Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dry Bones (sermon draft)

Ezekiel 37:1-14
The hand of God came upon me, and brought me out by the spirit and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. God led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. God said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then God said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of God; thus says the Holy One to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am God.” So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then God said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Holy One: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as God commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. Then God said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Holy One: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am God, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 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 Holy One, have spoken and will act,” says our God.

Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “You of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young ones shall see visions, and your old ones shall dream dreams. Even upon my servants, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of God’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of God shall be saved.’

Namaste, my friends—the God in me greets the God in you. Will you pray with me? God of wind and flame, God of clarity and truth, God of wisdom and strength; God our rock; pour out your blessing and grace upon us here—open our hearts and spirits to all the truth you would have us speak and hear. In all your names, amen.

Today’s Pentecost—one of those feasts, or celebrations, that means a lot more to some people than it does to others. It’s true, there are no Pentecost trees or Pentecost egg hunts… But there certainly are Pentecost presents! We’ll get to that in a bit…

The first reading, from the prophet Ezekiel, comes from a time in the history of the people of Israel when they were in exile, defeated. They must have been feeling lost, depressed; indeed, like dry bones in a desert, as if they had no strength, nothing to live for, nothing to offer, useless and empty, something people would look at and turn away from. They felt lost and alone, dry husks of God’s people.

A couple of years ago, I went to General Conference, the every-three-years meeting of all MCCs around the world. That year we met in Scottsdale, Arizona, in July. Yeah, Arizona in July…Heat, and a dry heat! The resort where we were meeting was very aware of the dangers of dehydration, especially for people who weren’t used to the dry heat of the desert. There were pitchers of water literally everywhere—not just in the hallways around the meeting rooms, as you often see at conferences and meetings, but in the open patios and walkways and by the pools and in the seating areas. I understand the staff working outside were required to take a ten-minute break every half hour, to drink water and rest, because of the dry heat. And I listened to the recommendations of the staff, and I drank plenty of water—always had a water bottle with me, always drank a full cup of water or iced tea with my meals, and so on.

The conference was in two parts—a clergy meeting for a couple of days, and then a day of transition before the main conference began. I took that day of transition as a Sabbath, a day of rest. I slept late, went for a walk, and went to read by the pool. It was very hot that day—I don’t remember the temperature, except that it was way more than I was comfortable with! I was hot, but not sweaty—any sweat evaporated right away, the air was so dry; my mouth was parched, again from the dry air. I felt almost as dry as those dry bones of Ezekiel’s! Dry, tired, weak… As soon as I sat down by the pool, one of the staff came over with a pitcher of water for me; and she kept it filled. Nothing in my life has tasted as good as that cool water… it cooled me, it replenished me, it refreshed me. I was renewed, alive, strong again.

Ezekiel’s message to the people of Israel was just as refreshing. In his vision of the bones reconnecting, the tendons and flesh returning, clothed again in skin, and, finally, filled with the breath of the Holy Spirit, he is telling them not to despair, that God is with them still and always. They may feel lost in the desert, but God is present with them and will give them new hope and new life—and a new task. Notice that. God doesn’t just renew them—they are renewed for a purpose.
They are to return to Israel and rebuild; they are still God’s people, they still have a gift to bring the world, God is not done with them. They have been revitalized for a reason—the Spirit, the Holy Spirit gave them that new life for a purpose, that strength, so they could be God’s people.

This is what happened to Jesus’ followers on Pentecost also. Our reading from Acts tells us how they were all crowded together in that small room, praying and talking. I can imagine them gathered there, wondering what to do next. They must have felt desolate and lost, like the Israelites, in the desert, dry useless husks. Last week we talked about Jesus’ Ascension—how Jesus had given the disciples a task—to go into all the world and spread the message of God’s love for all people. And we talked about how they had praised God for that, gone to the temple and worshipped. But not everyone had been there—it seems to have been just a few people who were there and witnessed that. The others hadn’t had that experience, and didn’t know what to do now that Jesus was gone again. Remember Jesus had said the disciples were to wait in Jerusalem until the Spirit came on them—and that’s what they were doing. But the ones who hadn’t been there didn’t know what that meant—well, I’m not sure the ones who were there did either. But they were waiting—for something, they didn’t know exactly what, but something, this “power from on high” that was to empower them to go out into all the world to spread this knowledge of God’s love.

And suddenly it swept down upon them—like a wind, or flames, a great rushing—and the Holy Spirit was there amongst them. And they knew the Spirit was there because they could understand each other. Everyone heard their own language spoken, they could understand what was spoken to them, they could perceive God in the words spoken, and thus in each other. What else can the Holy Spirit be but this understanding of each other, this acknowledgement of God in others? That recognition of God in oneself and in one another, the Namaste of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost is called the birthday of the church; the day that a group of people in Palestine recognized that they were more than a group of people who were trying to follow the teachings of a wonderful rabbi and prophet—they realized they had been given a message of power and love, and they had been given the ability, shown the way, to carry that message of revitalization, of new life, to the entire world.

They could not do it on their own—that’s why they were there in Jerusalem, waiting for what Jesus Christ had promised them would enable them to do that enormous task.
The physical part was difficult—the travel, finding ways to support oneself while bringing that message—a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear. But it was doable—people did travel, and some people travelled a lot then. But what was much more difficult was the spiritual, the emotional part. How can one person tell another person that God loves them, unconditionally, completely; and that because God loves them so fully, and because God is within them, they too must love the people around them, because those people too, have God within them? How do you convey such a message?

I don’t mean what language, or is a sermon or discussion better. I mean, how can the essence, the meaning of such an enormously important message be made clear and immediate to everyone?

There are two parts to the answer. The first is, again, Namaste. By simply recognizing and acknowledging the divinity in every other person, by understanding that we are, in fact, all connected through God, we cannot help but treat everyone with respect and tolerance and understanding. Jesus said to love our neighbours as ourselves; this is what he meant. Because, in some senses, out neighbours are ourselves. Like the Beatles song says, “I am you and you are me and we are all together.” Or, if you prefer your quotes traditional flavour, John Donne said “No one is an Island, intire of itselfe; every one is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine...” That’s part one.

Part two is the language. Not, again, literally language. I think we can look at the languages as being metaphorical. Those strangers in Jerusalem each heard the language they understood. Jesus’ followers were given the gifts they needed to communicate with those visitors, and to tell them the good news. Later on, they clearly used other gifts—of speech, like Paul and Peter, or understanding, like Dorcas. But they were given gifts, and those gifts clothed those dry bones and lifted the disciples and followers out of the desert, gave them new life and revitalized them to bring that message of God’s love.
Now, to the ouchy part. Here at MCC River City, we’re in a bit of a desert too, aren't we? Income is down, our membership isn’t as high as the Fellowship would like it to be, members are getting tired and burned out… We’re not really sure, to be honest, how long we can live. We have hope—there is always hope in the Spirit, and seeing new faces, energetic faces, always helps. But the fact remains that we sometimes feel like we are dry husks, bones in the desert.

But. . .

The Spirit came down with a mighty rush of wind and flame to those disciples in Jerusalem, just as the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision were visited with the breath of God. They were covered with flesh and sinews and skin and they rose and lived! They took in the gifts of the Spirit and went out to spread the good news—God loves you!

We have gifts, too, church. Each one of us has gifts. God has given us these gifts for a purpose—to use them. I cannot tell you what your gift is—that is between you and God. It may be concrete, such as working with numbers and budgets and finances, or a musical talent. It may be more abstract, the ability to work with children, or to plan and strategize. But it is your gift, and has been given to you for a reason.
The church, our church, this church, has gifts too—as a church. This church has been clothed with the Holy Spirit to do work here in River City. We may feel like dry bones in the desert, lost and alone—but if we allow that Holy Spirit to come upon us, to work within us, both as individuals and as a church, then we will feel such a power, such a strength and renewal as River City has never seen! Open your heart, open your spirit to the incoming of the Spirit, search your soul for the gifts of Spirit which God has given you!

Let the God in each of us welcome the God in each other—every other, not simply in this room but every person—let that Namaste of the Holy Spirit fill us with the reviving flame and wind and water, bring us back to life to love and serve the God in each other!

Praise God for the Holy Spirit, that power that teaches us to love each other, to be present for each other, to recognize the divine in each of us, that all of us are of God and beloved of God—open hearts and spirits to that grace and power and love. Share those gracious gifts given to you—show the God in you to the God in others.
So may it be, Namaste.

1 comment:

revkjarla said...

I love this.
Thank you.

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