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  • Speaking to the Bones – 2015/05/24

    Psalm 104:24-34
    Acts 2:1-21
    Ezekiel 37:1-14

    Sermon:

    My elementary school was taught in German. Math was taught in German, so was science, so was social studies. The only subject that wasn’t, was English… but that just makes sense. So I learned a lot of German as a child.

    When I was in college, my parents and I took a trip to Canada. We spent most of the trip in Quebec. If you’ve not been to Quebec… well, it’s an experience. Quebec is the one province where French is the language of the people. Of course, we went into restaurants and people spoke English – most people have some English, and they’re all required to take it in school. But many people speak it poorly, and it’s very possible to go about your life there without ever speaking a word of it.

    Of course, when we had to talk to someone standing near us, like to ask directions or just in making conversation, this made things difficult. And I had this really weird instinct. Every time someone would speak to me in French, even when I could get enough of the words that I understood, I would have to consciously try to stop myself from answering in German. It was like my brain knew that English wasn’t right, and I didn’t know French well enough to say anything, so it went ahead to the only other alternative, which was German.

    As you might imagine, this was extremely unhelpful. Nobody spoke German, and in any case, if they had, speaking English would’ve been the better option, anyway. But it did serve as a reminder that our language, how we communicate, is integral to our experience of the world. The labels we have for things and how we express ourselves are the ways we make sense of the world around us. Being suddenly in an environment where that’s taken away is a troubling experience.

    In the second chapter of Acts, the apostles have quite the opposite experience of losing language, though – they
    find themselves speaking in all sorts of languages they didn’t even know. In fact, it seems as they’re just speaking in their native tongues, but people are perceiving other languages. Now that is quite a talent.

    Anyway, that’s the story we commemorate today; this story of the time the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit,
    were able to preach in foreign tongues and gain new converts. It is, for all intents and purposes, the birthday of the church.

    And while that’s important, this year, I want to focus on the other text we have this day. It’s an Old Testament story so commonly and vaguely known that we all know a song about it, yet I’m sure we don’t think too often about what it means. We rarely hear it in church – probably because it only comes up twice in the lectionary’s three-year cycle, and one of those times is Pentecost.

    So while a Pentecost sermon would normally preach the Pentecost story, today is a little different, because it’s just as important to hear this story from Ezekiel that serves as both a precursor to Pentecost (having happened before the Acts story) and it serves as the more extreme of these two stories.

    In Acts, the apostles were able to preach to people and have them hear in their own languages – that’s impressive. Ezekiel’s audience was much smaller, so… less impressive. The apostles reached thousands of hearers. They faced skeptics who thought they were simply drunk and babbling on about nothing. But Ezekiel faced no skeptics, because he faced no one at all. While the apostles were asked to do the difficult feat of preaching loudly on the street to strangers, Ezekiel was whisked off to a valley of dry bones, and asked to preach until they lived.

    Ezekiel was probably the Old Testament’s most eccentric prophet, and that’s saying something. He laid on his side for 430 days straight, to show how long the people of Israel and Judah would be in exile from the Holy Land (chapter 4). He didn’t mourn his own wife when she died, because she died in the context of a host of others when Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians (chapter 24). He shaved his head (specifically forbidden for priests, of which he was one) and he spent long times not speaking. Most famously of all, of course, he was instructed by God to write a scroll of words of mourning… and then he ate it. A whole scroll. That’s a lot of paper. And all that to prove that the Lord’s word was, literally, in him.

    But even for him, prophesying to these dead, dry bones was a little extreme. Yet, he did it anyway. He
    prophesied that the “breath” of the Lord would come into the bones, and that they would live again.

    An interesting translation note here is that the Hebrew word that our Bibles are translating as “breath” – ruach – is also the Hebrew word for “spirit.” In other words, it could be the “Spirit of the Lord” (as in the Holy Spirit), rather than the “breath of the Lord” as our pew Bibles print it. The lectionary places this reading today because this can be seen as something similar to the Acts story of Pentecost – the Spirit descending and bringing the word of God, to reach people who might have otherwise seemed unreachable.

    And that’s the biggest thing about both of these stories – both the Pentecost story, and the story from Ezekiel 37. These are stories which are, at their hearts, about God’s “yes.” For people, “no” is really easy. We know what things are possible and which are impossible. We know that we’re not going to walk out into the street today with the ability to speak languages we’ve never studied before. We know that if we came upon a pile of dead bones, we would not be able to talk them back into life. We would not. It’s impossible. The answer is “no.”

    But our answers are not God’s answer. God is able to give a “yes” where we knew that “no” was the only option.
    Human endings are just God’s beginnings. What we see as final, God can see as initial.

    There is, of course, no better story of this than the Resurrection of Christ, wherein the ultimate “no” on earth – the end of life – is turned on its head by God’s purposes. In that moment, we see a God who knows the pain of human life, knows its suffering, knows its end, and who still says, “Even in death, you are mine.”

    Brothers and sisters, this is also the story of Ezekiel 37, and it’s the story of Acts 2. These are stories of God not allowing the things that we see as insurmountable stand in the way. If we don’t speak the same language as someone, it’s going to be hard for us to tell them about Jesus – but God speaks without words all the time. If we see dry bones, they’re beyond our ability to reach – but they’re right where God alone can reach them.

    The great Christian hope springs from the reality that, at the end of the day, we are not powerful. We are not the saviors. God is the one who saves. Jesus saves by teaching us how to live, and dying and rising for our sakes. The Holy Spirit saves us by running through the world with reckless abandon and inspiring people to do things we know to be impossible, yet making them happen.

    Friends, we are asked to participate in these impossibilities. We’re asked, not to do the impossible, but to participate when God decides to do the impossible. That’s our call. The apostles in Acts weren’t, in their time, asked to study different languages. But when given tongues to speak, they opened their mouths.

    Brothers and sisters, God is at work in the world today! God is not a pile of dry bones… but we often are. God is not the person babbling on in nonsense language… but we often refuse to open our ears to the truth of words that seem crazy at first.

    Our prayer this day must be that we, like the church of Acts, hear when God is calling us to do something extraordinary – or even when God is calling us to do something ordinary. We must unplug our ears. We must be like the dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley – willing to spring to life with new flesh and sinews, renewed and refreshed by the God of creation, who brings life from even those places where it cannot go. Amen.

  • Speaking to the Bones – 2015/05/24

    Psalm 104:24-34
    Acts 2:1-21
    Ezekiel 37:1-14

    Sermon:

    My elementary school was taught in German. Math was taught in German, so was science, so was social studies. The only subject that wasn’t, was English… but that just makes sense. So I learned a lot of German as a child.

    When I was in college, my parents and I took a trip to Canada. We spent most of the trip in Quebec. If you’ve not been to Quebec… well, it’s an experience. Quebec is the one province where French is the language of the people. Of course, we went into restaurants and people spoke English – most people have some English, and they’re all required to take it in school. But many people speak it poorly, and it’s very possible to go about your life there without ever speaking a word of it.

    Of course, when we had to talk to someone standing near us, like to ask directions or just in making conversation, this made things difficult. And I had this really weird instinct. Every time someone would speak to me in French, even when I could get enough of the words that I understood, I would have to consciously try to stop myself from answering in German. It was like my brain knew that English wasn’t right, and I didn’t know French well enough to say anything, so it went ahead to the only other alternative, which was German.

    As you might imagine, this was extremely unhelpful. Nobody spoke German, and in any case, if they had, speaking English would’ve been the better option, anyway. But it did serve as a reminder that our language, how we communicate, is integral to our experience of the world. The labels we have for things and how we express ourselves are the ways we make sense of the world around us. Being suddenly in an environment where that’s taken away is a troubling experience.

    In the second chapter of Acts, the apostles have quite the opposite experience of losing language, though – they
    find themselves speaking in all sorts of languages they didn’t even know. In fact, it seems as they’re just speaking in their native tongues, but people are perceiving other languages. Now that is quite a talent.

    Anyway, that’s the story we commemorate today; this story of the time the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit,
    were able to preach in foreign tongues and gain new converts. It is, for all intents and purposes, the birthday of the church.

    And while that’s important, this year, I want to focus on the other text we have this day. It’s an Old Testament story so commonly and vaguely known that we all know a song about it, yet I’m sure we don’t think too often about what it means. We rarely hear it in church – probably because it only comes up twice in the lectionary’s three-year cycle, and one of those times is Pentecost.

    So while a Pentecost sermon would normally preach the Pentecost story, today is a little different, because it’s just as important to hear this story from Ezekiel that serves as both a precursor to Pentecost (having happened before the Acts story) and it serves as the more extreme of these two stories.

    In Acts, the apostles were able to preach to people and have them hear in their own languages – that’s impressive. Ezekiel’s audience was much smaller, so… less impressive. The apostles reached thousands of hearers. They faced skeptics who thought they were simply drunk and babbling on about nothing. But Ezekiel faced no skeptics, because he faced no one at all. While the apostles were asked to do the difficult feat of preaching loudly on the street to strangers, Ezekiel was whisked off to a valley of dry bones, and asked to preach until they lived.

    Ezekiel was probably the Old Testament’s most eccentric prophet, and that’s saying something. He laid on his side for 430 days straight, to show how long the people of Israel and Judah would be in exile from the Holy Land (chapter 4). He didn’t mourn his own wife when she died, because she died in the context of a host of others when Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians (chapter 24). He shaved his head (specifically forbidden for priests, of which he was one) and he spent long times not speaking. Most famously of all, of course, he was instructed by God to write a scroll of words of mourning… and then he ate it. A whole scroll. That’s a lot of paper. And all that to prove that the Lord’s word was, literally, in him.

    But even for him, prophesying to these dead, dry bones was a little extreme. Yet, he did it anyway. He
    prophesied that the “breath” of the Lord would come into the bones, and that they would live again.

    An interesting translation note here is that the Hebrew word that our Bibles are translating as “breath” – ruach – is also the Hebrew word for “spirit.” In other words, it could be the “Spirit of the Lord” (as in the Holy Spirit), rather than the “breath of the Lord” as our pew Bibles print it. The lectionary places this reading today because this can be seen as something similar to the Acts story of Pentecost – the Spirit descending and bringing the word of God, to reach people who might have otherwise seemed unreachable.

    And that’s the biggest thing about both of these stories – both the Pentecost story, and the story from Ezekiel 37. These are stories which are, at their hearts, about God’s “yes.” For people, “no” is really easy. We know what things are possible and which are impossible. We know that we’re not going to walk out into the street today with the ability to speak languages we’ve never studied before. We know that if we came upon a pile of dead bones, we would not be able to talk them back into life. We would not. It’s impossible. The answer is “no.”

    But our answers are not God’s answer. God is able to give a “yes” where we knew that “no” was the only option.
    Human endings are just God’s beginnings. What we see as final, God can see as initial.

    There is, of course, no better story of this than the Resurrection of Christ, wherein the ultimate “no” on earth – the end of life – is turned on its head by God’s purposes. In that moment, we see a God who knows the pain of human life, knows its suffering, knows its end, and who still says, “Even in death, you are mine.”

    Brothers and sisters, this is also the story of Ezekiel 37, and it’s the story of Acts 2. These are stories of God not allowing the things that we see as insurmountable stand in the way. If we don’t speak the same language as someone, it’s going to be hard for us to tell them about Jesus – but God speaks without words all the time. If we see dry bones, they’re beyond our ability to reach – but they’re right where God alone can reach them.

    The great Christian hope springs from the reality that, at the end of the day, we are not powerful. We are not the saviors. God is the one who saves. Jesus saves by teaching us how to live, and dying and rising for our sakes. The Holy Spirit saves us by running through the world with reckless abandon and inspiring people to do things we know to be impossible, yet making them happen.

    Friends, we are asked to participate in these impossibilities. We’re asked, not to do the impossible, but to participate when God decides to do the impossible. That’s our call. The apostles in Acts weren’t, in their time, asked to study different languages. But when given tongues to speak, they opened their mouths.

    Brothers and sisters, God is at work in the world today! God is not a pile of dry bones… but we often are. God is not the person babbling on in nonsense language… but we often refuse to open our ears to the truth of words that seem crazy at first.

    Our prayer this day must be that we, like the church of Acts, hear when God is calling us to do something extraordinary – or even when God is calling us to do something ordinary. We must unplug our ears. We must be like the dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley – willing to spring to life with new flesh and sinews, renewed and refreshed by the God of creation, who brings life from even those places where it cannot go. Amen.

  • Come Join Us!

    Sunday Church Service: 9:30 am
    Adult Sunday School: 10:30am
    Wednesday Youth Service: 6:30 pm

    102 East 1st Street
    Marion, SD 57043
    Phone: (605) 648-3876
    Email: emmanuelpc@goldenwest.net
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