Extravagant Love - Words of Affirmation

John 3: 16-17   Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

Romans 8: 6-11            April 2, 2017

Ezekiel 37: 1-14

“… Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.  Thus syas the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.”

Prayer:  Breathe, O Breath of God, now breathe O Breath of God now breathe, O breath of God now breathe… on us once again, that we may live in and share your holy, extravagant love.  Amen.

My thanks to Worship Team A and our additions to the team this morning, Wil and Amber… and for everyone’s creativity in sharing the Ezekiel story today… for sharing how God’s word can make us come alive.  And, thank you to Andy Yehl, who introduced to me Lauren Daigel’s song “Come Alive” (Come Alive,” Daigel, Lauren, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XAeyFagceQ, retrieved March 31, 2017).

I particularly love the bridge which is the prayer part... “Breathe, O breath of God now breathe.”  In the Hebrew language, the word for breath is “ruah.”  That’s the same word for “Spirit.’  She’s praying that the “ruah,” the breath, the Spirit of God would come upon us… and would breathe into us. Take a deep breath.  Breathe in the breath of God. The Spirit of God. We are in the Spirit.

Our passage from Paul’s letter to Romans today tells us that followers of Jesus—those who’ve come to believe he is Lord and Savior— are in the Spirit.  We’re followers of Jesus, too, so he writes that the Spirit of God dwells in us… which is also saying that the breath of God dwells in us.  Then Paul says that if God’s Spirit dwells in us, then God, who gave life to Jesus’ dead body, will give life to our bodies as well through his Spirit.

What powerful words of affirmation!  What he is saying I think is that not only is God able to bring back life into our deadness (I’ll come back to that in a minute), but he is also saying that God must love humanity and the world so much that God is willing to do that! To bring life back into our deadness.

See how important we and the world are to God!  The words we heard in The Message’s translation of John 3:16-17, it seems to me are very affirmational of that fact.  That God has such an extravagant love for the world, all of creation, and its people, that God gave his one and only Son.  Why?  So that anyone can have a whole and lasting life.  God’s Son didn’t come to point an accusing finger—he came to help, to put the world right again.  God shared extravagant love to the world by sending Jesus.

Jesus was God’s extravagant word.  He communicated how much God loves humanity.  So much of what he said affirmed God’s love for Israel, and for people who were not of Israel.  Jesus’ words reached the likes of Nicodemus, a devout Jew, a Pharisee, and the likes of the unnamed Syro-Phoenician woman who was a descendant of the old Canaanite worshipers of Baal.  In many places, our gospel writers affirm that people are God’s creation, made in God’s image.  And Jesus went out after people and spoke of God’s extravagant love and salvation.  He brought that message toJew and Gentile alike.

This affirmation of God’s extravagant love for people is also our vocation, our calling, I think.  To share these words of affirmation creates the possibility for healthy and good relationships, for a winsome environment.

I remember several years ago, I was in an airport somewhere during the time when Southwest Airlines encouraged all of its employees, flight attendants, and travel agents to be joyful, playful, light-hearted, loving with words with all its customers and with each other.  So I was sitting in the gate area, and this team of flight attendants were getting all the ticket holders situated with boarding passes and so forth.  But what was so amazing was the way they talked to each other.  Men and women, all of them were using terms of endearment when speaking to each other.  “Thank you for taking that bag down to the plane, sweetheart.”  “You’re very welcome, my love.”  “I just printed that passenger’s boarding pass.  I’ll take it to him for you.”  “Thanks, Hon.  Really ‘preciate it.”   And on it went like that.  The entire time!  It was amazing!  Never have I seen people sharing such words of affirmation that were so positive and good!  It made for a very positive environment for everyone.

Right here, at Christ Church, we are people who have seen with our own eyes the positive goodness of how God loves the world and its people extravagantly, and if we’re not the ones to speak up affirming this, then who is?

We have seen our children sing of their love and praise to God.  Why not share this joy with the neighbors on your street?  We have seen participants of our church feed the hungry believing that those needy people carry the Spirit of God in them.  What a reflection of God’s divine extravagant love that is just begging to be shared with others!  We have seen new worship participants coming to our church from all kinds of different backgrounds, from orientations that unique to them, and they’ve felt the warmth and welcome of our regular church participants.  If we’re not the ones to speak up to others affirming this in our neighborhoods, then who is?  We have seen people rise up from the ashes of addiction making new pathways in life.  We’ve seen couples boldly making new steps in marriage because they’re discovering new ways to communicate love to each other.  We’ve seen immigrants come here and be welcomed, and we’ve learned from them.  We’ve seen people’s lives changed by Faith Formation events that are unique and creative.

If we’re not the ones to speak up to others affirming the life coming out of deadness, the positive goodness of how much God loves the world and its people extravagantly, then who is?  We are.  We’re in the Spirit!

Theology Professor Bruce Epperly says, “When we are in the Spirit, our cells and our souls are animated.  We are awake to divine energy with every breath.  We turn from death to life.  Filled with the Spirit, our mortal flesh becomes what it’s intended to be: a living reflection of divine wisdom and love, moving in tune with all creation.  We can dance and jump around, alive to God’s energy that gave birth to the universe and gives birth to us” (Epperly, Bruce, www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2017/03/adventurous-lectionary-fifth-sunday-lent-april-2-2017, retrieved March 27, 2017).

In other words, God can make our spiritual dry bones come alive from whatever deadness we have.

The refrain of the song is also meaningful: “As we call out to dry bones, come alive, come alive.  We call out to dead hearts, come alive, come alive.”  God can, by sharing words of life, bring new life into places where we may have dry bones… in places where we may have dead hearts, or hearts as hard as stone, or as cold as ice.  God’s spirit brings life.  God’s presence brings peace.

Won’t you share this life, this peace?  Won’t you affirm God’s love for you and others?  If not you, then who?  May the peace of Christ be with you.  Share it!  Amen.