Pentecost 2012

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Marian Free

 

In the name of God who breathes life into us, and asks that we take hold of life and live it to the full. Amen.

 

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,

Now hear the word of the Lord

 

Ezekiel in the valley of the dry bones

Ezekiel in the valley of the dry bones

Ezekiel in the valley of the dry bones.

Now hear the word of the Lord.

 

Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around

Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around

Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around

Now hear the word of the Lord.

 

(Your turn)

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,

Now hear the word of the Lord

 

(If you want to hear it for yourself – sung much better – try

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhmLXHtT1A8 )

 

I can’t read or hear Ezekiel 37 without the words of that Negro spiritual bubbling up in me. It is such an evocative song of what is one of the most evocative passages in scripture. In our mind’s eye we can see God carry Ezekiel out into the desert. We see him puzzling over the dry bones, – thousands and thousands of them – and wondering if they can live. Then we hear the bones shaking and rattling as they lift up from their resting place and re-connect to one another. We are filled with wonder as we imagine the bones being filled out with sinew and flesh and then being covered with skin – bodies once more. Finally we marvel as Ezekiel  calls on the wind which breathes life into the bodies and they stand on their feet – a vast multitude.

The bones are not real, but represent the people of Israel whose faith has dried up and whose existence as a result is barren. They are in exile – far from the land God promised them and separated from the Temple (the centre of their faith). Perhaps it is hard to believe in God’s promises from so far away, hard too to keep the flame of faith burning. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God reminds them that all is not lost. God, who can breathe life into the dead, will breathe new life into the people of Israel and restore them to the promised land.

The breath of God as the power for life permeates scripture as ruach or wind in the Old Testament, and pneuma or spirit in the new. God’s life-giving breath brings creation into being , is the sign by which Elijah knows the presence of God and is the breath that restores to life the dry bones of Israel.  In the Gospel of John the action is much more direct, Jesus breathes on the disciples and they receive the Holy Spirit.

Of the three persons of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is perhaps the most intuitive and therefore the most difficult to capture in words. Most of us know the Holy Spirit by experience rather than through intellect or sight.

It is not too hard to justify belief in God the Creator, God almighty, all-powerful, God as distant from us and from our experience as the heavens are from the earth.  There are still enough people who believe in something beyond this existence that they can understand what we mean by God. There is enough information in the New Testament to give us some idea as to the person and nature of Jesus.  If nothing else, we can share with others, what we think that Jesus taught and we can model our lives on his

The Holy Spirit however is elusive, difficult to grasp, almost impossible to put into words.  Few of us have the sort of dramatic experience that is described in the book of Acts, not all of us prophesy or speak in tongues. Even the creeds find it difficult to adequately express what it is that the Spirit is. Both the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed are satisfied with attaching the Spirit to belief in the holy catholic church and the communion of saints and do not describe the nature or work of the Spirit in detail.

There are some who say that the Holy Spirit is a sign of the new age inaugurated by Jesus, but the reading from Ezekiel puts the lie to that theory (the Spirit is not new but like Jesus has always existed with God). Others believe that a person does not have the gift of the Holy Spirit unless they can speak in tongues. (If that is the case then those of us who are poor teachers or inadequate administrators are also lacking the Holy Spirit as they too are gifts of the Spirit.)  The Thessalonians had to be warned not to despise the Holy Spirit which suggests that they were not quite sure what to do with it and the Corinthians are reminded that they were moved by spirits before they knew Christ which implies that there are spirits and then there is the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit as the breath of God gives us another dimension to consider. God, the Holy Spirit breathing life into creation, God the Holy Spirit breathing new life into those who had fallen into despair, God the Holy Spirit being transferred from Jesus to the disciples. God’s own breath becoming our breath, God’s life-giving breath, breathing life into us.

It is an amazing. almost inconceivable to think that our lives are empowered and driven by the breath of God, that God’s own breath flows through our lungs and our veins. In fact, the idea is so inconceivable, so unimaginable, that I wonder how many of us take the idea seriously. How many of us really take notice of the presence of God within us? How many, with every breath that we take, feel the power of God coursing through us? Are we aware every moment of the closeness of God? Do we understand ourselves as so intimately connected with God that God is a real and integral part of our being?

We receive the Holy Spirit at baptism, we are surrounded by the Holy Spirit in the community of faith. It can lie dormant, unrecognized and under utilised or we can open ourselves to its life-giving power and watch in wonder as God empowers, encourages and transforms us.

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