03/26/2023 ~ Fifth Sunday in Lent ~ Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/812823739
The Spirit Bids Us
“‘…I will put my Spirit within you, and you will live, you will return to life and I will settle you back on your own land; then you will know that I, Yahweh, have spoken and I will act, will make all this happen’ says the Sovereign, Yahweh, God.” — Ezekiel 37:14.
In my comments today I want to mention some personal history. I’ve shared some of it from this pulpit already. Some of you may remember that. This kind of sharing always run the risk that what I say may directly relate to me only. I hope that’s not true.
In the late Fall of 1967 I was working for Bloomingdale’s Department Store in computer operations. I got a draft notice.
So in January 1968 I became a member of the United States Army, spent eight weeks of Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, then was shipped off to Fort Lee, Virginia— Cook’s School. the army trained me to be a cook. Of course, I only know recipes for 200 people. Why Cooks School?
I’ve always said it’s Army logic. I was in computers. Computer— it starts with ‘C.’ Cook— it starts with ‘C.’ It must be a match.
Next I was in Vietnam from July of 1968 to September of 1969. So for both those years, 1968 and 1969, I was either in training or overseas. Now, 1968 and 1969 were two of the most tumultuous years in American history. Here are a couple of highlights (or is it low lights?) from just 1968 in chronological order. (Slight pause.)
North Korea seized the Navy Vessel, the USS Pueblo. The Tet Offensive was launched. The Mÿ Lai Massacre happened. Lyndon B. Johnson announced he would not seek re-election.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Riots ensued. Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated. The country was in shock.
Anti-war protesters clashed with police at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Many were jailed. Jackie Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis. Richard Nixon won the race for President with only 43.4% of the popular vote.
And that was just 1968. But my point is not what happened. My point is I missed it. I missed all that and a good chunk of 1969 also. I was basically oblivious to it all.
Why? In basic and advanced training you barely have time to breathe or think. Then I was in Vietnam, at first in downtown Saigon. What caught my attention there in downtown Saigon was incoming ordinance. It happened all the time.
Then I was stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. At that point it was the largest airport in the world— noise all… the… time. So I had things on my mind other than what was happening stateside. (Slight pause.)
Looking at this time in retrospect, I realize when I got back it took me awhile to fit into polite society again, to get grounded, to adjust, to recover from an experience of trauma. And I think that trauma was connected with three things.
First, and I don’t want to overdramatize this, yes— I saw war first hand. Second, no— I did not see what was happening here, back in the States, first hand. To a certain extent, I was barely aware of it. On the other hand, most of the people I encountered once I returned— that group commonly called polite society— had seen it.
Third, last, and I think I speak for a lot of Vietnam veterans saying this so I will be direct, straightforward about it. Vietnam veterans, myself included, did not receive a particularly warm welcome from that aforementioned group commonly called polite society.
That having been said, when I returned I went back to work in computer operations. Not long after I decided I needed to be involved with and work in what I loved. I loved theater.
I knew I wanted to be a writer. But I also knew to write for actors I needed to know what actors know, how they thought, how they worked. So I took classes at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in an effort to learn about acting and actors.
To be clear, work in theater is just like many other job situations. You need contacts, referrals. Slowly but surely, I stared making the links necessary to get work.
And so I started writing and I had what I calculate to be a modicum of success at that with theater and theatrically related projects. But that I actually had any success at it is not my point.
Writing was a welcome, psychic release for me. The more I wrote, the more I recovered from the history of my experience. (Slight pause.)
This is what we hear in the Scroll of the Prophet Ezekiel: “‘…I will put my Spirit within you, and you will live, you will return to life and I will settle you back on your own land; then you will know that I, Yahweh, have spoken and will act, and will make all this happen’ says the Sovereign, Yahweh, God.” (Slight pause.)
Ezekiel lived and preached during what may have been the most tumultuous years in the history of the Jewish people. The armies of the Babylon had conquered Judea, besieged and destroyed Jerusalem, took prisoners captive.
And so in this atmosphere of captivity, enslavement, Ezekiel has a vision. The picture seen by the Prophet is one of an abandoned battlefield strewn with bones.
And so it’s no wonder the vision feels and seems real for the prophet. That makes sense given the context. The homeland has been destroyed. Many of those who survived live in exile. Their world is tumultuous; things feel shattered.
However, in the vision experienced by the Prophet the outcome of the journey is clear. (Quote:) “…I will put my Spirit within you….” (Slight pause.)
I need to explain something. What the Prophet addresses here should not be given the benefit of hindsight, should not be given a Christian reading. This is not about resurrection.
While resurrection is a Jewish concept, it is not a part of the Jewish tradition until about two hundred years before the time of Christ. Ezekiel lives about six hundred years before Christ. Hence, this passage is not about resurrection.
And indeed, resurrection is not about reanimation nor is it about resuscitation. Resurrection is what it says it is: resurrection— something beyond our understanding. In fact, at one point in this passage the bones are reanimated but still do not have life. They simply have animation.
And animation is not enough. Something is missing that gives real life. What is missing? The Spirit of God is missing. So let me state the promise God makes one more time. “…I will put my Spirit within you….” (Slight pause.)
What is this Spirit of God about? (Slight pause.) I want to suggest the Spirit of God is about trust, hope, faith, belief and most of all about a reliance on God. Therefore, the Spirit of God is about God who walks with us, who walks at our side. God is our companion no… matter… what… happens. (Slight pause.)
I think this is a human truth. We never actually get over trauma. We cope with it. But I also believe that the best coping mechanism known to humanity is trust, especially trust in God. And God constantly invites us to trust.
Once we trust God— hope, faith and belief follow. Once we see this path of trust then hope, faith and belief lead us to know we can rely on God, know the Spirit of God walks with us, know the Spirit of God is at our side. God, our companion, no matter what happens. (Slight pause.)
Let me say something else very personal. Given my experience, I am not someone who thinks good things always happen. I am no Pollyanna. I know better than that.
Equally, given my experience, I know life can be hard and sometimes feel brutal. Equally, given my experience, I know my life is not of my own doing.
Given my experience, I have come to realize that the Spirit of God walks with me, daily. Given my experience, I have come to realize the Spirit of God walks with us, daily. God gives me, God gives us a promise. And that promise is faithfulness.
Therefore, the Spirit of God bids us to trust as we go on this journey called life. And it is a journey. So yes, there is no promise here that everything will be rosy in life, no guarantee that everything is peaches and cream.
But this is the promise made by God: the Spirit of God walks with us. The Spirit of God is at our side, this day and forever. Amen.
Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “Tumultuous times do not mean the end of the world. They mean we need to rely on God. Perhaps it’s summed up in this quote is from Episcopal Priest, Barbara Brown Taylor: ‘To be human is to live by sunlight and moonlight, with anxiety and delight, admitting limits and transcending them, falling down and rising up. To want life with only half these things is to want half a life, shutting the other half away where it will not interfere with one’s bright fantasies of the way things ought to be’— Barbara Brown Taylor.”
BENEDICTION: God sent Jesus unto the world that we may believe. God sends us into the world that we may share this good news: in Christ we are not condemned, for Christ came to offer abundant life. And may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge of God, the love of Jesus, the Christ and the companionship of the Holy Spirit, this day and forevermore. Amen.