By now most of you know that I am of the genus and species known as the “Extravertus Maximus.” As was once noted by a member of my kind – who happen to be my General Presbyter when I began seminary – we think by speaking. For us, a conversation is much like working out a math problem on a black board with a group of people helping.
It is for this reason that there are few words that terrify me more than hearing someone say, “It’s like that time when you said…” because the good Lord may be the only one who knows what I truly said. Likewise, one of the most affirming experiences I’ve had in ministry was from a friend in Virginia who would occasionally respond to something I said in a discussion with, “Tell the truth!” Given that sometimes it is only God that knows our hearts, and sometimes we only know that we have spoken truth when someone tells us that we did, I think we can all take comfort in the passages that we have received today.
John’s gospel speaks of the gift of the Advocate, the one who speaks on behalf of Jesus and even through you and me. For John’s telling of the Jesus story, it is essential that Jesus gets out of the way in order for the Advocate to come. And, ultimately, just as Jesus is the incarnation of God, the Advocate is the way by which God’s presence becomes known in and through each of us. We are, in a way, the enfleshed presence of God when we open our hearts and minds to receive what God has to offer.
And God offers proof that the world is wrong. The world is wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we have come to know that sin and separation from God are not final. Instead they offer a constant calling to return to the one who loved us into creation in the first place. Righteousness has been overturned by the condemned man who was raised from death by the power of God. Judgement based on wrath has been upset, because the one who is condemned is the one who expects to rule through power and possession rather than faith and forgiveness.
We have received these good words – this promise of hope and restoration – on Pentecost Sunday, and this week it happens to fall on Memorial Day weekend. On this day we also hear the prophecy of Ezekiel to the valley of the dry bones. How real this passage must be to the loved ones of the recently fallen. How very real the hope for restoration must be for those who struggle with poverty and those who feel that they are targets of corruption.
This tension between hope and restoration is what were are drawn into today as God places us in our own “valley of dry bones.” And it is this very real need for restoration in our lives and in our world that connects us to the Pentecost story in a way that birthday cakes and red dresses and ties can only hint at. More important than marking the start of the proclamation of Jesus to the world, this day stands to remind us that we are called to be prophets.
For in those days God says, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”
That’s what the Pentecost event was about. That’s what Peter, in the midst of the chaos, told the crowd. It’s what Jesus promised would happen, and when we say that the church, which is the body of Christ, began that day we mean to say that the People of God became all people everywhere who heard about Jesus and believed. They believed that just as God lived in and through him, God lives in and through you and me.
And because God’s spirit lives in and through you and me, we have become truth tellers. That’s what it means to be a community of Prophets. Our dreams and visions are not schemes and personal agendas; they are the result of aligning our hearts with that of God. You see, prophecy was not simply fortune telling.
The influence of Greek culture connected prophecies with oracles, and the writings of the prophets were certainly understood as proven by the way they came to pass. But not all of them actually did come to pass, and the earliest traditions of prophets had more to do with being a person or a group of people who spoke for God. They were the ones willing to risk giving advice to Kings and holding the priests accountable when they abused the sacred trust of the people. They were the ones who encouraged the people to move beyond obeying the law and into lives that fulfilled the law.
So the task remains with us today to speak the word of God into the dry bones of the world around us. While that may seem intimidating, it’s really just a description of what God is already doing in and through us. Of course, we can sometimes get in the way of what God is doing, but that is why we have the table of grace and forgiveness to turn to.
We have this visceral experience – this beautiful sensual reality of bread and juice and sound and touch – that reminds us that God is with us in all things. And through our common union we see through the racial divisions, the limitations of our justice system, and the places of powerlessness that seek to tear our society limb from limb, and we realize that their bones are our bones.
I think it is this kind of thinking that led me to follow up with some recent contacts I’ve made with a few decision makers in our community. With the help of one of our Elders and one of our Deacons I hosted a breakfast to talk about some of the gaps in equality in our city. We talked about the fact that those in lower economic brackets are less likely to move up in Lafayette Parrish than they are in the surrounding areas. We talked about sources of urban blight and some of the barriers to development. We did not arrive at any particular conclusions, but it did create some interest to continue the discussion and seek some positive solutions.
My hope is that our congregation will be able to offer a prophetic voice in conversations like these in the days to come. One suggestion that came from the group was that we – those who were at the breakfast – define our target area (poverty, urban blight, etc.) rather than specific actions. Once the purpose is agreed on, the actions will come more naturally.
In many ways it is the same with the church, except that we know what we are about, right? We are all about experiencing, exploring, and expressing the love of God. If we can do that – when we can be about that – the bones of those who suffer will rise and take on new life!
That does not mean that we will get new church members, or that we are involved in some bizarre zombie cult. It means that we recognize that Pentecost is about more than celebrating the birthday of the church. It means that today, we reclaim that we have been called by God as a community of prophets! It means that today, we begin telling the truth of restoration and hope again, and it begins with the table of grace and mercy, and it spills out through the doors and into the world!
It may get a little messy, and that’s OK. The truth can be like that. And to God be the glory – now and always, Amen.