A sermon for Pentecost Sunday, May 24, 2015
Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
“Mortal, can these bones live?”
Today is the Feast of Pentecost, the great feast of the Church that celebrates the coming and abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. It is among the most important days of the church year. But this has been a distracting week for me, with all the festivities of Commencement at the General Theological Seminary, and everything associated with leaving a job after twelve years and moving my household at the same time. So I haven’t been able to focus in the kind of depth that I usually do on writing a sermon.
Fortunately, a graduating student, who is also my friend, preached a marvelous sermon last Wednesday, so good that I posted it on the Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania’s Facebook page. A part of that sermon has to do with today’s reading from Ezekiel. Here’s what Hershey Mallette has to say:
Is Not A Microwave
But! Slow work does not mean you can say No to the work.
“God is not a microwave. What I mean is, God seldom does anything instantaneously, rapidly or straightaway! I’m sure you know this, especially after spending any amount of time at General Theological Seminary.
God didn’t make the world in an instant.
God didn’t flood the earth, or recede the flood water the day after it rained.
God didn’t make Abraham a nation in prompt fashion
God is not a microwave
God didn’t deliver the people of Israel from Pharaoh instantaneously
God didn’t deliver Moses from the wilderness directly
God didn’t make Israel, Hear O immediately—how many times did the prophets say that to the same people? And Poor, poor Job … how long did the restoration of that one household take?
God is not a microwave
God didn’t restore Jerusalem over night
God didn’t make the dry bones live in an instant … it took time!
First they rattled,
Then the bones came together
Then the tendons and the sinews attached themselves
Then the flesh appeared
And the skin covered them
That’s four or five reconstructive steps and they still had no breath!
God is not in the business of rapidly, and carelessly creating or restoring things.
God didn’t bring any of us through our respective discernment processes quickly.”
That’s a piece of what Hershey said.
The Holy Spirit does build us up, as a community, as a wider church, as individuals and families. The Spirit reassembles broken apart bones and spirits that have been discouraged and downhearted. But the schedule is God’s not ours, we have to become those patient, faithful, grown-up human beings that God wants us to be. The prophet Ezekiel wrote over 2500 years ago, and every generation has needed to hear these hopeful and challenging words, because every generation is not finished, and all of us need persistence in serious hope, not quick magic.
The description of the first Pentecost in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles is, “each one heard the disciples speaking in the native language of each.” They mention Pontus, Phrygia, Egypt, Libya and Pamphylia and other places. I had to look up Pamphylia—who has heard of Pamphylia? Anyway it was in what is now south-central Turkey. It doesn’t mention Jamaica , Antigua or Idaho. But I think they would be included if they had existed at that time. The Holy Spirit comes and bursts open the narrowness of human connections; human communities that were kept separate from one another were bound together in Christ. But look how they were bound together—it was not through magical thought transmission or a single language that somehow everyone was able to understand. Each heard the Gospel in her own language, in his own culture. In this scene in the Gospel it seems as if it was instantaneous. Who knows, maybe it was for those disciples at that time, but for us it can take time to understand those who aren’t the same as us, people with different language or customs, people who we haven’t met before, people who aren’t used to our way of worship. You see, it takes change in us, and that change is the same as the reconstruction of those dry bones into a living community of human beings. There is great opportunity for enrichment in our lives, but it is not without the pain and loss of change, and it is certainly not quick. And we embark on the adventure of becoming one with all sorts of people, even Pamphylians.
The Holy Spirit comes as a surprise, even when we think we expect it. It comes as a surprise and it changes us, and part of the surprise is that that change keeps happening all of our life, just when we think we have it under control, the spirit is there challenging us to change and to hang on and have the stamina to do it.
Because God … is not a microwave.