Heritage Presbyterian Church

May 23, 2021
Day of Pentecost
Scripture readings: Ezekiel 37: 1-14 & Acts 2: 1-21

Each week, in every kind of Christian church that I know of or have heard about, selections from the Bible are chosen and read aloud during the worship services.  A smart preacher follows some type of guide in choosing these readings; if you don’t, you will find that large portions of the Bible are almost never read or preached because preachers tend to preach their favorite passages.  The various selections that come up can sometimes be somewhat obscure, even for those who regularly read and study the Bible; some of those are my favorite ones to use because they can open our minds to new and unique ideas from our beloved and holy Scriptures.

Some are very familiar, and often your heart almost sighs with recognition when you hear them read:

  • Luke’s Christmas story with the angels and shepherds;
  • Matthew’s Christmas story with the wise men;
  • Palm Sunday when the Lord rode into Jerusalem in absolute triumph;
  • Noah and the Ark and anything about that story;
  • Moses and the Hebrew slaves’ escape from Egypt;
  • Easter morning resurrection accounts, with their slightly different and maddening details;

And today’s very familiar readings: Ezekiel and the valley of the dry bones, and the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit showed up.

Some preachers don’t like very familiar readings because what is new that can be said about them?  Personally, I enjoy a challenge and look forward to forming the message for that week.

So, if I am here to preach on the Day of Pentecost – an extremely familiar day in the life of any Christian church – then let’s get to it.

Ezekiel and the valley of the dry bones…first, of all the Old Testament prophets, Ezekiel was the only one who didn’t really have an audience in Israel or Judah to either listen to him or to directly oppose him – which was the pattern for all Old Testament prophets.  By the time of Ezekiel’s call, Israel and Judah were dead!  Those two nations didn’t exist anymore.  Both had been wiped out by invading forces and carried off into captivity.  Both had firmly believed that because they were the people of God, God would protect them.  Both nations ignored the prophets sent to warn them again and again and AGAIN.  Both were led by kings who believed until the very end that they would be spared because God loved them all.

Both were wrong.  Both were dead.

Ezekiel’s audience was not really present when he was called.  Yet, notice how Ezekiel was called! “One day” the Scriptures tell us, Ezekiel was taken by the Lord or shown various visions.  The Lord literally told him, “Say this to the house of Israel,” meaning “tell the exiles this is what I am saying now.”

If you read what the Lord told Ezekiel to say and to do, those words and actions were designed to bluntly point out their mistakes – but that the Lord had not forgotten them either…no matter how bad things looked.

Yet, I wonder about Ezekiel.  Virtually nowhere in the 48 chapters of the Book of Ezekiel does this prophet seem to actually interact with anyone directly.  The Lord told Ezekiel what to do and what to say – and Ezekiel obeyed.  But is that preaching?  Is that what preaching is?

That brings us to today’s reading – that old familiar passage called the “Valley of the Dry Bones.”  Imagine the horror that Ezekiel must have felt when he saw it.  Imagine the terror at witnessing the results of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Israel.  Imagine the sadness.  Yet the Lord kept asking Ezekiel questions such as, “Can these bones yet live?”  Sort of hard to answer such a question.

Then Ezekiel was not told to tell the bones anything or to describe what he had seen to the exiles; he was told to “prophesy” to the bones and to the breath of wind that would cause them to live again.  

Not exactly an easy task with a nice, familiar passage to quote…

Ezekiel did what he was told, and he witnessed the most amazing resurrection.  Granted, it is a vision we think (or did they actually come back to life?).  

And we can only imagine what Ezekiel did once he returned to the exiles with this event so clearly burned into his heart.

But I’ll bet he preached!

The Day of Pentecost for the Apostles of the Lord started with their usual situation: the Apostles hiding in an upper room because they were afraid of the people.  Suddenly, the same breath of wind that caused the valley of the dry bones to come to life also blew through their room setting a tongue of fire above the heads of each of them.  They unbolted the door and ran out into the street.

That would have gotten the attention of any crowd in Jerusalem, even during a major festival.  Twelve bewildered jabbering men running into the street and shouting their heads off in at least twelve different languages (go back and reread verses 9-11 and count the languages).  

A scene like that would get your attention today even if it happened in a rowdy crowd going to an Astros game.

Just as the Lord compelled Ezekiel to preach to the dry bones, the Apostles were also compelled to preach God with their loudest voices; the difference was that Ezekiel used his voice and the Lord’s words, but the Apostles used their voices, the Spirit’s words, and at least twelve different languages.

The Spirit-filled Apostles all listened to Peter go first that day.  But after that, I’ll bet all of them preached for the rest of their Spirit-filled lives.

It’s so easy and familiar, isn’t it?  We imagine the creepiness of Ezekiel seeing the dry bones laying around on the desert floor – and then seeing them come to life.  We imagine the shock, confusion, and joy of the sound of the shouts in various languages of the Apostles running without hesitation into the streets of Jerusalem and proclaiming Jesus is Lord.

It’s all so interesting and unusual and comforting and…long ago and far away.  That’s for ancient people and we should just learn from it, right?

Or that’s for those who are trained or called to ministry.  They are the ones who should be preaching.  They know what they’re doing.

Do all of them?  Do they really?

Haven’t you ever heard a bad sermon or a wicked message or something so bizarre that you know it isn’t Spirit-filled at all?

I have.  In fact, I’ve probably delivered a few.  

But there is more to preaching than saying the words.

Nancy and Cathy and our wonderful choir all preach with the beautiful songs they sing.  If you ever notice how the lyrics affect you or how that old familiar tune makes you smile and sit up a little taller and perhaps sing just a touch louder… 

Then the Spirit is compelling you to preach!

Have you ever seen something going on that truly bothers you?  You can’t just give money to a cause anymore.  You can’t just read about it and pray about it and hope it gets solved somehow.  Instead, you must get involved and tell others about it.

Then the Spirit is compelling you to preach!

Have you ever found that you have a skill that most others don’t have?  Perhaps that skill is listening when others have problems.  Perhaps it is showing people locked in bad circumstances that there might be a way out.  

Perhaps it is just sitting with others instead of sharing your vast wisdom and just letting them cry or talk or sit silently.  

If you do that, the Spirit is compelling you to preach by just being there!  That’s called a ministry of presence.

I once knew a man who was compelled to go to his long-time, beloved pastor and tell the man it was time for him to resign and leave that church.  The pastor had done something wrong, and the Session was afraid to take him on because he was a legend.  So, this one man, a dear and trusted friend of that pastor, went to see him with tears in his eyes and told him the bitter truth.

The pastor resigned the next day.

I would call that discussion preaching, although not necessarily a public version.

In whatever each of us is called to do, compelled to do, we still get a decision to do it.  

Ezekiel obeyed the Lord and did as he was compelled to do, but he still had a choice.  

The Apostles all ran out into the street, but they could have stayed in their room, even as they shouted to each other in foreign languages.  They each had a choice.

Each of us also has a choice.  And each of us is still called, still compelled, still driven by the same Holy Spirit to go and DO.

So go and do – and PREACH!