Ezekiel 37:1-14; Luke 24:13-32
Here we are in the “dog days of summer”—the time between the beauty of spring and the count down to the start of school. We’ve won 1st place for our band in the Dousman Derby Days parade, and we’re halfway through this year’s State Fair. The days are long and often hotter than we’d like, and our electric bills reflect our reliance on air-conditioning as we limp toward Labor Day.
I like to think that Ezekiel longed for modern-day air-conditioning. We hear his report of being called by God to prophesy over a valley of dry bones—bones that cry out, “Our bones are dried up, our hope has gone; we are as good as dead.” Have you ever felt like that? Have you felt so oppressed by life that your bones—your spirit—feel like there is no life left? That it’s too hard to breathe and your hope is gone? Remember last Sunday when we heard God’s words, “While he was still a long way off, the father ran to meet him”? Ezekiel is offering another way of knowing this truth—that God will send His breath into us so we can know God and live. I somehow think that the breath of God and the hope of God are intertwined. The family motto of a dear friend of mine says, “While I breathe, I hope.”
On a good day, that’s true. But there are times in every life when that hope is so elusive that we feel almost unable to go on. We feel lost, deserted, overwhelmed, and disappointed in the world and in ourselves. “Yes, but . . .” seems like our mantra, and we feel stuck. When we were kids we described this as “Nobody likes me; everybody hates me; think I’ll go eat worms.” Is there an antidote for this woe-is-me state? Obviously, I think there is.
The bulletin cover offers one solution, one way of letting God’s breath enter into our minds and hearts: “Keep calm and listen to God.” Often that’s easier said than done! When I’m feeling arrogant and am filled with self-centeredness, I tend to defiantly say to God, “Be still and know that I am God.” That’s a spiritual disaster waiting to happen! (pause)
I have to thank Sue Stelling to sharing a simple meditation with some of us a few years back. It gives me a way of slowing down long enough for God’s words to catch up with the frantic pace of my daily life. Sue’s technique is to sit quietly and focus in on the words, slowly.
“Be still and know that I am God. (pause) Be still and know that I am. (pause) Be still and know. (pause) Be still. (pause) Be.”
This exercise is a great centering prayer for me. Thank you, Sue.
Again, the bulletin cover says, “Keep Calm and Listen to God.” Today’s second reading, the story of the Road to Emmaus, relates the story of the dry bones of two disciples who were distraught about Jesus’s crucifixion. In this account, Jesus joins them as they walk and explains the Scriptures to them. Later, they recognize Him in the breaking of the bread, and then as they try to comprehend this appearance of Christ in their midst, they say, “Did not our hearts burn within us as He talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?”
When we seek to know God and live according to His will, our hearts do burn and we are filled with God’s power, His comfort, and His peace. It’s in the Beatitudes, these words about hungering and thirsting for justice, these blessings that come when we attempt to live out the words from the Prophet Micah (6:8): “This is what God asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.”
Walking “with your God” seems to be the key here. At least it is for me. Again, I need to guard against my attempts to control the world, to think that God is somehow the cosmic bellhop whom I can summon to carry out my wishes—even when they’re quite noble and seem to be in everyone’s best interest. When we pray, we ask for what we think we and others need, though we need always to add, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” We cannot comprehend the mind of God; we can only trust that whatever God’s will is for us, it’s the best thing for us. Trust must go along with the hope we have in God. And our prayers ought not be limited to petitions; there are also prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of contrition, and prayers of praise. Remember how as children we were taught to say please, thank you, I’m sorry, and I love you? That’s what our prayers are—ways of saying to God, “Please,” “Thank you,” “I’m Sorry,” and “I love you.” Each of these offers a way to deepen our relationship with God.
There are so many stories in the Bible that speak to God’s wanting to be in relationship with us. There’s Ezekiel, the Prodigal Son, the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, and even the Samaritan woman at the well, who wanted the living water that Jesus talked about. It appears we have always needed God’s spirit to sustain us. But I’ve heard it said that God is a perfect gentleman—that He will never enter in where He is not invited. So we have to ask God to journey with us, to walk with us and guide our paths. Like the disciples walking to Emmaus, we have to ask God to stay with us, and we have to be willing to learn from the time we spend with God.
So, to be in relationship with God, we have to talk to Him honestly and boldly, knowing that God wants to be in union with us. However, we also need to listen to God. While we can seek to hear God’s voice in our times of quiet meditation, we can also find His words in the Scriptures.
Just as the men on the dusty road to Emmaus were moved by Jesus’ words from Scripture, we can connect with God there, too. It was suggested to me when I first started praying with Scripture, that I start with Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 5, which contains stories of the healing ministry of Jesus. These stories gave me a strong sense of the love and power of God and of God’s working in our lives. I would suggest the same to you, if you would like to try reading the Bible.
And like the Emmaus disciples, initially we may not understand what we’re hearing. That’s okay. Building relationships is a process and takes time. The blessing for us is that we have each other. We have a whole faith community to bolster our efforts. And we are blessed to be able to come together to pray and break bread as Jesus did.
Too often I question the validity of my prayer life. I don’t think I pray often enough or well enough or long enough, etc. But the measure is not a quantitative one, it’s a qualitative one. If I’m not finding my prayer life nourishing enough, I have to ask myself, “If God seems far away, who has moved?” It is easy to not find time to pray, but I pay the price of feeling estranged from God and from others, of feeling parched and bone-tired. There is a delightful explanation regarding prayer, which I’d like to share with you as you think about how you open yourself to the breath of God.
“Once a man was asked, ‘What did you gain by regularly praying to God?’ The man replied, ‘Nothing . . . but let me tell you what I lost: anger, ego, greed, depression, insecurity, and fear of death.’ Sometimes, the answer to our prayers is not gaining but losing, which ultimately is the gain.” May we all find time to talk to, and listen to, God, so we may be filled with His breath and find the refreshment and nourishment we need from the source of all life. May this not be the last prayer we offer to God this week.
In the name of the One who will never let any of us go, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Ezekiel 37:1-7 & 11-13
The hand of God was laid on me, and he carried me away by his spirit and set me down in the middle of a valley, a valley full of bones. He made me walk up and down among them. There were vast quantities of these bones on the ground the whole length of the valley; and they were quite dried up. He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “You know, Lord God.” He said, “Prophesy over these bones. Say, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of God. The Lord God says this to these bones: I am now going to make the breath enter you, and you will live. I shall put sinews on you. I shall make flesh grow on you, I will cover you with skin and give you breath, and you will live; and you will learn that I am God.’”
Then he said, “Son of man, these bones are the whole House of Israel. They keep saying, ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope has gone; we are as good as dead.’ So prophesy. Say to them, ‘The Lord God says this: I am now going to open your graves; I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel. And you will know that I am God.
Luke 24:13-18, 25-31
. . . Two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened. Now as they talked this over, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but something prevented them from recognizing him. He said to them, “What matters are you discussing as you walk along?” They stopped short, their faces downcast. One of them answered him, saying, “You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.
(HERE THEY TELL JESUS ALL ABOUT HIS DEATH AND THE REPORTS OF HIS BEING ALIVE. THEN THE PASSAGE CONTINUES.)
Then he said to them, “You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory? Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout scripture that were about himself.
When they drew near to the village to which they were going, he made as if to go on, but they pressed him to stay with them. “It is nearly evening,” they said, “and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. Now while he was with them at the table, he took bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; but he had vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?”
Friends, listen to what this Spirit is saying to us today.