Monday, June 1, 2009

The Day of Pentecost (Series B: Ezekiel 37:1-14)

“And you shall know that I AM the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Pentecost Day is from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the thirty-seventh chapter of the prophet Ezekiel. Dear friends in Christ, the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. But God spoke, and things began to happen. With the power of His Word He brought forth light, He separated waters, He caused plants to sprout, and animals to teem in the sky, on the land, and in the sea. His Word brought the stars into existence, with the sun and the moon. All things came to be through the power of His Word, but the greatest miracle was yet to come. “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” He who had no life in himself, who was only a pile of dirt, became a living person with a blast of wind from God’s nostrils, God put into man the breath of life. And God took a rib from the man, this mound of dirt made alive by the power of God’s life giving breath, and made woman. Adam said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.”

They were united together as man and woman, as husband and wife. And together, they plunged into rebellion. All the gifts that God had given, every good thing brought forth by the power of His Word, even the very gift of the breath of life, was not enough. They wanted more. They wanted to run the show, they wanted to be like God. And so they betrayed God, they disobeyed Him, and they condemned each of their offspring to lives as enemies of God. We are the children of Adam and Eve, we too want to be like God, to run our lives our own way, without His interference or His rules. The wonderful life that God has given us to live is too stifling for us, we think we know better. And so we live our lives our own way, indulging in secret or even public sin, wallowing in thoughts, words, and deeds that thumb our noses at our creator.

And so those created by God, those breathing the very breath of life, wither away. For as hard as we may even try to follow the commands of God, the fact remains that we are estranged from our creator, cut off from His life-giving nourishment. "The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry." Ezekiel sees the results. He sees what humanity’s sin, the sin inherited from Adam and Eve and added to by us, has led to- dry bones, cut off from water. Not alive, in fact the very opposite of alive. These bones are dead, they have very little that would demonstrate that they have ever been alive. And they are left unburied, subject to the elements, subject to the curse. Ezekiel knows that in his day bones were only left unburied as a sign of a curse, and He knows that the curse over all humanity is that of death. “And He said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’”

God’s question is ridiculous, and Ezekiel answers the only way he can. Of course these bones cannot live. They cannot pick themselves up and grow flesh and skin and become people again. Bones, dry bones, cursed bones quite simply don’t do those sorts of things. They cannot even move without help, because they are dead. This is the plight of mankind- God quotes His people, they say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost, we are completely cut off.” But yet Ezekiel cannot leave it with a simple and emphatic ‘no’- he is speaking with the Lord of all creation, the Lord who created life in the first place by mounding up some dirt and breathing. “O Lord God, you know.”

God did know. God knew that He would soon send someone to give life to dead bones, one who would take the very plight of man and make it His own. This one is the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God Himself taking on human flesh and dwelling amongst dry bones. The people cried out to God for deliverance, saying, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.” Jesus Christ came to allow His bones to be dried up in the dust of death, as He cries in Psalm 22: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” He came to allow his hope to be seemingly lost. He came to be completely cut off from the Father as He cries out from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He came to do all this for He had come to rescue sinful, condemned, and cursed people from death. He came to take on their sin, your sin and my sin, and take it to the cross. He came to defeat death and make dry bones alive. His mission was to suffer everything, even the very abandonment of God, and die for you, me, and all people. He came to the valley of dry bones, and He saw the humanity He loved, you and me, enslaved to death and ensnared in its curse. We were dry bones, unable to raise ourselves up, but He came for our salvation, He came to give life to us. And He did this by giving up His life, by allowing His body to be broken and destroyed, by laying Himself in the dust of death. But God brought Him forth from an open grave. “Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.”

The Lord asked Ezekiel, “‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’” God knew that His Son would come to reconcile the Creator with His creation, He knew that Jesus Christ would die on the cross, facing the wrath and abandonment of God for dead and dying people. And He knew that Christ would rise triumphant and then go out to make dry bones live. But He does not answer Ezekiel, He simply demonstrates. “Then He said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” The Word goes forth from Christ and those whom He appointed to proclaim that Word, and it goes forth to give life to dry bones, bones which could not give themselves life. “So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.”
There is a problem- these bones had formed bodies, just as God formed the man from the dust of the earth, but they were not alive. One thing remained- a promise, a promise that was fulfilled on this day. “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” The wind came, and it brought the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift long foretold, a gift that would make dead, dry bones alive. "Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live." So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army."

God recreated His people through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the one who brings the very benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection near to dead and dying people, near to you and me. Through the power of Christ’s word, the Holy Spirit breathed into your nostrils the very breath of life. You were joined to Christ, made His, a participant in the redemption that He won. You who were dead were made alive through Jesus Christ and His Word, which the promised Holy Spirit brought to you.

God recreates through the redemption of His Son, and then we follow the pattern of Jesus. Christ opened the grave as the firstfruits of the resurrection, and now we are part of the harvest to come. “Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.” God asked Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” The answer is: ‘Yes, through the redemption of Christ by His death and resurrection, these bones can live, and they can live forever!”
You and I are destined to join that ‘great army’ that Ezekiel sees, the great company of the ones redeemed by the blood of Christ, the ones resurrected to live before the throne of the Lamb forever. “The breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.” We are those who will receive the heavenly inheritance, the new heavens and new earth, the new Israel given to those redeemed by Christ’s blood. The Holy Spirit has made you alive through the Word of Christ and His sacraments, and now you await the day on which you follow Christ’s resurrection with your own. “And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I AM the Lord.” The Spirit was given to us on this day, the day of Pentecost, the day on which Christ fulfilled His promises and sent the Comforter, the one who will bring Jesus to us each and every day until the day of Resurrection. On that day we will join Christ forever in the resurrection life, standing before Him in heavenly glory for all eternity. May our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ work through the Holy Spirit to give you the confidence in God’s promises, that you may believe Him when He says, “I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” Amen.

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