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Our Old Testament reading recalls the wondrous vision of the prophet Ezekiel,
a vision offered during a time of tremendous despair and hopelessness for the people of Israel.
The vision encourages all whose live seems cut off, who seem to have no hope,
to look for the transforming breath of God.
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and 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. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So 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 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.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 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.
Notice how open the prophet was to the work of the Holy Spirit.
When asked whether ‘dem dry bones could live, the prophet’s reply was “O Lord God, you know…”
Notice how obedient the prophet was.
When commanded to prophesy to the dry bones, he did as he was told.
Imagine how awestruck the prophet was.
He prophesied and the bones rattled. He prophesied and then the bones came together.
He prophesied, and then flesh came upon the bones.
He kept prophesying, and then breath of God came into them and they lived!
Not too dissimilar a response occurred over time among the early disciples of Jesus,
those who were gathered on the first Easter evening…Hear the Word of God from John 20:19-23:
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Many of you have spent time in the newly renovated Keith Parlor.
You have enjoyed the beauty of the space, and seen the functionality of the room.
Did you know that those beautiful hardwood floors are infused, infused with acrylic material?
It is natural wood, no doubt, with the beauty of its grain and color,
but it has been infused with acrylic fibers, so that the wood can withstand spills of coffee and cream,
so that it will not give way to high heels or rugged boots,
so that it will absorb tremendous use without tremendous wear and tear.
Over time, we have had many symbols for the strengthening power of the Holy Spirit –
fire, wind, water, descending dove…
Today, I propose an addition to that list – acrylic fibers!
Acrylic fibers strengthen ordinary wood to make it extraordinary,
to make floors strong, to make them withstand use and abuse,
to make them last through good times and bad.
When we consider the work and efficacy of the Holy Spirit,
the New Testament does not encourages us to think so much about the Holy Spirit
as it encourages us to experience the Spirit’s power.
Dorothy Sayers tells of a Japanese gentleman, many decades ago,
who was listening to a Christian theologian trying to explain the Holy Trinity.
The Japanese man finally spoke up, “Honorable Father, very good. Honorable Son, very good.
Honorable Bird, I do not understand at all.” (from a sermon by David Read, 1980)
The work of the Holy Spirit is wild and free, mysterious and wondrous,
awe-inspiring and unsettling.
The Spirit of God was present in that upper room on the first Easter evening,
when Jesus appeared among his disciples and breathed on them, gifting them with his Spirit.
The book of Acts tells us how fifty days later, the Spirit showed up in a powerful way,
like tongues as of fire, as a rushing wind, and Peter preached a sermon,
and all the disciples began interpreting in varying languages, and the Church was born.
Everywhere, the Spirit is the giver and renewer of life, and is not the one who deals in death.
Everywhere, the Spirit is the One who opens doors to new possibility,
and is not the one who closes doors and shuts down communication.
Everywhere, the Spirit is the One at work building bridges,
and is not the one who builds walls of hostility to separate and segregate.
Where is the Spirit of God at work?
Both the witness of Holy Scripture and the experience of the Church over two thousand years
reveal that the Spirit is especially at work among those who are oppressed and enslaved,
like the Hebrews in Egypt.
The Spirit is at work among those on the margins, on the borders, like the prophets Amos and Hosea.
The Spirit is at work among those who are abused and mistreated and persecuted,
like the first deacon, Stephen, and the other martyrs of the first century,
and at work among those martyred in body or in spirit by the 21st century church.
The Spirit is at work wherever love conquers hate,
wherever hope overcomes fear,
wherever inclusion is suddenly preferred over exclusion,
wherever building up community overwhelms those who would tear down community.
Yesterday, at the wedding of Harry and Meghan,
the presiding Bishop of the American Episcopal Church, Rev. Michael Curry,
spoke about the power of God’s love to change the world.
And he spoke about the transforming power of harnessing fire,
knowing full well that today, the day after the wedding, would be the day of Pentecost.
“…the way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love, changes lives. And it can change this world.
If you don’t believe me, just stop and think or imagine.
Think and imagine…a world where love is the way.
Imagine our homes and families when love is the way.
Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.
Imagine governments and nations where love is the way.
Imagine business and commerce when love is the way.
Imagine this tired old world when love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial redemptive love.
When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream
and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
When love is the way, poverty will become history.
When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down,
down by the riverside to study war no more.
When love is the way, there’s plenty good room…for all of God’s children.
Because when love is the way, we…treat each other…like we are…family.
When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all and we are brothers and sisters…”
Then, perhaps because of the early hour, or the crunching on my morning bowl of cereal,
I missed Curry’s point about fire.
He seemed to go on and on, for too long perhaps, about how harnessing fire had changed the world,
had changed everything from where we can live to what we can eat
to how we can travel and we communicate.
What Curry said was that fire makes all of that change in the world possible.
He quoted Teilhard de Chardin. who said that harnessing fire was one of the greatest discoveries
in all of human history. De Chardin went on to say that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of love,
then the impact upon human history would be as transformative as harnessing the power of fire.
Dr. King claimed that when we discover the redemptive power of love,
we will make of this old world a new world.
We will witness dry bones rattling and finding new life.
We will witness despairing peoples living with great hope for the future.
We will witness the weak and the oppressed and the marginalized finding strength and purpose.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit, to infuse humankind us with the strength of God’s love,
to infuse us with power, so that we all may withstand and endure and, by God’s grace, be transformed.
One Spirit-infused life from Nazareth changed the world forever.
One Spirit-infused life could transform your home, or place of work, or extended family.
One Spirit-infused life could change our church or our local or state government.
Is yours that life?
Is your life open to the Holy Spirit, ready to be obedient to the call of Christ?
Are you willing to obediently empty yourself of self, so that you can be filled with life anew?
Are you prepared to be struck with awe and wonder over what the Spirit can do…through you?
There’s a wonderful old hymn by Edwin Hatch:
Breathe on me, Breath of God, Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love, And do what Thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, Breath of God, Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will, To do and to endure.
Breathe on me, Breath of God, Till I am wholly Thine,
Until this earthly part of me Glows with Thy fire divine.
To God be the glory as we anticipate becoming infused with the Breath of God. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
May 20, 2018
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
Join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m.
Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God's Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
205 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030