Sunday, July 17, 2011

Trinity 4 sermon notes

Fr. Kirby
The Old Testament Lesson for today, provided by an Australian Anglican list of 1978 designed to supplement the 1662 BCP Propers, and approved for use in this Diocese of the ACC years ago, is Ezekiel 37:1-14

“Can these bones live?”+
What is the historical context of today's OT lesson? Ezekiel is ministering to the Jewish exiles. They are not living in their own land but are instead a people who have effectively been held captive by the Babylonians. Many of them want to return, but see little hope of doing so, as verse 11 implies. This passage is an allegory of their restoration to their land and accompanying reconciliation with God. The dry bones stand for the Jewish people's sense of death: death of their identity, freedom, and relationship with God. So, what theologians call the sensus literalis (original, humanly intended sense) of the passage is actually figurative!
But the interesting thing is that the people of God have long understood that this passage also refers to the promise of a non-figurative, bodily Resurrection. The abundance of witness in other parts of Scripture to this Resurrection, and the example of Christ himself, of course, force us to realise that God put more into a passage like this than first meets the eye. The irony is that this deeper, fuller, Divinely-intended significance, which theologians call the sensus plenior, is the more literal.
This goes to show that God has a sense of humour. We see this biblical humour again, I think, in Ezekiel's answer to the divine question, “Can these bones live?”. “O Lord God, thou knowest.” The prophet doesn't really answer the question. It's a rather reverent way to say “I have no idea, but I think you're about to tell me anyway, so I'll just let you do that”. Obviously, it didn't look like it was at all possible for the dry bones to live to the prophet, but he was wise enough, given he was dealing with God, not to say so.
For our God is the God who brings life from death, hope from hopelessness. He is the Restorer of his people, the doer of the humanly impossible.
But note the two steps in the process: body, then breath. This tells us that, whether for individuals or churches or church institutions, the re-constitution of outward structures and actions is not enough. Going through the motions is not enough. The bones may be a-rattling and the 'flesh' might look healthy, but without the breath of life, which is the indwelling Spirit of God [as explained in verse 14], we are still dead. Also note that God is the instigator of this whole process, and the dry bones have little say in it! This reminds me of something said to us at Synod by Fr Derek Pryde. He said that whatever we do, it is to be the Holy Spirit doing it, and he said this repeatedly. And, to make the point about who is in charge clearer, he told a story that went something like this:
'A king had as his daughter a beautiful princess. He decided that none but the bravest and most honourable man would be worthy of her. So, he set up a large lake and stocked with sharks and crocodiles. To win his daughter's hand, a man had to swim successfully across the lake. Some came to attempt the ordeal, and there was much chomping and failure. Until one man was seen to swim with great speed right across, just avoiding all the predators, and leap out of the lake. He then strode with some determination up to the King, who declared: “What a courageous man you are! Congratultions, I pronounce you worthy. You may marry my daughter.” The man replied, “Never mind all of that, what I want to know is, WHO PUSHED ME IN?!” '
Fr Derek then said to us 'You are all here because you have been pushed in!'
The balancing aspect to this is that the prophet is instructed by God to call upon the breath, that it may breathe life into the people. We are not merely passive, and one activity we are to pursue is to call upon the Holy Spirit. The Church does this at its Ordination: “Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire.” Amen. So let it be, not just at Ordinations, but throughout our journey.
Finally, there is that brief but key word in verse 10: “they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceedingly great army”. You can miss it so easily if you are not paying attention, but it is very significant. God does not just restore us to survival, but to strength. Where the people of God are quickened and filled with the Spirit, they are not merely an assembly, but an army. We are called to active duty, to fight spiritual battles against sin and deception. We do this by our words and works and prayers, which are all to draw upon knowledge of our salvation, acceptance of the Faith, and the Word of God, as Ephesians chapter 6 makes clear.
Can these bones live? Yes, by the grace of God. Is our hope lost, have we been abandoned to exile, as we see the Church under siege in so many places, as we experience suffering and apparent failure personally? No, thanks be to God. Trust in the God of Hope, the God of Restoration. +

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fr Kirby,
The bones may be a-rattling and the 'flesh' might look healthy, but without the breath of life, which is the indwelling Spirit of God [as explained in verse 14], we are still dead.

Excellent! I am reminded of the Bread of Life Discourse, where Jesus tells his disciples, "It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail." And further, "Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."

I am also reminded of 1 Cor 15: 44-46... "It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living soul"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual."