Isaiah 6:1-8; Ezekiel 37:1-14
Sermon Being Here
Good morning! Full confession: I’m cheating today! That’s right, I’m cheating. The reading we just heard from the prophet Ezekiel was actually one of the readings for last Sunday, Pentecost. According to the Church calendar, today is Trinity Sunday, not Pentecost. But I think there’s a message in Ezekiel that we all need to hear as we prepare to return to the sanctuary. We need more of the Holy Spirit; we need a little more Pentecost. That’s why I’m still wearing my red stole.
We heard this same reading last year. I preached on it. It spoke to us then, because it was a reminder to keep the faith, not to give up in a time of uncertainty. Our context is a little different today; we’re about to return to in-person worship every Sunday, though we will still be online for those who cannot attend.
While it’s true that we’ve been back in the sanctuary since October, we’ve mostly alternated Sundays. It was confusing for some. It felt like we were still in exile. There was a lot of uncertainty. Now we have a lot more clarity. Still, this passage from Ezekiel speaks to us from across the centuries.
The thing that you need to know about this story from the prophet Ezekiel is that it was written during the Babylonian Captivity, the exile. This was the period when the religious and political leaders of the kingdom of Judah were being held captive by the Babylonians.
I’ve talked about this in other sermons, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time walking you through all the history today. What’s most important to remember is that the Babylonians laid siege to the city of Jerusalem at least twice at the beginning of this period of exile. The second time, the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and the destroyed the Temple, the center of Jewish religious ritual.
This loss was enormous. The Jews who were taken from Jerusalem were utterly bereft. They thought that God had abandoned them. They didn’t know how to practice their faith without the Temple. For a time, they felt they were completely lost.
But they weren’t.
God continued to speak to them through prophets such as Ezekiel.
That’s the context for this morning’s lesson. God is telling God’s chosen people that God has not abandoned them. God will breathe life into them. The dry bones that Ezekiel sees are the “whole house of Israel,” they believe their hope is lost, they feel that they are cut off from the love of God. God tells them:
I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord. (Ezekiel 37:12-14)
They will live again in their own home.
Next Sunday, we will live and remain in our own home. We survived one of the biggest challenges this congregation has ever faced. Hallelujah!
Today I’m wearing my red stole because red is the color for the Holy Spirit. Today’s reading is all about the Holy Spirit. One of the words that comes up a lot in this text is breath. In Hebrew, that word is ruah. That word also means Spirit. As in the Spirit of God; the Holy Spirit. And it is only through God’s Spirit that the people called Israel may rise from their graves and return to their homeland.
In fact, the exiles did return to Jerusalem—after a couple generations. God breathed life into them while they were in exile, by speaking through the prophets. God breathed his life, his Spirit, his ruah into the people called Israel. This word, ruah, is also used in the book of Genesis, in the story of creation. God sends his Holy Spirit, breathes his Holy Spirit into the world, and that Spirit creates new life.
Last Sunday, we celebrated Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit breathed life into the church. Think about that. Even after the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the creative work of the Holy Spirit continued. And it continues today.
As I said last Sunday, we can call on the creative power of the Holy Spirit. In particular, we can activate the power of the Spirit as we call people into relationship, and also as we rekindle the relationships here in church that we already cherish.
God continued to speak to the people called Israel, even though they were exiled from their homeland. Even though the Temple was destroyed. The people called Israel kept their faith. In fact, they learned to practice the faith in a whole new way.
Like the exiles from Jerusalem, we, too, have learned to practice our faith in new and exciting ways. God is still with us; the Holy Spirit never rests. Even if we have been lying low for the last year or so, it is time to rekindle the flame in all of our hearts. It is time to transmit the creative spark of the Spirit to one another.
The story of Pentecost, the story of the birth of the Church, begins with the following verse: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). “They” were all the believers, all the followers of Christ who had gathered in Jerusalem after the resurrection; the original congregation.
For months, we have all imagined what it would be like when we could all gather together in one place. Next Sunday, we may all gather together in the sanctuary; we may all meet at 118 West Main St. There are no barriers, no impediments to our gathering.
I encourage all of you to join us if you are able. When we are all together in this place, we can feel that creative spark, the flame of the Holy Spirit and we can share it with one another. I encourage you to check in with other members of your church family. Please encourage them to come to worship next Sunday.
As an added bonus, we are celebrating the sacrament of baptism next Sunday. So, we will have the opportunity to share that sacred spark with others. We will have the opportunity to practice relationship with folks who are new to our church family. We will have the opportunity to share the gift of the Holy Spirit with people we have not yet met. Won’t you join me? Thanks be to God. Amen.
Beloved, as you depart from this place, remember that we are bound to one another through the Holy Spirit. So, be attentive to the movement of the Spirit. Go forth and be instruments of God’s peace and love and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Go forth and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!