Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Reading for today: Ezekiel 37: 1-14
There is a simple definition of a God-follower, whether they lived in Old Testament times or New Testament times: God-followers are a people to whom God has promised something and who then wonder what it is they should do to ensure that God fulfils his promises.
That may sound simple but it really isn’t.
The problem is that God’s promises seem so far removed from our reality. In other words, the kind of person God implies we should be and the things God implies we should be doing, are often a world away from our actual lives. So what do we do about that?
Look at the Israelites in our reading from Ezekiel. God gives the prophet a vision of Israel as a valley full of scattered dry bones, and he says, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ Well, you know, the rational answer is, “Of course not!” But the prophet has a suspicion that, that is the wrong answer. He doesn’t have the faith to say, ‘Yes. Lord!’ and it’s difficult to argue with perfection, so he answers, ‘O Lord God, you know.’
We then read:
4Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath* to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath* in you, and you shall live;
So the prophet takes a step of faith, prophesies to the bones as God commanded and there is a great rattling, the bones come together, flesh and sinews are added to them and they stand up a vast multitude.
That’s all fine while he is having a vision, but then God applies the vision to real life:
I want to pause here a moment. Whenever God deals to a situation, there are a few things to remember:
- God doesn’t paper over the cracks. He tells it like it is.
v 11 Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”
“People, you are dead!” is what God is saying. “You have about as much spiritual life as a heap of dry bones. And what’s more, it’s plain to you. It’s something you acknowledge.”
- God will not only get us off the sidelines and onto the field, but he’ll equip us to play the game – strengthen us for service.
v 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people.
God-followers are people who live with the promises of God. One of these is resurrection, renewal, resuscitation. Whatever hole we’re in as God’s people, whether that is individually or as a community of faith, God promises to not only get us out of it, but to stand us on our feet, a vast multitude.
- And God’s method is always the same.
v 14 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.’
“Okay! What does that mean?” you may well ask.
In the division of labour in the Trinity, God’s Spirit has some specific functions and they are life-giving. The Holy Spirit …
– causes something to happen, or to be
– convicts of sin
– but particularly … reveals Jesus
I’d like to make a few suggestions from our Acts reading which I believe can be helpful if we are to respond in faith to God’s promises thereby seeing them become a reality for us.
You see, it’s always safe when we are talking about a vision. But when God applies it to reality, that’s when the rubber hits the road. The Holy Spirit is associated with action and action on our part inevitably requires steps of faith.
Firstly, if the Holy Spirit is to be effective in us we need to be open to God doing something in us which we may not have been open to before. Clearly the disciples were on the Day of Pentecost. They didn’t fight the strange things God was doing. They co-operated with God.
Secondly, we need to be intentional about being receptive to the Holy Spirit. They were gathered together in prayerful obedience to Jesus’ command to wait for the Holy Spirit – Acts 2: 2 says they were all together in one place.
Thirdly, when the Holy Spirit fell upon them they owned the experience. Peter didn’t say, “O my Goodness! Nothing to see here people. Move along! We don’t know what this is but it has nothing to do with us.” – No. Peter had disowned Jesus before and he was not about to make the same mistake. He owned what was happening.
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: and then he explains the strange phenomena going on around them.
Finally (and this is a few verses beyond what we read this morning), Peter, having spoken about the crucifixion and the resurrection says this:
19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, 20so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, 21who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.
We can receive nothing from God until we make room for God. Hence repentance always goes hand in hand with receiving the Holy Spirit.
Notice that Peter goes beyond a mere beneficial experience.
If we want to receive the Holy Spirit and all that he makes possible, we need to act in faith. We need to:
– be open to something new
– be intentional in prayerful expectation
– own the experience of whatever God is up to in us
– repent – be prepared to acknowledge our wilfulness and change direction
- It always helps to understand the big picture
Peter goes further than just telling his hearers to receive the Holy Spirit. Peter places the experience of God’s sending his Holy Spirit upon us within the context of the work of God in restoring all of creation.
We do so as part of something much greater than that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord
We do so, so that he may send the Messiah* appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.
I wonder if the import of that registers with us? Our receptivity to God’s Holy Spirit advances the entire work of God – what he refers to as the universal restoration.
And this universal restoration, says Peter, God announced long ago through his holy prophets.
So we’re back to where we started – a people living with the promises of God. A people who wonder how on earth we are going to believe or behave in such a way that the cause of God is advanced on this earth.
My contention is that we advance God’s cause, by taking seriously God’s word to us that being receptive to the Holy Spirit is about more than our own personal spiritual satisfaction, that doing so advances the great purposes of God; namely the restoration of all things which, however it happens, is nothing less than helping God’s love into every nook and cranny of creation. And for that, we need to be prepared to take steps of faith, whatever God requires of us at the time.
And remember this: God does more than just assemble and raise up the bones. He adds flesh to them and he breathes his Spirit into them. We are rescued and raised for a purpose: to serve God; and God gives us his Holy Spirit to equip us for the task.