Life CallersEzekiel 37:1-14
In Shreveport, Louisiana, there is a small United Methodist College named Centenary College. Its equivalent of a sports team puts it on the map and makes the college known beyond the borders of the city or state is the world renowned Centenary College Choir. In the repertoire of the choir’s music is a rendition of “Dry Bones,” the old spiritual taken from the image of Ezekiel 37. The music is wildly popular and always elicits from the audience grand applause.
But in the end, the music is just cute. A good old spiritual from a primitive culture that is easily dismissed in the world we inhabit. I want to dust off the image and suggest that what happens in Ezekiel’s vision is the same as what happens when Jesus stands before Lazarus’ tomb and calls him to come out. It is the word of faith calling forth life! And that, dear friends, is the ministry of the church and community of faith always.
We are Life Callers. We are those trusted with holy words that have great power, if only we can perceive them as such. So today let us remember moments when Life Callers spoke a word and the world changed. Let us come again with faith to the ancient, yet ever fresh ministry entrusted to us to be Life Callers.
There was that moment in Ireland, so brilliantly recounted by Thomas Cahill in his book How the Irish Saved Civilization, when St. Patrick climbed a hill with holy fire in his hand and called his people to take their fire from him rather than from the pagan despot that had ruled the land and shackled the people in the darkness of ignorance. St. Patrick released a wave of spiritual energy upon the world called Celtic spirituality that is still feeding the hungry souls of men and women today.
There was that day in 1863 at Gettysburg when a burdened president spoke words that said in part, “Four score and seven years ago, our forebears…” And the words brought to life the energy of a people to save a democracy.
Words were spoken in this city in 1963, at the memorial of the man who spoke the words at Gettysburg. “I have a dream…” said the preacher, and the nation was riveted by the cadence and power of his words and a revolution in human relations was brought about.
Words—Will Campbell, that renegade Baptist said, “Words are our last defense against the darkness of human sin.” So they are when said well and spoken with a reverence for their power.
As a pastor it is my privilege to stand with people and invite them to speak words to each other that change their lives: “I take you…” are among those words and I marvel at what is being said. With those words two people enter a covenant that has such power to both bless or curse, depending on how they live the words.
So we have gathered in this “National House of Prayer” and speak words today. Words of confession that have the power to free us from the molding death of past sins. And words of faith that have the power to propel us into noble ministries that can reshape the world.
These words are not to be taken lightly. When spoken in true faith they have the ability to stir dry bones, indeed to call forth the dead into life. We are word speakers for we are the followers of one whose Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.
Let me suggest what may be the most needed word, the most powerful word that we can speak in the day we live in. This word comes from a scene that happened in the Special Olympics some years ago. A group of special children are going to run a race and everyone is so excited. Parents and other well-wishers are gathered on the sidelines. The children who are to compete are having trouble getting lined up to start the race, so excited are they. Finally it begins: “Ready. Set. Go!” And the racers are off in quest of a medal. Only they do not run with the finely tuned bodies of skilled athletes. Rather they shuffle and jog and stumble onto the track. They haven’t gone very far when one little boy stumbles and falls to the ground and immediately begins to cry. And all of the children in the race—special children—do a strange thing. They stop and hover over the body of their fallen competitor. On the sidelines it is pandemonium. Parents and others shouting, “Don’t stop! This is your chance! Run! You can win a medal!” But the children seem deaf to their words. Instead, one little girl begins to speak another word, the word love always speaks, as she bends over her fallen friend, gently touching his quivering body lying there on the track: “Are you all right?” she begins to ask, over and over. “Are you all right?”
And the other children, sensing her compassion, begin to say the same thing: “Are you all right?” as they touch his body with gentle, stroking hands.
And the fallen Little One begins to respond to their ministry of care and their words of compassion. Gathering his composure he stammers, “I…I…all right.” And they help him to his feet, and all the while the people on the sidelines are screaming, “He’s all right. Leave him alone and run. This is your chance. You can win a medal!” But the children pay no mind.
And then a special word was spoken, symbolically. Maybe you have to be special to speak this kind of word in our kind of world. But those witnessing this event say that the children, after getting the fallen child back on his feet, did a very strange and a very beautiful thing. They all joined hands and ran the rest of the race together and crossed the finish line as one.
You see, a word was being spoken, a word of love and care and compassion. Not unlike the word of Ezekiel who stirred the dry valley that day with a vision of hope.
My friends, on this Lord’s day, may it be that you and I have been touched by the word of love spoken in symbol and voice in this place and go into the world with the word of love that has the power to stir arid arenas of competitiveness into new and redemptive life as we inquire of the fallen and the tired and the bruised, “Are you all right?” and become in that speech the living embodiment of Christ’s presence. Amen.