Sunday’s sermon: COME ALIVE!


Texts used – Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts 2:1-21





  • This summer: started working our way through sermon series using the soundtrack to The Greatest Showman[1] → For the first few songs, we sort of eased into it. We talked a little bit first … gave the song a nice long intro … But today is Pentecost – a day of fire and wind, of sacred stirrings and holy interruptions. Today, my friends, is not an “easing in” sort of day. So without further ado … “COME ALIVE!” [PLAY “COME ALIVE”[2]]

  • “Come alive! Come alive!” This is a song of the experience of Ezekiel – all low, desert valley and dry, dusty bones … all prophecy and power … all sinew and spirit … all breath and breath and BREATH.
    • Ezekiel
      • Text: The Lord’s power overcame me, and while I was in the Lord’s spirit, he led me out and set me down in the middle of a certain valley. It was full of bones. He led me through them all around, and I saw that there were a great many of them on the valley floor, and they were very dry.[3]
        • Dry = depleted … wrung out … drained … EMPTY
        • Dry = exhausted … impoverished … beat down … EMPTY
        • Dry = dreary … tedious … tiresome … EMPTY
        • Empty of life
        • Empty of essence
        • Empty of meaning
        • Empty of hope
      • Context[4]:
        • Opening of Ezek: In the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, I was with the exiles at the Chebar River when the heavens opened and I saw visions of God. (It happened on the fifth day of the month, in the fifth year after King Jehoiachin’s deportation. The Lord’s word burst in on the priest Ezekiel, Buzi’s son, in the land of Babylon at the Chebar River. There the Lord’s power overcame him.[5] → tells us a lot about Ezekiel and his audience
          • Translating “30th, 5th day, 4th month” = late 6th century BCE → This makes Ezekiel part of that Babylonian exile – that “brain drain,” as some historians call it.
            • Confirmed by our Scripture: … in the fifth year after King Jehoiachin’s deportation. The Lord’s word burst in on the priest Ezekiel, Buzi’s son, in the land of Babylon at the Chebar River. → In the grand arc of the Old Testament history, that puts Ezekiel’s prophecies and oracles before Isaiah. Ezekiel relayed God’s word to the people of Israel before the fall of Judah and the Babylonian exile and through the beginning of that experience. Isaiah came a few generations later toward the end of that same exile.
          • Chebar River put it in present day Iraq not far from where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers empty into the Persian Gulf
            • Ps 137: Alongside Babylon’s streams, there we sat down, crying because we remembered Zion. We hung our lyres up in the trees there because that’s where our captors asked us to sing; our tormentors requested songs of joy: “Sing us a song about Zion!” they said. But how could we possibly sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil?[6]
            • Hymn: By the Babylonian rivers we sat down in grief and wept, / hung our harps upon the willow, mourned for Zion when we slept.[7]
    • Song today starts out with similar lament: You stumble through your days / Got your head hung low / Your skies’ a shade of grey / Like a zombie in a maze / You’re asleep inside / But you can shake awake / ‘Cause you’re just a dead man walking / Thinking that’s your only option
      • Within the movie: Barnum is singing this song to those whom he’s trying to recruit as acts for his circus → The freaks and the misfits. Those who have been told and shown time and time again that they don’t fit in … that they aren’t welcome … that they are too different, too wrong, too other to belong. Cast down and cast out, these are the people who have given up on happiness and purpose in their lives. They’ve hung their heads in shame over who they are and who they have become, some through their own choices and some through no choice beyond the one made on the molecular level when they were conceived. Their days, their lives, their hearts, their spirits are drained … exhausted … dreary … dry and empty. And then … they hear it: COME ALIVE! COME ALIVE! / Go and light your light / Let it burn so bright / Reaching up / To the sky / And it’s open wide / You’re electrified
        • And there it is:
          • LIFE in the midst of the dry and deserted
          • ABUNDANCE in the midst of the parched and passed over
          • GRACE UPON GRACE … breath and breath and BREATH
    • Ezek: He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, human one! Say to the breath, The Lord God proclaims: Come from the four winds, breath! Breathe into these dead bodies and let them live!” I prophesied just as he commanded me. When the breath entered them, they came to life and stood on their feet, an extraordinarily large company.[8] → First, God took these dry, desiccated bones in the middle of this far-flung, forgotten valley and covers them with sinew and flesh and skin. God took what was dead and gone and long-forgotten and set it on its feet again. But not until there was breath – holy breath, sacred breath, living breath, God-breathed breath … not until there was breath did those reanimated bones truly live.
  • “Come alive! Come alive!” This is the song of that first Pentecost – all fear-filled disciples and shuttered rooms … all questions and uncertainty, doubt and disbelief … all potential and power … all suspicion and spirit … all wind and wind and
    • Acts
      • Text: When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place.[9] → But wait a minute … why were they all in one place?
        • Context within the book of Acts:
          • Acts begins with Jesus’ ascension into heaven à up on the Mount of Olives
          • Jesus’ followers return to Jerusalem – text: When they entered the city, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying.[10] → returned to Jerusalem for 3rd great festival in the Jewish year – Festival of Weeks: celebrated harvest as well as the giving of the 10 Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai[11] → This is significant because it meant that a lot of Jewish people would be in Jerusalem as well … including those who had just orchestrated Jesus’ arrest and persecution and death … including all those crowdspeople who had demanded out so vehemently and violently for Jesus to be crucified … including people like Saul who were determined to stamp out this Jesus nonsense (along with all his followers) before it spread too far.
            • Lonely time – Savior was really gone this time … they’d seen him taking up into heaven with their own eyes!
            • Dangerous time if you identified as one of Jesus’ followers
            • Confusing time → What were they supposed to do now? Go back to their “regular” lives? What was next?
      • Song: I see it in your eyes / You believe that lie / That you need to hide your face / Afraid to step outside / So you lock the door / But don’t you stay that way / No more living in those shadows / You and me, we know how that goes / ‘Cause once you see it, oh you’ll never, never be the same → “Once you see it, you’ll never, never be the same” … well, that just about sums it up for that first Pentecost. These were disciples who had already had their lives and hearts and spirits and faith blown wide open by the teachings and companionship of Jesus. These were disciples who had already had their expectations shattered and their preconceived notions obliterated by a Savior who first died the humiliating death of a political dissident, then rose from the grave 3 days later, not just in spirit but in a form solid enough to walk with them along the road and break bread with them and eat a fish breakfast on the beach with them just like he used to. And these were disciples who sat hunched and huddled, afraid and unsettled, insecure and wavering in that upper room that day expecting anything but a miracle … and yet that’s exactly what they got. Tongues of fire and tongues of gospel … good news in so many languages it sounded like a cacophony … a Holy Spirit that swooped down and grabbed hold not only of their tongues but their hearts and their lives as well.
        • HOPE in the midst of fragility and frustration
        • ABUNDANCE in the midst of utter lostness and loneliness
        • GRACE UPON GRACE … wind and wind and WIND
    • Acts: Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak. … [Those who saw this] were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”[12] → There were those who couldn’t see just how powerful … just how special … just how blessed those disciples were because what they were doing was too different, too wrong, too other to make sense … to fit in. And they were right because in that moment – that moment when God reached down into their lives and lit their spirits (and maybe even a little bit of their hair) on fire, they didn’t fit in. They weren’t meant to fit in. Their different-ness made them exactly who and what and how God needed them to be to spread the good news of the gospel: bold, distinctive, conspicuous … ALIVE! Instead of letting them hide away in that upper room, sitting on their hands and the good news they were meant to proclaim, God stirred them up and sent them out to stand out so that the message of the grace and love of Jesus Christ could stand out in a world in need.
      • Song: When the world becomes a fantasy / And you’re more than you could ever be / ‘Cause you’re dreaming with your eyes wide open / And we know we can’t go back again / To the world that we were living in / ‘Cause we’re dreaming with our eyes wide open / So, COME ALIVE!
  • Breath … breath … breath. Wind … wind … wind. Both powerful elements of inspiration and change in our texts this morning. And the crazy-amazing thing is that in both Hebrew and Greek, they’re the same word. Ruah … ruah … ruah. (Hebrew) Pneuma … pneuma … pneuma. (Greek) But these words both mean something else, too: SPIRIT.
    • SPIRIT and breath that brings life to bones long dead
    • SPIRIT and wind that stir up disciples too afraid to move or speak
    • SPIRIT and breath and prophecy
    • SPIRIT and wind and testimony
    • Spirit and Spirit and SPIRIT that forever changes us … that brings us back to life … that encourages us out into the light … that lights a fire in our souls and sets our weary feet to walking again because as the church, that is what God has called us to do. So friends, hear these words loud and clear this morning: COME ALIVE! Amen.

[1] The Greatest Showman, released by Twentieth Century Fox, Dec. 2017.

[2] “Come Alive” written by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Sony/ATV Music

[3] Ezek 37:1-2.

[4] Kathryn 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), 1075-1076.

[5] Ezek 1:1-3.

[6] Ps 137:1-4.

[7] “By the Babylonian Rivers (Psalm 137)” in Glory to God. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), #72.

[8] Ezekiel 37:9-10.

[9] Acts 2:1.

[10] Acts 1:13a.

[11] Margaret P. Aymer. “Acts 2:1-21 – Day of Pentecost: Exegetical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 15.

[12] Acts 2:2-4, 12-13.

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