The Breeze Remains
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; May 20, 2018
Day of Pentecost
Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts 2:1-21
For weeks I’ve been searching for a guest speaker to deliver our Pentecost message. Neither Peter, Paul, nor Mary was available. However, Joanna, a witness to the resurrection mentioned in the Gospel of Luke, has accepted the invitation to come and share her story.
<Put on head covering>
Shalom and thank you for allowing me to be with you this morning—crossing time, space, culture, and all that implies. Oh, do I have a story to tell you—a story of wind and spirit and hope! Where shall I begin? How about long, long, ago, sitting at the feet of my father. As a little Jewish girl, I adored my father. So did everyone else because my father was a great storyteller. He had a love for our Hebrew Scripture and he had a dramatic flair that could make the old stories come to life. I think, tucked away in his heart, he had every tale of our people. Although I loved all the stories, nothing held my attention like Yahweh directing Ezekiel to prophecy to the dry bones.
A little background is in order. This story is set at a time when disaster had fallen on Israel. Because of the unfaithfulness of my people, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. The traumatized survivors, who witnessed the massacre of loved ones, were taken into captivity. Ezekiel was among them. In Babylon, Ezekiel the priest became Ezekiel the prophet to the exiles. The people were dejected. They had lost all hope. The Temple, the home of the Presence of God had been destroyed. What of the spiritual life now?
In retrospect, the truth is my ancestors had developed a pattern in their behavior toward God. In times of desperation, they cried out to God and God heard them and came to their assistance. For a while, my people worshiped God and obeyed God, but after a while, they forgot God’s goodness and God’s laws and returned to their own stubborn ways. Essentially, they thought they could handle God, manage God, call upon God like a genie in a bottle and all their wishes would come true. But Yahweh would have none of it. The destruction of the nation, the city, the Temple—well, it was inevitable.
It is into this dark, hopeless place that God sent Ezekiel, setting him down into a valley of dry bones. My father would tell this story with such energy and enthusiasm. I can hear his voice even now:
Our people had given up saying, “All is lost. We are dead.” But Yahweh was not finished with Israel. God said, “No! There is still hope.” Then Yahweh provided a demonstration. He put Ezekiel down in the valley of dry bones and God said to Ezekiel, “Prophecy to these bones, and say to them: ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God…I will cause flesh to come upon you…cover you with skin…put breath in you and you shall live.’ Ezekiel prophesied and suddenly the bones began to rattle and the bones began to shake—clickety-clack—as if finding a long, lost friend, they came together, bone to bone. Then tendons appeared, and muscle and then skin that wrapped it all up, just so. Again, God spoke, telling Ezekiel to prophecy to the breath and say, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these…that they might live.” Ezekiel did as he was told and the breath, the wind, the spirit, the ruah came upon them and they lived and they stood at attention.
What a wondrous scene—a prophecy and a promise of things to come for the people of Israel—for the people of God. To be sure, all hope was not lost. I remember my father saying that in another place Ezekiel spoke these prophetic words of God: “A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you…and you shall be my people and I shall be your God.”[i]
I grew up hearing stories like these but how could I know that they would one day become my story and that I would witness their fulfillment when God’s holiness came to dwell among mere mortals? From the first time I saw Jesus, hope began to grow in my heart. I watched Jesus change lives, heal the sick, feed the hungry, work miracle after miracle. He walked the streets of Galilee and Nazareth and Jerusalem. Everywhere he went people flocked to him. People began to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the dry bones of God’s people might rise again. However, many could not accept this humble king of kings. They wanted another kind of ruler—one who would give power to the powerless with a shield and a sword. But Jesus refused to bow to their limited understanding. Jesus had another plan—a plan for all people—a plan provided by his Abba Father. Looking back, it was inevitable that Jesus, the humble Son of God, would be silenced. The rulers of the world were not ready for his message. Would they ever be?
I was there. I saw my Savior hanging on a cross and, like everyone around me, I thought it was the end. But God had other plans. God—who will not be managed—managed to breathe life into his Son once more. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? A new day dawned when on that morning, I, along with Mary Magdalene and other women arrived at the tomb to find it empty. Empty! And then Jesus appeared—alive and well. He walked among his followers and spent time with us. But soon, too soon, he told us he must return to his Abba Father’s side.
Beforehand, he gave us instructions to wait to be clothed with power from on high. Even though we didn’t really know what he meant—we waited. Once Jesus ascended into heaven, there was some business to take care of. Matthias was chosen to replace Judas, and the disciples—representing the tribes of Israel—once more numbered 12.
Before we knew it, the Jewish festival of Pentecost was upon us. In our tradition, on Pentecost we remembered the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai so there were people from every land wandering throughout the city. Those of us who were followers of Jesus were all together in one place. Then, suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind. And the wind, the spirit, the ruah ripped through the house. Divided tongues like flames of fire rested upon each one of us. We were glowing with the Spirit of God and we began to speak in languages we did not know! It was like a roll call of nations that symbolized how God’s Spirit would be for the whole world.[ii]
Devout Jews heard the commotion and came to investigate. In their own language, they heard the gospel message of God’s wonder-working power. They were amazed. They were perplexed. Some even claimed: “They’re drunk, that’s what this is!” But it wasn’t true. Oh, we were drunk, all right, but not on wine from the earth’s bounty. We were drunk from the heavenly wind that swept through us, giving life to dry, weary bones.
Peter jumped up, raised his voice, and proclaimed to the people gathered around that this was nothing less than the fulfillment of the prophecy spoken long ago from the lips 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…Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
The Holy Spirit rushed in and changed everything. The Temple of the Lord now came to dwell in the heart of every believer—man, woman, child. No more class, race, or gender distinctions! Radical equality in the making! The church was born! What a day of celebration!
There are those who criticize the church today, saying that if the church was obedient to the will of God, every day would be like that day. But it isn’t so. The Spirit moved and changed the world with thousands added to our number. It was the beginning of God’s presence in the world in a new way. But God is still present, and God’s good work will continue through the church until Christ returns in all his glory. These days, the wind may not be so thunderous, so earth shaking, but the breeze of the Spirit remains.
Churches, small and large alike, can still impact their communities and their world for Christ. Some people have given up hope saying that churches are no more than dry bones. It isn’t so! Here in this church and in churches throughout the world, faithful people continue to work on behalf of God’s kingdom. It’s what you do with every prayer, with every act of kindness, with every act of love. Every time you share with someone what a difference God has made in your life, you proclaim the salvation story again.
The church must continue thinking wondrous thoughts and dreaming marvelous dreams. God is a nudging, urging, moving, creating God. To what new work might God be calling your church? To what new work might God be calling you? Watch for it. Wait for it. And when you feel the Spirit move—have courage and ride the wind wherever it leads. You never know! Those old bones may begin to rattle and those old bones may begin to shake and the four winds may blow and the breath, the spirit, the ruah may give you new words to say and new works to do that prove to this old world—the Temple of the Lord has come to dwell in the heart of every believer! Hallelujah! Amen!
[i] Ezekiel 36:26, 28, NRSV.
[ii] Feasting on the Word, 4.
*Cover Art © Stushie Art; used with subscription