A Mighty Wind
On Pentecost Sunday, I admit I am a bit envious of the disciples sitting in Jerusalem waiting for something to happen.
The Holy Spirit descends, lands on their heads and they begin to preach.
These basically uneducated men from rural Galilee preach to a throng of people who not only hear the words but hear the words in their own languages.
Must have been nice.
That’s not the way it works for me.
When I felt called by God to ministry, I did not think it was a call to become a church pastor.
I believed, and still do, that I was called to teach people what God was trying to tell us through the inspired words of the Bible.
In other words, I thought I was called to lead Bible studies.
I started doing that then and I have been doing it ever since.
Ultimately, I realized my call was to ordained ministry.
Then I became a church pastor, and had to start preaching sermons.
That turned out to be a whole lot different than teaching a Bible study.
Teaching a Bible study is reading the Bible, then reading a few books that explains the meaning and context of what is being studied.
Then you talk about it.
Maybe come to some conclusions about what the passage means.
A sermon is much, much more.
A sermon is what we call the prophetic moment.
Speaking a necessary truth to people who need to hear it.
It takes a good bit of work.
The work starts with prayer.
God’s guidance is requested on what passage is to be preached.
Sometimes it’s obvious.
Sometimes you have to go to the lectionary.
Today I am preaching the Old Testament text from the lectionary, where I believe God sent me.
Then you start the research.
What was the context of the passage?
How did the people of that time hear it?
What did they understand it to mean?
Then you ask God, what do these current folks need to get from this?
What truth do they need to hear in the current circumstance?
Then you ask God, how do you want it proclaimed?
What words should I use that will be true to the context?
Then you start to write.
Then you rewrite … and rewrite … and rewrite.
All the while gaining new insight into the meaning and purpose and application of the passage to the gathered community.
Then you have to preach your well-crafted sermon.
One pastor, Rev. Marcia Sebastian, once described the process of sermon writing and preaching as giving birth to her sermons every week.
When she retired, Marcia told me she was glad to be done with it.
After all that preparation and preaching, it is tempting to ask a random sample from the congregation what they got from the sermon.
What was the message they heard?
It’s best not to do that, really.
Because God often ignores all your work and gives God’s own message to each listener which might be far different from what was preached.
You hear things like when you said such and such, it really spoke to me.
But you know you never said such and such.
And this is a good thing.
Because then you know God was in charge.
What does this have to do with Ezekiel?
Let’s hear what our text has to say.
Ezekiel 37: 1-14
37The hand of the Lord came upon me, 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. 2He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ 4Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.’
7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
11 Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.’
A sermon preached to dry bones in a pile.
A sermon so effective that the bones come back to life.
Just God’s guidance.
But pay attention to one thing.
It did not really happen.
It was a vision.
A sermon illustration that was given to Ezekiel so he could give hope to his audience.
Here is some background on Ezekiel, both the book and the prophet.
Who was this guy?
Ezekiel was an upper-class intellectual priest in Judah who was taken away to Babylon when Judah was conquered.
He was called by God in a vision to prophecy to the exiles.
Ezekiel’s words and actions been described as both eccentric and even bizarre.
If you take the time to read the Book of Ezekiel, you will see what I mean.
The book itself is long but does have two main themes.
Ezekiel first responds to the question the Judahites had been asking God since the captivity.
Why have we lost our land, our temple and our nation?
Ezekiel bluntly tells the Judahites that their misery and captivity is entirely their fault.
They have made one bad choice after another and as a result they are suffering the consequences of those bad choices.
The Babylonian captivity, according to Ezekiel, is the judgment Judah deserves.
But then we get to our scripture reading where Ezekiel’s tune changes.
Though Ezekiel has been scolding the Judahites for over 30 chapters, he now offers them hope.
That hope is depicted by that sermon illustration from God.
Ezekiel is taken to a valley of dry bones.
The bones represent the Judahites.
Unburied, unclaimed bones.
To Ezekiel and his people, this is a vision of hell.
These bones represent the people of God.
Now dead and gone.
But not so fast, God says.
God’s people would be revived.
Even though they did not deserve it.
God asks Ezekiel if he believes this can happen.
Ezekiel has no reason to believe so.
He seems to shrug his shoulders and give an evasive answer.
“Only you can answer that one, God.”
So, God says, “Do what I say and watch what happens.”
God orders Ezekiel to speak to these dry bones and to call them back to life.
He does and they do.
The dead people of God are raised, sort of.
When raised, they are – well – zombie like.
They aren’t really alive because they are not breathing.
Then God tells Ezekiel to speak to the wind.
He does and a mighty wind sweeps over the raised people and they begin to breath.
Now they are alive again.
They are restored.
Not because they deserve it, because they don’t.
God does this to demonstrate God’s power.
God has the power to restore Israel, and intend to do so.
So, what might this have to do with Pentecost?
Let’s set the stage for that.
The disciples have been with Jesus from the beginning.
John’s baptism, the healing and teaching, the passion, the resurrection, the commission and the ascension.
Now they are alone.
Their leader and messiah, Jesus, is gone.
They are idle in Jerusalem.
The disciples were similar to the zombie-like revived bones of Ezekiel’s vision.
Directionless and basically spiritually lifeless.
Maybe holding their breath.
Then the Holy Spirit showed up like the mighty wind that had brought the zombie Judahites back to life.
The Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and they became ecstatic – speaking in tongues and preaching to the masses.
These men who were lifeless became life filled.
Their illustration was not from a vision.
It was resting on their heads.
It was in the way their words were heard.
In the mighty wind.
3,000 people joined them.
And the church of Jesus Christ was born.
In 300 years that church would become world wide – well at least European wide.
The dry bones of the world brought back to life.
None of this was because anyone deserved it.
No one does.
It happened because God had the power to do it and chose to do it.
And how did this revived people respond?
According to Acts, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
And their lifestyle spoke to the world.
The dry bones of humanity were given new life.
Not because we deserved it, but because God wants it and has the power to do it.
So, what does that have to do with us here at JMPC?
It might have seemed to many that during the last 14 months, we were becoming a pile of dry bones.
A community of people who had ceased to be a community.
A scattering of people who needed to be revived and restored to that community.
How do we get our communal life back?
With the easing of recommended restrictions and the seeming control of the virus through vaccination, we can start the process of revival.
But we don’t want to be zombie-like without direction or breath.
We want to be Spirit filled.
We need to do what the early church did.
They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Here is what that might look like for us.
- Devoting ourselves to the apostles’ teaching is pretty easy.
It simply means listening to the sermons offered every Sunday either in person or watch them streamed online at your convenience.
- Devoting ourselves to the fellowship is pretty easy as well.
Fellowship can be gathering together here at the church on Sundays or in smaller groups for food or drink or games or mission and ministry work.
Fellowship can also be financial support to the community, its mission and ministry much the way we are doing it today with the planting of fruit trees and breaking bread (or pulling pork) as a community.
- Devoting ourselves to the breaking of bread includes participating in the Lord’s Supper as a reminder of the one who died so we could live.
Celebrating the sacraments together so we can remember and understand all that God has done for us.
- Devoting ourselves to prayer is easy when the prayers of the people, Lord’s Prayer and Prayer of Confession is offered in worship.
This might be the most important of our devotions.
But it is something that many struggle with on their own.
Here is one place the Holy Spirit works with us.
While we are not preaching, we are praying and we are told that the Holy Spirit does for us what the Holy Spirit did for Ezekiel and the disciples.
The Holy Spirit give us the right words.
That is what Paul talks about in Romans:
Romans 8: 26-27
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We might not know what to pray, but the Holy Spirit understands our groans and translates them into prayers that the will of God answers.
And when we do these things, we will be God’s people.
People inspired by the Holy Spirit.
People with life.
Because God wants it, has the power to do it, and has done it.
Now I don’t know what it is you actually heard, but I hope it is life giving and spirit filled.
And for whatever it was, thanks be to God.