Saturday, May 23, 2015

Pentecost, Year B

We Haven’t Even Gotten Up to Bat!

Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 104:25-35; Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Ezekiel had a dream. In the Spirit, God lead him to a valley filled with the bones of dead soldiers slain in battle against the Chaldeans.

“Can these bones live?” God asked him. On that battlefield lay all the hopes and dreams of a nation. How could Ezekiel see anything there but disaster and defeat? The situation was hopeless. “Prophesy to them!” God continues.

“What sense is there in that?” Ezekiel may well have thought. Yet even though it doesn’t make sense, God calls him to take a risk.

“I will breathe life into them,” God promises. And Ezekiel prophesies to the bones. Bone by bone, those dry lifeless bones take on sinew, and flesh.

What a vision of hope it is! And the miraculous thing about it is that the nation of Israel did indeed rise up from that terrible defeat. Life was breathed back into that community. It lived and prospered.

Not forever, for Israel was again defeated, the next time by the Maccabees. That is where the story begins to intersect with our Christian story. Who could have prophesied that Ezekiel’s vision of life into dry bones would once again be fulfilled with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? For with that outpouring came, not only the hope of a nation, but also the hope of salvation for all nations, the Christian hope that exceeds all we can ask or imagine. That breath of life poured out at Pentecost is the source of hope in human experience. It renews us. It assures us of God’s presence with us.

I suspect that to truly experience that Pentecostal sense of renewal and life we need to become aware of the dry bones of our existence. We need, not only to be aware of them, but also come to have a true sense of hope.

G. K. Chesterton writes: “Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all. As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.

For us, living in a country of wealth and prosperity, it can so easily become exactly that, a mere platitude. To hear how often we use the word ‘hope’ one would think that we are the most hopeful of people. I hope you have a wonderful trip! I hope your examination goes well. I hope to see you soon. I hope you have a good day at school. For the most part it is easy for us to offer messages of hope. We live lives that, on the whole, produce hopeful people. We have expectations and desires for those we love, for our children. We hope for the best for them. And very possibly what we hope for will happen.

Contrast that, on the other hand, with what we see in the newspaper about other parts of the world. There are pictures sometimes that haunt, that we cannot get out of our minds. Think back to the pictures coming out of Nepal following the recent earthquake. People searching through the rubble for signs of life, searching through what used to be their homes for shreds of their lives, people running to the hospital with a stretcher, a look of horror and hopelessness on their faces. Such pictures cannot help but move us. They are not unlike Ezekiel’s dream, but there is no hope. There is instead a nation without hope.

It is difficult to understand when one views the horrible situations that go on in the world, why anyone in our country would lose hope. But so many people are without it. Hurt by life, in pain, suffering, lonely, disillusioned. Hurt that things have not happened as they had expected. Unable to cope with life's losses.

We hear that sense of hopelessness within the church. The church is in a state of decline. Ours is fast becoming a secular society where many have no faith at all. We mourn the church that used to be. Sunday Schools filled to overflowing with children! We mourn the time when Sunday meant going to church. It is so easy to lose hope.

Back to Scripture! "It is for your own good that I am leaving," Jesus tells his disciples. I am certain you have heard such words throughout your own lives. “It’s for your own good that you are being punished!” “It’s for your own good that you cannot go out with your friends on a school night!” “It is for your own good that we are splitting up!” I suspect that such messages in your lives did not exactly fill you with hope and confidence.

I can hear their response because God knows it has been my response. "How can it be? How can our lives possibly be better without you here with us?”

How wonderful it had been to have Jesus back. It had given them strength to face the days of persecution and terror. Just being in his presence again had given them such hope for the future. Without him the days would be bleak, lonely, hopeless. The very thought of being without him again filled them with sorrow! To lose him once had been bad enough. Now to lose him for the second time!

The fact is that what Jesus began the disciples were left behind to continue. But he left them with a promise. A promise that they would be fully equipped to do the job they were meant to do. The Spirit would empower them to continue. That was their great hope. And that is the hope that continues for us in all the situations of our lives.

If last week was about loss and promise, then this Feast of Pentecost is about fulfillment of that promise. Yet I know that in this parish on this Day of Pentecost you may not be feeling that sense of hope, that sense of fulfillment. Over the past few weeks this congregation has once again become very much aware of the dry bones of your existence. You may be feeling that same sense of loss, of hopelessness, for even in faithful communities like this wonderful, vibrant parish, you struggle to keep your doors open. It can sap you of energy. It can leave you with a sense of futility and hopelessness.

In all of our lives there are times like that when all we can do is wait and hold on to the wonderful promise of God. But hopefully sooner than later we will come to realize that we have a unique contribution to make, and the opportunity to do so.

On Pentecost, we celebrate the birthday of a church that is more than two thousand years old. And that is not just hopeful. It is amazing. An itinerant preacher and a ragged band of uneducated followers birthed a community of believers that continues through us.

Pentecost is a coming of age for us as it was for the disciples. It is a fulfillment of God’s promise to be with us, to be at work in our lives. A fire is loosed into the world. It is not always obvious how it works in our lives. But the Spirit is there. The fire in us waits to reveal itself. We become vehicles and channels of God's grace. We become the visible Christ in the world. We carry on the work. The Spirit brings about change and growth in our lives, often in ways that we could not have predicted.

A man was watching a little league baseball game one afternoon. He asked a boy in the dugout what the score was. The boy responded, "Eighteen to nothing! We’re behind."

"Boy," said the spectator, "I'll bet you're discouraged."

"Why should I be discouraged?" replied the little boy. "We haven't even gotten up to bat yet!"

So I challenge you today not to be discouraged. You haven’t even gotten up to bat. Today we celebrate God's Holy Spirit that gives hope to all of creation. The same Spirit that caused breath to enter the dry bones in Ezekiel's dream. That caused them to live. What an exciting vision that is. We, its members, can bring the Church back to life. It may look very different. Even at this moment God may be leading us in new and exciting directions.

I have no doubt that God will restore us to life and truth and joy and purposefulness through the Holy Spirit. We will be restored to the love and grace of God, given peace and joy, purpose and meaning and above all, hope. May God continue to breathe upon us with that holy fire! Amen.

The Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Come and See Readings: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42 Invitations come in many shapes and sizes. They ...