Today is Pentecost. 50 days after Easter. The day of the Holy Spirit. The day that makes Presbyterians a little nervous.
“God’s Frozen Chosen’s” acknowledge Pentecost. We believe in it. We believe in the Sovereignty of God in all things as long as we get to “supervise” it so that everything is done decently and in order!
Yet Pentecost is illustrative of the fact that God is sovereign. God is in control. God will do whatever God wants to do. And we have no say in it. For as scripture declares, ‘the Spirit blows where the Spirit will blow.” And that makes many of us nervous.
The routine scripture for today is Acts, chapter 2, where people from all kinds of nations - - 13 are listed - - begin to speak in tongues and everyone there can easily understand what is being said - - in their own language! It was truly a miracle. It was Pentecost - - the miracle of Christianity.
Instead of choosing the “normal” passage today for us, I chose instead the Valley of the Dry Bones passage from Ezekiel 37. It is familiar to many of us. But it flies in the face of all that is decent, orderly, normal, acceptable practices. Yet I think the passage really preaches itself and gives us a clue to the Holy Spirit, to God working in our lives, and to the possibility of an entirely new life!
So, let’s look at the Dry Bones! A little historic context - - out of what context did this story arise? The Israelite people had been conquered by Babylon. The leadership and many of the citizens had been exiled into Babylon. They were in charge in Israel. They were not in charge in Babylon. They were lost. They were lonely. They were homeless and destitute. Those who had leadership power and ability in Israel were suddenly slaves, government workers, lonely and lowly of state. They were without a home.
For some reason the whole immigration issue of our day parallels the Israelite exile. You and I have no clue what it is like to live in a country under brutal dictatorship and decide to flee to a new place. Leaving Africa and going in rickety boats crossing the Mediterranean Sea for a new hope and new land. Paying people to escape you from central America through Mexico to America only to be met with resistance about entering. Living in the United States these days as one without appropriate papers and wondering when the knock on the door will come and ICE officials will take us away.
It has to be nerve wracking for immigrants in the US or in Europe or wherever they land. They are like dry bones. They exist, but do they live? They survive but can they breathe? They walk in the shadows but can they come into the sunlight?
And before we quickly decide that Ezekiel’s story is only for you about exiles of whole peoples, it is also about individuals and families.
You lost your job, the mortgage is past due, there is not enough food and you are too proud to go for food stamps, and depression sets in to control you.
Or your wonderful marriage suddenly dives and crashes. It came out of the blue, you did not see it coming. And that perfect life is now dead and lifeless. Dusty bones.
Your children who you are proud as punch over begin to separate themselves from you. They get in the wrong crowd and begin to do things they have never done before. They no longer talk to you and the relationship feels dead.
These dry bones in Ezekiel’s Valley are both corporate as well as individual. It affects all of us. And if we refuse to acknowledge it in our lives, we have our head in the sand. It is real. It is life. It is normal.
Personally, it hit me last fall. The person I was dating decided it was over and dropped me. I turned 69 and realized it was going to die one day! I was talking about retirement and had no clue or no picture of what that might look like or be. I could not sleep. Could not concentrate. Was very dry bones. Not unlike Israel and the people Ezekiel encountered!
I did not think about this passage then, but it makes a great deal of sense now about how to deal with dry bones. Let’s see what we can see. The story is a great one and has some clues for me about the issue of dryness in our lives.
FIRST, verse 17, “…and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley, it was full of bones.”
Note that Ezekiel did not just show up one day. It was God’s Spirit that led him to the Valley. It was God’s Spirit that brooded over creation and called it good. It was God’s Spirit that led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. God’s Spirit.
Couple of things: God’s Spirit does not avoid the bad parts of life. God’s Spirit does not leave. God’s Spirit goes with us everywhere - - we are never alone.
The beauty in this part of the passage is that God calls us to face up to things in order to deal with them. Yet, we are avoiders. We deny anything is wrong. We ignore the crisis and hope it will go away. We pretend reality is unreal.
It happens at work, in your marriage, in the church. One experience I have had repeatedly in this job over the years is how much clergy avoid conflict. How much church members avoid conflict. We ignore it and are surprised when it blows wide open…people’s feelings are hurt, people leave the church, people never speak again and carry the grudge for years!
Life is not always pleasant. Yet our faith realizes that and invites us to face it. In fact, God’s Spirit leads us to the dry bones. God’s Spirit walks with us. God’s Spirit is our companion. For until we stop and face the reality, we are dry bones…dusty, weak, deadly bones.
SECONDLY, follow God’s commands leads to new life. The passage is it this way: Verse 7: “…and I prophesied suddenly, there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.”
Again, we net nervous about prophesy. It is not a hallmark of the Presbyterian Church. Yet is seems to me that we are being called to follow God’s commands, God’s direction, God’s will. Following God’s will may take numerous paths and all kinds of routes and detours. All kinds of people might intervene with us. All kinds of advice might be given. All kinds of roadblocks might arise. It might be a trial and error experience. Yet, being open to God’s will equips us to discern that will. It enables us to begin to put the pieces together, bone to bone, flesh to flesh.
I said earlier that we cannot control God’s Spirit. It blows where it will blow. And for me that means there might be a situation or a person or an event that happens in my life that helps these dry bones being to live and begin to rattle around again. Don’t be surprised of how God work in mysterious ways.
But this second step is you and I being open to God and following God’s will. It really is the spiritual dimension of our question. Where we finally declare I cannot do it alone and desire God’s will and way. It is life giving and life fulfilling.
God accompanies us to the valley.
God’s command to us is to be open to God’s will.
FINALLY, the promise of God is put God’s Spirit in each of us.
We are lifeless without God’s Spirit. And God promises to put that Spirit within us. Hence the real message of Pentecost. The real message of what life is all about: God’s Spirit. The real reason we get up every day: to live out of God’s Spirit. The real purpose for which I exist and live: God’s Spirit.
Our promise is God being with us. It should not be scary and other worldly. It is what we live out daily. And here at the Chester Church, you see it over and over. You are God’s Spirit at work in your mission priorities, in people who battle cancer with determination, in broken relationships that are healed, in baptizing babies on their start of the Christian faith, in your fellowship and relationships with one another, in confirming young people today in their discipleship of Jesus Christ. Just imagine if it did not exist - - dry, dead bones - - but it does exist and you live in the benefits and blessings of God’s Spirit. Enjoy it, share it, be fulfilled. We praise our God forever. Pentecost is not so bad after all!