Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pentecost: In the Valley of Dry Bones

Readings for Pentecost:  Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 104; 24-34, 35b; Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
Look to the left, bones everywhere.                  

Look to the right, bones everywhere.

Bones ahead of you, bones behind you.

Bare white bones gleaming in the sun,
the life baked out of them. 

Not one drop of moisture remains.  These desiccated bones are a grim reminder of life that was.

Ezekiel stands there in the middle of this valley of dry bones, waiting expectantly for the Lord.

The children of Israel in exile know all about dry bones. 

Israel is stripped to the bones, scattered in exile.  They feel as if they are living in this valley – where life has been ripped away, where hope has vanished, where God feels absent. 

They cry out, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”[i]

They are these dry bones, waiting…

I think we understand what it’s like to be standing at the edge of the valley of dry bones.

In the ten months I’ve been here I’ve heard the laments of a community in mourning:

·        The very community, our way of life is changing;

o   Our young people leave for college and stay for jobs.  Very few will return.

o   There are empty houses where there once were families.

o   There are empty classrooms where there once was the noise of children.    

·        Our congregations are changing. 

o   I’ve heard lament on the lack of 20 and 30 and even 40 something adults active in our congregations.

o   We are aging, graying, getting slower, less able to carry on. 

o   Who will make the quilts and serve the funeral suppers?

o   Who will run the church?

·        In the past, our children have been our future, our sign of life, but now there are so few children;

o   I’ve heard the lament for children. 

o   We’re doing VBS and there are so few children that we band together to do VBS. 

o   Our Sunday school limps along. 

o   Today we would be confirming a new group of bright-eyed 8th graders, but we have none this year.

We look for new life in our dying community.

 We look for new life, new leaders, new disciples for our congregations.

 We yearn for the sounds of life – of children singing Jesus loves me; of crying in the nursery; of the bustle of Sunday school.

 I read a story last week about Aal Lutheran Church in Hillsboro, ND.[ii]  It will be celebrating its 140th anniversary on August 11th.  That is also the day that the church will have its very last worship service.  They are closing.

That’s been happening all over rural areas.  Churches are closing, or merging with other churches, or sharing pastors.  I have a colleague in western South Dakota with 4 congregations.  A friend of mine interviewed at a 7 point parish.

If we are honest with ourselves, this is where we fear our congregations are heading.

We cry out “Our bones are drying up.  Hope is hard to find. Will we survive?”

We are waiting expectantly…

We are waiting for God.

And God comes.

God meets Ezekiel in the valley of the dry bones.  And God asks one question:  “Human, can these bones live?”

“No!”  Logic, reason, the very laws of nature screams the response.  There is no way for those bones to come together.  There is no life here, just death and despair.

Yet, Ezekiel answers, “Lord, only you can know, because only you who created these and breathed life into them at the beginning can re-create and breathe life anew.”

It’s a surprising answer.  It flies in the face of all reason.  It’s just not rational. 

It’s the answer of faith.                              

It’s the answer of hope.

It’s the answer open to possibility.

It’s the answer open to God.

The bones do live. 

God speaks and they come together, bone to sinew, sinew to tendon, tendon to flesh. 

God breathes and the wind of the Spirit rushed over them, into them, Life returns.

God re-creates.  God does a new thing.

The children of Israel in exile hear God’s promise:   “I will bring you back.  I will breathe my Spirit into you once again.  You will live.”

And the Spirit hovers over the children of Israel in exile.  The Spirit moves over the land and the children are returned.  Israel lives again – but it’s not the same life, they are not the same as before.  God does something new.

The disciples are waiting expectantly for God.  They too have stood in the valley of dry bones as they listened to the thump of the stone sealing their hopes and dreams in the grave with Jesus.  And they have experienced new life - Jesus, returned from the grave, full of life – but not the same life as before. 

The disciples hear Jesus’ promise:   “I will breathe my Spirit into you.  You will live the life abundant.  You will be my witness.”

They wait expectantly…

And then…

The rush of wind brings God’s Spirit. 

The Spirit hovers, tongues of fire descend. 

The Spirit falls on them, seeps into their very being. 

They are filled. They are refreshed.  They are energized.

God is doing something new, creating life where there was none, creating community that reflects God’s love for the world. 

Creating the community of believers that did go and spread the good news to the corners of the earth, teaching and preaching and making disciples.

That very same Spirit continues to blow, as relentless as the South Dakota wind.

The Spirit has blown through the centuries, bringing renewal when needed, refreshment to parched souls, re-creation when the community of God seems lifeless.

That Spirit continues to blow today.

How may the Holy Spirit be blowing over, through and around us?  Where is Pentecost happening?  Where might God be bringing new life in this place? 

This is new life, resurrection, re-creation – a new thing.  It most likely will not be what we expect.  It may not be the way we’ve always done things before.

At Pentecost, Peter proclaims the words of 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 men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”[iii]

What are those dreams and visions that God is pouring out on us today?

I’ll admit it - I don’t know what God has in store for us, what plans God has for us.  I do know that Pentecost is coming, the Spirit is descending.  God’s kingdom will come.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Wait – dreams and visions and figuring out God’s plan – that’s what you’re here for Pastor.”  Well, yes, but… this dreaming and visioning work is not a solo act.  It’s the work of the community, some dreaming, some visioning, some prophesying, some taking those ideas and figuring out how to run with them.  It’s to the community together that God will pour out the Spirit.  The God rescued the community of children of Israel, the Spirit descended on the community waiting and praying in the upper room.

Let’s wait for the Lord together.  Let’s spend some time in prayer together.  Together let’s find out where the Spirit blows.
 Let’s see how God makes these dry bones live.

[i] Ezekiel 37:11
[iii] Acts 2:17

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