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Message for Sunday 2 April 2017–“Spiritual Life over Death” (Fifth Sunday of Lent)

Today’s lectionary theme is that of life from death, of the triumph of God’s spirit over desolation and destruction. From Ezekiel to Romans and on into John’s gospel, we’ll explore the pervasive power and promise of spiritual wellbeing.

Do you feel that you are a spiritual person? Spiritual health and vitality are at the core of religious faith and therefore of human fulfillment and wellbeing. Ezekiel’s optimism about dry bones coming to life (Ezekiel 37:1-14), Paul’s encouragement (Romans 8:6-11), and finally Lazarus’ raising from the dead (John 11:1-45) form a great trio.  Together, these three Bible sections are tremendous testimonies of spiritual life.

There’s often confusion about what it means to be spiritual, a state of wellbeing which involves both attitude and action. Paul, the most prolific New Testament writer, also shared his conviction by focusing on the contrast between the flesh on one hand and the spirit on the other. For Paul, relying too much on the flesh is a fatal preoccupation. Humans realize their potential when they prioritize spiritual life over all the competing loyalties and distractions.

Paul warns against obsessively feeding carnal appetites.  Feeding the flesh mindlessly invites harmful substances, attitudes and behaviors, a toxic stew leading to destruction. Self-gratification at the expense of love renders people miserable and ultimately destroyed. Such distractions of flesh are hostile to authentic spirituality. Paul states that “to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8: 6-11).

God has designed humans as spiritual beings. People will therefore remain incomplete and unfulfilled without spiritual wakefulness and awareness. A full and joyful humanity arises from recognizing and cultivating the spiritual dimension.  Furthermore, scientific evidence suggests that humans derive survival benefits from spirituality. Anthropology, psychology and biology variously attest that a healthy spirituality functions with other aspects of life to help people cope, compensate and thrive amid hostile social and physical conditions.

Verses from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel describe God restoring dry skeletons to life. “Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live” (Ezekiel 37:5). Similarly, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead with a beautiful reassurance: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” (John 11:25). Even the otherwise insurmountable wall of death can’t block spiritual life. God and love are so powerfully pervasive that nothing can overcome them.

The gist from all three of today’s Bible selections is that there is no substitute for spiritual health. All of us are invited to embrace spirituality as a wondrous blessing. Do you want to strengthen your church?  Do you want to experience personal renewal and transformation? If you said “yes” then I’m with you and we can move forward united in purpose and vision. This does not mean that there are not challenges or that it will be easy. Overcoming death and darkness takes effort. Even so, victory is ours if we remain focused and determined to pursue God’s magnificent promises.

Consider what God can do for you, for me and our larger world as we share God’s promise and possibility. Together, we’ll realize that God’s spiritual life trumps death. As God’s children, we can nurture God’s presence and radiate life everywhere. The light of faith will then penetrate the fabric of the universe and demonstrate God’s triumph over death.

Reviving the spiritual life of our church, our community and beyond is a person-by-person extension of individuals’ relationship with God. All of this begins with you, and with me—the we comprising our faith community. Each friend and member of our church has both the responsibility and privilege of developing a spiritual life through prayer, meditation, and whatever helps feed your spiritual vitality and wellbeing. The growth and status of our church will reflect how deeply you and I cultivate a vibrant personal faith which we then share with the world.

Today’s trio of scripture selections illustrates how God’s love overcomes death. My prayer is that we will choose life over anything that holds us back. We are made alive in Christ. There’s a hurting world that needs our help as together we avoid the path of destruction and defeatism.  Let us celebrate our empowerment to embrace the renewal which leads to wellbeing.

–Reverend Larry Hoxey