I will put my Spirit within you
In this sermon from Pentecost Sunday, when we celebrated baptism and covenant, Pastor Amy preaches the Holy Spirit, who is active and expansive and from whom there is no getting away. God’s promise is to breathe into our dry bones and enliven what feels barren, to bring life where there is no hope. God’s Spirit is as powerful as a mighty wind and as intimate as each breath. From Ezekiel to Acts to the beloved ones receiving the waters of baptism, to all who hear this word, “I will put my Spirit within you and you shall live!” Heads up, the first minute or so is cut off, but keep listening!
I will put my Spirit within you and you will live! These are the words from Ezekiel which have captured my imagination in these days preparing for Pentecost this year – and there is a lot to capture the imagination: rattling bones, blood and flesh and sinew, a multitude of undead and powerful winds from every direction. And, of course, the voice of God. The mind reels.
This story is all imagination – images and experiences given to the prophet Ezekiel by God in a time when his people needed to hear a word of life in the midst of death. These bones are the whole house of Israel – they are in exile, experiencing themselves to be cut off not only from their land, and therefore from their center of worship, but also from their God. Without the grounding in place they are unrooted. Their cry echos the Psalms of lament, where, as in Ps 102 “my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace.” or in Ps 33 my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.” and Ps 22 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast.” All is despair.
But, God instructed Ezekiel to proclaim, I will put my Spirit within you and you shall live. Spirit, breath, wind – all the same word: ruah. Life. Even more than now, it was understood that where there was breath, there was life. God’s presence in the exiled people was not at a distance – but as close as their own breath.
Take a Breath
Now, I know Melanie is usually the one who does this, but I’d like you to do ahead and take a breath. Now take another breath and let it out with a sigh. (I think it’s Mike O’Leary who dubbed this the ‘Melanoise’). And if you can imagine knowing, with each breath you take, the Spirit of God filling you, surrounding you, upholding you, continuing to enliven you.
When you once had no breath – no life – no knowledge that God could be present without a home and the place where you have always understood that God dwells. I will put my Spirit within you and you will live.
It’s the same promise that Jesus makes to his disciples when he leaves them. Like the dry bones of Ezekiel’s time, Jesus leave his disciples – drifting off into the clouds and they stare slack-jawed because how can they be his followers when there’s no one and nothing to follow? They are at odds, at loose ends. But I will give you an advocate Jesus says – just wait. I will put my Spirit within you and you will live!
So they are gathered in on place. And the sound like a rushing wind. [deep breath in and out with a sigh]. And they are filled! Sons and daughter, children and adults, people of all ages and genders and status, from all the gathered nations. They experience this outpouring as new life and are energized for the life of following Jesus in his absence – knowing like the people of bones before them that God Spirit is as big as the wind and as close as their own breath.
And we. What are the dry bones onto which we need God to breathe? When Spiritual Leadership Team yesterday we shared, as is our practice, desolations and our consolations. Those experiences in our lives in which we long to see the presence of God but do not and the experiences in which we feel deeply the presence and comfort of God and are nourished.
Many of us named the desolation and overwhelming grief of another school shooting, the violence of systems that continue to marginalize people, the seeming insensitivity of people in power to affect change for the better. Dry bones.
As I read this Ezekiel text I thought of the literal bones of humans that have been scattered in the desert, trying in desperation to cross into the United states, of the piles of bones in mass graves where there has been genocide (Jennifer named yesterday her visit to a memorial in Rwanda of a quarter million! Killed in genocide) or the bodies and bones of people – beloved of God, beloved of ours – that are being ravaged by illness or injury, which are being worked too hard, which do not have enough of what they need, which long for rest. This kind of overwhelming grief calls for a breath. [deep breath]
The Spirit Moving
I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, say the Lord. In among these dry bones, the Spirit is moving, rattling and causing us to remember – there is something here to be resurrected. I will begin by where I see the Spirit moving in our midst, starting with very people who are receiving baptism today. The Spirit has moved in your lives, Anna and Kevin, Elizabeth and Thalia and Liam and Seth. The Spirit has brought you into our presence made you a part of this body of Christ and will continue to be in you, whether you like it or not, and whether you acknowledge it or not. As long as you have breath.
The Spirit is moving in each of our conversations with each other about how we will continue as a jubilee community – even when the conversations are hard, even when we disagree. The Spirit is moving and breathing in the meals we offer to new families, in the prayers we say over those who are suffering, in the quilts we wrap around graduates, in the lessons prepared for Sunday school, in all we do for each other.
And if we still feel dry and disconnected and scattered in the earth, then may the Spirit do as she does sighing in you and groaning with you and reaching you toward God and God’s people.
I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, says the Lord. I will put my Spirit within you and you will live.
God’s windy presence is in each one of us. May we be reminded with each breath we take – an intimate communion – that we are each holy vessels. I will put my Spirit in you and you shall live.