Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
During my days in Seminary, one of the classes I attended was Homiletics. Now the word Homiletics is just a fancy word used in Seminary for preaching, to give a sermon. So since I’m not in Seminary, from here on out I will use the more English word, Preaching.
So in my Seminary years, one of the classes I attended was for Preaching. I mean, that much should be obvious. Seminary… teaching how to be a pastor… pastors much preach… so yes, one of the classes I took was a preaching class. But while I was going through this class, my professor, Pastor Amy Shiffrin, who wasn’t well known for her preaching skills, kept on harping on one particular message. The purpose of preaching is to bring life to the dead. Let me repeat that again, the purpose of preaching is to bring life to the dead. If there is one thing I would like you to walk away with after this service it is that message. The purpose of preaching is to bring life to the dead. She harped on this message so much, because just like this sermon, if there was anything her students walk away with from her preaching class, it was this particular message. And woe and behold, I most definitely did.
Now it wasn’t her class that uniquely gave this message, for this message was a reoccurring theme throughout my Seminary life in of itself. In fact, I still hear it when I go to my Lutheran retreats and Convocations. Thus the reason why this message stuck wasn’t simply because of her class, thought that was the most importantly thing she taught me in her class, but because this is the overarching theme of the NALC with regards to preaching.
But what does this mean? What does it mean to say that preaching brings life to the dead, or at least its intended purpose?
The answer can be found by answering a different question. What happens when you preach the Word? Why, when the Word is preached, the Holy Spirit, which gave you the strength and faith in the first place to preach, externally enters into the ones who receive the Word. Basically when you preach, you are not preaching mere words, but The Word, and when you preach The Word you are not merely preaching of The Word but invoking it. The Word, the Holy Spirit is there when you preach it. For us lowly servants are but instruments of the Lord used as messengers like the angels to spread the Good News. Through us, the Word speaks. Through us, the Spirit, which proceeds from the Father and the Son, is truly present. We who are filled with the Spirit, speak the Spirit, and thus when we speak the Spirit, out of our mouths comes the Word which enters into the hearts and minds of others and fills them.
But why is this so important? If I was to preach the Good News to my neighbor and they converted to Christianity, did I convert them or did the Holy Spirit convert them? It was the external Spirit! We have no ability to argue someone into believing into Christ, but it is through the Spirit alone that the seeds of faith are planted.
God is the source of Life. Without Him we are dead. When we sin we die. To sin is to turn away from God, He who is the source of life. To sin is to deny life. In fact, due to original sin, we are already born dead, born sinners. There is no life within us because we are born incapable of knowing God, let alone loving Him. We are born lost, rejected, confused. There is a reason why Christ said let the dead bury the dead. For without Him, you are truly dead, in fact you are already dead and if you wish to be alive then you must follow him. Let the dead bury the dead, but we who are Christians instead bring life to the dead. Instead of letting the dead remain dead we speak the Good News, the Word, so that through the Holy Spirit they may come to life. The point of preaching is to bring Life to the dead! The point of preaching is to supply the Holy Spirit, the source of life, to those who sin, the source of dead. This is why we preach.
So we preach not only to those who are lost and do not know God, but also to those who are sinners. For regardless, all sin does is kills us. Yet, through the Word, Jesus breathes new life into us, forgives us our sins which causes us to die, and does this daily for our sake.
In the Book of Ezekiel, Jesus speaks through the prophet Ezekiel, providing for us a vision which perfectly paints this imagery of preaching life to the dead. In it the Lord brought Ezekiel to a valley full of dry bones and asked, “Son of Man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel said, “O Lord God, you know.” So the Lord commanded, “Prophecy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breathe to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breathe in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” After he did all this, a great army, filled with the Breathe of God, stood before Ezekiel, and the Lord said, “Son of Man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”
Now the words from Ezekiel are interesting, for the Lord begins by commanding the Son of Man to prophesy these dry bones to life. Well who do we usually think of when we hear the name Son of Man? And does not Christ bring the dead to life? But the order of God’s command is most interesting. First, He commands the dry bones to hear the Word of the Lord. Then, the Breathe of God brings them to life. Last, after being brought to life these bones will know the Lord. And it is not like these bones truly represent bones for the Lord Himself says these bones are Israel. Instead I ask this, is not the order of God’s command similar to the order of conversion?
First you preach the Good News. Then there are those who willingly listen, who hear, the Word. As they hear the Word, the Spirit, which in Hebrew also means Breathe, of God enters into the hearer and brings them life for only God is the source of life. And alongside this life is faith, and it is because of faith in God, which only comes from the Holy Spirit, that we come to know God and maintain our knowledge of God.
The thing is this, before Pentecost, these Dry Bones was all of Israel. On top of that, before any of us received the Holy Spirit either through Baptism or through Preaching, we too were the Dry Bones. And until we hear the Word again, due to sin we become like the dry bones again. Yet because God sent down His Spirit in tongues of fire to bless His disciples by breathing His Spirit into them, the disciples were capable of going out with power to Spread the Good News and so bring life to the Dry Bones of the House of Israel. God placed His Spirit into them, brought them to life, opening their minds to the truth, and gave them the authority to speak. And they spoke. They spread the Good News with power, and those who listened so too was brought to life, filled with the Spirit, filled with its strength, and like the disciples so too did they spread the Good News. One by one the Dry Bones of Israel were being lifted out of their graves and rose as Christian Soldiers, a mighty army of those filled with the Spirit, armed with the Sword of God which was the Word.
And from generation to generation, the Spirit of God passed from one person to the next, bringing to life these dry bones, and a new generation of Christian Soldiers was born out of new life. And this kept on going until the Holy Spirit enter into you and so to saved you through the cross of Christ and brought you to life. And every single time you hear the Word, know this, the Spirit is indeed entering into you and is providing you with life.
Let the dead bury the dead, Jesus said, but through Christ we are not the dead, for we are truly alive. The living do not bury the dead, per se, no instead the living bring the dead to life, but not through our own power but through the power of God alone. We are alive because of Him, and through Him, we like the fire touched disciples, may also bring the dead to life.
Let us pray,
Dear Heavenly Father, source of Life, you promised in the days of old to breathe life into the dry bones of Israel. On the day of Pentecost you fulfilled your promise by breathing life through the fiery Holy Spirit into first your Disciples and through them throughout all of Israel and the World. Continue to provide your Spirit and help your Church to breathe life into the congregations and into those who do not know you. In your most holy name we pray, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sorry this is late, Better late than never. Thank You!