s016o02 Lent 5 17/3/02

Prophesy to the breath ... mortal ... Ezekiel 37:9

There would be few mainstream Churches around who are not feeling pretty depressed. Ageing congregations, and in Australia some revelations that some clergy have misbehaved in some very serious ways. After the Governor General, I suppose the Pope will be next. There are the political uncertainties that abound, and yet when has there not been political uncertainty? Is it not almost overwhelming?

And it is tempting to give up - curl up our toes and die. The temptation to find some less public occupation is fairly constant for me. I am certain I could find some other useful way to contribute to society and protect myself from the inevitable barbs that my vocation brings. I am pleased that I am getting towards the end of my ministry rather than just starting out. I'm not sure that the long-term career prospects of Anglican priests are especially rosy!

Another temptation is to look around for new enthusiasm from outside. Call in a "heavy" like Billy Graham. Our Anglican Church in Australia is having a National Conference in July with very accomplished people like the General Secretary of the Anglican Communion, Canon John Peterson, the Archbishop of Kenya, David Gitari, Hugh Mackay, John Eales and Shane Gould coming, and others. I commend this to you too.

The word of God to Ezekiel was not to criticise the bones for laying down on the job, or to shrug his shoulders and look elsewhere for life. He was called not to implore God to bring life to the bones - God called him to breathe life into them himself. So, in line with what I have been saying recently, God calls us to lift people up, not to look to others to do so, or to criticise or expect others to live up to our expectations.

The word of the Lord to Ezekiel means that we have a part to play in the very life of society. Not only is the living water supposed to flow out of us, we are bidden to breathe the very breath of life into our society.

We are not called to criticise those around us who seem to have run out of puff or are laying down on the job. Probably they have run out of puff for a very good reason - because no one has breathed into them the breathe of life.

Neither Jesus, nor Ezekiel were empowered beyond ourselves to achieve the miracles they did. Some time ago in a sermon, I pondered what would have happened if one of the disciples had taken the five loaves of bread and two small fish and given thanks to God and distributed them to the crowds, as Jesus did in the feeding of the 5000. The God I worship would have been as faithful to that disciple as God was faithful to the prayer of Jesus.

And I suppose by logical extension, I ponder what would have happened if one of the disciples had called Lazarus from his tomb - or indeed Martha or Mary did the calling. The God I worship would have been as faithful to the prayers of the disciples, Martha or Mary, as God was faithful to the request of Jesus.

This is why I have used as my text the passage from Ezekiel rather than the one from the gospel. Here was someone other than the Son of God raising someone from the dead.

Indeed of course, God doesn't just listen to the prayers of the faithful, the "professionals". God listens to the prayers of all people.

It is as we are humans to other humans that miracles occur. It is as we are human to other humans that people are given life. It is as we want others to live that others find life. And God listens to the prayers of all. God always answers a prayer of blessing of someone else, whoever utters it.

But surely we do want others to live, or is it that we actually want others to live like us, to worship like us, to share the same perceptions of life that we do. However we express this, it ends up in some form of slavery and death.

The individuals who were raised to life by Ezekiel were not clones of the prophet - they were each as individual as any other group of people are.

The raising of the people in the valley of dry bones and the raising of Lazarus show us that our faith is a matter of life or death. It is not a matter of life and death for us as individuals, it is a matter of life and death for humanity.

So much of life is competitive, expressed at the end of the barrel of a gun or some other seemingly less deadly threat.

Recently in Australia, someone from a particular section of our society, suggested others like him could stop considering themselves victims and take control of their lives. We can nod sagely, yet perhaps the same may well apply to us. The words of Jesus tell us that in fact we are allowed to stop spending time on our knees and we are invited to live life to the full. The breath of life is not just for us, but for others, for the whole of our society.

This is good news, and news that will indeed be welcomed as we empower others to live their lives to the full as we live our own.


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