Hope amidst the dry bones - A sermon for Pentecost Sunday based on Ezekiel 37: 1-14 and Acts 2: 1-13
Sometimes countries and peoples experience disasters and calamities from which they can see no prospect of a dignified recovery. I would guess that at the moment many Tamil people feel that way after recent events in Sri Lanka. We see it also in those people who flee the land where they had hoped to live out their lives in a desperate quest to find a new home where they can repair their lives.
The people of Israel had their share of such disasters. Much of their land had been destroyed by Assyrian armies. 2,700 years ago what remained was destroyed when Babylonian armies swept down from today would be Iraq. These armies destroyed Jerusalem and devestated much of the surrounding land. A people were left with precious little hope of a political, economic or military recovery. And to make matters even worse, the invaders got hold of the movers and shakers who might have found a way ahead, and took them back to live in Bablyon far from all that they held dear.
We cannot overestimate the scale of humiliation felt by the people of Israel whther left behind or taken into exile. Our imaginations are unequal to the catastrophe. Native Indians or Kurds given their respective histories would have a greater sense of empathy with this suffering than we could ever be capable of.
Anyhow people struggled to come to terms with what had happened. One such person was Ezekiel. His writings are so vivid and disturbing that young Jews were once encouraged not to read these writings on their own. Indeed as one of my tutors used to say, Ezekiel shows all the signs of post traumatic stress syndrome.
But the vision of the valley of dried bones has to be amongst the most remarkable of scriptures. Exekiel has a vision of a scene of battle. Many of Israel's finest have been slain and even denied the decency of burial. Ezekiel sees their remains and hears a message calling on these bones to reform with flesh and tendons and so forth. But the vision suggests that they can only find life and vibrancy when the breath of God's spirit is breathed into them. Then the story becomes not so much about individuals but about the reforming of a community that belongs together. Why? Because whilst the message of God is personal, it is a message that time and again calls us into community.
Now some years later thanks to a pagan named Cyrus, those in exile began to be allowed to return. And as they began to rebuild the city, the Temple and a community that associated itself with God, Ezekiel's vision became very precious indeed.
Now let's move on a few hundred years. In Jerusalem, Jews have gathered to celebrate one of their greatest festivals, Pentecost. Pentecost has much in common with our Harvest Festivals. People brought their first fruits to God but more than that this was a time when the prosperous shared their bounty with widows, servants, poor people and even stranger in remembrance of a time when their ancestors had been dependent.
In a room were 120 followers of Jesus. They hadn't exacty covered themselves with glory a few weeks earlier when Jesus had been taken prisoner. But now they had been told of a time when they could continue the work of Jesus even to the ends of the world. Unlikely you might think but they had been promised that just this sort of unlikely outcome would be possible for they would receive the same Holy Spirit whose power they had seen at work in Jesus.
And so it was that at Pentecost, they experienced that power. And now they have a courage that would once have been unthinkable and so they go out into the streets to share the good news about Jesus and to speak of the Kingdom for which he had lived and died, the Kingdom that would bring hope to precisely the sort of people who had hitherto been the losers in society. Here was a message the the poor were precious. Here was a message that outsiders really counted. Here was a message that thos weighed down by guilt were of value for here was a kingdom that fulfilled the messages of liberation that had been scattered on God's people from the earliest of times.
And what of us? The Spirit is still at work today. The Spirit can fill us and remake us. The Spirit can guide us as to the people that we should be. And the Spirit can enable us to respond to the callings that God makes upon us.
This is the day when we celebrate the work of God continuing through us. But for that to be a reality we need to be open to the transformation offered by the Holy Spirit and a people who seek power from the Spirit in the tasks to which we are called.
Yes despair is often a reality in our lives and in our community. Yet the message of Ezekiel and of Pentecost is that it need not be the final word. For when hope is at its lowest God breathes new hope, new possibilities and the means to make them the new realities.