Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pentecost Winds

So now, it is Pentecost. This is the day that marks the outpouring of God’s Spirit once again over all the face of the earth, but especially upon the men and women who had been with Jesus, before his death. The ones that had gathered behind closed doors, waited (or perhaps they even resisted the idea that they would) to be dispersed to all corners of the known world. This is an ancient story that goes  back about 2000 years.  

The day of Pentecost is remembered every year in Christianity! It’s affectionately referred to as the birthday of the Church. After the Incarnation, after the crucifixion, after the resurrection, and after the ascension, finally comes Pentecost which marks the continuing activity of God in the world. It marks God, in the Spirit Presence acting and enlivening humanity.  It continues the story of God in relation to humanity and all creation. The story which started centuries before the Jesus narrative.

Lectionary selection from the Hebrew Bible** this year comes from the Book of Ezekiel to link God’s story throughout human history. Episcopalians

I’ve been reading the lectionary texts throughout the week, and cannot help but notice that my own environment has every bit as much wind blowing as I read about in the texts.

God’s message through Ezekiel speaks to me in new ways this year. In the evening, while I’m sitting on the couch, reading I’ll stretch and startle myself as I hear the bones in my neck and shoulders crackle in multiple places. I’m creaking, sort of like dry wood, but no, that must be bone to bone I’ve been hearing. Then, later, as I lay in bed, just before slipping into sleep, I listen to the sounds of the night. Outside my bedroom beyond the window I’ve been hearing the howling winds. Now reading the Old Testament text assigned for this Sunday, I feel myself in the text.

suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. Then he said to me, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, `Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.'”

Growing old, and feeling at a loss. Dried up. Lost hope. Completely cut off. That’s just exactly how it can feel at times along the pilgrims’ way. The pilgrims’ way is a journey, a journey of faith that sometimes takes a person through very difficult and dry periods.

There are all the usual sources. Mourning the death of a loved one is a universal place where one can become a desiccated heap. After all the tears are shed, with no relief in sight, the dryness of that time can feel like winter has permanently set in.

Other times come to mind too.

Where are those places or where have they been in the past for you?

Is this a year where the promise of God's Spirit outpouring which Pentecost announces year after year just seems an Impossible Missions Force assignment? 

Are you holding on by the very last milligram of faith? Are you feeling tired to death of the promises of prayers being lifted on your behalf?

Take heart, you are not alone. 

In fact, you never have been. It’s not a trivial offering to tell you that this dry valley in your life is one that others have finally made it through to see and experience a brighter day. The question for you will be whether you will allow yourself the time to rest within the heart of the universe, in the center of the holiness of God to be restored while you wait and listen for the warmer winds of new life.

Reading the passage from Ezekiel now, place yourself there at the bottom of the pit, and let yourself be among the dry bones. Don’t worry; no one will walk on you. Just lie there and look up into the heavens through squinted eyes. Peek through the thinnest opening of your eyes and see the lights that dance upon your eyelids. Cast your eyes with caution, being careful not to stare into the sun. Allow yourself to float within the embrace of the whiteness of the clouds.

Ezekiel’s message was being delivered to people who lived too long in captivity. The people of Israel, cut off from the only place that they had come to know as the dwelling place of the Holy One, found themselves under the control of a foreign power. They had exhausted themselves trying to make sense of their suffering. They no longer believed that a time would come when even a tiny remnant of God’s chosen people would make it back into the land promised to them.

The narrative of their lives acquired the somber melancholy notes of abused victims receiving the punishment meted out at the hand of God. As a people bonded together they assumed vast quantities of guilt and shame rather than being able of separating out human responsibility from the work of God.

The same sick thinking occurs in our own times. For the cultural mindset of that age, this foundation of logic was entirely natural, whether or not it was true. Self-blame and shame for things not of their own making hardly seem right in the present age. We are more easily disposed to rejecting any notion that God metes out pain and destruction. We cannot love a fierce and destroying God. What may have been the norm 3500 years ago, no longer fits with human reason within the Post-Modern worldview.

But that thinking was essentially the problem that Ezekiel both carried internally and encountered in others as he stood above the valley of dry bones. Then and now, someone plays with our heads and squeezes at our heart, at least the spiritual part of our heart, and suggests that the passage through this place of dryness and this dis-opportunity is of our own making; deserved and without remission. Worse than any biological cancer, the mental cinch cuts off circulation and withers the ability to step forward. Retreat and regrouping become the only viable option. Some kind of dormancy season, or perhaps a fallowing, is needed, to restore the mind, body and soul.

But the story Ezekiel presents doesn’t leave us with carrion dinner remains, useless and dead at the bottom of the valley. God is the God of the living. God provided a message of hope, and a vision to lift up the spirit of Ezekiel, and the people of Israel. It is a message of hope that comes also to us.

Today we can feel in the gentler weather, the heat just warm enough to restore a fire of faith for what the future might be, for each of us. Hope comes again. 
Will it be a future for self alone, or for the community?

The revised common lectionary texts for Pentecost can all be found in link below

Later this week I will be writing about  He, She, and Me

The revised common lectionary  (RCL) texts for Pentecost can all be found in the link below.

RCL – Revised Common Lectionary (of the Episcopal Church)
**Episcopal worship regularly includes four readings from the Bible. One Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), Psalm, two New Testament readings, one from always from one of the four books called Gospels.

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