“The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.
And yet the Lord says, your hope is not lost. You are not cut off completely, for I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.”
This is the message of Pentecost. This is what we celebrate this morning. A few Sundays ago we talked about the Holy Spirit coming down at Pentecost to the disciples in the upper room as a fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that the disciples would receive power and become witnesses for Jesus. That embodies the whole mission of the church: to proclaim who Jesus is in the power of the Spirit.
And yet today we learn a little more about why those first disciples were so overwhelmed, so happy, so full of joy, so eager to share the good news. Because on Pentecost, what was dead in them came back to life. What was dry in them was drenched by the Spirit. What was lost in them was found again in the receiving of the Spirit.
This is the missing piece of my sermon from two weeks ago. Let’s call it part two. The first part was about how the Holy Spirit sends us out in different ways to witness. And today is the part about the power that nourishes us and gives us hope and brings us back to life.
The Spirit of the Lord put Ezekiel in a valley, and it was full of dry bones. It was full of the destruction and despair, lack of hope, and lack of a future for the people Israel. And in the upper room, the disciples had also lost all of their hope. Their savior had been crucified and even though they had seen him resurrected, they were still not sure what happened next.
They had all kinds of bones scattered over their own valley, memories of their own betrayal of Jesus, memories of the violence they saw him undergo, the suffering. Fear for their own lives. Insecurity about what would happen next. And then Pentecost came on them like a thundering fire. Pentecost filled them with praise. Their dry bones would live. They would be knit back together, nourished and made whole. What was dead in them was brought to new life. Today we celebrate that power, that the Holy Spirit has come to the earth, and that power is now ours when we open our hearts to receive the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is described in Scripture in very earthly ways. It is experienced as a force of nature. It is a wind that breathes life, a fire that consumes, a thunder that shakes, a water that drenches. SO it is not just a power you know in your mind; it is something that you feel in your body. The Holy Spirit is described that way because it was experienced as a bodily experience of power and renewal from kings, and prophets in the old testament to the disciples in the upper room. And still the experience we have of the Spirit is an experience like a force of nature, sometimes like a fire and a thunder and other times like a gentle rain or a breath. It soaks into our bodies right to our bones. Some people are “slain in the Spirit,” where their bodies are overwhelmed and they fall into a kind of deep rest in the Spirit. Some people speak in tongues where Spiritual languages well up from inside of them and they commune with God in the Spirit. Some are given gifts of healing where their physical touch helps further the Spirits’ work in another person. Or sometimes we feel we ourselves are healed. We might find ourselves cry or laugh in the Spirit. We dance like David, we feel joy like a healing water, drenching our bodies. Or we simply feel ourselves drawn inward to a peaceful, quiet place. We feel at peace and our tense shoulders finally relax.
We come to a place of deep contemplation and connection to Jesus. In all these ways the power of the Spirit is received by us, so that we might be made alive once more in our own dry valleys. To be knit back together. To be nourished and made whole. This is the promise of Pentecost that we have today.
if the Lord picked you up and plopped you right n the middle of your own dry valley what bones would be there? What’s scattered over your floor? What loss, what need for renewal? What doubts? What needs for new life, nourishment, love, tears, or laughter, the breath of the Spirit? The Lord says to us our hope is not lost; we are not cutoff completely. God will put His Spirit within us, and we shall live. Our job is simply to receive that Spirit. To realize how much we need new life.
Sometimes the dry valley is loss and grief. We wonder what life will come out of the hopes or dreams we’ve lost. Sometimes we have dryness in our spiritual lives; we really don’t feel like praying or connecting to God. We turn on the TV or do whatever we do to check out at the end of the day because it seems like becoming alive itself takes more aliveness than we have.
For me often the dry valley is just the never ending list of things to do; I’m just too busy for the Spirit. I’m in my head all the time, hopping from projects to deadlines to chores to family life to obligations. Then I get up the next week and do it again and again and again. So it’s all output and no input.
We can say life never gives us a break—that we don’t have time to look closely at our valleys, that we don’t have time to open our hands and our hearts to receive this new life. But in the end our lives are formed on the choices we make. We have to make the time to open our hearts. We have to want to receive that Spirit and to let that life soak back into our bones.
So today the Spirit of the Lord lifts us up. The Lord lifts us all up today and plops us down in our own valleys. And the Lord says, “Look around. Examine it. Can these bones live? Today, receive the breath. Receive today the Holy Spirit. Receive down into your bones—into your bodies the power to be fully alive.
The Lord says your hope is not lost . You are not cutoff completely. Be knit back together. Be nourished and made whole. Receive the blessing of having what is dry in you soaked in the Spirit. What is dead in you brought to new life.
The Reverend Sonia Waters
Christ Episcopal Church
May 27, 2012