Visions and Dreams PENTECOST AND GRADUATE SUNDAY – Rev. Deborah Dail
Ezekiel 37:1-14 (The Message); Acts 2:1-21 (NRSV)
Ezekiel 37:1-14 (The Message)
God grabbed me. God’s Spirit took me up and set me down in the middle of an open plain strewn with bones. He led me around and among them—a lot of bones! There were bones all over the plain—dry bones, bleached by the sun.
He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Master God, only you know that.”
He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones: ‘Dry bones, listen to the Message of God!’”
God, the Master, told the dry bones, “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!”
I prophesied just as I’d been commanded. As I prophesied, there was a sound and, oh, rustling! The bones moved and came together, bone to bone. I kept watching. Sinews formed, then muscles on the bones, then skin stretched over them. But they had no breath in them.
He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man. Tell the breath, ‘God, the Master, says, Come from the four winds. Come, breath. Breathe on these slain bodies. Breathe life!’”
So I prophesied, just as he commanded me. The breath entered them and they came alive! They stood up on their feet, a huge army.
Then God said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Listen to what they’re saying: ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, there’s nothing left of us.’
“Therefore, prophesy. Tell them, ‘God, the Master, says: I’ll dig up your graves and bring you out alive—O my people! Then I’ll take you straight to the land of Israel. When I dig up graves and bring you out as my people, you’ll realize that I am God. I’ll breathe my life into you and you’ll live. Then I’ll lead you straight back to your land and you’ll realize that I am God. I’ve said it and I’ll do it. God’s Decree.’
Acts 2:1-21 (NRSV)
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Pentecost is not easy to explain . . . especially to children. Pastor Judy Kincaid recounts teaching a Sunday School class about the Day of Pentecost for three-year-olds. She told the basic story of Pentecost, using an age-appropriate children’s Bible and her own story-telling. She and the children’s Bible included the part about the fire on people’s heads. She also explained that Pentecost is like the birthday of the church. So, they had a birthday cake with candles and sang “Happy Birthday” to the church. Having used visual aids, snacks, and songs to tell the story she felt good about the lesson.
A day or so later she got a call from one of the parents of the kids in the class. “I was just curious about what you taught about in Sunday School this week.” Judy replied: “Pentecost.” Well, come to find out the child had misunderstood “Pentecost” and heard “Santa Claus.” He told his mom that he was upset because Santa Claus was going to come to church on his birthday and people’s heads were going to catch on fire!
I’ve had my own Pentecost teaching debacle. At my first church in Elkton, Virginia I bought a birthday cake and red birthday candles for one Pentecost. As everyone entered the church, they put a candle on the cake. At the Children’s Time, someone carried the cake forward and I lit the candles with some measure of difficulty because we had about 90 people there that day. Lighting a lot of candles on the spot was more challenging that I thought. Then I had the kids sing and blow out the candles. It created a lot of smoke in our small sanctuary. Chilren and adults started coughing. Fans had to be turned on. It did not go as I had hoped!
Sometimes we get so focused on certain details of Bible stories such as Pentecost that we miss some other, more important parts.
Today, I’m drawn to the Apostle Peter – his story, his journey, and how he was further transformed by the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
Peter was just a regular guy when Jesus walked into his life. He was a fisherman who probably planned to be a fisherman for the rest of his life. But Jesus called him saying: “Come follow me. From now on you will fish for people.” And off he went on a three-year whirlwind experience with Jesus.
Peter was a good guy, but he sometimes got ahead of himself or more specifically got ahead of Jesus and his plans. Peter often got the right answers, but like most of us, didn’t always get the life application right. Peter had big ideas and good intentions, but his follow-through wasn’t always great.
Peter had said he would follow Jesus anywhere, but on the night that Jesus was arrested and put on trial, Peter cowered at a distance and denied knowing Jesus, not once but three times. Peter was devastated by the choice he made that night, and he was devastated that Jesus was dead. I can only imagine that it must have felt a lot like sitting in a valley of dry bones that night. He must have felt dead, ashamed, broken, and hopeless.
We can all probably think of a time when we’ve felt the same or similar feelings. We’ve failed big time. We’ve disappointed ourselves and others. We can even become convinced that there is nothing more. We’re done. We’re finished. We’re useless. Some of us know the dry bones experience described in Ezekiel.
I hope we have also known the mysterious movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives telling us that this isn’t the end of the story. There is more to come to come, more for us to do, new opportunities, new beginnings.
That’s what happened to Peter over time. His failure wasn’t final. The resurrected Jesus came to Peter and asked him not once but three times “Do you love me?” Three times Peter affirms his faith in and love for Jesus. Then, Jesus commissions him to take care of his people. Peter’s brokenness was being healed, his sin forgiven, his life put back together. He, too, experienced resurrection from the dead. He, too experienced dry bones having life breathed into them.
We know that Peter was among the disciples who later saw Jesus ascend into heaven and who heard Jesus say: “Wait in Jerusalem. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” As Boone noted last week, it was uncharacteristic of the disciples, as it is for us, that they actually listened to Jesus and waited. Waiting on Jesus, waiting on the Holy Spirit, isn’t easy.
That brings us to the Day of Pentecost. Wind and fire – powerful images of the Holy Spirit. Then, Peter and the others were filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages – not gibberish – but real languages spoken by the visitors in Jerusalem for the Jewish Festival of Pentecost. The people began to hear their own language being spoken.
If you travel internationally where English is not the primary language you may have had this experience. You are alone. You cannot read the signs, you cannot understand anyone around you, but then something catches your ear. There is a lone voice somewhere in the airport or the restaurant or on the train who is speaking English. Your ear perks up because you can understand something amid all that mystery and lack of understanding in your current situation. When I was Japan as a summer missionary our brief training culminated with a test. The test was to ride the trains and get from point A to point B on our own. With minimal language training and with no innate sense of direction, I was particularly worried about this test. Not surprisingly, I got confused at the train station when making a transfer. As I stood there not knowing what to do, I heard it. I heard someone speaking English. I could understand. I went to the person and he helped me get the correct ticket and on the right train. What a relief it was to hear my language amid the beautiful Japanese language when I was lost.
What did people hear being said in Jerusalem that day? What did people who spoke many different languages hear in their own language because of the Holy Spirit? Luke, the writer of Acts, simply says they heard “them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Peter – former fisherman Peter, former failure Peter – stands up and speaks (and presumably the Spirit continues to translate his words into the respective languages of the people present.)
First, he says it’s too early in the day even for day drinkers to be hitting the bottle and getting drunk. This is something else happening here. This is a fulfilment of prophecy. If they’ve listened carefully at synagogue and temple, they’ve heard that God promised to “pour out his Spirit upon all flesh, promised that their sons and daughters would prophesy, and their young men would see visons and their old men dream dreams. Even upon slaves, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophecy.”
The prophecy is remarkably inclusive: young and old, male and female, slave and free. The Old Testament prophet Joel conveyed there would be no discrimination when it comes to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Oh, how the church needs to hear this again and again.
Peter goes on to tell the story of Jesus – his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension. “Therefore, (Peter says) let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah . . . Repent and be baptized.” About 3,000 people responded that day.
As much as I enjoy many of the special effects of the Pentecost stories, the things that stand out to me today as most important are not the special effects that we try to understand and explain to people to three-year-old Sunday School children.
What strikes me most today is how the Holy Spirit works in our lives and thus the life of the church . . . if we are open to the work of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit works in Peter’s life and faith journey. The Holy Spirit moves in this most imperfect servant of God and sets him free from a past he cannot change and uses him for mighty purposes in God’s kingdom. The Holy Spirit transforms a fisherman into a preacher. The Holy Spirit drew Peter up out of a valley of dry bones where hope was lost and breathed new life into him.
I am struck by the inclusivity of the Holy Spirit. On the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit did not make everyone alike. The Spirit did not make everyone speak the same language, but the Spirit brought understanding amid diversity. The Spirit honored the diversity of those gathered. The Spirit, as promised poured out power on women and men, old and young, slave and free.
I am also struck by how the Holy Spirit empowered Peter and others to both speak the Gospel and live the Gospel. I am struck that the Holy Spirit confronted people with their need to repent and continues to do so today. The Holy Spirit is our comforter, yes. The Holy Spirit is also our confronter.
May we be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the Church today on Pentecost and every day. Regardless of age, gender, or station in life, the Holy Spirit will fall upon us empowering us to dream dreams and see visions. The Holy Spirit will fall upon us and grant us power to both life and tell the Gospel of Jesus Christ.