It is easy to get discouraged when we look around at the declining numbers of young people in our congregations, or when we read reports like EFC’s study, Hemorrhaging Faith, which documents why younger people are disassociating with the church. It’s easy to feel a bit like Ezekiel in front of that valley of dry bones. God challenges Ezekiel with the question: “Mortal, can these bones live?” to which he responds with “O Lord God, you know.” There are times we feel like the house of Israel, in verse 11b, as they complain, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”
Like the discouraged, exiled people of Isreal, we need new life and God’s words of assurance: “I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act.”
However, the words of assurance that we long for, rather than words about returning from exile to our own soil, are about the faith that is precious to us living on in our children and grandchildren. Can our faith live on? “O Lord God, you know.”
It will take some deliberate actions on our part, more than the quietly assumed faith of our grandparents. Perhaps we can find strength and encouragement in some of the words that Paul writes to the Romans. I have to confess, my mind does not work like Paul’s and I struggle to stay engaged with his long tautological sentences. But in the end of this week’s reading I actually understood him to be talking about life in the Spirit in encouraging ways. He writes, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through the Spirit that dwells in you.” Romans 8:11.
If Paul were writing that letter to us our churches with our “Hemorrhaging faith” issues, perhaps he would not focus on our mortal bodies, but on faith living on in the bodies and souls of our children and grandchildren. Then it would read, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Jesus from the dead will give ongoing life to your faith in oncoming generations through the Spirit that dwells in you and in them.”
Whether or not this is where you need new life in your family or congregation, I hope that you will encounter the breath of the Spirit in life-giving ways during this fifth week of Lent..