Finding Hope through the Spirit

Oh friends, the Spirit moves in mysterious ways.

On this day we remember the way the Spirit moved over the dry bones of the Israelites, how the Spirit was promised by Jesus to be our Advocate and Comforter, and the way she came down at Pentecost in wind and flames. (And yes, I’m intentionally using the female pronoun for the Spirit because she’s also known as Lady Wisdom throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, and it’s good and right to honor that.) We first hear of the Sprit in the way she brooded over the waters of Creation in Genesis, and she continues to hover and move even now making it from Boston to Seattle just yesterday for those two episcopal elections. And she is here with us today which is why we are wearing red, and holding on to Jesus’ promise that the Advocate will guide us into all truth and be present with us throughout all of our days.

A Pentecost sermon on Ezekiel and Acts.

First, these dry bones. A reminder as to where we are in the context of this lesson. The people of Israel are exiled in Babylon, and they’ve decided that they are as good as dead. They have no hope of ever returning to their homeland, to the place that had nurtured them. You can hear their lament in Psalm 137: “By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered you, O Zion. As for our harps, we hung them up on the trees in the midst of that land. For those who led us away captive asked us for a song, and our oppressors called for mirth: ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’ How shall we sing the Lord’s song upon an alien soil?” While their captors ask for exuberant singing, they refuse to play their instruments. And the prophet Ezekiel is among them, seeing their hopelessness and fear and anxiety firsthand. He recognizes their despondency. 

And it is in this framework that he receives this vision from the Lord. He is taken by the Almighty to a valley filled with dry bones, brittle remains bleached white in the hot desert sun. It’s clear that these who died never received a proper burial, and now their bodies have been stripped clean by the scavengers. And the Lord God turns to Ezekiel and asks, “Mortal, can these bones live?” 

The first thought in my head would be, “Are you kidding, God? These bones have been here for years and years and years. The bodies they once supported are a distant memory, if they are remembered at all. Can these bones live? Fat chance.” But Ezekiel is a bit swifter than me, because while he might have been thinking something similar, he doesn’t blurt it out to the Creator of the Universe. “O Lord God,” he says, “you know.” We can’t hear the inflection in his voice, so we don’t know if he says, “O Lord God, you know,” or “O Lord God….  you know?” 

But no difference. God responds with words of instruction. “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.’” And so Ezekiel starts to prophesy to those bones which, even though they do not have ears, causes something to happen. The femur finds its way to the tibia, and the humerus flies over to connect to the scapula. All the while there’s a rattling and banging because of course this isn’t just one skeleton instantaneously reconfiguring itself with all its bones that have been scattered by the jackals and hyenas, but there’s an entire valley full of skeletal remains coming together at that moment. All those bones flying around and taking shape as full skeletons there in front of Ezekiel. 

But it doesn’t stop with that. As soon as the bones are all back in place, the Prophet sees sinews and ligaments and all sorts of soft tissue start connecting the bones to one another. That’s followed quickly by muscles taking their place on the reforming body from biceps and lats to quads and hamstrings. And then without missing a beat, skin envelops those bodies, encasing the whole thing and making it recognizable as a human being once again. Except for one thing. They haven’t had the breath of God placed in them yet. So Ezekiel is told to prophesy once more. He is to call forth the wind from the four corners of the earth to enter into these ones that had been slain so that they might be animated and live once more.

And so he does that, and there’s a rush of wind, and then there’s an intake of breath and the eyes of these ones suddenly open. And the whole vast multitude lived. That’s when God says what this all means: “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.’” “Not so,” says God. “I am the Lord and I will return you to your own soil, and you shall live.”

How often do we believe that all hope is lost? How often do we give up, saying things like our country is too divided, or our natural world is beyond healing, or that we will never solve gun violence? And yet this passage reminds us that with God nothing is impossible. That God’s Spirit can animate those people and situation we have determined are lost. God can enliven and embolden and renew and invigorate all that seems to us to be unredeemable. Because God still moves, bringing life when we’ve lost hope.

And so it is once again when the Spirit alights on those disciples gathered on Pentecost, all 120 of them. The disciples begin to proclaim the deeds of power that God had done in previous generations, but they spoke in languages they hadn’t studied in school. All of those Jewish pilgrims from Phrygia and Pamphylia and all the rest, heard that great proclamation in the languages closest to their hearts. The language of their homes. And it was being spoken by a bunch of Galileans, people often seen as less sophisticated than the rest from a tiny backwater far off the beaten path.

Some of them think that the language skills of the disciples are due to the fact that they’ve had a few too many alcoholic beverages with their morning brunch. But Peter tells them no, they aren’t now proficient in a second language because of drinking wine. Rather, they’ve been filled with the breath of the life-giving Spirit who is animating their vocal cords. God has entered into them in order to share a message of hope.

You see, whenever we start recounting God’s deeds of power from ages past, well, we begin to imagine what those deeds might look like today. When we begin to realize that the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead can live in us—as St. Paul tells the Roman Church—then we too can have life in our mortal bodies. 

Because God isn’t finished with us yet. Even when we think that things won’t ever be the same, or that God has moved on, or no longer cares about what happens in our day and age, that’s when we are reminded of the ways God has moved in the past, and the ways God moves now. Because the Spirit, she moves in mysterious ways.

Friends, I know that with the Spirit’s movement this weekend it feels a bit unsettled for us. That many things are unknown. And yet we come here on this Sunday all decked out in red to be reminded that the Spirit does indeed still act, and that we are called to be people of hope, and to trust that the breath of God can reinvigorate us in the work we’ve been called to do. 

So in these days ahead, choose to be people of hope. Seek to receive that Spirit that raised Jesus for the dead. Hold onto the proclamation that just as God has acted in the past, so God will continue to act even now. Even here. For the Spirit does indeed bring life to our mortal bodies. God comes into our places of despair and sees the opportunity for new life. The Almighty sees so much more than we could ever ask or imagine, and God opens up new paths and doors and opportunities so that we might fully live in the power of the Spirit. For our God is indeed the God of the living, and we are called to faithfully follow God on the Way.

Image by Eliane Meyer from Pixabay.

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