Pentecost Sunday, May 24, 2015
Imagine if THIS Memorial Day, Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones coming to life came true! Imagine that tomorrow as you go out to visit great-aunt Betty and great-grandpa John’s graves , you see a vast multitude of loved ones long gone coming up out of their graves, alive! Wow, what a Memorial Day that would be! Imagine how the local media might tell the tale – “Forest Lawn Cemetery experiences zombie apocalypse?” “After 200 years, long-lost loved ones reunited?” It would certainly be a day to remember!
Part of the mystery of faith is reading these ancient sacred texts, realizing how “out there” they are, and yet still being able to trust that the Holy Spirit can do amazing things, breaking the laws of nature and physics and even defeating death itself. Just think how amazing Ezekiel’s vision is: he makes it clear that those bones are dry, VERY dry. They’re deader than a doornail, we might say – bone dry, in the final stages of decay. No way would anyone expect those bones to come alive. And yet God’s spirit puts sinews, flesh, and breath into them, and they live. The problem is, we have a very hard time believing that it’s true – that God can work in powerful, mysterious ways even now, even if we DON’T experience a zombie apocalypse at the cemetery tomorrow.
This weekend, I remember loved ones who I still dearly miss, even though some have been gone a long time. I would love it if Ezekiel’s vision would come true tomorrow – that I would be able to see my grandma, and my childhood pastor, and parishioners I buried once again – but I’m pretty sure I won’t – at least not in this lifetime. I think it is important to realize that when Ezekiel looks at those bones in the valley, they aren’t just any old bones – they are bones of his ancestors – bones of people he’s loved, too. He is struck with grief and sadness and trying to cope with a huge loss. What he sees in a way reflects how he feels inside – dry, empty, lifeless, without hope.
I am aware that for many of you, tomorrow is not just a free government holiday and a nice long weekend, but also a time to remember and honor loved ones. Especially if it is a recent loss, this weekend can be a difficult one for people. We might feel sad, disappointed, or even hopeless. Then there are the times in our lives where we feel spiritually dry and empty. We try to think with our heads that God is there, but it really seems like God is absent – we have trouble seeing God at work in our lives, and we wonder if God truly cares about us at all. Like the people of Israel, we say to God, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” We think occasionally to ourselves, “I should really pray more regularly, or go to church, or read the Bible,” but then another little voice says, “Ah, what’s the point?” We feel like this empty balloon – deflated, a lack of energy, and not very inspired.
I think we sometimes are reluctant to talk about the Holy Spirit much because like those times when we feel like God is absent, the Holy Spirit is that elusive Presence of God that we can’t always see. It’s hard to put our finger on exactly what the Holy Spirit is. As we hear in the scriptures today, the Spirit is a breath, a tongue of fire, a voice from God. The Spirit also apparently does some wild things, our readings remind us today – people might think we’re drunk, or we might see dead people walking around…we might have strange dreams and visions when the Holy Spirit intervenes in our lives! This day of Pentecost reminds us that we need God’s Holy Spirit ESPECIALLY when we are feeling down, empty, and hopeless. God gives us an amazing promise this morning. When we are in the same spot that Ezekiel’s in – down in a valley, spiritually dried up, lost and hopeless, God says, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live!” God doesn’t give up on us, but comes to us in our spiritual dryness and despair to breath new life into us so that we can live.
The Holy Spirit is God the life-giver, first and foremost. The Holy Spirit is literally a breath of fresh air for our spiritual lives, an INSPIRation for us when we are feeling exactly the opposite. I love how the prophet Joel describes it, as Peter reminds the early church in the book of Acts: “your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams.” The Holy Spirit gives life to those of us at every age so that we can be future-oriented dreamers and visionaries, people of God who KNOW that God gives us a hope and a future, even if we ourselves might not live to see it. For our church, the Holy Spirit gives us dreams and vision for a better, brighter future – different perhaps than our past, but a future that brings hope that the church as God’s gathered people will live on!
Think back to the balloon exercise we did this morning. Think about what the Spirit is able to do when God breathes new life into us. We become open to God leading us in surprising directions. We become joyful and full. And when we celebrate the Spirit’s work in us together, it’s quite an awesome sight to see. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this? May you go out today filled by the Spirit – inspired, joyful, and ready for the future. Amen.