A Pentecost sermon

We know that God can breathe new life into dry bones. We know that the Holy Spirit can rustle up new languages of prayer and of inspiration, resurrect the hopeless. Ezekiel, faced with the horror of his vision, a vision of hundreds upon thousands who had died; the prophet knew the power of the almighty God to save and to breathe and to create new life. Yet when God asked him, “Can these dry bones live?” Ezekiel, the mortal, replied, “You are the one who knows.”

Ezekiel may have been afraid to hope, in the face of the piles of death he saw before him. After more than a year of a pandemic that has claimed nearly 3.5 million lives; after a new outbreak of gun violence and mass shootings across our nation; after seeing the news out of India, out of Israel and Palestine, death by disaster of natural and most unnatural making – after all that we have seen and tried to unsee, perhaps we can offer Ezekiel some empathy, some compassion.

Ezekiel, the mortal, may have been afraid to presume upon the intentions of God. He may have thought, “But who am I to suggest that God – who gives breath to the living, who fade and fail when God’s face is turned away – who am I to suggest to God upon whom God should breathe and bring new life? Do these dry bones deserve another chance at mortal life?”

The politics of resurrection are less complicated than we make them. God replies, “Prophesy.”

“Prophesy, mortal. For the breath of God is life, my word is life, my Spirit is life for my people.”

I love that God calls Ezekiel, “Mortal,” at least in many translations. There is nothing extraordinary about the prophet or his own supply of life that brings about the resurrection and respiration of this legion of bones. Only the word of God, the breath of God, the Spirit of the living God can animate them. It is enough for Ezekiel to prophesy, to speak the word that God has given to him.

I wonder what it is that God would have us prophesy this Pentecost. What is the word that is needed to bring life to dry bones, hope to the faint-hearted? What is the word that will be heard by all who need it, regardless of language, culture, background, history; regardless of how these bones ended up piled up in the dry and shadowy valley?

We have the words of life. We have the Word of life: Jesus Christ. We have the Holy Spirit, to guide and direct and inspire us, us mortals, us ordinary church folk. There is nothing lacking that God cannot provide with a mere breath.

Are we weary and afraid of hope? Are we wary of presuming upon God’s intentions? As we prepare to come back together, one way or another, do we doubt God’s ability and intention to breathe new life into us?

There is much to weigh up and much that weighs us down. Yet the intentions of God are discernible, driving vaccine research and uptake and, if only we were to follow God’s law and the example of the apostles, the sharing of resources.

The intentions of God are visible in a ceasefire, tragically too late for some lives. The intentions of God for peace are some long way from fulfillment; but we catch hope from the suspension of bombardments, the survival of the children this night at least. There is so very much reckoning to be had before Palestinians are free and Israel is at peace: yet every ceasefire is a small victory for the peace of God.

Did you hear this week about the teacher who interrupted a school shooting and held the sixth-grade girl with a gun in a hug until help arrived? We have so far to go until a child has no chance of finding a gun to take to school, or to take out to play; but the intentions of God for life, for love, are evident among us.

The intentions of God, that these dry bones might live, are not beyond our vision. We can see how the world might be, flesh and sinew knit together, if we lived on the breath of God, seeing God’s Spirit in the inhalation, the exhalation of every human being made in God’s image.

“Prophesy, mortal.”

Next Sunday we come back together, as we are able, on the front lawn or in the church or right back here online for some. And what will we proclaim to a world parched for good news? And will we doubt that God can bring to pass the renewal of our lives, of our life together, and the lives of the neighbors whom we love in Christ’s name?

Thus says the Lord God: … you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 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.


About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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