Memory, Hope, and Spirit
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

May 24, 2015
Pentecost Sunday

Ezekiel 37:1-14
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

The first time I ever heard the story of the valley of dry bones was not from the book of Ezekiel. It was from the song.

Foot bone connected to the – ankle bone;
Ankle bone connected to the – shin bone;
Shin bone connected to the – knee bone;
Now hear the word of the Lord!

Thinking of that song reminds me of the nursery school at the Chapel on the Hill in Oak Ridge. It is housed in the basement of the educational building of the church, and it had all the cool stuff that a nursery school would have: poorly tuned ukuleles, fake kitchen appliances, painting stations, cardboard bricks, wooden blocks, and of course, felt board and figures for storytelling.

Of course, thinking about the church gets me to thinking of Youth Group, dinners, Christmas Eve services.

Memory is at the core of who we are as human beings, and is at the heart of our faith. One memory sparks another, sparks another, and pretty soon we are either asking someone “Do you remember when…?” or we are sharing stories with people who were not there.

The Bible is filled with people asking, “Do you remember when…?” The psalms recall the Exodus of Moses and the people through the sea and the wilderness, led by God. Paul recalls the calling of Abraham. Even as he was seeking to reform the faith, Jesus starts out by saying, “You have heard that it was said…”

Part of the genius of the Jewish faith, which the Christian faith inherited, is that memory can also bring hope. The purpose of Ezekiel telling the story of his vision of the valley of dry bones is not simply for the day in which it took place. Yes, it was a vision that brought hope to a people in exile. Ezekiel was exiled in Babylon, and yet in his vision the dead house of Israel lives again by the word of the Lord.

If the prophet were simply writing for the sake of history, we could record it as the dream of someone in tough times. But the prophet writes it, the people record it, the compilers of the Bible include it, because it says something about a word of the Lord that can raise people from the valley of dry bones, about the power of God to make all things new. The purpose of this story is not just for there and then. The purpose of this story is for communities going through valleys of dry bones.

Michigan is in trouble. Economically, we are slower than other areas to recover. The real estate market has hit a lot of people hard. People are moving out of our state to try and get better jobs at better wages. The fights over education are wiping our teachers out. We pretend that the rest of the state need not worry about Detroit, but as Detroit goes, so goes Michigan.

Can these dry bones live?

Charlotte is in trouble. We do not have the quaint downtown draw of Marshall. We are losing students, and with them, money for education. When we finally got the wonderful change of weather for spring, we were warned about bottles left by the side of the road, as they may be the trash from cooking meth.

Can these dry bones live?

Our church has its own trouble. As our stewardship committee can testify, we can pass a deficit budget at our annual meeting every year, but we are running out of our savings, and then what? With this comes the other problem that so many churches face: we go into survival mode. We circle the wagons and we focus on numbers. We do not reach out to make disciples; we seek to gain members to shore up the budget. We spend our energy and time and resources on ourselves and not on those we are called to serve.

Can these dry bones live?

[The Lord] said to [Ezekiel], “Mortal, can these bones live?”
[Ezekiel] answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

And Ezekiel was told to preach, to prophesy, to speak a word of the Lord. Three times he was told to prophesy. (Even with God, there is no quick fix.)

And the dry bones live again!

“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.

In John, the risen and living Jesus is speaking about the Holy Spirit: the Advocate, the Helper, the Counselor. The disciples, however, are sad that Jesus, who was dead and now is raised, is going away. They just got him back. Their hope has been restored. But now they are sorrowful because he is leaving.

Nevertheless I tell you the truth:
it is to your advantage that I go away,
for if I do not go away,
the Advocate will not come to you;
but if I go, I will send him to you.

If Jesus were to stay, there would by one person, remarkable, godly, raised, filled with the power of God, but nevertheless one person.

When the Spirit comes, those who believe will start to do the things Jesus did. We read of Peter raising the beggar to new life and we remember Jesus doing that. We read of Paul talking with people far out on the margins, and we remember Jesus doing that.

With the coming of the Holy Spirit, we discover that instead of one person gifted by God with what is needed to let these dry bones live, we have whole communities of people. And with the coming of the Spirit, we have the power and the responsibility to seek and speak the word of the Lord that will let these dry bones live.

Pentecost is scary. Not because of the fire, the speaking in tongues, the things of the Spirit that mess with our control needs. No, Pentecost is scary because we who have the memories of the saving acts of God, we who have the hope of the resurrection, we are called to prophesy and call the dry bones to live.

When the Spirit of truth comes,
he will guide you into all the truth…

We remember, and in our memory find our hope. We hope, and in our hope, we find the work of the Spirit, calling us to the valleys of dry bones. And in the Spirit we find what we need to say and do, that these dry bones can live.

Thanks be to God.