Life, Promise, Hope!
Ezekiel 36: 22 – 27, 37: 11 – 14, 24 – 28
Remember Dot-to-dot puzzles? They might help us better understand the Bible’s teaching. Connect the dots with lines and a picture emerges. The Bible is like that. Connect some of the thoughts scattered through the Bible and a picture emerges, just as we do with ‘dot-to-dot’ puzzles. Let us have a go this morning.
We’ll begin at the second verse in the Bible, Genesis 1:2, where we are told that the Spirit or Wind of God blew over the chaotic waters and there was order. Now we draw a line from that verse to Genesis 2:7 where we are told that God created humankind and ‘breathed’ life into humankind’s body. The clue here is that Biblical translators take the wind or breath of God to mean the Spirit of God. This tells us that it is God’s Spirit that gives order to creation and life to humankind. Then move a line to Psalm 104, which confirms this that when God hides from us our breath is taken away and we die; and when God sends the Spirit we have life again.
Now this isn’t exactly like a dot-to-dot puzzle but the principle is there. We read a verse in the Bible and forget to see its connection to another verse. When we do make the connection a picture emerges. In this instance the picture being formed shows that God the Holy Spirit is the source of order and life. So if we were to continue drawing lines we would find numerous examples of God’s Spirit empowering leaders and prophets, priests and kings, men and women. In the Bible the belief is there that God is the source and the energy of life and that the wind of God or Spirit is the means.
The Bible abounds with word pictures of the Holy Spirit working. A good example is the vision of the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel. God gives Ezekiel a vision in which Ezekiel views a valley full of dry bones. At God’s command Ezekiel instructs the bones to rise up and then summons the four winds to breathe life into the bodies. This happens. This is followed by an interpretation that the dry bones represent the exiled Jews. Although the Jews have been unfaithful and deserve punishment God is going to reinstate them. God is doing this because the Jews carry God’s name and God by reinstating the Jews will honour God’s name. Observers will say; ‘Look at what their God has done!’ But this is not all. God is not only going to set them free, bring them back to Jerusalem, re-instate their community, and give them a new attitude, but God is also going to put God’s Spirit in them [Eze 36:24-27]. Without God’s Spirit God’s people would neither know God nor have a right attitude. Wow, all that stuff plus God’s Spirit! This is the punch line: God promises to ‘dwell’ in them [Eze 37:14, 27]. That’s right, dwell in them. This is an intimate action. The Hebrew concept of dwelling with them conjures up the picture of God pitching a tent. God is going to come and live with us.
This imagery is so rich and useful even for us today. Our lives do go through periods of barrenness – dry periods. When we turn to God and acknowledge our failures and confess our sins God breathes new life into us. God doesn’t simply forgive but restores us with life. Like the cool summer breeze God’s Spirit refreshes us. We must be wary of these spiritually dry periods. They are not necessarily like the disastrous droughts that sweep through this land. They can be, but often the spiritually dry periods are like lean seasons. There are crops but the harvest is poor. The farmers just make do. They scrape through meeting their daily needs and paying the mortgage. Sometimes they are reduced to paying only the interest. Such lengthy dry periods can be devastating both for a farmer and for those associated with them. Likewise our spiritual dry periods look like that. All seems well. We are making do, but there is no energy, no excitement and no renewal. It seems we’re in a holding pattern. Think, my Christian friends, of such times. You may be in one now. I assure you that I am perfectly familiar with them, but I am also familiar with the breath of God renewing and refreshing me. I thank God for the renewing Spirit. Of course these spiritually dry periods are not so much that God has moved away, but that we have decamped and moved away from God’s tent.
The dots we have joined together today and the imagery that we have looked at tells us some very important truths.
Firstly, we get from this Biblical picture that God gives us life. That is, we don’t control life and even less are we the source of our lives. Life is a gift to us. You may want to say, ‘Peter, aren’t you just playing with words?’ In a sense yes, but the perspective I am providing is important. Thousands of years ago when humankind reflected on life it was realised that life was a gift; they hadn’t made it on their own.
I remember sitting around the lunch tables on the sailing club’s deck looking over the lake and beyond to the beautiful city skyline. It was a delightful picture on that sunny day, one which I often enjoy. I sat there in silence reflecting about my sailing companions and the Gospel of Jesus. The chatter was energetic. The camaraderie was healthy. I thought, “These people have no need of God. “They are self-sufficient. At least they would say so. They enjoy reasonable financial well-being, good health, a genial camaraderie and the club is their community. Insurances, superannuations, pensions and social security all ensure they can cope with the unpredictable future. What else do they need?” These thoughts ran through my mind. Let’s be fair. If you have never experienced the joy of God or witnessed God’s blessing on others why would you want more? If you have never seen anything better than what the secular world offers what else would you hope for? You wouldn’t know any better. But it is interesting how these folk from time to time appreciate that ‘odd religious member’ who conducts the blessing of the fleet or a time of quietness when an unsuspected death eventuates. Religious concepts uttered in the guise of poems or universal concepts touch them. I guess I am trying to say that the thought that my life is a gift rescues me from depending entirely upon myself. To see life as a gift from God rescues us from the ‘aloneness’ of being on one’s own. If my life is my life then I am alone. However if my life is a gift from the Creator then I can never be alone. God’s compassion means God cares. This is what the ancients uncovered. This is what God revealed to Abraham and Sarah when He called them to leave home.
Secondly, God’s promises give us meaning – a reason for living. God’s promises have rescued us from despair and given us something to live for. That is what a promise does for us. Promises give us something to look forward to. Promises lift our spirits. Promises stimulate and encourage us to move forward. Promises ultimately add to the purpose of living. God’s promises do that, big time.
Thirdly, God give us hope. Hope is so important to us. Hope allows us to face today’s difficulties and struggles with the possibility of a better future. Hope encourages us not to give up but to persevere. Hope provides the will to get there. Hope is different from faith. Faith is putting your trust in God, whereas hope helps us imagine a better world and opens the door to new possibilities. Without hope our imaginations would not be stimulated, we would resign ourselves to the present situation and become preoccupied with ourselves. Hope gives us a future – God’s future.
Our readings today tell us that God’s spirit rescues us from ourselves, saves us from despair and gives us life. That is why we cannot take the Holy Spirit for granted, let alone ignore the Holy Spirit – she is our life.
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC: 30/06/2019