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Church full of dead people

I dreamed God placed me in a church during Sunday worship. I walked up and down the aisle among lots of people. They all looked — gulp — they all looked dead. There were children with crayons in their hands, teenagers sitting among friends, mothers cradling babies and choir members holding music. They seemed normal enough — for dead folks. God asked me: “Preacher, can these dead people live?”

I said to God: “Lord, you are the only one who knows.” (From Ezekiel 37)

This comes from the Larry Davies translation of Ezekiel: better known as the “Valley of Dry Bones.” Ezekiel asks: “Can these dead people live?” Or “Can today’s church make a difference? When the pandemic is over, there will still be so many huge issues to face that divide our country and divide our church. What kind of church will we be? Can we live?

Then God said to me, “Preach to these dead people and say to them, ‘Dead people, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Lord says. I will breathe into your dead bodies and you will come to life. You will begin to smile at one another and once again offer a hug. You will welcome strangers, visit the sick and volunteer to help the helpless. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

Can God still breathe life into the church? Yes! But are we ready to receive God’s answers?

Ezekiel continues: “So I preached to the dead people as God commanded. First one person began to smile, and then another moved his head to look at me. One woman began to fold her hands together as if in prayer, but there was still no twinkle of light in any of their eyes or color in their cheeks.”

People are genuinely searching for a faith community that is authentic and alive. They desire a deeper spiritual life. They are open to experiencing God. People may not want to join a church, but they want to be part of something that matters, something compelling, a faith community that makes a difference in their lives and the lives of others.

In Ezekiel God said, “Keep preaching to the dead and say this, ‘Holy Spirit, come from the four corners of the globe and breathe life into their dead bodies.’” So I did as God commanded and there were strange noises throughout the congregation as people began first to breathe, then to sing, not like dead people, but with the excitement of folks possessed by God’s living spirit.

• One man in the midst of a painful marital separation shouted, “God healed me!”

• Another left the church to seek a former friend and reconcile their differences.

• One elderly woman walked over to the youth and offered virtual hugs to each of them.

• A businesswoman was led to donate a portion of her profits toward a homeless shelter.

• A teenager felt called to begin a Bible study online.

So, what can we do now? We start with the basics.

• Pray: Pray for God to breathe new life in us. Shortly before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his followers: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere.”

• Listen: Listen to the spoken and unspoken needs of our community. Example: Do we live in a neighborhood of single parents and children? How can we help?

• Worship: Worship should be relevant and passionate. There are new people to be aware of. Some worshippers will not be physically inside our church building. How do we continue offering passionate worship for those who connect to us by phone or internet? Churches form worship teams to explore creative ideas and better utilize talents within our congregation.

• Be Open: Be open to new ideas and new people. As churches grow, new people feel inspired to offer suggestions. Will you listen with respect and be open to change?

Ezekiel goes on to say: As the holy breath of God entered the dead bodies throughout the church, they each came to life and jumped to their feet — a vast army. Then God said, “These dead bodies represent my beloved church who feel cut off from Me and whose hope for living is gone. Therefore, preach to them and say: ‘God promises to open your graves and give you life. Then you will know that I am God. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live!’”

Earlier, I asked the question: When the pandemic is over, what kind of church will we be? Honestly, I don’t know… yet! But during this crisis, I believe God will help us survive today’s troubles and then shape and prepare our church for a brighter future.

My prayer is to be challenged by God to live more fully. For all our shortcomings, the church is still the best place to find God’s eternal healing and comfort. May God breathe life into our dead bodies and help us rise up to become a mighty army — the church!

“Then you will know that I am God. I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live!” Wow! What a wonder to behold!

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at larrydavies@vaumc.org