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A Welcoming Church

Today, in connection with our 200th Anniversary, we are using the Order of Service from the 1822 Book of Common Prayer. It is both familiar and strange at the same time. One strange aspect is the absence of any OT lesson or Psalm. Which is a lack. So I will start this morning with a brief discussion of what would otherwise be today’s OT reading.

The reading is from Ezekiel (37:1-14). The land of Judah is dead; really dead. The Babylonians had conquered it in the early 6th century BC. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and its temple, and the Jews were driven out of their homeland into captivity in what is now Iraq.

In exile, they suffered greatly, and faced tremendous cultural pressures and threat of extinction. The prophet Ezekiel had a vision of Israel as a barren valley of dry bones. The great nation God had raised up was gone, except for a handful of captives with few memories and fewer hopes. Israel’s national and religious identity was devastated, scattered and cut off.

Ezekiel resuscitated hope in the Jews, even in that foreign land. He told them of his vision of the Lord God ordering breath into those dry bones; laying sinews on them; and flesh, and skin, and bringing those dry bones back to life.

Then in Ezekiel’s vision, there came a rattling noise; the bones came together, with sinews and flesh and skin on them, and breath came into them, and they lived.

The prophecy of the Lord God is that those dry bones are Israel, which will be brought up from the grave, back to life, and returned to its homeland. We know what happened: – King Cyrus of Persia freed the Jews from their captivity, and they returned to their own land.

The story of God’s people is the story of God breathing life into a dying situation. The Adam and Eve creation account in Genesis (2:7) starts with, “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”

The plotline of the Bible is this, God breathing new life into his people. Today is the Day of Pentecost, the 50th day of Easter. It celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit, breathing new life into his people.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is with the disciples in the upper room at the Last Supper. He has just washed his disciples’ feet, put his robe back on, and gone back to the table. He has given them the New Commandment, that they have love for one another.

Then he promises them the Holy Spirit to come after him and take his place. The disciples must have been confounded: what are you talking about, what is a Holy Spirit?! So Jesus explains. “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

Jesus goes on to describe what will be the work of the Holy Spirit: “And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

In the Book of Acts (2:1-4), we have the actual coming of the Holy Spirit. The apostles are in Jerusalem after the Ascension. They have chosen Matthias to replace Judas. They are all together when suddenly a sound like the rush of a violent wind fills the house. Tongues of fire appear and rest on each of them. They are all filled with the Holy Spirit.

God is always at work in the world, always breathing new life into his people. The Holy Spirit came to be with us after Jesus was gone. The Holy Spirit is God at work in the world now to “prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”

John calls it the Spirit of truth. He uses that phrase, and the word truth, a few times in today’s reading. And for truth, we can substitute love. The Holy Spirit is that force field of love in the world that we see signs of all the time. The job of the Holy Spirit is to unify and bring people together, so that we all hear the same message of love.

In Pentecostal terms, the presence of the Holy Spirit means we will all speak the same language and understand each other. The Holy Spirit means we will move on from separation and division and hate. As John would put it, we will learn to speak the truth, and share one truth.

The Holy Spirit has its work cut out for it today. The force of unity can seem dramatically overmatched. We are all speaking in different tongues when we speak different truths; when we can’t understand each other, can’t even imagine how the other person got so deluded.

The First Letter of John (4:1,5-7) has some advice: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. They are from the world; and the world listens to them. From this we know the spirit of error.”

John goes on, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

Pentecost is our call to hear the roar of wind from heaven that rattles the doors and windows; a call to see the tongues of fire that light up the house; and to be consumed by the Holy Spirit. It is that day, and every day after, to be filled with the Spirit of truth, God’s truth of love.

God is always breathing new life into his people.

God be praised. Love your neighbor. Amen.