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Dry Bones

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6th April 2014 The Dry Bones: Ezekiel 37:1-14

Context

597BC Babylon took Jerusalem striking at their very heart by taking Israel's land - which was God's gift to them and a sign of their relationship with God;  worse they smashed their temple where they worshipped God and the sign of God's presence with them. They exiled their king, executed his sons thus signalling an end to the monarchy tracing its line back to David and the promise of there always being a king of his line on Israel's throne. The fall and destruction of Jerusalem was total devastation to Israel. They’d lost everything which was the basis of their religion and their existence as a people. At the start of Ezekiel’s ministry, the Spirit transported him to sit among the miserable, discouraged exiles by the river. In their own words they felt like dried-up bones whose hope was lost as they were cut-off completely from home, from God and the promises of God. They no longer felt they were His special people and He was their God. Where was the reality of that now? Even though they had brought this disaster on themselves by turning away form God and not living His way in the first place.

Ezekiel 37:1-14

God asks Ezekiel 'Mortal, can these bones live?' He answers, 'O Lord God, you know.'  Ezekiel’s acknowledgment that all things are under God’s control shows faith. Placing the decision into God’s hands was all God needed to be able to use him to bring about the amazing transformation of dead, dry bones to life.

This passage is VERY relevant to us today but before thinking about that let’s see how God brings new life to those bones? It’s a two-fold procedure, involving God’s Word and God’s breath.

God commands Ezekiel to prophesy and with a great rattling and quaking sinew, flesh and skin come on to the bones. It’s not yet a wonderful picture - just them standing on their feet - not doing more than that because there’s still no breath in them. God commands Ezekiel to prophesy again, this time to the “breath,”(or “wind”) and as breath enters into them they have new life in them.

For the despairing exiles that meant God’s presence is in them. They can breathe and stand ready for the future, looking forward in hope. 

 

The prophet spoke the Divine message and when the God’s Word goes forth, things begin to happen. ‘Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.’ His Word brings a change in the life of an individual, a church, a community.

The second part of God’s plan was His breath meaning His Holy Spirit.

By our strength and wisdom, our advertising, our programmes, our marketing strategies we might get the bodies in. We might touch people’s hearts and minds, we might make our church grow. But if we want to see the spiritually dead raised to new life it will  need God’s Holy Spirit to come and "breathe" on them!

Let’s turn to thinking about us rather than the exiles.

How many here I wonder have come to church all their life, believing in their ‘head’ that they’re part of the body of Christ, the church. Despairingly though the more they hear God’s Word the more they realize they’ve never experienced this amazing new life that comes when bodies are transformed into living, energized souls. There’s a similarity here with the creation of Adam (Genesis 2). God spoke His Word and Adam was complete physically, but he had no life until the breath of God entered into him.

These dry bones represent Israel, God’s people, who’ve survived the exile but feeling that being cut off from God means they’re as good as dead. A dry bone is anybody with no spiritual attachment to God. The bones, the people of Israel will come together, but the nation will have no spiritual life until they know their Messiah and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then they will be born again to new life. Too often God’s people, the church, are like those standing bones, lifelike but not alive.

Only God’s Spirit gives new life. Religious instruction, however sound, is not enough by itself. It brings light, but it cannot impart sight. Assuming that light and sight come together is fatal! The Pharisees looked directly at the Light of the World for three years, but not one ray of light reached their inner beings. Light is not enough. Receiving the Holy Spirit is necessary to saving faith. The gospel is light but only the Spirit gives sight. 

 How can we know this transforming new life today? Yes, we need to hear God’s Word and be filled with His Spirit. But how does that come about today?

Jesus’ last words were “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I’m sure that some of you could talk to me all day about books you’ve read, films you’ve seen, sewing, shopping, work, your grandchildren, or stories about a trip you’ve made. Everyone’s got a story to tell. Everyone’s got information to share. If it’s really good, we believe in it and are excited about it, we tell others about it!

Some things in life are realistically beyond reach e.g. I will never win a gold medal for athletics! But there’s lot of things we can do if we try. When God breathes His Holy Spirit into us and we become living souls we already have everything we need to be successful in life. The beginnings of greatness on the inside, we are crowned with God’s favour: equipped and empowered with everything we need. We could have the best news of all but if we don’t let people know about it how can they know what they are missing?

 Let me introduce you to a lady who has regularly gone to church at Histon for 31 years. Last year she encountered the living Christ for the first time. Reborn by the Holy Spirit her life has been changed, renewed, refreshed, dramatically. She will now tell us a little about that. (short interview)

How can people come so regularly to church and never have a real encounter with Christ? How can a church be full of people but empty of God? Too many of God’s people have a self–sufficient spirit: the church doesn’t need outstanding leaders, it needs kneeling people and speaking people.

Many don’t know what they’re missing because they’ve never been told. Real change and proper church growth begins when people tell others about their personal relationship with Christ. Real change happens when we let the Spirit of God take us in the direction God has planned. What attracts people to one church over another? What brings them back again? It’s not the building, it’s not the people. It is the presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A community of love.

How might God’s word be calling us to new life as we approach the end of this season of Lent? How can we revive? First we need to recognize the dryness of our bones. How do you know if your bones are getting dry?

1. There’s no desire for Bible study and prayer.

2. Spiritual conversation embarrasses or is avoided.

3. Sin gets rationalized.

4. When people can quote scripture and attend services, but it doesn’t make a difference in their life.

5. When your life revolves around money.

6. When it no longer bothers you that others are in misery & spiritually lost.

7. When worship and service to God does not excite you.

8. When you don’t have blessed assurance.

Can dead, dry bones live? Well that’s up to you. God has plan if we are but willing to trust Him with our lives. No-one needs leave here this morning in the way they came.

A mysterious moment happens in our lives when belief comes alive because we’ve received the gift of the Holy Spirit. It comes in different ways but it only comes when we are open to God, to asking Him to come into our lives and fill us and change us. Like the way that air changes the shape of an empty balloon by giving it life in form and substance. The Holy Spirit gives life to the heart and soul, St Paul says it is the evidence, of our relationship with God. God's gift takes us from having belief in God - to having God's power within us. And when we let the Spirit in - beautiful things happen. It brings to mind the words of God - words that allow us to bring real comfort to others, to communicate forgiveness and love to someone in need and bring peace to the soul, ours and the souls of others.

Our second reading (Romans 8:6-11) describes this transformation as Paul proclaims good news to us and to the congregation at Rome. 

Those who have been joined to Christ are new creations. Even though we live embodied lives, we are even now “in the Spirit,” and, therefore, free to love and serve God. Paul acknowledges there’s still a battle going on. He formulates it as an opposition between flesh and spirit and calls upon his listeners to choose the side of life – to set their minds upon the Spirit. What does Paul’s call to set our minds upon the Spirit mean for us during this season of Lent? Have we taken time to really engage in the struggle to reshape our lives so that they might be more reflective of Christ’s self-giving love? Is this Lent leading to a fuller life for you and for others?

We’re going to have a time now to think about all that I’ve said and about allowing God to breathe His Holy Spirit in us.

As we remain seated let’s sing a couple of verses of ‘Breathe on me breath of God’ with some gentle prayers between them. 

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