DRY BONES MADE ALIVE
A Sermon by Rev Frederick M ChapinJune 5, 1994
I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it, says the Lord. (Ezk 37:14)
Self-examination is absolutely necessary for spiritual growth. Our spiritual lives will not advance, if we do not make the effort to periodically examine our delights, thoughts, and actions. We must penetrate beyond the excuses and justifications for our faults and give an honest assessment of ourselves. Our spiritual lives are more sound when we make the effort to take inventory of our spiritual condition. We can see the importance of the practice of self-examination from this passage in True Christian Religion:
… the will’s intentions must be examined; and when these have been examined and removed, man is lifted out of the natural will in which both inherited and actual evils have their seat, into the spiritual will through which the Lord reforms and regenerates the natural, and by means of this again, what is sensual and voluntary in the body, thus the whole man. (TCR 533)
However, when we focus on what we truly are, at times it can be rather unpleasant. It can be quite disturbing to see our evil enjoyments. It is not delightful to take note of the areas that are inwardly hideous. However, as unpleasant as it may be to deal with our shortcomings, it is a positive step towards being spiritually useful.
If we just attempt to honestly look at our attitudes and intentions, we are viewing ourselves from the light of heaven. We are making judgments from reality, they are not based upon delusions or false appearances. The person of the world never desires to put his or her inner most life under scrutiny. He or she would rather just coast along and enjoy a life of strictly indulging in sensual pleasures. Such a person does not want to be bothered with his or hers spiritual condition. However, we grow spiritually, only by candidly examining our private delights and thoughts.
During times of self-examination, especially when we see our disorders, we are like the prophet Ezekiel in a valley surrounded by dry bones, which we read in our first lesson. We feel as if we are surrounded by death and despair. The thoughts of our spirits appear to us like dry bones. They are hard, inanimate, and scattered about. These disorderly loves and delights are not receptive of the Lord’s life, nor are they united into a unified whole.
It is important to note that the Lord brought Ezekiel to the valley of the dry bones. The Lord also leads us into the times of self-examinations. The Lord reveals to us the state of our spiritual lives. Yes, He even shows us the miserable condition of our evil tendencies. But it is important to keep in mind that the Lord reveals these things not to belittle us or just to make us feel remorseful and guilty. He reveals our internal states so we can become spiritually more alive. The Lord brought Ezekiel among the dry bones so he could experience the Lord’s life giving force. The Lord also leads us in confronting our disorders, so we can eventually perceive the Lord’s power and love in a personal way.
When Ezekiel saw the dry bones, he prayed that the Lord would bring life to them. Ezekiel recognized that he did not have the power to make the dry bones alive. We also need to recognize that we, from ourselves, do not have the ability to change the loves within us. When we examine ourselves and discover areas that need to be purified, we must recognize that only the Lord can cleanse our affections. Only the Lord can change our loves and give us spiritual life.
Even though Ezekiel confessed that only the Lord could bring life to the bones, he still had an active part in their rejuvenation. The Lord told Ezekiel to prophesy. The Hebrew word for “prophesy” means to “speak with inspiration”. We also are to take an active part in our regeneration. Yes, it is the Lord that actually removes our disorderly loves and replaces them with heavenly affections. But we are to prophesy. We are to strive to “speak with inspiration” in our lives. We do this by compelling ourselves to obey the Word. When this is done, the bones begin to have muscles and skin surrounding them. When we dedicate ourselves to put away our bad habits and live a life that is in full agreement with the Word, our understanding of truth begins to be motivated from an angelic perspective. We are creating ourselves to be able to receive the Lord’s guidance into our lives. We change our behavior to allow the Lord to instill heavenly loves within us. The cooperation between the Lord and the person is illustrated with Ezekiel prophesying and the Lord giving the breathe of life to the bones.
The breathe of life quite often is referred to as the Holy Spirit in the Writings. One way that the Writings describe the Holy Spirit is a process. It is eternal life from the Lord flowing to a person, and the person being willing to receive that life. Even though the Lord is the sole source of all life, we can choose to have Him guide our lives or we can choose to reject His guidance. When the Lord’s life is received, we are being regenerated. One definition that the Writings give of regeneration is “a life according to Divine truths from which is spiritual life.” We take an active part in receiving the Lord’s life in us. And our reception of the Lord’s guidance within us is part of the operation of the Holy Spirit. And when we put our lives into order, by obeying the Word in all aspects of our lives, we are prophesying whereby the Lord can breathe into us the breath of life.
When we obey the Word, our lives will display a certain order. We will appear human. But the story of the dry bones specifically states that no breath was in the bones. This had to be requested specifically from Ezekiel. The point here is we can put on a pretence of a good life or a life of caring from selfish motives. Many times it is in our best interest to appear good and even spiritual. But the Lord only operates in our lives when good acts are done in sincerity. When we do good things because they are good and that the Lord ‘s love may be displayed, the Lord has indeed breathed the breath of life in our external actions of charity. This state is described in this passage from Apocalypse Revealed:
Every man who is reformed, is first reformed as to the internal man, and afterwards as to the external. The internal man is not reformed by merely knowing and understanding the truths and goods by which a man is saved, but by willing and loving them; but the external man, by speaking and doing the things which the internal man wills and loves, and, in proportion as this takes place, in the same proportion man is regenerated. (AR 510)
When our external actions are guided and influenced by heavenly dictates, we are standing up, and we have received the breath of God.
Spiritual rejuvenation is also pictured in the story of the two witnesses, which we read in our second lesson from the book of Revelation. The witnesses represent our willingness to obey the Lord and our understanding as to how this is to be done. When they were killed, that pictured our selfish interests and cares of this world destroying the desire to be directed by the Lord. However, the two witnesses were eventually revived by the Lord, representing the loves of self and the world were no longer the principle loves that govern life. And they were said to be made alive when the breath of God was breathed into them and they stood upon their feet. We stand upon our feet when we have the sincere dedication to have the Lord seen in our lives, both internally and externally. We boldly stand and vividly display that we are spiritually alive from the Lord.
The whole purpose for Ezekiel being in the valley of dry bones was to have the promise that Israel would once again return to the Promise Land. Ezekiel was active during Israel’s captivity, when they were forced to leave the Promised Land. His main message was to provide the assurance that they would return once again to the land of Canaan. When we are surrounded by our frailties and vices, we have the same assurance that we can return, into a stronger reception of a heavenly state. The Promised Land represents a heaven. A heavenly state is the life that finds contentment in what we have and are called to do. We recognize our limitations and we strive to produce the greatest good within them. We find our highest delight in the good that benefits others and brings honor to the Lord. This is the whole reason for the Lord revealing to us our disorderly loves. They can only be put away when they are revealed.
The vision of life being given to the dry bones of Ezekiel is demonstrated quite often in the New Testament. We read of many instances where the Lord made the dead alive. Each one represents the Lord’s power to transform our dead and hard states into one that is prepared to receive the breath of God and find spiritual life. One of the most vivid examples is seen when the Lord was crucified and many of the saints, which were dead, were seen going into Jerusalem. This represents the Lord being believed and raising us from a persuasion of falsity into a genuine belief in the Divine truth. This new way of life will change our attitudes and delights that are conjoined with angelic enjoyments. This final state, represented by the promise of a return to the Promised Land, is the sole purpose for the Lord showing to us affections and delights in us that we need to correct. Only by allowing the Lord to correct them can we find heavenly delights.
Not only can a regular practice of self- examination allow us to have a greater reception of the Lord’s life, we can also recognize the progress we have made in our spiritual lives. Self- examination can be a wonderful opportunity to monitor our spiritual growth. One of the five laws of Divine Providence is that we do not see the Lord changing us as it is happening, but we can see its effects by examining the past. When we examine ourselves, not only will we see our shortcomings, we could very well see encouraging signs of spiritual growth. We may see that we are not inclined towards a certain evil as we were once before. We can see our spiritual advancement by looking into past states and comparing them with the present. Self-examination can be a useful exercise for us to see spiritual progress.
When we do examine the interior loves within us, we should do so with the intent of having a stronger bond with the Lord as the final result. When we see areas that need correction and cleansing, let us remember the vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel, that the Lord can take our hard and inanimate understanding of truth and make it stand and give it life. And, we must try to look at disorders as the Lord sees them. He views them in His mercy that is united with His wisdom. He certainly is aware of each one of our evil tendencies and enjoyments. But He does not look with indignation at them and become condemnatory towards us. Instead, He graciously focuses upon what we can be when we are purified and with His wisdom, He knows how it can be done with certainty.
However, when we examine ourselves, we do not need to exclusively examine our weaknesses, we can also have a deeper recognition of our talents and abilities. Self-examination can be an effective tool to see how we can contribute to the advancement of our society, the church, and even the angelic heavens. Yes, it is important that we confront the areas that need improvements, but it is also important that we recognize our talents which the Lord has provided to us. It is just as critical that we recognize our strengths. When we see our abilities, we can develop them and make them useful towards the Lord’s creation. But whether we improve our weaknesses or develop our strengths, let this be our highest goal in looking deeply into ourselves,”I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it, says the Lord.” (Ezk 37:14)