Prophecy and Pentecost

Pentecost-B, May 20, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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I can’t help but think that before the Holy Spirit showed up on that first Pentecost Sunday, the disciples were just plain tired.  Think of all they’d been through; they saw their Lord crucified, and then He rose from the dead.  After that, for forty days He just kept appearing and disappearing in the most unusual places.  To cap it all off, they saw Him ascend into heaven before their very eyes, but before He did, He told them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” [Acts 1:4-5] In other words, Jesus was saying, “Do nothing until you hear from me.”

So there they sat in that upper room, tired, worried, and afraid.  I can’t help but wonder what they would have done if Peter or one of the other twelve would have said, “Come on guys there’s a lot of work to do.  Quit hiding out in here; let’s go out and spread the news.”  I think they would have grumbled, and said, “But were tired.  We’ve been through a lot.  Let someone else go out.  We just don’t have it in us!”  But I don’t think that discussion ever happened because as promised, Jesus by way of the Holy Spirit showed up in a powerful way!  And that is what we are celebrating today, Jesus kept His promise and empowered the church with the presence of the Holy Ghost!   Don’t we need that power too?  Don’t we get tired also?  Sometimes, don’t we feel like we just can’t do another thing; like maybe we’ve already done and experienced enough?  

Today, God wants you to know that you need a faith lift.  

 No, I didn’t say facelift, I said faith-lift!  God wants you to know that life without faith, or life with little or weak faith is a desperate life!  That is what the Jews were feeling when God visited Ezekiel in a vision, in our Old Testament lesson.  They were desperate because they lost hope; they lost faith in their saving God.  They had been conquered and enslaved by the Babylonians for many years and their homeland of Israel and Judea was destroyed.  When they first arrived in Babylon as slaves they were humiliated in their defeat, but at least they still had the love of their God!  But after several generations of life as slaves, they began to lose their faith.  First they began to doubt God’s forgiving love for them, and then after a while they must have begun to doubt His very existence!  They felt abandoned and alone.

Do you ever feel that way?  Do you ever feel like God has forgotten you, or is punishing you?  Maybe you’ve even began to wonder if He’s even real?  If so, then let God speak to you.  Hear the story of “dem old dry bones” because Ezekiel’s vision is a prophecy that was fulfilled on Pentecost and it is our reality today.  The valley of dry bones is as real as the battle fields of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam.  It’s as real as the run-down buildings of skid row and the shattered dreams of the poor, unemployed and underemployed.  It’s as real as the crack-house, the sick house, and the poor house.  It’s as real as families broken by addiction and abuse.  It’s a vision of lost dreams and shattered lives!  

As terrible as these battlefields were and are, they pale in comparison to the vision God gave to Ezekiel.  

God told Ezekiel to speak the first message, and the bones were animated with flesh and blood, they were whole bodies, but they were still dead!  Flesh that appears alive but lacks a soul or spirit; I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds like zombies!  

Do we have people like that today?  Yes!  It is everyone who thinks that they can please God by being good; by living a virtuous life.  They may think they’re alive, and they may even look alive, but the truth is they are really dead!  They are dead because they lack God’s breath of new life.  “Then God said to (Ezekiel), “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” [Ezekiel 37:9]  

This was the message of prophecy for ancient Israel during their captivity and it is God’s message for all of us today; it is prophecy fulfilled!  It is the promise of His forgiving love; a Word of forgiveness that brings restoration and peace with God through the cross and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  We first receive this Word in our baptism, and then we hear it every Sunday.  It is the gospel, the good news that assures us that through Jesus Christ we are forgiven.  Please hear it again today and become rejuvenated… alive in Christ!

It was this Word of promise, or forgiveness and restoration that brought hope to the hopeless captives in Babylon, and it is the very same message that God speaks to us who struggle to live our lives in a sinful broken world while not being of the world.  It is a Word that directs us to find our identity not in how the world sees us or treats us but in God’s work of recreation and restoration.  

When we feel alone, and think that we’ve lost our way, God’s Word reminds us that He has never left us; it reminds us that He is right there with us.  His Word takes our eyes off of our circumstances, off of our sin and the sin of others, and He redirects our gaze to the cross of Jesus and the waters of our own baptism.  In His Word, in the vision of Ezekiel and the rebirth of dry, dead bones, God shows us that our salvation, our lives and our future are all in His loving hands.  All we need do is keep turning our hearts and minds to Jesus; call out to Him for forgiveness and strength and receive the Word, His Word that promises that He will never leave nor forsake us.

So we wait.  

But what are we waiting for?  Do we wait as dry bones waiting to be given flesh and spirit?  No, that was already done for us.  Then what are we waiting for?  We are waiting to hear the gospel; the only Word that can dispel fear and bring power from heaven.  What kind of power?  How about this kind: “And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” [Acts 2:2-4]  Dear friends, this mighty power of God wasn’t given only to the early church; it is given to each of you.  You were first given that power in your baptism, and you are continuously strengthened in that same power each time you hear or read God’s Word of repentance and forgiveness.  

Why are some of you living as if you do not have that power?  Because you confuse the individual gifts with the power behind the gift!  What greater power could you need other than God’s power to overcome death?  What greater gift could there be than God’s forgiveness; His ability to recreate you and continually remove your sins, the consequence of your sins from you?  

Can you see that you lack nothing?  Can you see that when God works, when He saves He always does it in a way that is all powerful, complete, and effective?  Then why do we still feel tired, alone, and sometimes even rejected by God?  Maybe it’s because we are still waiting for God to speak!  But He has already spoken.  He spoke in your baptism; He speaks in His Supper!  In His Word He tells you that all has been completed so that you may have life abundantly.  Do you hear that?  You are not a zombie… you have life!  You have life right here in this sinful world!  But your life is to be used for a purpose.  You are to use the gifts that God has given you to go out and speak life to those who are dead in their trespasses.

Unlike the hit AMC television series, “The Walking Dead” we aren’t going out to destroy the zombies before they destroy us, we are going out to bring them back to life.  We are sent out with the only Word that can bring them life, abundant life.  Like Ezekiel, God has empowered us with the ability to speak the breath of life into the walking dead.  And here is how it works.  The problem with zombies is they don’t know they are zombies; they think they’re alive.  So God tells us to speak His law.  We must hold up the mirror of God’s Word and show our neighbors that they are sinners; just like we are.  We must share with them that they have no future unless they simply admit to God that they are dead in their sins and are helpless in changing that reality.  This confession of reality has now prepared them to hear the prophesy of life; the breath of forgiveness that will reanimate; recreate them into God’s image.  The Word they must hear to know forgiveness and new life is simply that Jesus Christ is Lord and He has brought them forgiveness of sins and new life!  He is Lord of life and eternity.  He is the conquering Lord who through His cross has defeated not just the sin of the world but even their sin.  What’s more, Jesus is the Lord who defeated the devil; He is the Lord who protects all that are baptized from ever losing their gift of new life!

Dear friends you are tired, because you are confused.  You’ve forgotten that not only have you been saved, but you’ve been saved, given power, and a mission.  You are to continue expanding the Kingdom of God one saved sinner at a time.  And as you go out in the power of God speaking His recreating Word of forgiveness, His Christian army gets bigger and bigger, and your work load gets easier and easier as many hands make the work of the kingdom light.

So, our time of waiting is over.  Jesus has spoken, and you have been baptized and given the promise and power of the Holy Spirit.   This is our invitation to become part of Christ’ mission to seek and save the lost.  Can we do it?  No, but God will.  He has spoken.  You are forgiven, and so is the world.  Now let’s go tell someone with our own little personal touch, and someone will tell someone else, until the day when Jesus comes to take us home.  AMEN!

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