May 23, 2021
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Old Testament reading from Ezekiel.
What’s required to consider someone alive? And for now, let’s not include those on artificial life support. They need to be breathing, have a beating heart, and a functioning brain (well, not if you’re certain politicians, but I digress). If someone isn’t breathing, they’re dead. And certainly, if the remains of the individual are nothing but dried up bones, they’re beyond dead, right? In a vision given to him by God, this is what Ezekiel saw. As he walked back and forth in the original Death Valley, he observed only the dead whose bones had been separated and strewn about. God didn’t intend for Ezekiel to look at the bones and contemplate physical death. Rather, He shows Ezekiel that He is the one who gives spiritual life.
To continue this theme of life and death, what’s required to for someone to be spiritually alive? I suppose the easy answer is they must have faith, right? But what is faith? The author of Hebrews says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is fearing, loving, and trusting in whatever you choose. Faith is believing that whatever, or whoever, you worship or are committed to is listening, observing, and taking a role in your life. Even atheism is a faith since the atheist believes in nothing outside this physical world.
But what kind of faith gives life? Muslim faith? Jewish faith? The faith of those who are spiritual but not religious? Faith in a god who’s somewhere out there? These are certainly faiths, but they’re not faiths that provide life. Only faith in the Triune God and faith that Jesus Christ as the Son of God and our Savior gives life. Those with different faith are sincere, but sincerity doesn’t give life to the dead. Only the Christian Lord gives life through faith. This isn’t something that’s popular to say in our current climate since it sounds exclusionary and judgmental. But what’s more important: speaking the truth about life or being politically correct and letting those who are spiritually dead remain dead? We know the answer, don’t we?
Those who are spiritually dead often look for some sort of purpose, meaning, or insight. They might look in holy books like the Koran or interpret dreams or look deep inside themselves for some sort of realization. The problem, or at least one, with these practices is that the dead can’t raise themselves, whether their physically or spiritually dead, they’re helpless – just like those bones in the Ezekiel’s vision.
Those bones were so dead that they’d fallen apart. The knee bone was no longer connected to the thigh bone and the backbone was no longer connected to the neck bone. There was no way that those bones were going to do anything but continue to decay until they were dust. They needed something from outside themselves, they needed the breath of God. God says to Ezekiel: “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.” Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.” Ezekiel preached to them as if they were alive and through the Word they were given life.
In your spiritual death, God speaks to you. When He says to you “Hear the Word of the Lord”, He gives life to your dried-up bones and your dead faith. Saint Paul says in Ephesians 2: “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” That’s what you were, but no longer. His Word is powerful in that it is performative, that means it does something, and here it gives life. Luther wrote in the Small Catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Through hearing the Gospel and being filled by the Holy Spirit, you’ve been given spiritual life.
You never would’ve looked at little Lincoln today before his baptism and thought he was dead; he’s certainly not. If you could’ve investigated his soul though, you would’ve seen death. But not anymore! The water connected to the Word of God, sent the Holy Spirit pouring into Lincoln as God breathed into him and now he’s spiritually alive.
Did you know that the Greek and Hebrew words for breath and spirit are the same? What’s significant about that little vocabulary lesson? It tells us that when God breathes into you, He gives you the Holy Spirit, and when you have the Holy Spirit, you have life – spiritual and eternal! John the Baptist said that Jesus would baptize us with “the Holy Spirit and fire.” What the Spirit reveals on Pentecost by showing divided tongues as of fire resting on the apostles, is what He does for us every day! He’s the one who keeps you in the one, true faith, as you hear and believe the Gospel.
In Ezekiel we hear the Israelites saying, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.” They could relate to the Valley of Bones and the hopelessness that comes from being dead. And yet, do you know what the purpose of Ezekiel’s vision? It’s to give hope to the people, then and now. The Israelites thought their nation was done, that nothing would ever be good again. God shows that He keeps His promises and that He will bring them out of death and into life. And He wasn’t going to bring them to life because they deserved it, they certainly didn’t deserve it, they deserved to be abandoned. But God had made promises and He would mercifully keep them. It was by grace that He chose to give them life, and by grace He chose to give you life.
The Holy Spirit gives you spiritual life, and He keeps you in that spiritual life, and He also assures you of your spiritual life. We need Him because hopelessness, doubt, and a questioning or erratic faith make us wonder if we’re believers or if we’re saved. After all, if we were spiritually alive, wouldn’t we have perfect faith, and if not perfect, at least close to it? What does spiritual life look like? It’s not that hard to see. Do you want to be saved by God through His Son, Jesus Christ, from your sins and death? Then you’re alive: forgiven and saved! You’re alive because He died. He gave up His holy breath so that it could enter you! He breathes into you because of grace. There’s nothing worthwhile in you, you were dead. Yet God looked at your dry bones and raised you up! He breathed into you just as He breathed into those bones and just like them, you’re set on your feet by God Himself.
This is one of the miracles of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit fills the disciples and the lifegiving Word of the Lord begins its journey. You are recipients of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Word as well. You’re not going to speak foreign languages, but as you hear the Word of the Lord, you can trust with your whole heart you are a believer. The Word of God that brought thousands of people to faith on that first Pentecost brings you to faith. Faith is what saves, but not just any faith, faith in Christ Jesus who stopped breathing that you could start and who was restored to life that you would be too.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen