Pentecost in a Graveyard

Ezekiel 37:11-14; Acts 2:1-12 / May 24, 2015
Susan Boyer

As most of you know, I love Pentecost.  It is the Sunday when we can pull out the stops and sing Now Let the Fire of Heaven Come Down and Total Praise.  But that first Pentecost wasn’t just joy upon joy like we celebrate it here.  It wasn’t one mountaintop experience after another.   Jesus had ascended and the followers of Jesus were floundering.  They were trying to find their footing without Jesus’ presence.  What next?  What should they do?  They spent most of their time together indoors…hiding.  They were busying themselves with the work of an organization, like whom should they choose to fill Judas’ slot on the Stewardship and Finance Commission, but really they were afraid.  They were spending time together and they bolstering each other up because they didn’t really know what to do next.  It is easier to do the busy work of church than it is to be the church alive in the world.  That is when the Spirit blew in and pushed them outside and onto the streets where they had a message of hope and life to deliver.

Every year on Pentecost we hear that scripture from Acts 2, so this year I add the scripture from Ezekiel.  In my mind it is another Pentecost story.  You know, that amazing scene where God takes Ezekiel and sets him down in a valley filled with dry bones and tells him that this is his new preaching appointment….this place of death…in this graveyard of bones so old and bleached you can almost taste the dust.

When I was a girl my father’s hobby was rocks.  He had a book on where to find certain rocks.  Many of the locations required long drives or long hikes down dusty trails.  We spent our vacations hunched over looking for precious stones among the pebbles.   When we went to Colorado we looked for Apache tears.  When we went through Utah we hunted topaz.  When we went to Michigan we spent our time searching for Lake Superior Agates and Petoskey stones.

I remember one trip when my dad was determined to find some prairie agates.  He had a book that pointed out a certain rise in the middle of nowhere.  He parked the car on the side of the highway.  We carefully made our way past a barbed wire fence and started hiking up a hill.  We came upon the skeleton of a dead cow.  It had obviously been out there for a very, long time.  There were no ligaments or muscles or skin anywhere.  It was just the bleached skeleton.  It didn’t smell horrible.  It also didn’t smell good.  It smelled like old death.  My father went off in search of prairie agates but my mother stayed next to the cow skeleton figuring out how to extract the teeth to use for a children’s story. (I’m still living through the traumas of my childhood.)

God airlifted Ezekiel into a valley full of bones like that cow skeleton, dried and bleached by the sun after years of decay.  He chose Ezekiel because he was fearless.  He was willing to tell people the truth.  He was willing to prophecy bad news.  He didn’t run screaming from the bizarre visions God gave him.  He was also willing to speak a hopeful word to those who needed it most.  Ezekiel was a priest.  He had been serving the temple in Jerusalem when the Babylonians attacked Israel. The Babylonians wiped out the entire Israelite army.  Their bodies were left sprawled in the desert sands.  The temple was destroyed.  The capital city was left in ruins.  The Israelites were taken as prisoners and dragged back to Babylonia. This was the lowest point of their history.  They were captives.  They were taken from their homes.  They had all lost family members. They spent their days lamenting, “God has abandoned us.  We are like the dry bones of our warriors.  We have lost all hope.”

It was to that scene of hopelessness that God took Ezekiel.   If you have never read the Book of Ezekiel, let me warn you, it is a dark book.  I read this week that for a time Jewish rabbis forbid men under 30 to read this book for fear that it would leave them prejudiced against the rest of scripture.  In fact, tradition says that Ezekiel was put to death by his fellow captives for his constant haranguing of them and his hope in the midst of their hopelessness.

In this valley of dry bones….this valley where it seems impossible to grab hold of life and faith and hope….in this lonely and desolate place God asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” One look around makes the answer plain.  Of course, these bones can’t live.  But Ezekiel chooses a more diplomatic response, “Only you know the answer to that question, God.”

We’ve all been to the valley of dry bones.  We all know that place where life dealt us a blow and we can’t figure out how God could let it happen.

Maybe you had a relationship end…a relationship in which you pinned your dreams for the future.

We’ve all been to the valley of dry bones.

Maybe your child became sick and the doctors told you there was no treatment option.

We’ve all been to the valley of dry bones.

Maybe your body gave out on you, you couldn’t work anymore and now every step is an act of pure will.

We’ve all been to the valley of dry bones.

Maybe your family or your employers rejected you when you came out to them.

We’ve all been to the valley of dry bones.

Maybe you got underwater on your house and no matter what you have tried you can’t catch up and make it right again.

We’ve all been to the valley of dry bones.

Maybe your family is dysfunctional and it doesn’t matter what you do, it won’t make it better because they are still who they are.

We’ve all been to the valley of dry bones.

Maybe your parents are living with you and they no longer recognize you.

We’ve all been to the valley of dry bones.

Maybe you are living with depression and the world feels flavorless, bleached out, hopeless.

We’ve all been to the valley of dry bones.

We’ve all be in the valley of dry bones.  It is a place of danger.  When we are in the valley of dry bones we are in danger of giving up.  We are in danger of making accommodations that will make us hate ourselves later.  We are in danger of hopelessness.  We are in danger of losing our faith.

I read a blog this week in which a pastor described confessing to her husband that she might be losing her faith.  He was silent for a long time.  She wasn’t sure if he was shocked or trying to come up with just the right compassionate words.  When he finally spoke he said, “Do you think you can claim disability?”

We’ve all been in the valley of dry bones, where we are dried up, bleached out, scattered…and frightened.  Ezekiel stands in that valley of hopelessness, with the taste of dust on his lips and God says to him, “I want you to preach here.  I want you to tell these old, dead, dried up and disintegrating bones that I am about to do a new thing with them. I am going to knit them together and recreate a new body of life and hope and goodness.  I will blow my Spirit into them and they will rise up and dance again.  It will be Pentecost.”

God invites Ezekiel to imagine a world other than the one that is right in front of him.  God asks Ezekiel to hope.  God asks Ezekiel to believe.  God asks Ezekiel to hear music in the air.  God asks Ezekiel to take his message to the streets.

God doesn’t say, “Watch me.  I’m going to knit these bones back together and restore the tendons and then add the skin and then finally give my spirit as breath.  And when these bodies are fully functioning, living beings again, then I want you to preach.”  No.  God says, “Prophesy and then see what happens.”

God wanted Ezekiel to invest in the vision of new life and hope.  God drags Ezekiel to the place of greatest need and says, “Here.  Prophesy here.”

So Ezekiel stands and begins to preach.  He says, “O dry bones, I have a ridiculous hope for you.  You are going to live again. God is going to give you God’s spirit…Ruah…breath.  God will not leave you for dead.  God is going to restore you and your dreams.”  And that is when Ezekiel heard a faint rattle as the first bones heard his message.  “O dry bones, you are going to live.  Believe in what you cannot yet see.”  More rattling and soon in front of Ezekiel stood a multitude of hopeful, living people….restored to life….restored to community…restored to faith.

It is Pentecost and there are some valleys of dry bones in our lives and in our world.  God is saying, “Here.  Be the church here.  Preach to these dry bones.  Believe in what you cannot yet see for the world is dying for us believe that God is not done.”

Can Pentecost happen in a graveyard?  Absolutely.  In fact, it is the best place.  God’s spirit breaks in most clearly in the wilderness…in the dry places…into our hopelessness.

Can these bones live?  Yes!  Believe that your discarded dreams can rise again.

Can these bones live?  Yes!  For hope is a revolutionary act.

Can these bones live?  Yes!  Of course, God, for you are in the business of raising dead hopes.

Can these bones live?  Yes!  For we have seen it happen before.

Can these bones live?  Yes!  I hear the rattling.

Can these bones live?  Yes!

Amen.