Sunday’s Sermon: Being a Seed

So this Sunday, I decided to do something a little bit different. Every once in a while, I encounter a story in the Bible that seems so interesting that, instead of writing a sermon about that story, I invite the congregations to inhabit the story with me. Using the Scriptural text, I exercise some artistic license and expand on the story. What were the people hearing? Seeing? Thinking? Feeling? This is one of those stories. The text comes from John 12:20-36. We paired it with Psalm 51.

Incidentally, when I approach a sermon from this angle, this is the only time I end up preaching from a manuscript. So come … inhabit the story with us!


Do you know what the best part about festivals is? Some people will tell you it’s the theater – all those performers up on stage acting out the stories of the gods and the tragedies and reciting epic poems. These performances certainly can be entertaining … but they’re not the best part. Now, my husband would probably tell you that the best part is the feast – all that food! He’s a laborer, a simple builder, so we don’t get a whole lot of fancy food around our house. The food certainly is good … but it’s not the best part.

The best part – my absolute favorite part – is the music and the dancing. They play song after song after song all night long and you can dance as long as your feet will hold you up. It’s inspiring and exhilarating and … oh, man. Trust me, it really is the best part!

At least, it was the best part … until this past festival. You see, I was taking a short break from dancing and listening to the music, and my husband was off buying a hunk of spiced roast lamb. Then all of a sudden, the crowd started whispering and pointing at something across the square. Everyone seemed really excited, so I started to move in that direction. And when the crowd parted, do you know who was standing there? It was that Jesus guy. You know, for the past few years I’d been hearing all sorts of stories about him. My husband heard from some of the other builders that this Jesus guy has performed miracles – turned water into wine at some wedding party[1] and healed a paralyzed man[2] and a blind man[3]. And my sister told me that he fed a crowd of 5000 people with only 5 loaves and 2 fish, and that he actually walked on water.[4] And that’s only a few of the amazing things I’ve heard. There are things … well, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. (They say that Jesus even raised some guy named Lazarus from the dead![5] I know!)

For a while now, I’d been wanting to check out whether or not the rumors were true. You know, see the man behind the myth. So you can understand why I was excited to see him in person at that festival. I didn’t remember anybody saying that Jesus was going to be there, but there he was! He’s a little bit of a celebrity, you know – kind of like the gladiators, though of course, not nearly on that grand scale. He’s actually a bit of an oddity because even those of us who are Greek citizens have heard about the kind of trouble he’s been stirring up with his own authorities – with the Jewish leaders. At first, everyone else at the festival was really excited to see Jesus, too, but after that first glimpse, most of them wandered off – back to their theater and dancing and spiced roast lamb.

But not me. I stayed.

You see, there was something special about Jesus, something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but whatever it was it made me want to know more. And I must not have been the only one that felt that way because there was a group of us that stuck around after everyone else left. One of the men in the group went up to a couple of Jesus’ disciples to see if we could maybe speak to Jesus ourselves. “Sir,” he said, “we wish to see Jesus.” And we watched as that disciple – I think his name was Philip – went and told another disciple, and then that disciple went right up and spoke to Jesus. Before we knew it, we were right there in front of the man himself. We were right there with Jesus!

We all gathered around him, some sitting, some standing, some leaning against pillars, and then Jesus began to speak. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Admittedly, this had us all a little confused, but Jesus continued. “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”[6]

Okay, truth be told, he lost me there. Actually, most of us looked a little confused, but there were a few people around me that were nodding their heads. I could tell that they were Jews, so I decided to ask one of them what he thought Jesus was talking about.

He told me about something he called … what was it again? … a psalm – a poem that the Jews use in worship sometimes or in their own private prayers to their god. This made me smile a bit because I like poetry, but when he started reciting it for me, this psalm[7] didn’t sound like any poetry I’d ever heard before. I’m used to poetry full of heroes and monsters, ill-fated love and epic battles. But the psalm was all about confession and atonement. It was full of words like “sin” and “guilt” and “transgression.” It mentioned a purification ritual involving the hyssop plant, and it asked this god for cleansing and restoration and a healing presence. It sounded so … so … humble. I couldn’t help but cringe as he spoke these words. I mean, come on. I am a Greek citizen. I’m part of the greatest culture in the world – a culture that fosters incredible beauty in its art and sculpting, a culture that fosters staggering intelligence in its thinkers and logicians, a culture that fosters crushing strength in its military and its politicians. We don’t really do humility very well. To be honest, we don’t really do humility at all. What use could we possibly have for such poems of humility?

That Jewish man must’ve seen something of my thoughts on my face because he stopped for a moment and just looked at me. “You know that’s what he’s talking about, don’t you?” he said. “Jesus. When he’s talking about grains of wheat and losing your life, when he’s talking about following and serving Almighty God. If that grain was too proud to let itself be changed and shaped by something other than itself, it wouldn’t do much good, would it? It would just sit there and rot. That single seed has the potential to become something special – something beautiful and wholly different than what it is, but only if it lets itself die. Only when it lets go can it enhance the lives of many. Only then can it nourish. Only then can it shelter. Only then can it provide others with enjoyment or livelihood or healing. Only then can it live a new life. If it stays a simple seed, it can do nothing, but if it has the courage to admit that it isn’t perfect exactly as it is, if it has the humility to recognize the power and necessity of change, it can do anything.

“Likewise, it is only when we humble ourselves before Adonai, when we acknowledge our sins and imperfections and request that the Most High God transform us with the Holy Spirit – only when we have done these things are we truly open to becoming the beautiful creations that Adonai intended for us to be. When we are growing and working for God, when we are following the Word of God and serving God, our faith can nourish and enhance, shelter and encourage us as well as those around us. But in order to do that, we must die to the demands and desires imposed on us by our culture. Like a seed shedding its hull, we must slough off the strains and stresses and pressures of our own sinfulness and allow God to help us grow.”

He started to say more, but just then, Jesus began speaking again. He said, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”[8] That caught me off guard. The way he said it was so serious, so final. Like I said, I knew that things between Jesus and the Jewish authorities were tense, but this sounded more than tense. Jesus sounded resigned, almost like a man condemned. There was something about the way Jesus said these words that made me anxious and sad and scared all at the same time. What was this “hour” that he was talking about? Why did he need to be saved from it? And what could it possibly have to do with glorifying the name of his god?

Everyone else seemed to be stirred up, too. I mean, the crowd was just buzzing. It was as if a spark had shot through us all. There were whispered questions and conversations flying back and forth like insects. It was intense and exciting and inspiring and mystifying all at the same time! And just when I was starting to think I couldn’t get any more rattled, this… voice … came out of nowhere. It was loud and powerful, and it resonated deep inside me – not just in my ears but deep, deep down. The voice said, “I have glorified [my name], and I will glorify it again.”[9] There was a split second of utter silence, then the whole crowd started talking again. Some people immediately dismissed it, saying that what we heard must’ve been thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”[10] But there were other theories being tossed around, too. Some of the Jews in the crowd were claiming that one of their prophets had spoken while others actually attributed the voice to their god!

The crowd just kept getting louder and louder, everyone trying to talk over each other. Then Jesus spoke again. “This voice,” he said, and we all immediately fell silent again. “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of the world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”[11]

After he said this, Jesus continued speaking, but at that point, I had to take a step back. I had so many things swirling around in my mind. I kept thinking about the things that the Jewish man had said to me. Could humility and service really be more fulfilling than the life I was already living? I thought my life was fine. My husband’s a good man. He works a good job, and we do alright. We aren’t the wealthiest people around, but we have food and a house that’s stable and comfortable. And when the weather is acting funny or the crops aren’t growing right or the earth is shaking or someone’s health takes a bad turn, we offer the appropriate sacrifices to a handful of major and minor gods and goddesses. Like I said, my life was fine. Or was it?

I’d never thought about more … until that day. There just seemed to be something in Jesus’ face that made me suddenly feel like there could be more. Like there should be more. Like I wanted there to be more! You know, there’s a line from that poem – that psalm – that I just couldn’t let go of. Or maybe it couldn’t let go of me. The Jewish man said, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” I’ve seen hyssop, of course. The Jews aren’t the only one who use it for purification rituals, and it grows all over the place. All you have to do is open your eyes, and there it is. Could it really be so easy to find God – as easy as it is to find a branch of hyssop? And is it really possible that this god is willing to be the one participating in the sacrifice – the one using the hyssop for purification? You know, I’ve spent my whole life performing the “right” sacrifices in the “right” way to the “right” god or goddess for the situation – gods and goddesses who, according to the stories, really only concern themselves with each other and couldn’t seem to care less about human beings, anyway. Could this god that Jesus was talking about really be so interested in our well-being that God is willing to cleanse us?

And what about the snow? I’ve only seen snow once in my whole life. It was clean and cool, pure and refreshing and beautiful! There’s nothing else like it … nothing. “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Can God really do this for us? Can God make us that special, that rare and that precious? If I were to follow and serve this God – what had the Jewish man said his name was? Adonai? – if I were to follow and serve this Adonai, could God truly forgive all the mistakes I’ve made in the past and make me even more pure and clean in God’s own eyes than snow is in mine?

With all these questions running circles in my head, I was starting to feel overwhelmed and a bit dizzy. Then Jesus’ voice broke through all that inner turmoil and confusion. “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”[12]

With all these new questions and uncertainties that I was suddenly struggling with, I definitely felt like I didn’t know what was going on – what I was doing, where I was going, or how I was getting there. But then Jesus looked at me. Just for a second, he looked straight into my eyes, and I felt something in my soul brighten. I was filled with warmth and light like nothing I had never known before. And I made a decision – a crazy, impulsive, completely unexpected decision. I would follow this Jesus. I wanted to sit at his feet, to listen to him and learn from him for as long as I could. And as soon as I made this decision, I could almost swear that I saw Jesus nod his head and smile.


[1] Jn 2:1-12.

[2] Jn 5:1-15.

[3] Jn 9:1-12.

[4] Jn 6:1-21.

[5] Jn 11:38-44.

[6] Jn 12:23-26.

[7] Ps 51.

[8] Jn 12:27-28.

[9] Jn 12:28.

[10] Jn 12:29.

[11] Jn 12:30-32.

[12] Jn 12:35-36.

Sunday’s Sermon: Seeing the Other, Being the Other

  • Sometimes, we encounter tough stories in the Bible – stories that make us uncomfortable, stories that make us question, stories that don’t quite fit with the faith we think we know. Today’s story of Hagar and Ishmael is one of those stories.
    • Story involves pain and exclusion
    • Story involves desperation and despair
    • Story that, on the surface, seems to be an “us” and “them” story
    • Main characters: Hagar and Ishmael deal with …
      • Rejection
      • Isolation
      • Death
      • At the heart of this story, we find ourselves following a single mother who’s been thrown out of her home wandering in the desert with a baby. Not the kinds of things we’re looking to find when we turn to Scripture, but these are the realities of the story. These are the details with which we must wrestle because this is the story that we have been given.
  • There’s so much about this story that makes us feel uncomfortable. For starters, we don’t like the callous and vindictive way Sarah treats Hagar and Ishmael.
    • Text: Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.”[1] → There’s no provocation that we’re aware of. Ishmael and Isaac were simply playing together. If Abraham’s house looked anything like our house does, there was some lively babbling and animated gesticulating going on between the two boys. Nothing evil. Nothing threatening. At yet this innocent scene stirs something so powerful in Sarah that she orders Abraham to toss Hagar and Ishmael out as though they were trash.
    • But let’s backtrack for a minute. How did Sarah and Abraham and Hagar get into this thorny situation in the first place?
      • Text: Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. … He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.[2] → Hagar gives birth to Abraham’s firstborn son, Ishmael
      • But the other part of that covenant: Your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.[4]
      • And yet despite this assurance that her son would inherit the covenant – an assurance that literally came from the mouth of God! – Sarah decided to turn out her maidservant and the child when it seemed as though this illegitimate child was getting a little too friendly with her “rightful” heir.
        • Total disregard for either Hagar or Ishmael as a human beings – orders Abraham to exile Hagar and Ishmael from the only house the child has ever known à makes it very clear that they are and always have been “the other”
        • Scholar: This is an unjust situation that is painful to imagine. … The magnitude of the injustice done to [Hagar and Ishmael] bears down on the reader.[5]
  • We also don’t like Abraham’s feeble and ineffectual response to Sarah’s tyrannical demands.
    • See Abraham’s discomfort with the whole situation – text: The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son.[6]
      • Even more distressing = God’s response: Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for its through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.[7]
        • This is not what we want to hear from God! We want God to be up in arms over Sarah’s unjust treatment of Hagar. We want righteous anger and judgment and maybe even just a little bit of smiting (nothing serious … just a slight singeing). Even if God is promising Abraham that Hagar and Ishmael will have a future, we want to feel like God doesn’t sanction such treatment.
      • And yet we read Abraham’s ultimate response: So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.[8] → “Here’s your bread. Here’s your water. Here’s you kid. See ya.” Abraham’s attitude is so passive, so compliant. Again, it doesn’t sit well with us.
  • Finally, we don’t like the life-threatening situation that Hagar and Ishmael encounter out in the wilderness, and we certainly don’t like the anguish that we see in Hagar when she leaves her beloved son under that bush, certain of his imminent death.
    • Text: When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.[9]
      • Confession: this is difficult to read → And cliché though it may be, it’s a hundred times more difficult now that I have two boys of my own. You know, Ishmael wouldn’t have been much older than Luke and Ian during our story today. Children that age are so fragile, so defenseless, so dependent.
      • Our response: Where is God?!
        • Probably Hagar’s response, too → You see, Hagar had a little secret of her own.
          • Hagar found out she was pregnant → ran away →God found her and spoke to her: The angel of the Lord found [Hagar] by a spring of water in the wilderness … And he said, “Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am running away from my mistress Sarai.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.” The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.”[10] → With these words ringing in her ears, Hagar must have wept bitterly, wondering what had happened to that promise that God had made to her. How could her offspring be multiplied so if her only son died here with her in the desert of starvation and thirst? Where was God?
  • But here is where our story turns.
    • Scholar: In the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation, the text makes a transformational statement. “God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven.” At the point of despair, God steps in.[11] → Here, in the midst of the darkness and desolation of the desert, God’s light shines on this single mother and her son who have been abused and abandoned.
    • God did not forget the promise previously made to Hagar – text: [The angel of God said to Hagar], … “Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” … And God was with the boy, and he grew up.[12] → Finally!! We rejoice in God’s attentiveness to Hagar and Ishmael’s dilemma. As Hagar surely did, we can feel our hearts lift when we hear that God heard the voice of the crying child. As Hagar surely did, we can feel a powerful protectiveness swell within us when we hear the angel’s command to “lift up the boy and hold him fast.”
      • Heb. here is uplifting as well – “hold him fast” = having courage, becoming strong → This is a command not just for the good of the child but for Hagar’s good as well. Hold him fast. Have courage. Be strong.
  • And yet, even in the midst of this rejoicing, we hit another snag – another element of this story that stirs discomfort within us.
    • That “great nation” that God promised would come from Ishmael = Islam → Islam is known as one of the “Abrahamic faiths” (along with Judaism and Christianity) because it can trace its sacred roots back to Abraham, but unlike Judaism and Christianity (who trace roots through Isaac), Islam traces those roots through Abraham’s other son, Ishmael
    • Muslims. We are talking about a people and a faith tradition that within the past decade or so have been increasingly vilified.
      • Important note: There are extremists in every religion, and all of them – Jewish extremists, Hindu extremists, and Christian extremists alike – can be dangerous.
      • We can’t turn on the news without hearing the words “terrorist” and “Muslim” inextricably linked. We see someone of Middle Eastern descent in cultural dress in line at the airport, and we worry. We readily draw a thick, red, impenetrable line between “us” and “them,” excluding the other for what we are convinced is our own good.
        • Scholar: This text reminds us that the world is filled with both physical and spiritual descendants of Ishmael. … How is the other half of Abraham’s family going to relate to these brothers and sisters in ways that acknowledge this ongoing work of God?[13]
          • Difficult question
          • Uncomfortable question
          • You see, it’s easy for us to see the injustices in our own lives, in the lives of those we love, and even in the lives of strangers who appear to us to be vulnerable – a single mother and her child who have been turned out into the wilderness. And it’s easy for us to pinpoint those times in our lives when we’ve been “the other” – the one excluded, the one singled out, the one ostracized and made fun of and shamed. But what about when we find ourselves naming “the other”? What about when we are the ones drawing that thick, red line, essentially (and sometimes literally) stating, “You don’t belong”? Where is our faith then?
            • Challenged to remember Jesus’ encounter in Luke: Just then a lawyer stood up to text Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And [Jesus] said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”[14] → How can we even begin to recognize our neighbor when our eyes are so focused on the lines that divide us?
  • Every day, there are injustices happening to every person and every group in every part of this world. – cannot turn a blind eye to these injustices
    • Denominational responses
      • [Z] resolutions from Annual Mtg.
        • Eradicating racism and embracing diversity within the conference
        • Standing up for undocumented persons who cannot stand up for themselves
      • [O] overtures from GA
        • Marriage equality
        • Peacemaking within the Middle East
        • Working to end gun violence
    • Scholar: In this story the people of God should recognize and rejoice that God’s saving acts are not confined to their own community. God’s acts of deliverance occur out and about in the seemingly godforsaken corners of the world, even among those who may be explicitly excluded from the “people of God.” Here we see God at work among the outcasts, the refugees of the world. … Persons of faith are to participate in their lives, to lift them up and hold them fast until the wells become available.[15] Amen.


[1] Gen 21:9-11.

[2] Gen 16:1-2, 4.

[4] Gen 17:19.

[5] Edward L. Wheeler. “Proper 7 – Genesis 21:8-21” in Preaching God’s Transformative Justice: A Lectionary Commentary, Year A. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 293.

[6] Gen 21:11.

[7] Gen 21:12-13.

[8] Gen 21:14.

[9] Gen 21:15-16.

[10] Gen 16:7-10.

[11] Wheeler, 293.

[12] Gen 21:17-18, 20a.

[13] Terence E. Fretheim. “The Book of Genesis: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 1. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 490 (emphasis added at the end).

[14] Lk 10:25-28.

[15] Fretheim, 489-490.

Sunday’s Sermon: Following the Bones

Okay … full disclosure. This is the sermon from Pentecost Sunday a few weeks ago. I’m a little bit behind, and between conferences and a very sick kiddo (who is now feeling mostly better), I missed a few Sundays in there as well. Hopefully, though, we’re now back on track. Okay, Pentecost ………..

  • Story of mission trip to Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota
    • Split between 2 missions – children’s day school and work on homes (painting, etc.)
      • Playing with kids = inspiring … but exhausting!
      • Painting and fixing up homes in sunshine and heat = fulfilling … but exhausting!
    • On mission trips, exhaustion is a daily thing but grows stronger as the week progresses → You work really hard all day long and return at the end of the day to rest and relax in your nice comfy sleeping bag … on a nice comfy tile floors. Ahhhhhh! So refreshing. By the last day or two, it’s a miracle everyone is able to get out of bed at all in the morning.
    • Mission work certainly not the only place we encounter exhaustion
      • A million small ways in our day to day lives
      • Situations of high emotion/high stress (spring/fall – farmers)
      • Events that require a lot of planning ahead of time and activity
      • I don’t know … raising twins!
    • But in any of these times of great exhaustion, there’s often something else at work – something more, something deeper – something that not only overrides our exhaustion but leaves us renewed: the work of the Holy Spirit in us and through us.
      • Mission e.g. – While they may be the walking definition of bone-weary, those on a mission trip are always more than ready to dive back into whatever needs to be done and get their hands dirty.
      • And our Scriptural stories this morning speak to this depletion and restoration. They’re stories that remind us that God is our renewal, even – and especially – when we least expect it.
  • Look at OT passage first
    • The vision that the prophet Ezekiel experiences is certainly one in which we naturally expect anything but renewal.
      • Txt: The hand of the Lord … set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.[1] → pretty clear, pretty cut and dry (no put intended) … these bones have had it
        • A couple elements point this out for us
          • 1st: God leads Ezekiel “all around” the bones → God doesn’t just let Ezekiel stand impassively at the valley’s edge. God walks Ezekiel all through the valley. God makes Ezekiel hike among the piles, step around the bones, making sure that Ezekiel takes in every femur and collar bone, every finger joint and knee cap and skull, ensuring that Ezekiel not only sees a vague mass of white but a truly vast multitude of individual bones.
          • 2nd: Heb. places heavy emphasis on the fact that these bones are lifeless and dry → pesky little word that keeps popping up: hinneh (TAKE NOTICE! PAY ATTENTION! LOOK!) appears before the phrase “lying in the valley” and before the phrase “they were very dry”
            • LOOK! Those bones are just lying in the valley – obviously aren’t going anywhere
            • LOOK! Those bones are very dry – obviously beyond any and all hope
          • Finally, in his own reaction to God, even Ezekiel adds emphasis to the unlikelihood of this whole situation: God said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”[2] → Can you hear a little bewilderment, a little exasperation, a little question in Ezekiel’s voice? – “Can these bones live?” “God only knows!”
      • And yet in the face of this improbability – this absurdity! – God comes back with a truly unexpected renewal → commands Ezekiel to tell the bones that God will reassemble and restore the fullness of their bodies, and poof!:I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, 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 covered them.[3]
        • Holy Moses! Suddenly, Ezekiel find himself smack in the middle of a Biblical ghost story! Just a moment ago, he was looking down on a valley full of disconnected bones. Now, spread out before him is this host of bodies that God has just re-formed … but there’s still a problem → There was no breath in them.[4]
          • You see, even with new flesh, new sinew, and new skin, these bodies assembled before Ezekiel are not alive. I think we can probably take a stab at what Ezekiel’s thinking: These bodies may look like they’re alive, but they’re not. And they’re never going to be because what was dead can’t be given new breath – a new life, a new soul – … can it?
            • Ahh … be careful what you wish for! Then [God] 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.[5]
        • Scholar highlights the power of this: In recounting his vision, Ezekiel challenges his fellow exiles and generations of his readers to view their circumstances not through their own, limited vision, but through God’s eyes. Can these bones live? Of course not. But look at them through God’s eyes, and watch bones rushing to their appropriate partners. Watch as ligaments bind them together, flesh blankets them, and skin seals them tightly. Watch as God’s spirit, which heals hopelessness, infuses them, so that they rise up … Look through God’s eyes, and watch them come up, receive God’s spirit, and return home.[6]
        • Wow. Renewal at a time in which anything but renewal was expected. These were desiccated bones that had been relegated to the grave, and yet, God resurrected them, freed them, and gave them powerful reassurance: 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.[7]
  • Kinda sounds like the story of Pentecost, doesn’t it? I don’t think the disciples – or any of those who had gathered with them – had any idea what to expect. Think about it:
    • Jesus had been brutally killed … but days later, he’d come back to life again … and then after just a short while, he left again – not died, left – just shhhmp right up into heaven
      • Luke: Then [Jesus] led [the disciples] out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.[8]
    • I’m sorry … what?! After all that, I don’t know if I’d even be expecting anything, but whatever the disciples might have been expecting after their final encounter with Christ, I’d be willing to bet that what happened to them that Pentecost morning wasn’t it.
      • Text: And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.[9]Come on … nobody would expect that! It sounds like the kind of crazy scenario that only Hollywood screenwriters could dream up.
    • Like dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley, early church must surely have been in need of renewal
      • Text: At this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered[10]
        • Gr. “bewildered” has both positive connotations (amazed, excited) and negative connotations (stirred up, troubled) → see how emotionally taxing this is
      • That sounds like heck of an emotional rollercoaster, and emotional rollercoasters are always exhausting. Think of …
        • Time of immense stress or grief
        • Time when you’ve thrown your whole self into something for an extended period of time
          • Project or activity, organization or event
        • E.g.s
          • Teachers – end of the school week/year → students, too!
          • Planning something big like Peace Camp [or Country Store]
          • The way I feel after worship on Sunday morning
    • But in the midst of all those questions and emotions and confusion, on that Pentecost morning, God provided renewal in a powerful, unmistakable way. → remember end of our NT passage: Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.[11]
  • Everything about this story from Acts speaks to one thing: the amazing work of the Holy Spirit, work that is done not only to those early Christians but through them.
    • I know we don’t often think or talk about the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, but we also see the subtle footprint of the Holy Spirit’s work in Ezekiel: The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord … Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.[12]
      • In Hebrew, the word for “breath” and the word for “wind” and the word for “spirit” are all one and the same. In the story of creation, God breathed new life and Spirit into Adam. In this story from Ezekiel, God breathed new life and Spirit into the valley of dry bones. And in the story of Pentecost from Acts, God breathed new life and Spirit into the very heart of the early church. It is this same Spirit – the Holy Spirit – who has been working for millennia, and it is this same Holy Spirit – noisy and flashy and wholly (and holy!) refreshing – who continues to work in our lives today.
        • Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel has observed that Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones bears no date because every generation needs to hear in its own time that these bones can live again.[13]
          • Scholar: Like the exiles of old, we too can at times feel as good (rather, as bad) as dead. We are null and void inside. But if we look through God’s eyes, we can see broader realities, bases for hope. God can sustain us and fill our barren experiences with lively hope. Is it possible? Absolutely not, disbelievers [declare]. But look with God’s vision and watch it happen![14]
          • Look with God’s vision and watch even the most unlikely and unexpected renewal wash over you like a mighty, Spirit-filled wind. Amen.


[1] Ezek 37:1-2.

[2] Ezek 37:3.

[3] Ezek 37:7-8a.

[4] Ezek 37:8b.

[5] Ezek 37:9-10.

[6] Katheryn Pfisterer Darr. “The Book of Ezekiel: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 6. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), 1503-1504.

[7] Ezek 37:14.

[8] Lk 24:50-52.

[9] Acts 2:2-4.

[10] Acts 2:6.

[11] Acts 2:46-47.

[12] Ezek 37:1, 9.

[13] Elie Wiesel. “Ezekiel” in Congregation: Contemporary Writers Read the Jewish Bible, ed. David Rosenberg. (San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987), 186.

[14] Darr, 1504.