Sermon for May 23rd

First Reading Ezekiel 37:1-14

Second Reading Acts 2:1-21

Gospel Reading John 15:26-27 and 16:4b-15

Sermon “That Same Wind Still Blows”

This morning we are celebrating Pentecost – 50 days after Passover. It was and is one of the 3 major feasts in the Jewish year; a time when many traveled great distances to be in Jerusalem to celebrate this feast which begins the harvest season. But for us, it is the day that marks the birthday of the Christian church. The reading from Acts tells us the story. The small group of believers had been waiting together in expectation for the last 10 days, ever since Jesus had returned to his heavenly father.

As we heard from the Gospel reading this morning, Jesus had promised them that he would send them the Holy Spirit, which he called the Counselor and the Spirit of Truth. The Holy Spirit has many roles. One is to activate the conscience so that we can understand our need of a Savior, a need which can only be met in Jesus Christ. The Spirit is also the teacher of the believer, “guiding us into all truth” as John’s Gospel says. The Spirit is the reliable voice of God in a believer’s life. This is what Jesus had described to them and it is what they were waiting for. The Spirit is also the energizing spiritual force the empowers us and sends us out into the world in Jesus’ name.

Now, at last, the time has come and the Spirit breaks into the world in a dramatic way – With the sound of a mighty wind, the appearance of tongues of flame, the ability to speak in other languages and the gift of understanding. The sound of the wind was heard generally by the people who had gathered in Jerusalem from all over for the feast. The amazing thing is that as the disciples began to speak, each of those gathered in that crowd heard in their own language. The Spirit’s role as interpreter and teacher was in full display because the message was not a garbled mass of a dozen languages run together in an unintelligible roar, but rather each one heard their own tongue. Perhaps this was the greatest miracle of all – that gift of understanding.

It is a wonderful blessing to be able to understand the gospel message in our own tongue. We have never heard it otherwise, but consider what it was like to those present from much of the known world that first Pentecost day. The list of places mentioned in the Acts text goes clear around the points of the compass. Folks were there in Jerusalem from Egypt, Libya, Rome, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Arabia; well those are the modern names for those places anyway – they are much easier to pronounce! See there is that language thing again. Let me demonstrate the value of understanding language by doing the opposite. For instance, if I said – “Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem; Creatorem coeli et terrae.” How many of you would understand? If on the other hand I had said –

“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” There are not nearly as many confused looks. Now you understand the words as the first line of the Apostles creed that we say most every week in this place. You understand English much better than Latin.

Now then, understanding the words and understanding the message are two different things and understanding the importance of the moment is yet another. The significance of the moment is the first thing that Peter addresses. This outpouring of languages and understanding is not the result of alcohol as some cynics had apparently said, rather they were privileged to be at the moment in time prophesied by Joel. A time when the Spirit of God would be unleashed on ALL people. Listen again to those words quoted from hundreds of years before:

[17] “ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. [18] Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

Note carefully what it says: All people: Sons, daughters, young men, old men, men and women – the Spirit is bestowed on all who will accept it. All are to become prophets and visionaries. Witnessing to God’s truth by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is what we are celebrating today. That is the power that enabled a small group of disciples huddled together in one place to go out and change the world in the name of Jesus Christ. So what about now?… has the storm died down? Has that powerful wind gone calm? Perhaps it seems like it. Perhaps you have seen some studies showing the decline of the church. Studies saying that the old institutions of Christianity are fading away. Many are, but there are also signs that God is doing new things as well.

There have certainly been times like this in the past and much worse in fact. Take the circumstances of Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones from our first reading this morning. It came to the prophet during a discouraging time – far far worse than the most pessimistic studies of today. In Ezekiel’s time the nation of Israel was no more. The Assyrian’s had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel years before and then the Babylonians had come and carried most of the southern nation of Judah off into captivity as well including Ezekiel. It was from there in Babylon that he had a series of visions – including this one:

Ezekiel 37:1-3 NIV

[1] The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. [2] He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. [3] He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know. ”

You see, Ezekiel had almost lost hope. Those bones were VERY dry. What is to be done with dry, lifeless bones? What can be done? Only God knows. Listen to what happens next in his vision:Ezekiel 37:4-6 NIV

[4] Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! [5] This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. [6] I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord. ‘ ”

There it is – the power of the word of the Lord. It is the agency of the the Holy Spirit – to give life and hope where is seems so unlikely. Listen to how the vision ends and the meaning that God assigns to it:

Ezekiel 37:7-14 NIV

[7] So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. [8] I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. [9] Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” [10] So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. [11] Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ [12] Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. [13] Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. [14] I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord. ‘ ”

As unlikely as was Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones returning to life, he watched it happen and so too was Israel restored. How did it happen? God did it. Just as unlikely was a small timid group of disciples to go out and witness bravely to all the nations of the known world and so the kingdom of God began to blossom. How did it happen? The Spirit of God has shown itself to be a mighty wind indeed.

But what about now? In our day and age… has the storm died down? We understand the words and the message. No divine miracle of language and understanding is required. But yet, something is missing. Has that powerful wind gone calm? What about those young and old prophets and visionaries that Joel was talking about? Where are they around here? What about those Spirit filled disciples witnessing of the truth of God’s grace and love to the very ends of a lost and hurting world? All finished? No work left to be done? I think not.

So I think we have some praying to do. That powerful wind still blows for any who will seek it and pay attention to it. But be aware that God frequently moves in directions we have not been looking for, including those individuals and groups we do not expect. Pentecost is not a memorial occasion remembering God’s deeds of long ago. It is a celebration of the continuing work of the Holy Spirit among his people. Let us pray that the Spirit breathes vibrant life into us as well – remembering that the gifts of God are given to be shared and to enable us to serve. There are good solid bones around here. Come Holy Spirit, these bones have work to do!