The stakes are high because 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 explore the pervasive power and promise of spirituality.
Do you feel that you are a spiritual person? This is more than a casual question. The scripture selections elevate spirituality as the core of our Christian faith and we must not ignore the very essence of God. Ezekiel’s prose about dry bones coming to life joins with Paul’s talk about spiritual vitality to form a dynamic, parallel commentary to the gospel reading in John 11:1-45, which narrates Jesus’ raising dead Lazarus.
There’s often confusion about what it means to be spiritual, which can be described as both attitude and action in connecting with God. Paul, the most prolific of the New Testament Christian writers, also shared his thoughts about spirituality by focusing on the contrast between the flesh and the spirit. For Paul, putting too much emphasis on the flesh is a fatal preoccupation. Yes, obsessively feeding our various appetites invites all sorts of harmful substances, attitudes and behaviors. The unabashed pursuit of self-gratification can consume us and we end up miserable and finally destroyed. Flesh perceived in this way is hostile to our faith. 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).
It’s not easy to cultivate spiritual health. We live in a world that doesn’t often value spirituality. We can’t observe our spirit directly and we can’t put it under a microscope, trap it in a test tube, or otherwise analyze it as if it were a commodity dug-up from the earth or manufactured. It is easy to deny that spirit exists because we cannot tell exactly where it is or what composes it. Yet, we can see the effects of spirit when we witness the blessed peace and beauty of those who, through their behavior and thinking, suggest a wonderful relationship with God.
It’s not surprising that God has designed humans as spiritual beings and that we are incomplete and unfulfilled without the divine presence. We deny our full humanity until we recognize and cultivate our spiritual dimension. Furthermore, evidence suggests that humans are hard-wired to derive a psycho-social benefit from spiritual phenomena such that it is crucial to our survival. Yes, there’s evidence from anthropology, psychology and biology that a healthy spirituality can help us not only survive but thrive.
There is no substitute for spiritual health. As Christians, we must embrace our connection to God as a great and necessary blessing. Do you want to strengthen your church? Do you want to experience renewal and transformation? If you said “yes” then I’m with you and we can move forward. This does not mean that there are not challenges. We’ve seen many churches shrink, wither and die and yet we build hope for our future. Why? Consider how Ezekiel described God restoring musty skeletons into new life. Similarly, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. We are therefore invited to consider what God can do for us and our church as we embrace promise and possibility. We can realize that the light of faith burns ever so brightly; we can nurture God’s presence and radiate life. Our joy extends into every dark corner of the universe as we strengthen our relationship with God through discipleship and gospel-sharing. Reviving our church is a person-by-person extension of our encounters with God. All of this begins with you, and with me, and with us united as a faith family.
Each friend and member of our church has both the responsibility and privilege of feeding their spirit through prayer, meditation, and a host of similar practices that nourish our relationships. The growth and status of our church will be a reflection of how deeply and sincerely each person cultivates a vibrant personal faith. Seek a life-giving relationship with God. Receive and share God’s love and truth. One of the great things Jesus taught us is that we can share in the power of God if we choose to do so. My prayer is that we will continue our Christian faith journey as we are empowered by God’s awesomeness.