COMING ALIVE

5.20.18 Pentecost B

 

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Ezekiel 37:1-14

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.”
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.’ ” 

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.’ ”

 

Do you know what the Spirit can do?  Have you seen it?  Well, I have, and let me tell you the story.

I was called to be God’s spokesman to his people, Israel.  The hard part of that was not listening to God.  As astounding as his visions were, he was very clear on what I needed to say and write.  The hard part was the people.  You’d think that people who had God’s promises would listen to his Word.  But that’s the thing about people – it doesn’t matter if you’re a descendant of Abraham or if you are foreigner, a king or a slave – we struggle to listen to God’s words the way he wants us to.

After receiving the call from the Lord, he wanted me to say some things to get their attention.  They needed to realize that what was happening to them was because they had neglected God.  And when that happens that means sin is winning in your life.  When sin is winning in your life, spiritual death is not far behind.

See, God wants his people to be different.  When he spoke with them at Mt. Sinai and gave them his 10 Commandments, the arrangement was that they would obey everything.  Well, Israel was kind of up and down on that.  After they arrived in the Promised Land was a good time, but then they got lazy.  Every so often God would send judges to help them get back on track, but the message never sunk in.  Then came the kings.  David was a good one, his son, Solomon, was ok, but only 7 or 8 others encouraged the people to follow God and serve him alone.

To help the people see their sinful ways and the destruction that sin causes, God called prophets, like me, to preach.  I was in Babylon at the time.  Why Babylon, you ask?  That was the punishment God forewarned.  The people didn’t get the hint that sin is not ok with God, so God sent Babylon to conquer us.  Over about a 10 year period, we were exiled to Babylon.  Everything back home, including God’s Holy Temple, was completely destroyed.

I don’t know if you can imagine how downcast and depressed everyone was.  God had told them in the past what their sins would cause, but that didn’t change a thing, so God had to bring down judgment on His own people.  Even in Babylon, I was given the task to point out their wickedness and God’s disappointment.

After years of visions and proclamations of death and doom, came the day when God brought me to that valley of dry bones.  The closest thing you could compare it to here in America would be Death Valley, but even that isn’t a fair comparison.  All around I looked, back and forth I went, and all I saw was death, an utterly lifeless landscape.  It was not an enjoyable place to be.

That is the place where God had a question for me.  “Son of man…” he liked to call me ‘son of man’ because I am just a regular guy and he was not… “Son of Man, can these bones live”?

What would you say? Do you think life could come from a valley of death?  After what had happened with Israel, I had my doubts.  Israel had proven what human people are really like.  People don’t blaze a path to life but a something else, something worse, something deathly.

Israel said they were going to be faithful to God alone.  They said they didn’t want to associate with other sinful and pagan nations and get themselves into trouble.  They said they would remember God’s commandments and his promises.  They said a lot of things.

What really happened?  Their lies lead to idolatry.  When God’s promises were taking too long to come true they found other religions and gods that looked more sensible and pleasurable.  All the things that God had said and recorded for his people took a donkey ride into the desert.  It is tragic to even talk about it.  People, by nature, do not want any part with God.

Do you know anyone like that?  Do you know people who say they will serve God?  Do you know people who promise they won’t follow the wrong crowd?  Do you know some who say they will remember God’s promises, but personal experiences and preferences seem to be good excuses to neglect what God says?  I’m sure you do.  I’m sure you can find someone like that in your neighborhood or your pool of friends.  But I know for a fact you can see someone like that if you take a good look at your own heart.

People haven’t changed much over the last few millennia since I was in Babylon.  The lying still leads to idolatry.  Patience with God’s promises wears thin, so other things can take his place and priority.  Maybe you don’t have wooden gods of Asherah and Baal, but that was not Israel’s only problem.  They got too wrapped up in themselves to pay attention to God’s Word.   And when you put yourself as the be all and end all, don’t be surprised if it all ends wrong.

Do you know what lying and idolatry leads to?  Thinking of my day out in the valley of dry bones makes me remember what the Apostle Paul wrote long after I was gone, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” For Israel, for you and me, and for all the world, those dry bones are about as good as we get.

“Can these bones live?” Only one person knew the answer to that question, so I said, “O Lord GOD, You alone know.” It was at that point that I thought he would give me a clear, yes or no.  But instead, he told me to talk to the bones as if they could hear me.  Just talk!  That was it.

The Lord didn’t tell me to think outside of the box to try or find some new fresh way to connect to those dead bones.  He didn’t tell me about any kind of gadgets and ideas that might work.  He didn’t tell me about computers.  He didn’t say that certain song styles or instruments would raise those bones to life.  He never mentioned a specific style of preaching that would be better than another.  He didn’t tell me about pulpits or pews.  Intrestingly, he also didn’t talk about traditions.  He didn’t say anything about the way it always was.  He didn’t say that the same way is the best way.  He didn’t say stubborn attitudes and unchanging ideas will cause nasty, dried up bones to live.

None of the things that people argue about would do anything for those bones.  I am not downplaying what advancements and blessings can do.  But I know for a fact that anything other than the Word of the Almighty God cannot bring life to a place of death.  Nothing but the Word of God can turn a heart of cold stone, to a heart of life….not even a little bit.  The only thing that causes life is God’s Word.  I was there to witness it.

He told me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!  I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  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.’” I did what God told me to do and the results were overwhelming.  Simply put, God’s Word worked.  He’s got the power.  He’s got the Word.  And it works. The bones started flying around. And the noise – millions of bones coming together – was more than anything your kids could produce with their toys.

After all the bones came together, the tendons, guts, muscles, and layers of skin formed around each skeleton.  It was vastly different from when I first arrived at the valley.  Some might say that everything was different, but really it was still the same.  The bones now were perfectly in place with all that is needed for life, but the bodies still lay there, motionless.  They were still just as dead as before.

God had done the amazing work, but there was one thing missing.  The Lord gave me more of his words to speak.  “Come from the four winds, o breath, and breathe into these slain, that they might live.”  The breath was not normal.  In Hebrew, that’s the language that I spoke back then and the one I used to write my book, “breath” is the same word as “spirit.” So, when God told me to call the breath, it was his way of telling me to call for the Holy Spirit.

What I had seen in the valley was death, but with God’s Word and the work of the Spirit, I saw death coming alive.  The multitude of dry bones came together perfectly.  The flesh wrapped them perfectly. The breath came and filled them perfectly. Where death was, God made life.  This is all God’s handiwork, and it is always his handiwork when death turns to life.

There they stood an army to serve its source of life.  God had created a massive group.  When I had seen armies in the past they had a mission to conquer or defend.  This army was no different.  The Lord did this to show me and all of Israel what he can accomplish with his Spirit.  He can make life.  He can make that life achieve his purpose, just as he said.

What I am looking at right now, is not much different than what I saw in that valley.  God has worked another miracle.  I am not staring at random bones.  I am not staring at death, but life.  This is not something you did.  This is the power of God.  The same power that raised Jesus from death to life continues to work today. Through his Word and Spirit, God brings life.

The Holy Spirit came into you the same way I saw him go into the bodies in the valley.  At your baptism, death was swallowed up in victory.  The Spirit planted the life-giving gospel message of free forgiveness through Jesus Christ in you.  Through the powerful Word of God, he keeps faith living and active.  You aren’t a pile of bones.  You aren’t lifeless corpses.  You are the same army that I saw thousands of years ago standing ready to serve your Creator and your life-giver.

This experience in the valley of dry bones wasn’t just for me.  I had to tell all of those people who were in exile with me.  I had to tell them God’s life-giving message.  But, if you are like the house of Israel, then you also might find yourself focusing on the negative side of things.  They said, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”  In exile, there wasn’t a lot to be positive about.  They had received a just judgment from God.  They didn’t see the sun rising on a new day.

If you ever feel yourself swamped in pessimism, then listen again to what God told Israel because he says that to you, too.  “O 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. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them.”  

Do you know what God did to make this come true? He sent his own Son, Jesus, to conquer the grave, not just for himself, but for all who believe in him. With Jesus’ resurrection, God assures us all that what He told me in the valley is true.  God will open graves and restore life again.

Today is a special festival for you to thank God for life.  When I arrived in the valley, I didn’t see much hope.  Generations after I had gone, it didn’t look like there was much hope for the fledgling church led by the disciples.   But, today there is a different tone.  You are celebrating Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit.  I was blessed to see firsthand that death comes alive through the Word of God. Generations later, The Spirit brought the same kind of life through the message of Jesus that Peter and the disciples preached.  3000 joined their numbers during that Pentecost celebration.

The promise God gave me in the valley is still life-giving promise for you. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live. The Holy Spirit has not quit yet.  Wherever God’s Word is, there the Spirit will be with his heavenly breath to bring life.  Amen.

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THE BLOWING WIND OF PENTECOST

6.4.17 Pentecost A

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Acts 2

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, d 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

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.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

 

I looked out my office window on Thursday and saw my picnic table umbrella doing something a little odd.  It was still stuck in that center hole of the table, but it was doing its best Mary Poppins impression, trying to take off and take my table with it.

What was the cause?  What had the power to lift an umbrella that is anchored by a piece of concrete?  It’s the wind.  The wind is powerful, and it’s all around us.  We know that pretty well here in North Dakota.  Out in this part of the country companies are even using it for energy.  Whether you like that idea or not, it doesn’t change the fact that wind is powerful.

But the thing is you can’t see the wind, you just can see what it does.  I didn’t see wind out my office window this past Thursday, I saw what it was doing.  I couldn’t tell you what direction the wind was coming from or where it would end up.  You can’t see wind, but you see what it does.  You can hear the sound as it blows through the trees and prairies.

Today, God wants us to think about the wind.   It’s a fascinating word in the Bible:  Ruach (רוּחַ) in the Old Testament and pneoma (πνεῦμα) in the New Testament.  When God uses that word in the Bible, it also the exact same word he uses to talk about the mysterious, miraculous, and powerful third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  The Bible calls him the Holy Wind, Ruach (רוּחַ) and pneoma (πνεῦμα).  You can’t pin him down to one location, but you see his power all over the place.  You can’t see him, but you can see his effects in the lives of people all over the world.  You can’t control his boundless energy, but God gives a bounty of it to be our power source for Christian living.

And this is his day.  You see, in the Christian Church there are three big festivals that we celebrate, Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.  Each one of these festivals highlights one of the three persons of the Trinity.  Christmas is the festival of God the Father, who so loved the world that he gave us the greatest gift we could ever have, his one and only Son, who was of the Father’s love begotten.  Easter is about God the Son, who suffered, died, rose to save us from sin, death, and hell.  He is our Savior who lives and reigns for us.  Pentecost is about that Holy Wind, God the Spirit.

Today is the birthday of the Holy Christians Church, and that’s a day to celebrate the Holy Spirit.  Because on this day the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples with power from heaven.  It was on this day the he formed tongues of flame on their heads and put tongues of foreigners on their lips.  This is the day the heavenly and Holy Wind, who was promised, came and powered his small church of Jesus’ followers to be bold and take the saving gospel out to the nations. That powerful wind is still showing itself on this festival all these years later.

But you can’t just see wind in North Dakota or any other place, right?  In order to notice the power of the wind it needs something to blow against.  To utilize the power of the wind here in North Dakota, it needs to blow against those big windmills.  To get around in a boat you can use a motor or you can use the power of the wind by putting up a sail.  To see the power of the wind you need to leave your picnic table umbrella open.  The wind needs something to blow against.

In a way, the same is true for the Holy Spirit, that heavenly wind.  He is God and that means he is all-powerful, all-knowing, and always present.  But in order to see the effects of his power, he needs something to blow against.

And just what is that, you ask?  It’s actually quite simple.  This resource that the powerful Holy Spirit blows against is not hard to find.  When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly the sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 

The disciples were the ones seeing the effects of the Holy Spirit’s power on Pentecost.  There was no actual wind that day, but the Spirit, the heavenly and holy Wind, was blowing against those disciples.  His power was clearly the main attraction that day.

Some wanted to make it about the disciples, how they were speaking in different languages with fire on their heads and in their hearts.  Some were making a mockery by saying they were simple Galileans who had had too much to drink.  But Pentecost is not about the disciples’ power.  They were simply there for the Spirit’s power to blow against.

This is how I know that I am nothing special; there is nothing powerful about this pastor.  I have a very special and important job that I love to do, but it’s not about my power or position. God’s church will go on just fine with or without me here in Bismarck or here on earth. If you were able to join us for the Luther movie this past Wednesday, you probably noticed how the church got into a lot of trouble back in the late Middle Ages when it was all about the priests and popes and earthly political powers.  The church can never be about the men who serve it.  Instead, it needs to be about the Spirit who empowers it, the Christ who saves it, the Father who preserves it, and the Word that proclaims all God’s truth.

The Spirit’s power blew against the disciples that Pentecost.  It wasn’t the sound of the wind that really mattered or the fire or the men.  It was the message.  That was the real power of Pentecost.  That is the power that continues to blow throughout the church today.

And do you know what that message is?  Peter got up that day to preach it, and the Spirit was blowing through the crowd.  I am called as your pastor to get up and preach it, and the Spirit still blows through us who gather here with this message:  Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Everyone!  Do you know who that includes?  God doesn’t say it’s the straight A students.  God doesn’t say it’s the people you like.  God doesn’t say it’s only the good people.  He doesn’t say it’s those who try really hard to cover up their mistakes.  God says, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Yes, that includes people who struggle with sin.  In fact, that is the only kind of person there is.  Every man, woman, and child on earth struggles with sin.  It’s not a unique trait for a few.  God says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We know this from looking in the mirror and seeing what God sees: sinners.  People feel this burden.  They know the guilt that sin brings.  They know the conflict that evil inflicts.  They know the uncertainty of death.  These are universal struggles across the board for everyone, including us.

God has the universal answer in Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Jesus died to pay the price for all sins of everyone.  Jesus rose from the dead to open the gates of heaven for every man, woman, and child that believes in him.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  This is the solution to a guilty conscience.  This is the strength for living with sicknesses and sadness.  This is secret to rebuilding relationships.  This is the answer to what lies on the other side of death, because God is promising a future that has nothing to do with your current circumstances.

God isn’t uncertain about this. “…will be saved.”  In Christ, God stretches our perspective out to eternity.  In Christ, we have the cure for cancer.  In Christ, we have the formula for a blessed life.  In Christ, we have the ability to live forever in heaven.

That is what we have.  And God says everyone on the face of this earth can have the exact same thing.  The heavenly Wind wants to blow into the hearts and lives of every man, woman, and child in this world.  God has promised, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

The heavenly and holy Wind just needs someone to blow against for people to see his power.  God has given this amazing privilege and honor to people like us.  He could do it himself, but the heavenly Wind wants to use you to show how his power is for us and in us and among us.

The sound of the wind, the fire, and the languages would have accomplished nothing without the disciples speaking the saving message of a Savior who died and rose again.  The Holy Spirit chooses to show his power by blowing against people like the disciples, people like you and me.  Because that is when you really see what the power of the wind, when it is blowing against something.

Brothers and sisters, I know how fearful it can be.  I know how easy it is to pass up opportunities to say the simple truth about faith in Jesus.  I know the excuses that come up: “It’s probably someone else’s job.  They know it better.  They have a better knack for evangelism stuff.”   It’s ridiculous and absolutely amazing that God would want to include us in taking a message of such importance out to the world.

But there’s something else I know about you.  You have the same thing as the disciples.  You have the forgiveness of sins, which Jesus delivered with his death.  You have the certainty of heaven, which Jesus opened to you when he came back on Easter.  You have his authority as he rules over you from his throne.  You have the power of the Spirit blowing against you for the people around you to see.  If you don’t think you are ready or fit for the job, then you are exactly the kind of person that God wants to use because then you know the power isn’t coming from you but from that Holy Wind of God.

The wind needs something to blow against for people to see its power.  The Holy Spirit wants to blow against you so that people see how great our God is and what he has done to save us.  What does that mean for you?  I don’t know, maybe that means you will join our outreach team to help us find people who are lost and don’t know Jesus in our community.  (That’d be great!)  Or maybe you will help us carry out ministry here, like planning events so we can invite people here or like prioritizing projects to make our ministry and church witness better.  Or maybe you will pray for this work and generously support it.  Or maybe it simply means that you will go to work and let your light shine, so that people see your good deed and praise your Father in heaven.

Whatever it is, you know the power that is behind you.  It doesn’t come from you, it comes from that heavenly and holy wind.  And when that wind is blowing against you, people will notice, just like seeing an umbrella doing its best imitation of Marry Poppins.

God grant it in Jesus’ name.  Amen.