When we last checked in with the 11, they had just witnessed something incredible. By that I mean, it sort of lacks credibility. It was – is – really hard to believe. They had just watched Jesus ascending into the heavens, disappearing behind a cloud.
This is how Luke chose to start the book of Acts, which, if you recall, is a recap of the way his gospel ends. In that account, he closes by describing the way the disciples worshipped Jesus as he ascended, and then spent their days at the temple in Jerusalem praising God as they waited.
They were waiting because that is what they’d been commanded to do. Jesus wanted them to wait in Jerusalem, where he told them they would receive power. They would be baptized in the Holy Spirit, they would receive power and then they would go out into the world to bear witness to all they had seen. All they had experienced. All that he had taught them.
But they were to wait in Jerusalem until this happened. So, that’s what they did… they waited.
As the days went by, they had to wonder what this was going to look like. I mean, the longer they went without seeing Jesus, the more clear it had to be that they were going to have to continue on without him. Living as he had taught them.
At some point, every one of them must have had that feeling… that inkling we might call a premonition. That feeling deep in your core that is unsettling and yet exciting…. the feeling that…well…
Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow.
But it’s coming.
I doubt they stood on the corner singing like Tony in West Side Story, but they could have:
There’s something’, due any day;
I will know, right away
Soon as it shows.
It may come cannonballin’
Down through the sky,
Gleam in its eye,
Bright as a rose!
After all, the Spirit totally came cannonballing down through the sky…
As crazy as it was to watch Jesus ascend… that was nothing. Nothing… not compared to the experience of that morning of the Pentecost festival. The room must have reeked of adrenaline, fire, and smoke. The scent of fear would have permeated the walls. I mean, the scripture tells us the people who observed from outside the room bewildered, amazed, and perplexed.
I’m betting when those people got home, they described their experience a little differently for friends and family… You would not have believed it – I mean – I don’t know what was going on it there but it seemed really intense. Seriously, man. It scared the bejezzus outta me
Our little descending doves and flame colored decor are awfully tame in comparison. And our fans can’t make the sort of wind that ripped through the space… and yet left the room intact. I remember when Hurricane Charlie passed right over the house we were in that summer. Do you remember those storms? That was some serious wind that made some serious noise, even through cinderblock walls. But at least it was outside…
Something was coming all right. The Holy Spirit showed up in a big way. Crazy winds that didn’t destroy. Fire that didn’t burn.
These images should bring to our minds stories the disciples would have known, going all they way back to Genesis. The wind of Pentecost points to the Spirit of God moving over the void before God spoke all of creation into being. The wind of Pentecost recalls the the wind that drove back the floodwaters in the time of Noah. Later the wind had the power to separate the waters of the Red Sea,making way for the people of Israel to escape from Egypt. And the wind blew strong before Elijah was able to listen for the still small voice in the quiet.
The fire of Pentecost recalls the smoking pot and flaming torch that sealed God’s covenant with Abram. Like the bush that Moses saw – the one that burned but was never consumed. And then there’s the pillar of fire that led Moses by night as he guided the Israelites through the wilderness. And of course, the flames recall the cleansing fires spoken of in the Psalms and the fires of judgment described by Elijah and the prophets.
None of these stories depict the power of God, the Spirit of God as orderly, neat or tidy. God’s Spirit is untamed and unfathomable. The disciple’s experience on this particular Pentecost is connected to the very roots of scripture’s most primal and prophetic images and words.
The Ruach…. this rushing wind, is sent to blow open the door… to usher them into the wildness of a liberating and endless array of possibilities of work through the unconstrained Spirit of God.
Peter- you know, the fisherman who tended to draw the sword first and ask questions later – draws on the words of the Prophet Joel to tell us that all people — boys and girls, young and old, free and slaves — whether women or men — are graced with the Spirit’s direct connection to the prophecies, visions, and dreams of God
This remains difficult for some people and some religious institutions to buy into today. Some voices are valued over others in the church, and there are some voices the church still actively silences.
But in the story of Pentecost, God shows no regard for our structures, hierarchies, or status quo. Even the basic, predictable structures of the cosmos are not exempt from what God has in store. God’s desire for reconciliation with ALL people, with all creation is made clear in the crazy manifestation of language the disciples experience.
This revelation of God’s love reaches deeper than any of the ways we manage to isolate ourselves from others. God’s outpouring ignores the nationalities, cultures, and languages that we see as insurmountable barriers, or at least convenient excuses not to try to connect with “those people” .
The prophets had been saying it for generations,
They knew the power of the Spirit, God’s Spirit. They knew that the Messiah would be filled with the Spirit of God, That he would be the one who made possible the return of the Kingdom of Israel, revealing the glory of God. They had seen the power of God at work in the world… including the power God exerted by withdrawing his presence and blessing when the people chose disobedience. .
Ezekiel had been called to speak hard truth of God’s judgment to the people of Israel, under Babylonian rule and eventually while exiled in Babylon. All those in exile experienced trauma. The Babylonians tortured the families who lived in Jerusalem, engaging in siege warfare that lasted almost two years, which led to famine, disease, and despair. The Babylonians then destroyed the city of Jerusalem, burned the temple to the ground, killed many of its inhabitants, and forced the remainder to migrate to Babylon.
Ezekiel had heard reports of the temple becoming corrupt without the proper oversight of the priests, and when the temple was razed his own future became unclear. Ezekiel’s grief was compounded by personal suffering. After the death of his wife, God commanded him not to mourn her. Instead, he was to set an example for the community of exiles not to mourn the loss of the temple.
There is some beauty in the passage we read from Ezekiel today. There is renewal, re-creaton. But there is also great horror. This episode calls us to remember and confront the devastating events that led to a valley being filled with dry bones in the first place. The terror and, loss and violence that those bones represent in the lives of people like Ezekiel.
We human tremendous capacity to create similar landscapes of death and destruction. We see evidence of this in our entertainment. Dystopian films and novels – like the Hunger Games and the Dark Knight. Biographies like Unbroken and memoirs like that of Chris Kyle, our American Sniper.
Large scale terror and violence is part of our reality… We can find photos of killing fields from wars as far back as our own Civil War and as recent as the attacks of Boko Haram and Isis.
On Memorial Day, we are called to remember, to confront and bear witness to the sacrifice made by men and women in our wars, to the loss their families and communities feel so keenly.
We remember. We mourn. As a nation, as a community.
There are also moments we gather to tend our own grief. Last week we gathered to celebrate the life of Sharon Ustler. This week, it will be Gerry Etty. We remember their lives. We mourn their deaths. As a community, as friends and family.
We look around this room and there are too many empty spots and empty pews. It’s not hard to imagine God presenting us with the same riddle he offered Ezekiel – “Mortal, can these bones – this church – live?”
Surveying a valley filled with dried, brittle bones, the prophet simply responded with an exasperated, “O Lord GOD, only You know. I got nothin’” I’ve not heard those exact words from anyone, but it’s true. Only God knows what comes next here. So we remember the church as it was and may never be again. And we begin to mourn, even without pronouncing her dead.
But in none of these situations do we mourn like those who have no hope. Even in the face of terror. Even facing an unknown and unknowable future as a community of faith.
You see, something’s coming.
The power of resurrection is in the air. Have you felt it? The power of resurrection has been on our lips this eastertide.
The breath of God. The Ruach. The Pneuma.
The Holy Spirit.
The power that transports those we love from this world to the next…
The power that comforts the soldier and sailor far from home and afraid of what she’ll be called on to do next…
The power that knit those dry and brittle bones together, re-creating the body, re-uniting its members….
The power that animated the bones…
That is the promised power of the Father. That is the power at work in the church today. And it has been since that one crazy Pentecost.
That is the power that flows through each of us, Just as it has since that crazy Pentecost in Jerusalem.
And this is the challenge for our time, to take these crazy stories, this family history we claim as believers, and hold on tight. We need to hold on tightly enough to trust the stories are true and real as they speak boldly of God’s power and glory. We need to hold on tightly enough to trust that the power of which they speak is available here and now, to the people of this age, to the church in this place.
The risen ascended Christ made way for the power of the Holy Spirit to come down in wind and fire, in the many languages and tongues in the work of the church in the world… Until the risen and ascended Christ returns.
Oh yes… Something’s coming alright.
Come Lord Jesus
Come Holy Spirit