Aurora Deanery Confirmation, Trinity Wheaton.
I can’t think of three Readings from Holy Scripture more appropriate for a Confirmation service than the ones we just heard this morning. I’m always amazed at how many people still think that Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones has to do with Resurrection, specifically the Resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come!
You can sort of see why since God tells Ezekiel to prophesy over the bones and so he says “I prophesied as he had commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up on their feet, a vast multitude.” (Ezekiel 37:10). But the story goes with verses we didn’t read today and God says, “Mortal, these bones are the whole House of Israel. They say, Our bones are dried up and our hope is lost¼Therefore, prophesy and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves and bring you up from your graves. O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.” (37:11-12)
This story is actually about the renewal of Israel after their Exile in Babylon. It’s about the reformation and renewal of God’s people who – the Prophet believes – were spiritually dead and who, he prays, by the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit would be reformed and renewed and brought back to life spiritually again!
It was for precisely that same kind of spiritual renewal that Jesus was hoping for and praying for in this morning’s Gospel when he says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father to give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him or knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17).
That kind of spiritual renewal is what we are praying for here today, dear friends. When I lay hands on those to be confirmed, I will pray, “”Strengthen, O Lord, your servants with your HOLY SPIRIT; empower them for your service; and sustain them all the days of their lives.” For those received, we will recognize them as members of the holy catholic Church, receive them into the fellowship of this communion, and bless them in the name of the Father, Son and HOLY SPIRIT. And for any who may reaffirm their vows today, we will pray, May the HOLY SPIRIT, who has begun a good work in your direct and uphold you in the service of Christ and his kingdom.”
It’s all about spiritual renewal! Renewal in the Holy Spirit! The Episcopal Church – no less than the ancient people of Israel, or Jesus’ original disciples – is in need of such spiritual renewal today. All of us are in need of a fresh anointing and renewal by that same Spirit of God. And often, in Christian communities across the ages, it has been the youngest, the newest members of that Community who have led the way to renewal!
That’s why the Rule of St. Benedict is so clear that the Abbot and the community must listen very carefully to the youngest and newest members because they have special wisdom and perspective to bring to the rest of the brotherhood. May we have the same ability and willingness to listen to you, and to incorporate you into leadership so that your voices may help us to find the renewal we so clearly need!
What would that renewal look like? Well, you could look far and wide and not find a better description of what the Church is supposed to look like and to be about than the 12th chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans which we began to read today. Except that we didn’t read quite far enough! The chapter begins with Paul encouraging these new Christians to present their bodies as a living sacrifice to God. Sort of like you’re doing by being here today.
Then, he reminds them not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewal of their minds. And he describes what it’s like to be a member of Christ’s Body, the Church, with each one having different gifts and abilities to be offered for the common good. But then Paul writes some of the most eloquent and descriptive lines he ever penned. He says that we are supposed to:
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought of what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:9-18)
What do you think your church would be like if you all lived like that? Do you think you’d have any problem growing, or making an impact on your several communities? I don’t think so!
So, whether we are being confirmed, received, reaffirming or simply here to support those who are, let’s rededicate ourselves to that kind of spiritual renewal today – in our lives and in our churches!
“Can these bones live?” God asked the Prophet Ezekiel. And the Prophet answered, “O Lord God, you know.”
Indeed God does¼and God has provided us with the example of Jesus and the empowering grace of the Holy Spirit to breathe life into these dry bones of ours.
May it be so.
And may it begin today!