Timothy C. Ahrens
The First Congregational Church
United Church of Christ
June 11, 2000
Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Acts 2:1-21
Let us pray: Inspire us and set our hearts on fire for you, O God. May the words that we hear turn our hearts, minds, and actions into faithful ways today and forevermore. Come Holy Spirit.
The Lord God set Ezekiel in the middle of a valley. That valley was filled with very dry bones. The Lord walked Ezekiel through the valley and asked, "Mortal, can these bones live?" And the prophet answered, "O Lord God, only you know." And the Lord said, "Prophesy to these bones and say, `Here the Word of the Lord!" Bone to bone, sinew to sinew, skin to sinew and finally the very Breath of God coming from the four winds turns dry bones into faithful mortals. The Spirit of the Lord is upon them. The Spirit of the Lord is within them. What was dead is alive. What was hopeless and cut off is brought back from the grave and delivered by God to a new land! Is this too fanciful, too strange, perhaps just too metaphorical for our rational minds of faith? Try this . . .
On the day of Pentecost people were gathered from every nation under heaven - at least the nations under the heavens known to Luke! "Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes (or students of Judaism) Cretians and Arabians. It sounds like a sunlit version of Time Square on New Year's Eve. Jerusalem is crowded and festive. With high spirits, bad manners, jostling and bargaining going on - both the bizarre and the bazaar of this metropolis serve as the backdrop for the unfolding drama of God's Holy Spirit acting in history!
When the day dawns there are about 120 Jesus Movement people moping around wondering what they were going to do without their Savior. Suddenly, a Holy Hurricane heads their way! By biblical accounting this mighty wind, these tongues of heavenly fire, this Breath of God is called the Holy Spirit! Before any of them can defend themselves against the power of God, they are all hit by the Spirit which bursts flames of faith over them and fills their every cell with the Breath of God! They speak in the tongues of all nations. And this Times Square-like crowd hears them speaking and understands these simple Galileans as if they all had PhD's in Middle Eastern languages.
Shy people become bold people! Scared people become gusty people. Lost people find an unconditional sense of direction. Disciples begin to discover abilities within themselves of which they had not believed themselves capable. They open their mouths to speak and sound like Jesus. They touch people who are sick and it is as if Jesus himself were doing the healing.
Just 53 nights before, Peter couldn't even defend Jesus against the words of a woman warming her hands in midnight fire light on the night in which his master and teacher was tortured unto death. Now Peter stands in the streets and preaches to thousands of people! He proclaims many things on Pentecost: first, the Kingdom of God is at hand; second, the coming of God's kingdom is directly related to the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus; third, Jesus now sits at the right hand of God as the Messianic head of the new Israel; fourth, the Holy Spirit coming upon them is the sign of Christ's presence and glory; fifth, the messianic age will shortly reach its consummation in the second coming of Christ; and finally, all who hear must repent, ask for God's forgiveness, and salvation will come with the power of the Holy Spirit!
When Pentecost ends, more than 3,000 more people have joined the Jesus Movement, which is now referred to as "Kuriakos" or "those of the Lord." There is absolutely no explanation for what happens that day, except these disciples were overwhelmed by the Breath of God. They sucked in God's own breath and they were absolutely transformed by it. They heard and felt Good News and were absolutely transformed by it! Folks who had been inhaling fear and uncertainty began to exhale faith and boldness. People who were worn out from exhaustion and buried on the trail were renewed and revived so much so that each breath they took in and let out was the very breath of God.
We are reminded by Barbara Brown Taylor in book, Home By Another Way
that the word "conspire" means to "breathe together." Take a breath. (Everyone!) Now blow it out. Again. There! We have just launched a conspiracy! Can you hear the word "Spirit" in there? To "Conspire" means to be filled with the same spirit, to be enlivened by the same wind. What happens when we come together to worship is that the Holy Spirit swoops in among us, knits us together through the songs that we sing, through the prayers that we pray, through our litanies, through baptism, through holy communion. Our many breaths become one breath. Our many and varied voices become - for a point in time - one voice. And the Breath of God becomes the Conspiratorial Fire for Community in Christ.
Thousands of years ago, God asked Ezekiel, "Can these dry bones live?" Ezekiel answered, "Only you, O God, know." And the way God shared knowledge was to send the Holy Spirit, the "Ruach" the Breath of Life upon those bones! And they came together! In the same way, the Hurricane of the Holy Spirit swept through despairing and dried up people on the first Pentecost and set them on fire for the Lord!
All of this is really nice. It's great literature. We have powerful images here. But what about us? What about God coming by here, coming by now? What about fire and power and Spirit and the very breath of God for this day, for this time, in this place, for this community? Well, I don't know about you - but I am aware that I feel something very special is happening at First Church! You can call it a Conspiracy - a conspiracy of reconciliation; a conspiracy of love; a conspiracy of grace, a conspiracy of hope, a conspiracy for God; a conspiracy for Jesus Christ! Call it what you will, but each of us is being called by God to be here for some deep and abiding reason. There is no mistake. God has a plan for us here! And it is a plan that will include all of us! It is a plan that is and will continue to be inspired by the Holy Spirit!
Each person is this sanctuary, (each child in this building), from the newly baptized Denise and the newly reaffirmed in baptism Elane, James, Jon, Meredith, and Mark to those who of you who grew up in old church by 3rd and Broad - whose First Church memories extend over 70 years and more - God has a plan for each of us and all of us together! God's breath is upon us and within us and around us this day. We have commissioned over 40 people today (not all of whom were here) to go out and converse with close to 500 people. Each of us is called upon by God to open our hearts, our minds, our homes to not only the visitation of another First Church friend or member, but also the visitation of the Holy Spirit! Yes, you are here for a reason today. You are here at First Church for a reason - and I believe that no less than God's Holy Spirit is calling all of us to a future of mission and ministry for the 21st Century here in Columbus and across the globe!
We must remember that Holy Scripture holds a crucial role for the Holy Spirit in our lives of faith. In The Go-Between God, the finest book ever written on the relationship of the Holy Spirit and the mission of the Church, John V. Taylor lifts up the six major characteristics of the Holy Spirit. First, The Holy Spirit is Communion. The Spirit is the "koinonia" of the church which means the fellowship, the partnership, the communicator between and within community. Second, the Holy Spirit is the "Eye-Opener." The Spirit opens our eyes to be aware of God in our midst, to see Christ in one another. Taylor writes:
One cannot choose to be open in one direction and closed in another. Vision and vulnerability go together. Insensitivity is also an all-rounder. If for one reason or another we refuse to really see another person, we become incapable of sensing the presence of God." (J.V.Taylor, The Go-Between God, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972, p.19).
The Holy Spirit opens eyes! Third, the Holy Spirit is the Director of Church Missions. I feel this emphatically! The mission of this church cannot be a human enterprise only. If the mission is driven by egos or for self-serving purposes, it might as well die. Jesus forbade any mission to begin without the initiation of the Holy Spirit, for unless the Holy Spirit directs our missions, they will shrivel and die. Fourth, the Holy Spirit is the Source of all Guidance. The Holy Spirit guides all the activities of church whether for conversion of souls or transformation of social structures. Fifth, the Holy Spirit is the Source of Daily Courage and Power. It is the Spirit that strengthens us for daily living. And finally, the Holy Spirit is the Source of Spiritual Gifts. As Jesus is the power source for Salvation, New Life, and Hope, the Holy Spirit is the power source for all spiritual gifts.
Take a breath. Now just keep breathing. God's moment-by-moment gift to us in moving through our entire being. Call it air or call it the Holy Spirit. It was present in our earth's atmosphere from the beginning of time. It promises to give us hope, to give us new life, to fill us with new wind, to set our heads and hearts on fire, to cause our tongues to speak words we never dreamed possible. Today, and forevermore, allow the Conspiracy of the Holy Spirit to set you, to set this church, and to set our dreams and visions on fire for Christ! Come Holy Spirit. Revive Us Again! Amen.
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