the temptation to insert the silly line I have often used about this being every preacher’s experience at one time or another) and the dry bones come together to form skeletons (you know, the thigh bone’s connected to the knee bone and all that). Then sinews and flesh and skin come onto the skeletons so that now Ezekiel sees a valley full of nice, fully formed cadavers.

It is only when Ezekiel preaches to the breath/wind/spirit (the same Hebrew word means all of that) so that the breath/wind/spirit comes into those bodies that the bodies come to life. The Lord told Ezekiel what the vision was about: God was going to “resurrect” the people from the graves of their Babylonian captivity and give them new life back in their own land; “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” (v. 14).

In my sermon I pointed out that while the bones looked much better when they came together and became covered with flesh and skin, the bodies were still dead until the Spirit of God came into them. I went on to make the (very valid, I thought) point that in our churches, we could have all the fine-looking ministry programs we could manage but, unless the church and its ministries were filled with the Spirit of God, our programs and our churches were still dead.

After the service, this one fellow came up to me, shook my hand, and said, “I liked that if nobody else did.” Story of my preaching life …

I thought about that night because Ezekiel 37 was one of my scripture readings this morning (Tuesday). Sometimes in our churches we find ourselves in search of some new life and to that end we try some new things. Some, and hopefully all, of those new things will go real well and we’ll be rightly excited about it. Let me say, though, what I said at that “M” Night some twenty-five years ago: we can look real good but we are only truly alive when we are enlivened and empowered by the Spirit of God; that Spirit is a gift of God and so the real life that we experience comes to us only by God’s grace.

There is a difference between looking alive and being alive—and that difference is the Spirit of God. We can make ourselves look vital but only the Spirit of God can cause us to be vital.

We can manage resuscitation with our own breath but only God can bring about resurrection through God’s Spirit.

So is there anything we can do to become more open to the Spirit of God? Yes—we can move toward praying regularly and constantly; we can read our Bibles with an ever-increasing prayerful attitude in which we seek to know and do God’s will; we can worship God along with our sisters and brothers; we can enjoy the communion of Christian fellowship; and we can gladly and sacrificially serve God by serving others. Such practices make us more open and available to the Spirit of God who is with us, wanting to give us new life.

Can I get an “Amen”?

Or at least an “I like that if nobody else does!”?