Can These Bones Live?

SO; I got infused with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost…Imagine that! Thus the manuscript below only partially reflects the message I brought on Sunday. If you are interested in getting a sense of what I offered that’s not written down, take a look at this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmweXyEeoBw

Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1-14

Ezekiel was a prophet of the 6th century BC or BCE, at the time when Jerusalem was captured and destroyed by the Babylonians. Many of Jerusalem’s leading citizens, including Ezekiel were exiled—taken hostage and relocated to Babylon. The book of Ezekiel is made up of the prophet’s oracles and visions to the displaced people of God who have lost their land, their livelihood, their national identity, and most seriously of all; their faith. Yahweh had promised them this land and a good life as the fulfillment of the Exodus experience and their covenant with God. Now here they are again; a people in a land that is not their home; cut off, enslaved, detached from their God. The first part of this book contained judgments against God’s people that attempt to explain how this all could have happened. Israel and Judah have both acted wrongly and became involved in foreign alliances that led to their downfall.

In the vision of the prophet that we heard today, Ezekiel is placed by Yahweh—by God—in a valley full of dry bones that have long since lost all their flesh; bones that no longer remain together as a skeleton would. There is no life and no apparent hope for life. The prophet’s response to God’s opening question “Can these bones live?” reflects the obvious answer. These are dry, desiccated, dead remnants of what was. A logical, reasonable response would be “no”. However, this IS GOD asking. But even knowing that it is God, Ezekiel gives an evasive answer. “Only you—GOD—know.” Talk about hedging your bets. OF COURSE dried bones cannot come back to life, and as Thomas Dozeman says in his commentary: “Yet by attempting to avoid the obvious, the prophet does indeed place the answer to the question where it should be, and that is with God, rather that ourselves. The remainder of the story is God’s surprising answer to the question.”

As God orders Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones; to call them back to life; and then to the wind to infuse God’s spirit into these newly formed beings, it becomes clear that GOD CAN DO THE IMPOSSIBLE.

I want to invite those who are doing the readings to come forward….

REGINA: There are many in our world today who have felt like the Hebrew people did in exile—lifeless, abandoned, and with little sign of hope. Let’s hear from some of them now.

KAREN: I am a child, afraid to go to school. I am stupid, they say. I can’t do anything right, they say. Even when I try it’s never good enough. I feel like giving up.

SHERRY: I am a young girl who lives in Thailand, My parents sent me to live in the city so I could make money to help support my family. But I am locked in a room, and I hardly ever get out, and I work 16 hours a day making toys for rich kids to play with. Sometimes I just with I could die.

MARK: I’m one of the lucky ones, I guess. I still have a job. But with the downsizing, I have to do the work of 3 people. I’m always tired. I hardly ever see my kids. I hate the job, but I’m afraid to leave it. I don’t know what else I could do.

TINA: I live in Kenya. Like other women here I work 18 hours a day, every day, cooking, getting water, caring for my children and our garden. I collect wood and feed the animals and mend clothes. Yet I am considered to be of no importance.

DENNIS: My people—the aboriginal people of this country—were promised lands in a treaty that was to last forever. Now some of those lands, and plants and animals, and the bones of our ancestors, are drowned under a lake for electric power to feed the big cities. Our rivers are polluted. Our fish are gone. We cannot wait for justice forever.

REBECCA: It’s so long ago, now. I was just a young Jewish child. My family herded into railway cars, separated forever, everyone I knew died in concentration camps. I don’t know how or why I was the one who survived. I have no family pictures to put on my walls. I only have memories of those I still miss.

LEADER: Where is God’s spirit in the midst of all this? How can God’s spirit breathe new life into these bones? God’s spirit DOES come…

KAREN: the Spirit is in my mother, who tells me every day she loves me and believes in me.

SHERRY: the Spirit is in the mission I hear about down the street. I know of 3 of us who have been rescued from this hard labor and are back with their families again.

MARK: The Spirit is in my wife and children. They keep my hopes up and tell me they’ll stick by me if I stay on this job, or if I do decide to leave it, or If I’m laid off. They love and support me no matter what.

TINA: The Spirit is in the women and elders around me who still find ways to laugh and sing together and create a feeling of community. It’s in the banker who gave a few of us a low interest loan to start our own business.

DENNIS: The Spirit is in every rock, tree, insect, bird, and animal. The Spirit cannot be contained or owned by anyone. The Spirit is everywhere, inside everyone, if only we could see.

REBECCA: The Spirit is in each lost soul, each hurt soul. The Spirit waits to be listened to and invited in. The Spirit breathes hope and healing and joy into all who seek God, the source of all life. The spirit speaks to me through the eyes of my grandchildren.

And; just so we all remember: Israel did go home! The temple was rebuilt, the city once again in the hands of the Hebrews. Babylon—the once victorious and strong and conquering nation was gone in 50 years.

AND, God’s spirit in these people came to full fruition at Pentecost, as another scared, uncertain, devastated Hebrew people faced impossible circumstances. While they had witnessed the miracle of the resurrection of the Messiah, they were a small, illiterate group of poor, overwhelmed outsiders. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was power and promise for their work and witness!

I WENT HOLY SPIRIT ROGUE HERE

God IS AT WORK here today—here AMONG us. Maybe our role is to sometimes be the prophet—empowering people with the hope and reality of God’s spirit; enabling dry dead beings to be turned into new people of God! Or maybe we are people who in some circumstance are tired, dry and brittle, overwhelmed, depressed frustrated or dead. Maybe WE OURSELVES are to respond to the seemingly impossible, the fresh wind of the spirit as is blows over us and in us, making us God’s OWN PEOPLE; empowered to be healed, reassured, renewed, resurrected. Knowing implicitly where we are to work and witness to the reign of God.

CAN THESE BONES LIVE?!

Let each of us go and live out our answers immersed, enlivened and redeemed by the Holy Spirit of God!

 

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“We Are Witnesses” message from 05-17-15

Scripture: Acts 1:15-26

It’s interesting to note that the book of Acts starts out with the amazing account of Jesus’ ascension into heaven and then occupies itself with this more mundane story about the process by which the believers choose a new disciple. As I thought and read about it this week, it occurred to me; this is the occasion of the first church business meeting! In the midst of some pretty incredible events and ministry, SOMEBODY has to worry about the nuts and bolts of the operation. Anyone who sticks around for our monthly meetings for business knows that things haven’t changed much. No matter what happens in worship, or in our discussions and classes, we STILL NEED to gather to make sure our bills are paid and that our house is in order. This is important work, in spite of the fact that it IS a bit mundane.

Here in Acts.we readers should first realize that the symbolism of Jesus having 12 disciples is crucial. According to Luke, the emerging church was the symbol of the “NEW Israel”—God’s kingdom on earth—and the apostles represented the 12 tribes of that kingdom. As they consider their decision, the necessary qualifications for this person are determined. An apostle had to be somebody who had been with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry, when he was baptized by John. They also had to be a WITNESS to the resurrection of Jesus. As this piece of narrative unwinds—with the description of “why, who and how”, three men play crucial roles. As we consider each of these three, we can gain insight into the nature of what OUR ROLE as disciples and the church today is all about.

First; notice who calls this meeting and takes charge as it begins…PETER. Peter has been reinstated among the twelve, AND has assumed a leadership role! Yes, this is THE SAME Peter who throughout the story of Jesus, appears as a buffoon who acts first and thinks later; who does—at least sometimes—possess insight into the message of Jesus’ ministry. It is THIS Peter who denies Christ three times on that last journey to the cross, but also the one who remains in the upper room and who sees for himself that Jesus has risen at the tomb. Peter here, has repented of his sins and been reinstated when Jesus intended; as the rock—the foundation of this fledgling group of believers.

Then, let’s consider Judas; the one who had “turned aside to go to his own place.” This man is the one, who down through time, has been blamed and scorned for his act of treachery and betrayal against Christ (and God!) Pastor and author John Killinger says “Years ago, when my wife and I saw the rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar on a London stage, the cast came down and talked with the audience during intermission. We met the actor who played Jesus and the one who played Judas, and were told that they switched parts every few nights so other members of the cast wouldn’t get to hating them. ‘Before we did this’, they said, ‘everybody ostracized the one being Judas.’”

Here in Acts, Judas’ story ends in a particularly gory episode on a field he purchased with the money he acquired when he handed Jesus over to the authorities. It appears evident that the early church was quick to blame Judas; to make HIM the criminal and scapegoat. However biblical accounts are a little less certain. Matthew says that Judas repented—returning his 30 pieces of silver to the authorities, and that they bought a field with it in which they buried the poor. In scripture several reasons are given for Judas’ actions; John’s gospel says Judas was “doomed to destruction”, John and Luke also say that Judas’ activities “fulfilled scripture”. Additionally, the author of Luke and Acts understands Satan’s influence to be key in Judas’ betrayal.

I’ve done some reading recently that suggests that Judas did what he did to force Jesus into act decisively to bring about God’s kingdom on earth. Many commentators also deduct that Judas could have received God’s forgiveness—and that even scripture alludes to that. Of course, one of the more recent headlines in religious news, in the last few years is the publication of the gospel of Judas. It is a part of the Nag Hammadi find in 1945 which contained writings from the early church that weren’t included in the authorized collection of scripture. This Gospel of Judas is one of the most fragmented pieces of text, but experts have now authenticated and translated what they have. According to this text, Judas acted as he was directed by Jesus in order to bring about the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ other followers were jealous and killed Judas. A brief excerpt from this text reads: “Look, you have been told everything…The star that leads the way is your star.”

The reality is that we will never know the truth. However, our best speculation based on what we do have—including today’s scripture—is that Judas did not witness the resurrection of Christ or witness TO the resurrection of Christ.

Finally, we have Matthias—the one chosen by lots to be Judas’ replacement; returning the apostles’ number to 12. Although Matthias is said here to fulfill the requirements for being an apostle, this is the last we hear of him…he is never mentioned again in scripture; or outside of it, really. Just as quickly as he appears, so does he disappear into obscurity. Called through this boring business meeting, Matthias, we assume, continues to serve in ordinary, obscure ways—to help folks RECALL, RECOGNIZE, and REALIZE the resurrection of Jesus—to bear witness to what brings life to all who accept it. Matthias’ story is the story of millions of believers, who as they testify to the gospel, take their place in the obscurity and ordinary, but no less miraculous way of the cross.

SO; what can WE learn from these three?!

That we serve a God who, through Christ, SERVES US well; AND that OUR lives—whether we are like Peter (with bold, dramatic leadership), or Matthias (ordinary and obscure) or even Judas (misguided, mistaken, sinful, desperate); ALL CAN BE SALVAGE; AND all of our lives might just—MOST CERTAINLY—have a place in God’s reign.

In places of awesome ministry, in the boredom of business; anything in between:

“The star that leads the way is our star.”

Our best; our ONLY response can and should be to testify as we are called.

We are witnesses to the resurrection!