Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts 2:1-21
I unashamedly admit one of my favorite American writers is Cormac McCarthy. Early on he wrote classics such as All the Pretty Horses and Twin Cities of the Plain. These were stories about young men dreaming about things they could hardly understand. As McCarthy got older, and darker, he wrote No Country for Old Men, followed by his masterpiece, The Road. My favorite quote by McCarthy is, “Where all is known, no narrative is possible.” I suspect that quote says everything about my love of the Bible. McCarthy speaks to our text this morning when he writes, “When you dream of some world that never was or will never be, you have given up. Therefore dream of what was and of what might be again.”
I place a high value on dreams. I am not referring to the stuff that happens in your sub-consciousness as you sleep. I am talking about an active imagination that remembers yesterday and celebrates the possibility of tomorrow.
Ezekiel was a dreamer. He was also a priest to a helpless and hopeless people who had lost their homes and families. One might easily forgive Ezekiel if he had spent his entire ministry doing crisis counseling. That is something the exiles in Babylon could have certainly used. A lament that fell from the lips of this inconsolable people was,
Our bones are dried up,
Our hope is lost,
We are cut off completely.
Ezekiel’s fellow exiles were at the bottom of the well. They were living but as good as dead. Words of reassurance could not cut through their despair. They could not imagine anything good evolving from their experience. Ezekiel invited them to view reality through the eyes of God. They were asked to believe that life was about to be transformed from death. In the midst of the darkest moment in their history Ezekiel wanted his people to discover the ever shining, ever inspiring, light of God.
The vision began in the valley of death. Ever been there? Of course you have. While today is Pentecost, tomorrow is Memorial Day. I remember as if it were yesterday, the first time I visited the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington. I had heard about the impact The Wall had on folks, but I thought I was beyond the memories and feelings that conflict stirred within me. I went to the directory and looked up the names of a couple friends from college. Then I proceeded to the section where I hoped to find their names. As I started down the slight incline, my legs become heavy as I was overwhelmed by the mass of humanity on that granite wall. On reaching the mid-point, emotions I thought I had long ago been resolved overwhelmed me and my only desire was to reach the end of the memorial. As I started up, it was as if I was trying to escape quicksand. The harder I struggled the deeper I sank. Eventually I stepped off the path, sat down in the grass and wept. I was filled with uncontrollable remorse and overcome with emptiness. I had visited the valley of death and it had left me barren…. void …..of all life.
We have all experienced such a wall. Nothing that anyone could say or do has much of an impact when we are in our personal valley of death. At yet, when we are ready, each person, each generation, needs to hear that the bones in our valley can live again. The people of Judah were no exception. While they were void inside, when they looked into God’s eyes, they experienced a truth that turned loss into hope.
“Speak to the breath, speak, and say to the breath, “Breathe on these slain that they might live.” The breath of God…. the wind or spirit of God…… the creating power of God has never been limited by worldly vision. The author of that magnificent poem in Genesis wrote, “The earth was chaotic and darkness covered the face of the deep yet the wind of God swept through the waters and there was light.” Ezekiel believed the holy wind that creates can also become the sacred wind that restores. Ezekiel proclaimed that this wind, this spirit of God could transform even the dead bones of Israel into a living, breathing, liberated people. And he was proven right.
Of Course today we are not here to celebrate the restoration of Israel but rather the day of Pentecost. It is hard not to notice the parallels. The disciples were completely void of life following the death of Jesus. Their leader was gone, their hope non-existent. Discouraged and uninspired, they gathered in the Upper Room, their own Valley of Death, to say their good-byes and return to their former lives. In the midst of a stillness that was not to be confused with tranquility, their bereavement was interrupted by the wind, the very breathe of God, penetrating the walls of their closed quarters. The darkness that pressed into every corner of their empty souls was exposed and then expunged by a flame that burned with the eternal truth, “You are not alone. Your God lives.”
This sudden emergence of holy fire must have almost given them a coronary. Folks can get comfortable in their grief. It can lead to a complacency that excuses us from further engagements in this life’s complex endeavors. We spend our entire existence on the playing field and suddenly, torn by circumstances out of our control, we find comfort on the sidelines. We watch, rather than participate. We complain rather than becoming agents for change. Some even welcome their own demise, actually embracing the Valley of Death. Into this darkness, into this lifeless existence, the Holy Wind dares enter in an act of defiance that reminds us God is always in the process of creating life even in the midst of our chaos.
Most of us are, how to I politely say this, mature enough to remember when Paul Simon pinned these words:
When you are weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all.
I’m on your side.
When times get rough and friends can’t be found,
Like a bridge over troubled water,
I‘ll lay me down.
While I love those words, they do not adequately describe the transforming Spirit of God. The Pentecost explosion, the Pentecost outbreak did not occur because God built a bridge over the world’s waters of discontent. God jumps right into the currents of our lives. God steps within our raging souls. God takes our pain, our confusion, our discord and even our disbelief and says, “You are not alone.”
What else could have inspired Peter to walk into the streets of Jerusalem and proclaim, “Your young will have visions and your old men will dream dreams. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” It took Peter a lot more than courage to kick-start Christianity. It took a holy wind, a holy spirit, a holy word that promised God would not send him into the darkness alone. My friends:
The God of creation,
the God of resurrection,
Walks in and out of our Valley of Death.
The God of dreams,
The God of visions,
Fashions hope out of nightmares.
The God of Easter,
The God of Pentecost,
But never conforms,
To deaths limited imagination.
We might be old,
We might be on our last legs,
But we who can still hope,
Remember what was,
and what might be again.
We remember creation,
We remember Easter,
We remember Pentecost.
And because we remember,
Because we believe,
Of God’s Holy Wind,
Of God’s Holy Spirit,
Of God’s Covenantal Words,
I AM WITH YOU;
Take that promise.
Bury it in your personal valley of death.
Put on something red.
Then listen for the wind of God.
The Spirit of Pentecost is alive in this place.
To God be the glory. Amen