Death Valley

Pentecost Year B   Ezekiel 37:1-14  Acts 2:1-21  John 15:26-27; 16:4-15

The Valley of the Dry Bones. Valley of the Dead. Remember that children’s song? Them bones them bones them dry bones this must be the workin of the Lord. Ezekiel, the prophet who inspired that children’s song, was sent by God to the people of God; a people who felt abandoned and hopeless in exile.  Their days were lifeless and hopeless and they felt helpless. It is possible that they might even have wondered if God had left them entirely.

God sends Ezekiel to these people to remind them that he is there and that he will never leave them. Many strange things have happened to Ezekiel in his life of ministry. Among many peculiar things he witnessed a wheel in the sky when he was first called by God. But now God sends this prophet, whose name means God Strengthens, to preach in a valley.

Sounds kinda nice, right? Preaching in a valley like ones in these beautiful mountains would be great! However, this is not a valley full of people but a valley full of death. A valley of dead, dry bones.

What could be more hopeless than a huge mass of long dead people? Yet, Ezekiel does as God tells him to do. He proclaims the Word of God to the dry bones lying around the valley. We can just imagine his voice echoing off the sides of the mountains all around him like thunder in that great cavernous emptiness. The kind of emptiness that comes from being in a place that ought to be filled with people. Still, to the dead he prophesies. Into emptiness, he speaks the words God has given him.

O Dry Bones, Hear the Word of the Lord!

Thus Says the Lord—I will cause flesh to cover your old, tired and dead bones and I will wrap you in skin. I will put breath in you and you will live.

Just as God said, just as Ezekiel prophesied, it begins to happen. Bones begin to rattle together. Can we even imagine such a sight and sound? Flesh and skin cover those once dead and dry bones. And it is not over yet. Perhaps the best is still to come. God tells the prophet to speak again,  calling upon the wind—the Ruach. This is not any ordinary breeze or even a strong gust. Ruach is the Hebrew word for Spirit. This is the Spirit of God that moved over the chaotic face of the dark deep at the dawn  of creation. The Spirit of God that rests upon and fills up prophets. The Spirit of God that descended upon Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan. The Spirit of God whom we heard about in today’s Gospel is the Spirit Jesus promise he would send into the world after he ascended to the Father.

The Ruach—the breath of God—The Spirit of God—came to that death valley where Ezekiel stood; came to what was once a pile of dead and dry bones, transformed into lifeless bodies and then filled them up so that they would live.

The people say their lives are hopeless, that they are nothing but dried up old bones, God says to Ezekiel, but tell them—tell them all what I say:

I am going to open up your graves and bring you out. I will put My Spirit in you and you will live. You will know that I am God and I will bring you home.

This Spirit of God that Ezekiel encounters in the Valley of Dry Bones is the Spirit that descended upon the disciples on Pentecost, the day the church was born. After Jesus died and even after he was resurrected, the disciples were frightened people who were not sure what was to happen next.

Go into all the world making disciples and baptizing? Ummm, Yeah, that was easy for him to say. They couldn’t kill him a second time and, by now, he was already sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven. They were just ordinary guys! How could they do something like that?

We often think of the disciples as either guys who just don’t get it no matter how clearly Jesus tries to teach them or as the wise and brave apostles who founded and spread the church throughout the known world. We don’t think about what must have happened to get them from one to the other. The truth is, these are ordinary people just like you and me. What on earth could have happened to them to make it possible for them to be the great proclaimers of the Gospel that we know?

It is the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Passover, which also means it’s fifty days after Easter. Pentecost is one of the big festivals for the Jews. It is also called the Festival of Weeks or Festival of First Fruits. It was the celebration of God giving the Ten Commandments to Moses. It is one of those festivals, like Passover, where Jews from many different countries, and therefore many different languages, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate.

It is now that the promised Holy Spirit —the Spirit of God—comes to them and it is every bit  as dramatic and nearly unbelievable as a valley of dry bones coming to life. Like a wind, the Spirit comes and like fire the Spirit rests upon the disciples.  As fierce and miraculous as a newborn coming into the world, the church is born. It is at this point that the disciples now find the courage to be the apostles. They find the strength and ability to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ, not only in every language imaginable on that day, but to everyone and every place they can.

The Holy Spirit—the Ruach of God—didn’t stop there. In our baptismal rite as well as in our Confirmation rites we say that the Holy Spirit calls, gathers and enlightens the Church. We say that we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit at baptism. The gifts of wisdom and might, knowledge and fear of the Lord. The gift of faith itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit. On our own, as hard as we may try, we could not fulfill the law and we cannot follow Christ as we would wish.

The effects of sin are so debilitating that alone we cannot even begin to be disciples; even begin to believe in God. Alone, we are like the valley of dry bones. We can no more make ourselves holy enough to follow God than those bones could have gotten up and put on skin and started dancing.  But with the Holy Spirit, with the gifts he gives, with the faith we receive as a free gift, we can.

The Spirit does more than just help us each individually be good Christians, good disciples and faithful followers of Christ, in fact, the very Body of Christ. The Spirit is what creates the church herself—what forms us into the Body of Christ.  The breath of God blows through our lives like blowing over a valley. The Spirit is what gives the church life—what makes the Body of Christ like a valley full of living, vibrant people of God.

And the Spirit of God is active now. Every day. Right now and right here. So where in your life is there a valley of dry bones? Where does it seem that things are hopeless, lifeless and where you feel helpless?  Where are the places in the life of Shepherd of the Hills that feel dry and lifeless? The places where it seems like God is a long way away? The places where it is hard to be hopeful.

The Holy Spirit comes like wind and fire, bringing life—the life of God himself.  As amazing and miraculous as a valley suddenly full of living breathing people, as tongues of fire, as a city with fearless disciples speaking the language of everyone present, proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ.

Hear the word of the Lord: God says, I am going to open up your graves, the dead and dry places of your lives, and bring you out. I will put My Spirit in you and you will live. You will know that I am God and I will bring you home.

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