Every year I have a few favorite collects that just strike me when I hear them again:
The one just before Advent that speaks to us about the Word ... you remember it ...
HEAR, READ, MARK, LEARN and INWARDLY DIGEST! Remember?
Or the one just a few weeks after that in the middle of Advent ...
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us;
we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us;
Once again this morning I'm struck by the words of our opening prayer and the theme of resurrection struck by our readings.
Listen again to the phrases we said just a few moments ago:
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners:
Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise;
that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed
where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Our readings bring into focus this morning the theme of God's work in our hearts and minds, our souls and spirits. The inner work of redemption and the renewal of our minds - our "unruly wills and affections." Our prayer is for His continual grace to help us to "love what you command and desire what you promise."
Does anyone else here struggle to do those two things? As the prayer continues, "among the swift and varied changes of the world"? Each of our lives have a current running - a river running through them - a torrent of swift and varied changes, both internally and externally, today.
Internally we face the formidable opponent of ... oh! OURSELVES. Unruly wills and affections.
Externally we face the current of change - a kind of flood that we saw a physical illustration of in real life in Colorado last year. Think about the force of that wall of water - that rising tide - that torrent coming at you. Or as recently as this weeks news, the ouster of a CEO for his belief in marriage. Swift and varied changes.
But the answer is captured in equally descriptive words: Grace to love what You command and desire what You promise;
so that "our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found."
As one preacher often says, "But HOW?"
Well the first answer is the opening two words of the prayer: Almighty God...
Do you believe those words this morning? Do you believe that the God we pray to is ALL MIGHTY? Perhaps it is best to start there and do a heart check? Is your God too small - too distant and unconcerned - too inaccessible - too busy to be bothered with your "small stuff?" Is your God silent? What do you believe and how do you approach - how do you access God, the Almighty, in your life?
Our opening scripture reveals something for us here: Ezekiel 37
When I started the ministry I am currently doing, it was Palm Sunday, my first official Sunday with this church, before it was REZ, was Palm Sunday of 1996. Before I came there were 35 people - faithful, stubborn - who claimed St. George as their spiritual home. Who had lived without a shepherd for 6 years - who were clinging to tradition like a life raft in a storm tossed sea. And God gave me these verses as a template for the ministry I was to begin there:
Again key phrases mattered: "the valley" "full of dry bones" He Led me around among them - and asked the question of me, "O Man, can these bones live?" Like Ezekiel, I was overwhelmed and properly answered, "I don't know. You alone know." I knew it was surely NOT in my power to do what was needed here. But God was unrelenting, as he was with Ezekiel.
The Lord gave me three steps to revival - the renewal of the lifeless bones:
A. Stand up and speak the Word of God to them - Be a man of The Book and Share from the Book. What you think and what you see really don't matter to God. You speak the WORD OF GOD. That is why, to this day, when I preach I have at least got the BOOK in hand, if not open and looking at the text.
B. Speak what I tell you to speak: The Lord gave Ezekiel the exact wording of his message. The Lord has given us the same exact wording of the message (The Bible) for today - sometimes it is this message here in Ezekiel, sometimes in the Psalms or the Proverbs, or from Isaiah, or from John or the letters he wrote, or Paul wrote. The point is that we have to be attending to God's Word, if we are going to speak what He speaks! HEAR - READ - MARK - LEARN and INWARDLY DIGEST.
C. Rely on the Spirit to do the Work! When it comes to making people or circumstances change your efforts are futile! I've found that mine are often "counter-productive." When it comes to the work of the Kingdom, the weapons and tools we take up are not the weapons of this world !! What we are discovering is that when we use the weapons of political might and majority rule as the Church, that such tactics are easily turned against us. But something entirely different happens when we are obedient to speak God's Word and allow the Spirit of God to do his work.
"as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them."
As we are obedient to speak what we hear God saying into a situation, there is a flurry of things that begin to happen - it can be kind of scary - skeletons coming together, sinews and flesh and finally skin. But something is lacking in the the equation and it take a further obedience:
Prophecy to the Wind - the Breath - the Spirit "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live."
As you know the word for breath is the same word for wind and spirit in both the Hebrew and the Greek languages:
RUACH in the Hebrew and PNEUMA in the Greek language. These two words all capture the aspects of wind, breath or spirit.
What was amazing to me was that Ezekiel was commanded to command the Spirit of God - the invigorating Breath of the Creator, the Breath of Life. Which takes us back to the original words: ALMIGHTY GOD.
The God of the Universe has asked us - actually commanded us - to partner with Him in the renewal, the revival, the remaking of this world, by His Word and Power. He has given us relationship and responsibility under His authority. We are to be bringers of His Word, but more than that we are be carriers of His Spirit.
Again with the question, "But HOW?"
What the secret here? look with me for a moment at the NT reading from Romans 8. I think we have a key for our understanding of how God wants to work these works in and through us.
You have heard the word - MIND SET - right? Mindset is your worldview - how you see the world and your place in it - moreover for us as Christians it is how we see ourselves IN CHRIST and what that means for us in our daily life. Paul spends a few chapters in Romans describing what we called the "torrent" of our unruly wills and affections. From the very first chapters of Romans Paul sets out the position of the world and how we differ, when we are IN CHRIST. Again in chapters 6 and 7, Paul takes a frank look at his own daily struggle with the inner "principle of sin" and poses the query at the end of 7, "who will free me from this body of death?" Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ!
We have been set free in the great exchange - our sin for His Righteousness! 2 Cor 5:21! We are no longer slaves to sin - we are freed to make a choice to follow Jesus and to be IN CHRIST. And when we make that choice it changes everything. But Paul goes on in Rom 8 to give some really clear directions, one of which is about Mind set!
That takes us right back to our prayer at the beginning, again: "Our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found."
This is what Paul is talking about in Rom 8 - the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace! Contrast that with the mind set on the things of the flesh - enmity with God - inability to serve and please Him in any way.
Then a couple of my favorite words in all of scripture, "BUT YOU!"
"But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of Christ dwells in you." Any questions?
It's a matter of position - of our position AFTER the great exchange. We have been taken out of "The Flesh" and placed in "The Spirit." We have been placed IN CHRIST. It is an objective reality, as surely as if you were to walk from here into the hallway, there is an objective change of where you are. God has done that in our lives, when we said yes to Jesus.
And the YES, though it certainly has a beginning point, has lots of little check points along the way - His mercies are new every morning! That's a checkpoint. A time to say YES again. New Every Morning.
So two questions remain?
Have you EVER said YES to Jesus? If not, now is the day of salvation! Now is the time to say YES LORD. I want this relationship with you - I want that great exchange - Your righteousness in exchange for my sinfulness. Here I give it to you, - my whole life, mess that it is - or the glory that it is. From either place we need His grace! Because nothing can compare to the things that God has planned for us in our life with HIM and IN HIM.
Second and last question, "Have you said YES this morning? or YES this week? I'm not talking about getting re-saved, but I am talking about getting re-filled! The kind of life that enlivens our dry and dead bones is the very life of God - a spiritual life that is filled with hope and purpose - a life that we can see God's footsteps and fingerprints working in and through our lives. It is the life of willingness, availability and obedience that we speak of here at REZ. A life of adventure with God in the mission that He is on in the world. Have you said YES to that?
If not now is the time. Let's pray that prayer one more time together:
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.